Holiday shopping without the hassle

Going online is a lot easier than dealing with mall crowds

Life After 50

November 30, 2003|By Korky Vann | Korky Vann,Hartford Courant

It's prime shopping time. But braving the elements and crowds in search of gifts can be daunting -- particularly to older adults dealing with medical conditions that limit mobility. For many, the alternative to navigating busy malls, standing in long lines and carrying heavy packages is "armchair shopping" -- ordering items online from the comfort of home.

According to statistics compiled by AARP, more than 36 million seniors e-mail, bank, browse, comparison-shop and purchase goods from Web businesses, and that number increases each year.

"An online shopping survey done last month showed that 14 percent of people 65 and over said they shopped online," says Amy Blankenship, director of the Direct Marketing Association's Shop-At-Home Information Center. "It's not surprising. This is a demographic very comfortable with distance buying through catalogs. They're discovering that Web sites offer the same convenience of shopping on your own schedule."

Online shopping provides additional advantages to older consumers, says Andrea Tannenbaum, president of Dynamic Living.com, an online and catalog company featuring products for people with mobility, vision, hearing and memory loss.

"Most Web sites offer a search engine, which can make it much easier to find whatever you're looking for," Tannenbaum said. "Also, stock is usually updated more frequently. By the time our most recent catalog was in the mail, for example, we had a dozen new items on our Web site. And Web sites often offer much more detailed product information, shopping suggestions and links to other sites of interest."

Blankenship says the main obstacles to online shopping are lack of Internet access or computer skills and concerns with putting credit card numbers and other personal data online. To help, the Direct Marketing Association and AARP developed a Web site, www.cybersavvy.org, which includes a how-to guide to going online geared toward older consumers. The marketing group's consumer Web site, www.ShopTheNet.org, offers links to more than 200 shopping sites that adhere to ethical guidelines developed by the organization, along with e-commerce information.

"If you deal with reliable merchants, online shopping is as safe and secure as real world shopping," Blankenship said. "Your credit card information is transmitted in coded form."

Her advice to novice Web shoppers?

"Start by dealing with companies you know," Blankenship said. "If you've ordered from, say, the Lillian Vernon, Omaha Steaks or L.L. Bean catalog before and were satisfied with their service and products, visit their Web site and try ordering online. Once you build up your comfort level, you can move on to other Web-based merchants and service providers."

The Direct Marketing Association offers additional tips for safe online shopping:

* Make sure a site contains a physical street address and a phone number to call for additional information. Trust your instincts. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Check the delivery schedule, shipping options and shipping costs before ordering.

* Look for the URL (the Web address) when you reach the "checkout" page. An address that starts with "https: / / " means that the document is coming from a secure server. Never give out personal information. You are not required to provide your bank account number, your Social Security number or Internet password when ordering. Your credit card number and expiration date are all a merchant should need. To stay on the safe side, check for privacy policy statements. Keep your receipts, product packaging and literature until you are sure you are satisfied with your purchase. If the merchandise arrives damaged or is incorrect, contact the company immediately.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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