B&H Photo and REI were at the top of the chart, along with Zappos, which earned top marks for checkout, shipping and customer support. Costco, Nordstrom, L.L. Bean and Newegg.com were neck-and-neck overall with Zappos.
Although readers rated the quality of REI's products as outstanding, they deemed the value – the judgment of whether products are worth their price – of those products just OK. B&H Photo and L.L. Bean were standouts for both quality and value.
On 7 percent of visits to online shopping sites, readers complained about high shipping or delivery charges, a particular problem at flower sites – about which more than one in four readers complained. Another common complaint among survey respondents was not discovering the total cost of shopping cart items until checkout.When shopping online, Consumer Reports advises consumers to consider the following, especially when buying from a retailer they haven't tried before:
*Use a separate email address. To keep spam from reaching a regular email account, use a different address for online purchases. Many Internet service providers let you set up numerous email accounts, which you can change any time you want, or you can obtain a free account from such sites as Google.
*See products in person. Check out big-ticket items at a local retailer to see how they look and work. Buying online could be an option if the store won't match the best online price.
*See what others say. Some sites, such as Amazon.com, let customers rate retailers who sell through them. Do a Web search with the name of the site and search terms as "review" and "complaints."
*Know warranty limits. When shopping online, consumers don't generally get an "implied warranty of merchantability," meaning the right to receive a product that is free of defects and lasts a reasonable length of time. An implied warranty can extend protection beyond the product warranty and the store's return policy. Under state law, it automatically accompanies most new-product sales unless the retailer "disclaims" it, which is permitted in most states. Check the fine print because online retailers typically do disclaim this protection. To preserve basic warranty rights when making a major purchase, consider shopping at a walk-in store.
*Use credit. Credit cards provide greater security than debit cards, allowing customers to obtain a chargeback if there's a problem.
*Keep records. Keep a copy of the online order page or take a screen shot of it in case an email receipt is never received.