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I have just recently found buying online to be more than I expected. First of all it is the convenience of not having the pressure and intimidation of buying in a busy store (I hate going around a busy HMV store) and having the world and his wife watching you (the security guards at the door are so off putting). Most of all it is the ease that online shopping brings, type in your credit card details and your done, no rushing about and so on. The only downside is that you cannot see what you are getting. Out of all the online shopping sites Amazon has to be one of the most popular when it comes to buying books, DVDs and the rest. My experience has been a bit mixed on Amazon and I thought I would give you my view.
First of all you can find the site at: www.amazon.co.uk
They also have other sites for the United States, Germany, France, Japan and Canada.
~ The website ~
When you visit the site for the first time you will not have any cookies set up (the things that hold you personal information, like that you enter in online forms will be saved and will pop-up later for other forms or for logging purposes). Once you have set up an account your cookies will be set for the site. Every time you visit after setting up an account your name will appear when the page loads up (although actually you will not be logged in, you will have to enter a password later if you want to buy anything, get access to your information). The background of the site is white with the Amazon logo in the top left corner
Anyway I am getting ahead of myself a bit, first of all signing up. Now signing up is a little strange, as they don’t actually appear to have a sign up button (as far as I can see) available on the page. You will have to click the sign in link under the yellow search bar and it will become apparent that you can sign up there by clicking ‘I am a new customer’ and entering your e-mail address then continuing to the next page. Next you enter and confirm a password and continue back to the welcome page and you done. There are no confirmation e-mails or anything but you will get a welcome e-mail. The next thing you should do is edit your account, amongst other things you can save your details here so every time you buy something you don’t have to enter your details just select it then follow the instructions to the checkout.
After all that you are ready to go and search for what you want. The site has many options, links and so on and it all gets terribly overwhelming if you are a first time user. Basically the main points of concern for the buyer are the twelve buttons along the top in blue that take to the main areas and categories set out in the same way as Ciao is. They take you to the books, electronics, music, DVD, video, software, PC & video games, toys & kids!, travel and gifts as well as your personal store and the welcome page (if you want to get back there to start new searches), each section has its own colour coded bars. Underneath this is a bar for the particular section in which quick links are contained e.g. in the DVD section there are options such as ‘What’s New’ and ‘Top Sellers’. Below the top bars the general layout is that you have search and browse bars on the left of the page for different things, on the right you have links to places in that section or products such as top ten lists and so forth. In between these two frames you have your information such as the most popular items, information on the searched product and all that, basically the information you want. Other search type features include a help section that in my opinion is very limited as I had to do three or four searches before anything came up for my particular search and the ability to view your basket at any time before you submit your final order. In the books section you can view by author from an alphabetical list for example that makes life nice and easy (as is similar with the other categories).
Once you have found what you are looking for you can instantly add the item to your basket then carry on shopping/browsing or go straight to the checkout. Once you have gathered all the items you want into the basket you just go to your basket and follow the instructions and enter your details (or check them if you have preset them automatically, you can change them at this point if need be if this the case). Then click send order and all is done. You will receive a confirmation e-mail (keep this as a receipt although you will get an e-mail when the item is despatched as well) almost instantly.
The more you browse and buy on the site the more your personal pages become with recommendations and so on, a good way to find what you want and also a cheeky sales tactic (well what is new).
Another thing I should mention is that you can send and view reviews of items, they also show reviews from the manufacturers and other sources so you can check to see if the item is any good (there is always Ciao as well!).
~ Delivery and returns ~
When you order your item(s) you aren’t usually given an option to what class of postage you want it sent by, normally there is only first class to select before you submit the order. The cost of postage varies but is generally around the £1-2 mark for items up to DVD box set size, I have only ordered DVDs so this is all I have to go on.
