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Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

Consumer Reports to issue e-commerce report cards

Consumer Reports Online is expected to announce Monday that it will begin providing regular Web site evaluations, just as it has for decades in the brick-and-mortar world.

Consumer Reports Online is expected to announce Monday that it will begin providing regular Web site evaluations, just as it has for decades in the brick-and-mortar world.

Regular ranking of e-commerce sites marks Consumer Reports biggest foray yet into the online world. Consumers long have turned to the 63-year-old magazine for shopping guidance, ratings, and product recalls. Its brand is among the most trusted--and to some, controversial--for product reviews.

As e-commerce booms, consumer-watchdog sites are growing, too. Another example: AuctionWatch, an independent critic for online auctions.

As for Consumer Reports' plans: "Web site evaluations…will be regularly updated on Consumer Reports Online in a section called e-Ratings [coming November 1]," the company's Web site reads. "The section will also incorporate data from BizRate.com, which independently tabulates consumers' experiences with online merchants."

A representative declined comment except to say an announcement was planned for Monday. But the news already is provided within an article posted on Consumer Reports' subscription-based site.

Titled "Catalogs Take to the Web," the article notes that "The masters of shop-at-home convenience peddle their wares online, but so far is isn't all smooth sailing."

It its review, Consumer Reports compared the catalogs of 25 specialty merchants to their online stores in five categories: clothing, food, home furnishings, sporting goods, and gadgets.

"Among the problems encountered: lack of information about security, return policies, and shipping costs; skimpy product offerings; organization that made shopping tedious; and Kafkaesque ordering procedures," it reads. "Our analysis also convinced us that consumers who shop online should be mindful of assaults on their privacy."

When it comes to security, it awarded the highest score to the Company Store, Domestications, Lands' End, and REI, largely because they offer to cover the first $50 on a fraudulent charge. It praised J. Crew's Web site for its organization and said computer-and-music retailer J & R got the "trophy for volume and quality information."

As for price, "No Web sites we surveyed offered regular discounts, but Austad's, the Company Store, and the Sharper Image promoted clearance areas and specials that weren't available in the catalog."

It dissed Chef's Catalog for not responding promptly to an email, and said that Hammacher Schlemmer "spat out" too much inventory when staffers asked for a list of gifts priced at less than $50 for men.

Consumer Reports Online launched in November 1997. BizRate.com says it is a source that "continuously collects direct feedback from millions of actual customers as they buy."