A busy mother's best friend
by Cathy Allison
made the mistake of shopping in person last month for a gift for my friend Ada and ended up so frustrated I felt like screaming. I wanted to get her a book and, what with all of the mega bookstore behemoths opening up throughout the city, I thought I could breeze into a store at the last minute and pick one up. Huge mistake.
Of the three books I wanted, two had never been in stock and one was sold out. I went to store after store, only to find myself out of luck. In complete disgust at the length of time this simple task was taking, I went home and logged onto the Indigo website. In five minutes flat I had ordered a book. Four days later Ada called to thank me for the gift, praising the wrapping job (which had cost me an additional $2.50, a lot less than I would have spent buying the wrapping paper, ribbon and tape myself, not to mention saving me a trip to the stationary store).
Despite my grumbling, I had no one else to blame for my wasted afternoon than myself. I had sworn last August after a birthday shopping disaster for my two year daughter that involved four stores, five hours, a trip from one end of the city to the other and ended with me dragging a box as tall as myself down an escalator, through a store and across a mall parking lot that never again would I shop in person.
In the age of the Internet, a vow like that is not an idle threat.
Everything from daily necessities to completely frivolous items is available for purchase online. Need toilet paper or toothpaste? Hungry for eggs or escargot? In the market for a condo or car? Just log on.
Online shopping is the ultimate convenience. You can go from store to store with the flick of a finger and buy products you can't find locally all in a matter of minutes. And the best part--everything is hand delivered to your doorstep.
My favorite perk of online shopping is that they do the shipping. I've found this a lifesaver when buying gifts for relatives who live far away. I always buy the actual present on time but have proved myself chronically unable to find the proper sized box, parcel paper, tape and the time to go the post office to mail it in time for the special day.
In this speeded up world with its increasing demands, time has become a precious commodity. Ask any mother what is on her wish list and many will respond with "more time." Using the Internet to do chores like shopping is a timesaving option more and more women are discovering.
Virtual stores are easy to find. Enter the item you are looking for into any search engine (or use TNH Open Directory or Shop Affiliated Merchants, a listing of many of TNH's favorite merchants). Most major stores have websites and many smaller ones do, too. Keep your eyes open for ads in newspapers, magazines and on television that include an internet address, also called a URL.
The Internet is a busy mother's best friend. It can make balancing your checkbook, planning a family vacation or ordering groceries as easy as click, type, enter. Just try it. I'll bet you'll be surprised by the amount of time you can save by surfing the technological highway.
1. If there is a choice of payment methods, always pay by credit card. If you do not receive the goods or services you've ordered, your credit card company may be able to do a charge back.
2. Make sure you are on a secure site, connected with 128-bit encryption, before keying in your credit card number. There are a number of ways to check:
• Your browser may have a warning screen that tells you whenever you enter or leave a secure site
• Check the bottom corner of your screen for a closed lock icon that indicates a secure site
• Check the location bar at the top of your browser. The URL line should begin with "https://" instead of "http://".
3. Read the company's refund and return policies before you buy.
4. Print out a copy of your order and confirmation number.
5. Check to make sure that the online merchant has a real world address and phone number.
6. Remember the exchange rate if you are visiting a site based in another country. What looks like a great deal may be very expensive once you convert to your country's dollars. Before you buy check the Universal Currency Converter.
7. Check to see if they ship to your country before you waste your time exploring the site. I've been burned a few times after finding the perfect toy or gadget only to discover after filling out all the forms that they do not ship outside the U.S.
8. Order early if you need the item for a specific date to allow for shipping time. Unfortunately shipping isn't virtual. I did all my online Christmas shopping in early November and everything arrived with plenty of time to spare. In fact, I ended up scolding my father-in-law in Ontario for opening his gift early when he thanked me for it during a phone call the first week of December. But the newspapers were filled with accounts of unhappy customers who did not receive their gifts for Christmas because some e-commerce companies had been unprepared for the huge numbers of orders they received and were unable to fill them and ship on time for the holiday.
Cathy Allison is a freelance writer and fulltime mother who lives in Vancouver, BC.