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Online Shopping: Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

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Contributed by Stanislav Kelman
February 13, 2002

Just when I needed those online services the most, none of them seemed to do me any good.

Not so long ago, a great job opportunity came my way. So, after careful consideration and with much regret, I decided to move from my beloved New York City to the Princeton, New Jersey, area. However, trying to uphold my reputation as a true geek, I was determined to facilitate my move using as many Internet services as possible.

You see, after getting hooked on e-shopping, e-banking, e-trading and e-dating, it was only a matter of time before I started suspecting that the Web might work just as well for doing things on a larger scale.

And if there was no better place than the Internet to shop for a DVD player, maybe buying a car online wouldn't be such a bad idea, either.

It's Driving Me Crazy

At the time, of all the sites that I sampled, CarsDirect.com seemed to be the leader of the pack. Furthermore, it's one of the few places where you don't have to go through the hassle of waiting for a quote over e-mail.

Besides, if a dot-com has to "get back to you" like those sneaky real-life dealers with their infamous "trips to the sales manager," then why bother shopping online in the first place?

Unfortunately, the "golden era" -- when they were supposedly giving cars away -- has passed. No matter which model I was looking at, I could always get a significantly better bargain from a local dealer. So, ultimately, I ended up buying my new Eclipse the old-fashioned way.

Insurance Assurance

Next in line was shopping for auto insurance. I tried filling out numerous online applications but got mostly spam in return. Overall, it turned out that soliciting quotes over the phone was still a lot quicker than doing it online.

Once again, a random insurance agent I found in the Yellow Pages got me a far better deal than all those phony sites that promised to "save me money."

No Place Like Home

Then I started searching for a condo. However, it wasn't long before I realized that any attempt to look up properties online would be futile.

Simply put, anything worth considering was sold before it ever made it into the online classifieds. Maybe the situation isn't so bad in other parts of the country, but around here, relying on online listings was a sure way to be left out in the street.

Don't Quote Me

In my last effort to try to utilize Internet services, I turned to LendingTree.com for a quote on a mortgage. Day in and day out, I had listened to the company's advertising on the radio, boasting about a "virtual marketplace of lenders."

I went ahead and signed up, only to discover that instead of sending me the promised "four offers within hours," they took almost a whole week to reject me outright.

Now, being rejected for a loan by a particular institution isn't a rare occurrence. What surprised me was that none of the multiple banks they supposedly enlisted could offer me anything.

Actually, now that I think of it, this was probably the first time I was ever rejected for a secured loan of any kind. Additionally, that rejection stood in sharp contrast with every individual mortgage company I contacted directly, all of which seemed eager to do business with me.

Break Free

At that point, I concluded that the Web had ultimately failed me. So, when I went shopping for homeowner's insurance, I didn't even bother trying to do it online. My faith has been shattered.

Besides, instead of dealing with faceless, poorly implemented computerized systems, I got to meet a few rather nice people. Well, except for that lawyer who handled my mortgage papers.

Anyway, just when I needed online services the most, none of them seemed to do me any good. I was in a rather desperate position, being new to the area, lonely and disoriented. I thought the Internet would prove to be a blessing.

Instead, I ended up wasting a lot of time dealing with ineffective services run by immature companies.

So, the next time you hear somebody telling you they can do everything online, take it with a grain of salt. The Internet still has a long, long way to go.

Talkback Forum

Author's background:
Stanislav Kelman is a self-admitted Internet addict and a long-time osOpinion contributor. He maintains a list of his past technology-related editorials on TechOpinion.org. He also invites you to visit LetItBe.org, where you can learn more about him than you might care to know. Stanislav would love to hear your reaction to his opinion columns, so feel free to drop him a line at osOpinion@LetItBe.org.

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