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Portals fail to make e-commerce sale

Most Web portals and community sites are mediocre when it comes to e-commerce, according to a new report.

    Most Web portals and community sites are mediocre when it comes to e-commerce, according to a report released Monday.

    Consumer Reports Online evaluated eight of the largest Internet sites and determined that only one earned a satisfactory score. Yahoo Shopping received an overall rating of four out of five on the "e-Ratings" scale, where five is the top.

    Other sites--including AltaVista, Shop@AOL, Excite@Home's Shopping and Lycos.com--were considered "generally useful" but somehow flawed. Researchers found that the sites' overall design and ease of use were "middling or even below par," except for Yahoo Shopping and MSN.com, both of which were ranked slightly higher.

    "We were surprised that e-Ratings' evaluations of these prominent and popular Internet sites...were generally in the middle of our scale and sometimes below that," said Helen Popkin, associate Web editor for the Yonkers, N.Y.-based consumer rating company. "It is disappointing that they are only good and haven't done a better job at making their sites exemplary and models for newer, less-experienced Internet merchants."

    Researchers also tested two popular community sites geared to the e-commerce needs of specific audiences, and neither fared well with testers at the online division of the 65-year-old Consumer Reports.

    Bolt.com, a community site and online store geared toward teens and young adults, has a "confusing" privacy policy, researchers said; they also couldn't find a search engine for the site.

    "Compared to other sites in this category, the product selection and number of merchants is limited," e-Ratings determined.

    Testers praised Women.com for its "wide variety of products," but they lamented that "browsing can be confusing and there is no search feature, which can make shopping a bit tedious."