Personal Finance: Search the net for bargains

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The Independent Online
RESEARCH published last month by Which? Online, the Consumers' Association internet service, shows 20 per cent of internet users plan to do their Christmas shopping on line: 40 per cent believe its cheaper.

The number of web sites selling goods grows daily and net surfers can now buy anything from a recipe book to car parts. Bargain hunters can have a ball. Web-based stores avoid the overheads of their physical rivals, there are no queues and they can carry far more stock.

The first internet shops concentrated on books, CDs and computer software - all light, fairly cheap and easy to send. Pioneers, such as bookstore Amazon and music retailer CDNow have been joined by their high street rivals, including HMV and Waterstone's. Competition means good deals, but you need to check how good a deal is. Delivery and handling can push prices up. The best way to save is by buying several small items at once. Stores such as Amazon advertise some books at 40 per cent off but the usual discount is 20. High street chains give hefty special discounts too; Amazon discounts across the board. On a paperback novel the saving is a few pounds, on a couple of hardbacks, it is far more interesting.

Amazon has a UK operation offering English books. The cheapest CDs come from the States, but CDNow has a European warehouse to speed up deliveries. The best savings are on US music or music popular in the States. CDNow sells current Garbage and Radiohead albums for $11.88 (pounds 7.11) - against pounds 12 to pounds 15 in a shop here. A Beastie Boys US album is just pounds 8.38. Shipping from the European warehouse is pounds 2.99 a CD, or pounds 4.97 for up to 10.

Firms selling far bigger items are moving on to the net too. Dixons has a comprehensive site with most of its television, audio and computer products. Prices match the high street stores but delivery is cheap at pounds 3.25 an item to most UK addresses. Dixons has regular on-line only offers on its site, such as a Fuji APS zoom compact camera.

Independent Home Electrical Direct sells fridges, washing machines, televisions and hi-fi off its site at quite substantial discounts. It offers free delivery and a price promise; most goods are at least 20 per cent less than high street prices.

A Sony 14in television with Teletext is pounds 199.99 at Dixons; and pounds 28 less at Home Electrical. For kitchen appliances and white goods, there are several outlets. Appliances Direct sells by phone, but its discount catalogue is on the web. Advance, an independent retailer, specialising in "graded" goods.

Computer buyers who know what they are looking for will certainly find a bargain. The main catalogue retailers have web sites, as do more and more manufacturers, such as Dell or Apple. Many have special internet offers. Experienced computer users can also use the net to buy from the US, especially laptops, at up to a third less.

www.excite.co.uk; www.uk directory.co.uk; www.yahoo. co.uk; www.dixons.co.uk; www.amazon.co.uk; Home Electrical: www.hed.co.uk; www.appliancesdirect.co.uk; www.cdnow.com; Advance Elec: www.eparry.demon.co.uk

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