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THE MORNING BUZZ: Letting My Fingers Do the Walking

29 Oct, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

My TV went on the fritz this weekend. Which is of no concern to any of you, but it changed my weekend schedule because I had a friend coming over to play a new DVD game (more on that next week).

It was an old set with just one AV hookup in the back so it seemed low yield to have it fixed. I speculated that holiday pricing would be in effect and went online to shop. Not that I don't enjoy pushing buttons and comparing picture quality hands on, I just wanted to narrow the field before going to the store.

I shopped at five online sites: BestBuy.com, CircuitCity.com, Buy.com, Amazon.com and Walamrt.com. The search led me to two conclusions.

One was that BestBuy,com offers the best online shopping experience. (Well, after a brief glitch. The section of the site I wanted to see kept freezing my browser so I had to switch to the hated Internet Explorer. But after that it was OK.)

I shopped each of the sites by category, to see what was available. Best Buy and Amazon.com dwarfed Circuit City and Buy.com for selection. The ratio in the size range I was looking for was something like 5:1. For every set I could find on Buy and Circuit City. Best Buy and Amazon listed four or five more.

For shopping experience, in terms of navigation and site design, Circuit City came in second. The selection just wasn't there but, as you'll learn momentarily, that did not cost them the sale).

What kept taking me back to BestBuy.com was the depth of information on each product. I would see something on another site but be unable to check the product dimensions (yes, in the postage-stamp sized apartment I can afford, size does matter!) or something about the features. On BestBuy.com the information was not only detailed, but the product comparison feature let me check off seven sets, push a button and look at the features side by side, in spreadsheet fashion.

Circuit City.com has a comparison engine, but it was less helpful because there was less data to compare in the first place.

Still, Circuit City got the sale because availability in Best Buy stores looked dicey from the site. Which leads us to the other conclusion I reached: Amazon.com and BestBuy.com appear to be feeling the strain of port labor issues.

I've gotten some good deals on Amazon.com, their selection is usually the largest, there's no sales tax and free shipping, so I thought I would be buying there. Instead, about 2/3 of the televisions listed on the site were unavailable new (the official message reads “This item is not stocked or has been discontinued”). Sure, if I had $3,000 or $4,000 to spend I could get a nice, flat panel, high definition set. But in my price range, there was very little available new. The site did have several used options, but that wouldn't do.

Just to verify and to take a reading for our industry, I also searched the DVD player category. The cupboard appeared similarly bare (no comment yet from Amazon, but I've asked).

The problem was less pervasive at Best Buy but the item I wanted was not available for delivery, I had to go get it. Which meant I bought from Circuit City, because the price was the same and Circuit City was closer. For a 90-pound TV set that obstructs the rear view, a shorter trip was important to me.

Just one problem: the set appears to be defective (it has purple tint bleeding into the picure from the lower right corner) and I'll have to return it for another one. So expect to read next week about why Circuit City kept or lost a customer, because when I go to exchange this set, the customer service experience will be the determining factor.



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