POWER USER

Online orders bring computer goodies to your office in a snap

John McCormick

In response to my columns last year about buying PCs online, two GCN readers recounted their own experiences.

A Tennessee Valley Authority em-ployee wrote that, like me, he was told that Dell Computer Corp. would ship his PC in five to seven days but it arrived the next day. That's terrific performance.

He got a federal employee discount, and it's possible that he, like other GCN readers, is receiving high shipping priority from PC vendors.

A Postal Service employee had better luck than I did in ordering a low-cost, rebuilt system. He chose a refurbished Hewlett-Packard 8590C system online on a Saturday and was told it would take two to three business days to arrive. It came the following Wednesday.

Computers I bought a year ago didn't even offer a Universal Serial Bus option, but the IBM PC I purchased last fall had two USB ports. A Compaq Presario 5690 purchased soon after came with four USB ports, two of them on the front panel, plus a FireWire 1394 connection.

Picture perfect

I needed a Web camera, and with so much USB connectivity at hand I decided to order online from Egghead.com's site, at www.egghead.com. The Menlo Park, Calif., online reseller was one of the few offering the new USB WebCam GO from Creative Labs Inc. of Milpitas, Calif., at www.soundblaster.com. The videoconferencing webcam also functions as a battery-powered still camera with a 90-shot capacity.

I ordered on Dec. 10 and was notified by e-mail four days later that the item had been shipped at 11:03 a.m. Considering the holiday rush, that was perfectly acceptable. The e-mail notice included a United Parcel Service tracking number.

The camera had been listed online as in stock. Although it arrived fast enough for my needs, Egghead.com did take more than two business days to ship an in-stock item. I don't know whether it might have been faster at other times of year.

I checked back on the morning of Dec. 15 to see if the camera was still in stock and was surprised that it no longer showed up in a site search.

A few minutes later I searched again for 'webcam go,' and the item was back.

By that afternoon, the camera had arrived. Ordering took just a few minutes online, with no phone call required.

Other Web ordering experiences were equally positive.

Placing an order for coffee from www.coffee-anyone.com went through with no problem, and the coffee arrived on time. My only complaint is that I got several e-mail messages urging holiday orders, which I had already sent. No other online vendor spammed me.

No tall order

The catalog dealer at www.sportsman.com took orders entirely at the Web site and shipped on time. The discounter at www.heartlandamerica.com had the best price for a computerized weather station, and an online order went through easily. Ditto for orders to www.harborfreight.com, the site of a discount tool company.

The industrial supply company at www.mscdirect.com sent both print and CD-ROM catalogs, but the Web site was good enough to make them unnecessary.

No company lost my order or my shopping cart. Although none of the comparison shopping sites was helpful, I did search on product names at www.google.com to find multiple sources so I could do my own comparison shopping.

My big online ordering disappointment was that what I wanted most'a Visor Deluxe handheld computer from Handspring Inc. of Mountain View, Calif.'was back-ordered everywhere.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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