CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, November 29, 1999

E-Commerce Holiday Season

Is anyone else feeling annoyed by the deluge dot.com marketing lately? I know the holiday shopping season is in full swing but I, for one, am feeling dot.commed to death. It's becoming almost comical when I can't listen to the radio or watch TV without being accosted with some new dot.com venue clamoring for my e-business.

During a short round-trip to the grocery store, every radio ad was hawking virtual storefronts, each promising to deliver the "objects of my desire directly to my doorstep": cookies.com, holiday99.com, rewards.com, wines.com, wine.com (singular), mercata.com, sports.com, garden.com, etoys.com, kbtoys.com, shop4less.com, santa.com, shop.com, adnauseum.com.

Enough already! Last year I truly enjoyed the convenience of shopping through Amazon.com and still feel this is one of the best online commerce sites on the Web. This year, however, I may have to overcome my mall-phobia and hit the streets again, because there's too much to sift through on the Internet. Everyone is jumping on the e-commerce bandwagon these days and why not? With only a virtual storefront to maintain, the typical overhead retail business costs can be kept to a bare minimum.

According to Jupiter Communications, consumers spent $700 million online in 1996. In 1998, e-shoppers spent in excess of $7 billion and this year that figure is expected to double. But how the heck can you find what you want on the Net with so much out there? Enter the shopping bot to the rescue!

An autonomous robot, simply called a "bot" is a program that runs non-stop throughout the Internet and indexes all web pages and sites of particular interest. A shopping bot ferrets through the Internet and creates a database of the goods you're seeking online. Shopping bots function in much the same manner as other search engines that you regularly use to find general data and information on the Web.

The BotSpot, bots.internet.com, is your first stop to find the best shopping bots on the Web. Here you'll find over 50 shopping bots dedicated to finding the best buys on the Internet. Depending on what you're shopping for, this is the best place to find the right bot for you.

MySimon, www.mysimon.com, indexes over 1,000 merchants by hundreds of product categories and is touted as one of the best and most navigable shopping bots on the web. MySimon also utilizes Virtual Learning Agent (VLA) technology that can actually "learn" from your searches and anticipate your navigational preferences.

NetMarket, www.netmarket.com, is another shopping bot that lets you search for items by category or brand name. A search on "Callaway", for example, produced categories for golf bags, irons, junior golf sets, putters and woods. You can even specify a price range to further personalize your search.

Major Internet players such as Amazon.com and Microsoft are also getting into the shopping bot market. Amazon.com sponsors shoptheweb.amazon.com, which indexes goods by category available on Amazon.com or from other online retailers. eshop.msn.com is Microsoft's shopping bot that indexes e-commerce sites by category and also assists shoppers with finding the perfect gift in the right price range.

If you do all your holiday shopping online, you might want to explore an electronic wallet, such as Qpass's PowerWallet (www.qpass.com) or Gator (www.gator.com) which will automatically fill out online orders for recognizable merchant forms. Some electronic wallets will also process your transactions so your credit card is billed only once each month for all your online charges.

There's plenty of good deals and convenience shopping to be had online, as long as you're not overwhelmed in the process. Shopping bots can help you fine tune your searches and ease the holiday e-shopping stress.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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