Plug-ins and other services can help you fine-tune your online searches

Plug-ins and other services can help you fine-tune your online searches

Online buyers have several options to help determine the products and suppliers that best meet their needs. Downloading a shopping plug-in for your browser, for example, enhances the ability to find the best product at the best price, while a service such as BizRate helps in selecting the best supplier.

Flyswat. Flyswat is a free plug-in that works with Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. After an Internet page is downloaded, Flyswat analyzes it and underlines in green or yellow any terms that it has links for. When the user clicks on an underlined term, Flyswat provides a menu of links relating to that word or phrase.

For example, in an article about John Smith of Tarrytown, Pa., it underlines each of those terms and provides links to a biography of John Smith, a map of Tarrytown and a link to the Pennsylvania state Web page.

When shopping for hardware, it underlines the terms used in the specifications and provides links to definitions of them. If you are looking for a video card, and if the model being considered uses synchronous graphics RAM, Flyswat underlines that term and provides a link to a definition of SGRAM that compares its features to synchronous dynamic RAM, video RAM and Windows RAM.

It also offers links to the manufacturer, suppliers and competitors. Even when reading a product review on GCN's Web site, Flyswat allows the reader to competitively price the featured product. It's available at

RUSure. This is a program that conducts automatic price comparisons. It currently supports about 450 online suppliers of computers, office supplies, books, music and videos. When shopping on one of the supported sites, it checks the other sites to see if that same product is available elsewhere for less.

The usefulness of this tool is limited because of its relatively small number of categories and allied sites. If the user does normally buy from one of those sites, he or she can, however, save money on purchases.

When looking at the listing for PCI System Architecture, Fourth Edition, on, for example, RUSure tells the purchaser that the same book is available for $6 less on The program supports a large number of book and music retailers, but many of the main players in computers and office supplies are not listed.

The software can be downloaded from It is a 2.5M application and takes about two minutes to do a comparison price check.

BizRate. If you're not sure about a company's reliability, you can check its BizRate rating. BizRate is an independent company that surveys buyers for 3,000 online merchants. To get ratings of additional companies, BizRate's staff members shop at other stores and evaluate them. They rate vendors on 10 criteria: ease of ordering, product selection, product information, prices relative to similar online stores, Web site navigation and appearance, on-time delivery, accurate representation of the product, customer support, posted privacy policies, and product shipping and handling.

Checking this information can help purchasers determine whether they are buying from a reliable merchant.

The company's own site, at, has a search engine that allows a person to search for a product and sort the responses according to any of the above 10 quality criteria, in addition to price. A good feature of its pricing comparison is that it includes estimated shipping charges.

An online shopping checklist

  • Can you reach the supplier by phone or mail, as well as through the Internet?
  • What is the company's return policy? Who pays the return postage? Is there a restocking charge?
  • Does the Web site have a General Services Administration section?
  • What type of guarantee or warranty does the company offer?

  • What are the shipping and handling charges? These can make what first appears to be a great deal very expensive.
  • What after-sale service and support does the company offer?
  • Is the item in stock? What is the delivery time?
  • What product specifications and reviews are available?

'Drew Robb

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