This is where things got a little interesting as far my experience is concerned. Be prepared to pay extra attention from here as there is a lot to take in. My history so far concerns a little problem that I identified earlier with online ordering and that is the condition items may arrive in. I ordered The X-files DVD Season Two box set at £79.99 (more on price in a minute). I received this in fairly little time at all, about a week and a half after sending for the order and two days after a despatch notification e-mail was sent, no problems. Well that was until I opened the rather flimsy cardboard package that arrived in the post (although the package doesn’t actually quite fit through the door so there was the postman knocking on the door at 8am). What I found looked promising at first when I saw the nice item inside, upon closer inspection though I found the glossy cardboard exterior (of the box set) to be dented and scratched slightly in places but that was not all. To my horror the several page booklet that accompanies the set was missing, it was then it occurred to me that the clear wrapping around the DVD set was not in tact. I was not having that so I sent it back using the returns address given (on the back of the receipt that comes with the delivery) to get a replacement. They advise you to send it back by recorded delivery which I did as they refund the cost of the postage it costs you to send it back to them. It was then several weeks (three or four as far as I can remember) before a replacement arrived, in the meantime an e-mail arrived saying they had received the item and were sorting things out. Finally a new set arrived, this time with booklet but in my opinion the box was more dented than the first time so once again I sent it back, this time for a refund that I got rather swiftly and also I got a refund for the postage of sending it back just recently as well. Not to be undone by not getting my hands on the Season Two box set I received an e-mail in my inbox from Amazon with some unbeatable offers. One of which was the X-files Season 5 DVD box set on pre-order, so being more than fair I gave them a third try and pre-ordered, this time they got it right, it was in perfect condition and I was a happy bunny. I have also just received another DVD box set in very good condition so it seems my early experiences were just unlucky. It doesn’t stop there, I have just pre-ordered Red Dwarf Series One on DVD so hopefully all should be well and this is expected to arrive sometime in the next week or two.
My feeling is they think they can get away with packaging DVDs in the same way as they do books. In my experience of buying elsewhere on the net (for different types of items) the least that should have been done was bubble wrap the item then package it up.
~ Cost ~
This is what confuses me about Amazon. Having a look at some of the prices of the products on offer it is clear that some items are priced a lot higher than in shops, and other online stores, others are priced a lot lower and some are about the same. Here are a few examples. X-files Season 5 Box Set on DVD priced on release at £59.99 (normal price would be around £79.99 elsewhere). Then there is the X-files Season 2 Box Set on DVD consisting of the same running time approximately at £89.99 (elsewhere at £79.99). Finally the recently pre-ordered Red Dwarf Series One on DVD priced at £14.99 (there normal price would normally be £19.99 and that is at a guess the same as it will retail in stores).
Looking elsewhere at the site there seems to be an array of offers and claims. Amazingly in the books section it appears they are selling items at up to 50% off for some newly released books (and/or top sellers). For example The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster is £8.49 apparently saving £8.50 on the full price.
The one thing you have to remember is that you still have to include postage and packing charges on top of the item(s) that amounted to £1.54 on my box set orders (per item) although apparently this gets cheaper the more items to buy together (assuming they have the items in so they can send out the items together).
~ The competition ~
I have not used any the online competitors sites but from a quick browse here is a run down of how they appear in terms of price and surfing:
www.cd-wow.co.uk- Although not direct competition in the sense of offering the all the same products they do sell CD albums and DVDs at discount rates, in terms of navigation the site is simple to use and all features are obvious so outclasses Amazon in that sense.
www.justgoodbooks.co.uk - This appears to be a very good book only seller (more a book club), they offer (up to) 75% of all books (too good to be true?). Navigation appears to be in the same layout as our very own Ciao. It is a very colourful site and easy looking. Take the four books of Harry Potter, £6.25 for the lot (£18 saving apparently!). Delivery is also free when you order three or more items (bonus!).
www.bol.com - This one is exactly the same site as above (buy the same people) but this is the online store side of the company the brings you Just Good Books, best sellers up to 60% of bestsellers and 20% of the rest (in fact this is their motto).
There are more examples but these appear to be the most popular choices from what I have heard around the web. Amazon should take note of the layout of these sites as they are far superior.
~ Overall ~
I will be buying from them again despite early misgivings but would heed in that I say the packaging should be far better especially at the delivery price, possibly improved quality control (if any at all?) for all despatches. The site is in need of a serious overhaul to bring it up to 2002 standards to make navigation easier.
Despite that they do deliver promptly the correct items, communicate well and are happy to refund and/or replace items and even reimburse delivery back to them for the trouble. They also have a great array of items, not just small but larger items such as electronic equipment.
So overall I am happy now but was not then hence only the three star rating (first impressions do count and last you know).