Internet Shopping 101

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Obviously, Internet shopping is here to stay. Few retailers lack a web site, and even local tack stores have joined in as the convenience and publicity far outweigh the relatively low cost required to maintain the site.

A web site basically opens the store 24 hours a day, so to speak, making it a cinch for night owls and people with jobs that prohibit shopping during normal hours.

Basic online ordering is similar from site to site, but each site tends to have its own “personality” that may make it a personal favorite of some shoppers. We shopped several major sites to see what advantages we found and to check the efficiency of our orders. Every order we placed arrived quickly and correctly.

Overall, the sites we visited had easy-to-navigate home pages. Most that offer a large variety of products break down the categories by using button tabs or expanding menus to help you quickly locate products, such as Western tack or stable/barn supplies. The Libertyville Saddle Shop, State Line Tack, Dressage Extensions and Dover Saddlery sites are especially effective. In addition, all the sites had a site search box, which allows you to either narrow your search or go directly to the product you needed.

Once we located the items we wanted, the familiar “Add To Cart” button was prominent. If necessary, the proper screens for choosing size and color came up automatically, making it impossible to forget to indicate those choices. If we chose incorrectly and ordered a 28-regular breech instead of a 30-long, most web sites also offered a “Remove From Cart” icon easily found on the screen.

Checkout was also simple. Since we were considered a first-time user at all the sites we visited, we had to sign in. The information requested was similar to that requested when placing an order by phone, such as name, address, phone and credit-card information. The only variation was Dover Saddlery, which had a survey that we were unable to bypass during the registration process.

All the companies responded with an e-mail notification within one business day of our order being placed. This is a little slower than most non-equestrian web sites, however.

For example, an order confirmation from L.L. Bean or Lands End, usually hits your mailbox before you can log off. We also typically received confirmation that our order had shipped. Valley Vet’s confirmation even contained a link to their orders page, making it super easy to track our order. Always save these order confirmations “to file” or print out on paper.

Even with an online order confirmation, you should track the arrival of your order. Orders can disappear into Never-Never Land. If your order doesn’t arrive within the specified amount of time, get on the phone. Disappearing orders are usually accompanied by unanswered e-mail inquiries about them.

Dover Saddlery also offers you the option to have a “Live Chat” with an online representative with the hours listed that this service is offered. In our first efforts, we were unable to get anyone to respond. We then contacted Dover’s customer service by phone to complain and were told they were aware of the problem and working on it. We re-tried the option at a later date and found the system operational, although, like with Instant Messenger, it does feel like an eternity as you wait for the person to type out their reply.

Web-site photos are a problem. In order to offer sharp, higher-resolution photos, the site will take longer for you to download. Low-resolution photos download more quickly but are less sharp. Indeed, true to our get-it-fast society, most of the web sites offered disappointing photos very quickly. We found it was easier to see the product by looking in a company’s catalog and comparing it to the photo on the web site.

Of course, if you’re buying supplements and basic stable supplies, images don’t matter much. But if you’re looking for apparel, tack or horse clothing, a good image makes all the difference. Two sites that stood out for their excellence in photography were Dressage Extensions and Back In The Saddle. Both sites offered images that were big and clear enough to see the details and features.

The Internet does offer several advantages, including special limited sales and closeouts that you may not find in catalogs or stores. It’s also a quick way to compare prices on identical products. In addition, Internet search engines, like Google or Yahoo, can help you locate hard-to-find items, such as a galvanized-steel water bucket, or compare prices (don’t forget to factor in shipping and any applicable sales tax).

The Internet is a fast, easy way to find the lowest price on supplements and other similar products, but be careful of tack and clothing that seem priced “too good to be true” on Internet sites from unfamiliar companies.

Sites We Visited: Dover Saddlery at www.doversaddlery.com, State Line Tack at www.statelinetack.com, Valley Vet at www.valleyvet.com, Libertyville Saddle Shop at www.saddleshop.com, Schneiders Saddlery at www.sstack.com, Jeffers at www.jeffers.com, Miller’s at www.millerharness.com, Back In The Saddle at www.backinthesaddle.com, Dressage Extensions at www.dressageextensions.com, Country Supply at www.countrysupply.com. Other horse company website listings are available in our December 2000 catalog-shopping issue or may be found using an Internet search engine.

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