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Student Angles
Comparison Shopping on the Web
How to Find the Best Bargains and Avoid Budget Busters
by Karen Lynn Thomas
Austin, Texas

Recently, when my 13-year-old TV started going on the fritz, it was pretty much a no- brainer that it needed to be replaced. Now, I'm not a big television watcher, and with "Friends" over, I'll be tuning in even less. However, with a brother serving on active duty in Iraq, I do need a daily dose of CNN for updates and breaking news. It stands to reason then that all I need is a standard TV. If you're a true "shoppy" like me, you like to research all major purchases to find the most reliable products at reasonable prices. Shopping for quality and value has never been easier since the introduction of shopper bots. Finding the best deals on electronics, computers, furniture, clothes, toys or airline tickets is just a click or two away.

As convenient as online shopping is, I still prefer to go to the store to buy. Even so, nothing beats the Internet for researching features, pricing and availability of highly sought-after items. For electronics I tend to shop at my nearby Best Buy and Circuit City stores, so

 Best Buy  and  Circuit City 

are usually my first stops on the Web. Many online retailers make it very easy for you to find what you need by providing buying guides, glossaries of features, and product reviews on their Web sites. It's worth it to find out if your favorite stores maintain accessible Web sites.

While shopping for a TV I soon discovered that I could spend as little as $100, or as much as a down payment on a house. By quickly eliminating the big screen projection, plasma and high definition television, in just a few short minutes I was able to pick out a TV that would save space and be easy to use--two criteria that are important to me. Combo televisions that incorporate a DVD player and/or VCR fit the bill nicely for a home office. Being a member of Sam's Club, I always check there to see if I can get a better price on an item I want. Discounters such as Sam's, Costco, Wal-Mart and Target are all good places to look for bargain prices. Sure enough, Sam's carried the TV set in question, but when I went in to look at it, the sales associate tried to dissuade me from my purchase. It is a little pricier than similar models in its category and perhaps he noticed my hesitation.

"Do you need this particular model?" he asked.

"No. It just has all of the features I want," I said. He then proceeded to show me a less expensive model by another manufacturer which lacks some of my must-have features, including secondary audio programming (SAP). Plus it required the use of on-screen menus for many functions. On-screen menus pose grave challenges for those of us with low vision and I will pay a little more to avoid the hassle of having to use them.

I tried to educate him about this, but I'm not sure he understood. When I left him he was still going through the menus trying to see if SAP was masquerading under some other name.

While in the store, I decided that I really might be able to find a different model that had the key features I wanted and at a better price if I searched some of the online shopping sites. Taking a little extra time to review product options before buying can really save you some money and headaches down the road.

To be a smart consumer you have to make a list of the features you need and how much you are willing to spend for them. I'm a big fan of CONSUMER REPORTS, a monthly periodical that is available on cassette from NLS. In addition to publishing the magazine, CONSUMER REPORTS maintains the  the Consumer Reports Web Site .

It is a fee-based site that enables you to research products reviewed in current and past issues.

The in-depth reports and product recommendations found in this publication help me to narrow my choices and settle on a few best buys. For example, I know which brands are highly rated and which brands to steer clear of as I compare and contrast before making a final choice. The shopper bot Web sites can't be beat for getting the best deals.

I really like  because it's relatively easy to navigate. This is a useful site that allows you to compare features and prices of products in 14 categories, including books, music, movies, cars, clothes, computers, health and beauty, home and garden, jewelry, office equipment and sporting goods.

Another excellent site is  My Simon .

Rated a Forbes Favorite by FORBES magazine, how can you go wrong. The screens are a little cluttered, but the buying guides and gift ideas are great. This site has also divided its content into categories and allows you to shop by price, product type and brand. You can conduct price comparisons on new as well as refurbished items at .

I hope that you will find these shopper bots as consumer friendly and helpful as I do.

So, do I have a new TV? Not yet, but with the tools found on these shopper bot sites I have found a few less expensive models from leading manufacturers that could work nicely. It's a toss-up between waiting for my number one choice to go on sale or purchasing a less expensive set. Ah, decisions, decisions....

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