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Frequently Asked Questions

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What Do I Need?

What Stores?

Where Do I Find a Store?

How Do I Find a Product?

Why Register?

How do I get Help?

How Do I Order?

When will I get my Package?

What about Returns?

Where Can I Go to Solve Problems?

What Do I Need to Shop Online?

Do I have to have a particular computer or Web browser?
What problems will I face shopping online with my old browser or old computer?
Do I have to use a credit card?
What about digital cash?


Do I have to have a particular computer or Web browser?

No, you just need a computer with a modem, Web browser software (such as Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, or America Online’s browser), and a phone number that connects you to the Internet.

If you subscribe to America Online, you go through their local phone number. If you have another service, or a local Internet Service Provider, you go through theirs.

Older browsers may have trouble with some aspects of some sites, as we detail in the answer to the next question, but the most sophisticated sites have been designed to be easy to use, even if you haven’t upgraded your browser in years.

Older computers have less memory, less oomph, and therefore creak a little as they surf. If you have an older computer (we call them "mature"), the whole experience will be slower for you than for your neighbor who has the SuperPowerWhizBang, but if you are used to the pace, you may not mind. You just know that when you start to collect a large file from a Web site, you can go boil some water, make a pot of tea, pour a cup, and blow the steam off the top before coming back to the computer to see if the download is complete.

What problems will I face shopping online with my old browser or old computer?

The biggest problem is speed.

If you happen to go to a site that uses a lot of large graphics, the pages will take quite a while to download. If a download seems to be taking a long, long time, you might want to click your browser’s Stop button and go to another store.

If the store’s designers are so unfriendly as to use something called frames, you will be at a disadvantage. Frames are independent files that get pasted together by your browser to produce what looks like a single page. One frame may present a list of departments, while a second frame presents the content itself. So the second frame may keep changing while the first one stays put.

Of course, even if your browser lets you look at frames, you may find them confusing. For instance, if you try to save or print the page, you may end up with the text of one frame but not the other.

Also, people frequently get confused when both frames change. The experience resembles rowing with oars of different lengths while heavy waves roll you left and right, forward and back.

Occasionally, designers offer you the choice of viewing their sites "with frames" or "without frames." That choice is just an admission of guilt, but with older software you should click the No Frames button. In fact, "No Frames!" should be a bumper sticker.

Similarly, a few sites offer you the opportunity to view the site as "Text Only," which is nice if you are using a really ancient browser on a slow connection. But most stores are so proud of their images that they do not offer this possibility. On the other hand, you may be able to set your own browser to ignore graphics and just display text. The text may look a bit odd because it was written and laid out assuming art would surround it, but you can probably navigate OK using text only.

If your monitor or computer can handle only a few colors at low resolutions, photographic images will probably look a bit lurid or splotchy. The minimum setting you need, to see pictures that look somewhat realistic, is 800 pixels by 600 pixels (800 x 600) with 256 colors. Pixels are picture elements, and the more you crowd into a square inch of screen space, the better, because each pixel can show you a tiny detail, and when an image has millions of these little details in every square inch, you get the impression of terrific clarity.

The more colors you display, the more the pixels can differentiate shadings, so the image becomes more realistic. Two hundred fifty-six colors on screen mean you can tell what the picture is about. With millions of colors and tons of pixels, you get a very clear impression of what the product itself looks like.

Do I have to use a credit card?

No, but you do need to use one if you want delivery within a week or so.

You get the fastest delivery if you use the credit card on the Web store, in its secure shopping area, or phone the store directly.

Second best is to find the product and fax the store with your information (although this method is less safe than ordering on a secure area on the Web).

Least recommended: emailing your request with credit card information, which is not cool because email sometimes goes to the wrong recipient.

Also dangerous: using a debit card, because the money is transferred immediately to the merchant, so you do not have the opportunity to cancel payment, as you do with a credit card.

If you don’t have a credit card, you can usually place an order and just say that you will send them a check or money order, which takes a few days, and then they will want to clear the check, which takes as much as two weeks, and then they will start processing the order. Slow boat, but secure.

What about digital cash?

Digital cash is a fad whose time has not yet come.

Basically, you deposit money into an account, then use an electronic version of a debit card, deducting purchases from your balance until you need to replenish it. A few investment research companies sell their reports for $5 each, using digital cash.

The dream is that you might use digital cash for a series of small purchases, such as articles from the archives of a magazine, at something like a buck or two apiece. But so far very few stores have decided to accept digital cash.

If you’re curious, here’s how digital cash works:

1. You set up a bank account with a bank that offers digital cash accounts.

2. You download software that lets you transfer money to the digital cash account.

3. You use the software to transfer money from your regular account to your digital cash account.

4. You find a store that accepts digital cash (and not many do).

5. For each item, you pay from your digital cash account.



--Excerpted from our book The Best of Online Shopping, Ballantine Books

To buy our book at a discount, please visit's electronic bookstore.  We are proud to be an Associate.

The Best of Online Shopping: : Columns/Discoveries/Updates/Ideas/FAQ/Tools/Books/PR

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