Getting Started with Shopping Search

Online shopping is both safe and satisfying, if you start by doing a bit of detective work on both the products you want to buy and the online merchants who sell them.

Jupiter Research forecasts that online holiday sales revenue will reach $13.1 billion this year. Nonetheless, many believe that online shopping isn't safe. Should you be worried? Not if you follow the guidelines offered by SafeShopping.

A comprehensive guide to safe shopping online, compiled by the American Bar Association. Lots of great information about security, privacy, payment options, consumer rights and more, as well as useful information on how to complain if you're not satisfied with your transactions.

Merchant Ratings and Reviews

Just as in the offline world, some online retailers have better reputations than others. While most shopping search engines give prominence to "preferred" retailers that meet certain standards, they also run product listings from retailers that may not have sterling reputations.

The three sites below offer independent ratings for online retailers, each using different methods to assess reputation and reliability. The information they offer is essential if you're thinking of making a purchase from a retailer you've never done business with before.

BBBOnLine's Safe Shopping Site
Use The U.S. Better Business Bureau's safe shopping site to locate companies that are members of their local Better Business Bureau, pledge to meet the BBBOnLine Reliability standards for ethical online business practices and have agreed to resolve complaints using the BBB's dispute resolution program or a similar program. Companies must live up to these promises or lose the right to remain in the program. is an independent third party that allows consumers to rate e-businesses for reliability, privacy and customer satisfaction, using a proprietary monitoring system called eConsumer Intelligence. The heart of the system is an interactive "seal and monitoring" feature that uses customer feedback to let consumers identify companies that are reliable and committed to customer satisfaction.

PlanetFeedback's Ratings are derived from the opinions reported by PlanetFeedback users through the site's letter-writing utility. To appear in Ratings, a company must have received a minimum of 50 letters from PlanetFeedback users in the last nine months. Ratings are based on the most recent compliments, complaints and suggestions sent to a company or industry (up to a total of 250) and are updated daily.

Product Review Sites

These sites are helpful when you're just beginning researching a product. Thought most of the major shopping search engines typically include product information provided by manufacturers and some third party sources, the three sites below aggregate both professional and amateur reviews, allowing you to compare different perspectives of particular products.

ConsumerSearch is an editorially selected collection of "best" reviews, both on and off the Internet. Reviews are ranked according to how well they identify the category's best products. Editors then write up "Full Story" reports, analyzing whether the experts agree or disagree. When the experts disagree, ConsumerSearch editors try to determine whose work is more credible. For those looking just for top-rated and best of class products, Consumer Search also provides what they call "Fast Answers."

Epinions was one of the original sites to encourage consumers to review products that they've actually purchased and used. It's an open forum -- Epinions does not decide what content to post and what not to post. This means you need to be somewhat careful about determining whether you think a particular reviewer is credible. Epinions allows users to rate reviewers, which is helpful, and also provides a mechanism that allows you to "trust" or "block" particular reviewers.

Like Epinions, ConsumerReview features reviews from "enthusiasts" who organize into communities, focusing on sporting goods and consumer electronics.

Shopping Information Resources

Two sites are notable for the wealth of information on online shopping and the links they provide to other web resources. is an editorially selected directory of high quality shopping resources on the Web. Sites are organized by category. Among the shopping search resources included are price comparison tools, consumer information, product reviews, top retailers, coupons, deal finders, auctions, classifieds, malls and stores that give a portion of their proceeds to charity.

Consumer Reports
Consumer Reports likely needs no introduction. It's the online version of the venerable magazine and user guides that have been published for years. In addition to its highly regarded product reviews, the site offers an e-Ratings Online Shopping Guide. e-Ratings are based on a systematic evaluation of specific features on selected sites in various categories. e-Ratings are ongoing, with new product, service, and information site reviews added regularly. Unlike the other sites mentioned, most of the content on the Consumer Reports site is available only to subscribers, but you can select either a $24.00 yearly subscription or a month's pass for $4.95 if you only need access to the site on a short term basis.

Tomorrow: A look at Dealtime, one of the most successful shopping search engines, including information for site owners on how to partner with the company, as an additional venue for your own search engine marketing efforts.

The Shopping Search Week Series

Shopping Search Engine Week!
This week, SearchDay focuses on specialized shopping search engines, with an eye toward helping you make the most of your searching skills during the holiday gift buying season.

Getting Started with Shopping Search
Online shopping is both safe and satisfying, if you start by doing a bit of detective work on both the products you want to buy and the online merchants who sell them.

Inside DealTime's Shopping Search Engine
DealTime is one of the most popular shopping services on the web, despite the fact that it doesn't directly sell any products to consumers.

Shopping Search and Price Comparison Engines
Capping off SearchDay's shopping search week, here's a roundup of some of the web's most popular and useful shopping and price comparison search engines.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

Online content news
Newsreel archive launched online...
BBC Nov 19 2002 9:23AM GMT
Online search engines news
Yahoo Japan Inks Deals With Overture, Google... Nov 19 2002 3:10AM GMT
U.S. court overturns ruling on police Web searches... Nov 19 2002 2:14AM GMT
Ask Jeeves launches Xmas e-shopping...
Web-User Nov 19 2002 1:58AM GMT
Domain name news
Domain name wins court appeal...
Demys Nov 19 2002 1:18AM GMT
State threatens legal action on domain name...
Business Day Nov 18 2002 10:37PM GMT
Online portals news
Yahoo says completes HotJobs integration...
CNET Nov 18 2002 9:44PM GMT
Domain name news
Nominet warns of dodgy domain sales tactics...
The Register Nov 18 2002 12:25PM GMT
ICANN Needs Another Long Trip...
Wired News Nov 18 2002 12:09PM GMT
Online content news
Word wise web...
Guardian Unlimited Nov 18 2002 11:15AM GMT
Online search engines news
Promotion Tip: Search Engine Themes And Page Rank...
Net Mechanic Nov 18 2002 4:28AM GMT
Ask Jeeves for Google...
Computer Shopper Nov 17 2002 2:51PM GMT
Domain name news
Beginner Tip: Get The Most From Your Domain Name...
Net Mechanic Nov 17 2002 4:27AM GMT
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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.