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Ten things done better on the Net

After they become more comfortable using technology and widespread Net access issues are resolved, people will use the Net because it's easier.

I spend so much time online for work that I rarely use the Internet for personal business. But recently I've found myself signing on to check airline flight schedules and even buy tickets.

Why have I changed? It's easier to go online than call the airline, especially if I'm just pricing a trip or checking flight times. That spurred me to think about things done easier on the Net than otherwise.

The list was so extensive that I'm sharing it, because it has broad implications for Net commerce. After people become more comfortable using technology and widespread Net access issues are resolved, they will use the Net because it's easier. Here's how:

Compare prices.
In a recent column, Danny Rimer of Hambrecht & Quist noted the explosion of shopping bots or comparison shopping services.

Don't trust shopping bots, particularly when they're run by a Web site with paid sponsorship from a major retailer. Often competitors' prices aren't listed. Nonetheless, imagine how long it would take to compare cell phone prices and calling plans if you didn't have a site like Wireless Dimension.

Check the status of orders.
Many Web sites let customers check whether items are in stock. UPS lets buyers check shipping status from the merchant's site. If you're online, it's much easier than picking up the phone.

Update software.
If your antivirus software doesn't provide regular updates, get another vendor.

Buy flowers--or paper clips.
Unless you go to a florist, you'll never see the flowers you're sending anyway, so why not go online and look at a bouquet instead of calling a florist? For paper clips, do you care what they look like? Cheap, commodity items purchased frequently are ideal for ordering over the Net.

Configure complex products.
One secret to Cisco's highly successful e-commerce site is that buying the right hub or router isn't easy. The buyer is in a much better position to specify the right variables than a sales rep.

Likewise, you may not be able to get a trailer hitch on a new off-road vehicle unless you buy the deluxe version--the standard model may not offer it. With online configurators, you can adjust the variables yourself, rather than getting sold in the dealer's showroom on something that's not manufactured.