Online shopping takes many forms and plenty of retailers have created sites that offer goods and services. High-profile players like Tesco, despite mixed press coverage, are pointing the way ahead, while smaller niche retailers such as BookNet show the Internet is a boon to consumers and a leveller in many market sectors.
It's no surprise that the Net is full of shops selling computer products, and we'll be looking at these in May, but you can also buy just about anything you could imagine. We've looked at some of the most popular areas for UK shoppers - books, music and videos, food and clothing. You'll also find some of the main online malls.
The Net can be used to buy goods abroad but we'd advise you to stick to UK suppliers if you want to ensure the normal consumer protection applies. Otherwise look for some local representation.
But is payment secure? While a number of sites do provide secure online ordering (we've said which ones), not enough do, and some are plain fiddly to use. That said, you can find an awful lot of what you want without ever having to leave your home.
Concentrating on academic books, this site includes plenty of other material and a good search engine although it's not as easy to use as the Internet Bookshop. Secure online ordering is available.
Secure ordering of computer-related books from a rather plain Web site. The book lists don't include the publishers, which could make it hard to find the good titles.
One of London's largest bookshops, with online and email ordering available. There's background information on selected books but no simple search system.
Internet Book Shop
Easy to use online bookshop with a secure ordering system. You can even submit reviews of books for other shoppers as you browse.
Empire is a leading home mail order catalogue but its Web pages are little more than a PR exercise - no real shopping here.
One of the largest names in home shopping in the UK should be online by the time you read this, with secure 24-hour ordering.
The online face of Great Universal Stores, another mail order company. It's slick, well-presented and stuffed full of graphics, which can slow things down. You can buy just about anything, including toys, software, flowers, clothes and insurance, using secure online ordering.
A fairly comprehensive record store, with collections dedicated to types of music or single artists. Rather too many graphics. Order via a form and someone will phone for your credit card details.
CJ's Music and Memorabilia
A good selection of hard to find music and memorabilia, and you can place an ad for something you want to track down.
Cookies Karaoke Megastore
Specialising in Karaoke, this store can supply films and music on Laserdisc as well.
Country Music Store
A simple site, updated weekly with details of the latest country music releases. Order by phone or email.
Online shopping with secure ordering, brought to you by the publishers of Record Mirror. Just browse through the charts and click the Buy button. What could be easier?
An impressive range of dance records. Ordering is via a Web form but you can fax or phone through credit card numbers for security.
Another heavily graphical record store, with a reasonable selection of CDs and vinyl. Orders are placed via a Web form and confirmed on the phone.
Hi-tech meets low-tech at the Gramophone Emporium. This specialist in jazz and blues records will even try to track down old 78s for you. If you're an enthusiast, make sure you check here.
Hit The Deck
Mail order company specialisting in deleted and collectable items. There's a selection of artists but the Web pages are a mess and the catalogues are PC executables, so Mac users might be miffed.
Internet Music and Video Shop
A shop that stocks more than 45,000 CDs and 23,000 videos, with a special version of the site for people with slow links and no frames. The site is easy to navigate and search, and secure online ordering is provided.
CDs and video indices can be searched before you order via email. Online ordering is coming soon.
An independent record store with email and Web ordering for those who can't find what they want in the mass-market chains.
Specialists in pop compilation albums, with a wide range. The company is part of Time Warner, so it's a shame it can't come up with a better way of ordering than printing a form and faxing it to the Netherlands.
Sounds of Scotland
A range of Scottish music, from bagpipes and folk through to bands such as Runrig. Order online using a secure form, or via email and telephone.
A record shop specialising in good old vinyl. Although there's no online ordering, you can fill in a request form for a free record finding service.
Cashmere at CocoKane
Exclusive cashmere knitwear. The site is rather dull.
Channel Islands Sweater Company
Pure wool Guernsey sweaters from the Channel Islands, with online secure ordering or email for users with older browsers.
Glendinning & Son
Sale and hire of kilts by a company based outside Gretna Green. Orders are accepted via email. The perfect complement to an elopment.
Email ordering of branded and promotional merchandise. Strictly for the label-conscious.
Specialist rainwear for people with wheelchairs and disabled scooters. Orders can be placed online but not via a secure system.
Information about the Yorkshire knitwear company but no online ordering. Orders can only be placed by post, phone or fax.
Fashionable footwear with platforms. There's a frames-based catalogue and an email form for ordering. If you want better security, orders can be placed by fax.
New Balance Europe
Information about sports footwear, including dealer guides and how to choose the right size of shoe, plus links to other useful sites for athletes.
Big Man's Shop
Specialist suppliers for large and tall men. There's a small selection from the paper catalogue and enquiries can be made by email.
High & Mighty
Clothes for large and tall men. The site features a store finder and a request form for the latest paper catalogue.
Classic men's shirts and cashmere with online ordering, but there is no secure ordering system.
Information about the Paul Smith range of clothes. A particularly attractive layout with animated pictures.
An older Paul Smith site, containing much the same information, but much easier for visitors who have older browsers.
TM Lewin and Sons
High-quality shirts and silk ties. The pictures aren't particularly good but the site does feature a secure ordering process.
sportswear & outdoor clothing
Details of the Cotswold stores and catalogue request. Useful information and links to other sites to do with walking, cycling, camping, climbing and canoeing.
Dare 2 Dream
Snow and surf sweatshirts. Secure ordering is available but the Web site is dull.
Sports clothing and equipment, plus links to sporting sites. There's a wide range of products, divided into categories. Frames and no-frames versions are provided. Online and fax ordering are available.
Under construction but you can request a catalogue. More product details are promised as the site is built.
Online ordering of clothing and equipment for sailors.
Penrith Survival Equipment
Suppliers of protective clothing, footwear and equipment for climbing and other outdoor pursuits.
You too can dress up like Damon Hill. Orders are via email only but a catalogue can be requested online.
A wine merchant specialising in supplying companies, with three price bands. Ordering is via a Web form or phone and personalised labels are available for gifts.
Berry Bros & Rudd
London's oldest wine merchant, with email ordering. Orders can be placed in Yen and dollars as well as sterling, and shipping can be arranged.
Bier Over Hier
Specialist importer of German beer, with free crate delivery and information about the beers on offer. No online ordering.
Direct Vintners specialises in mixed cases, saving you the hard work.
Online ordering is via a form or email.
Wines and spirits, plus hampers and food baskets. There's a service for tracking down a particular vintage. Order via a free phone number or fax.
Great Northern Wine Company
Information about the award-winning Yorkshire wine merchant. Under development but a guide to the wines sold is promised.
A basic site offering wines and spirits via mail order from Warwickshire.
Lay & Wheeler
Specify the type of wine you want and the occasion and then a selection is presented for email ordering.
Peace & Plenty
A small whisky distillery catering mainly for the US market, but also providing customised bottles for companies and clubs in the UK.
The main commodity on this site is drink, but you can also order hampers and flowers. Secure online ordering.
Unwins Wine Merchants
A good-looking site that doesn't demand the latest browser and has secure ordering online. A wide selection but limited information about the wines.
A rather bland page, but the descriptions of the chocolates make up for it. Secure ordering available.
All the spices you'll need, ready mixed or individually, for Indian cooking.
Orders can be placed by email.
Online supplier of vitamin and mineral supplements, with phone ordering available for those who are worried about sending details over the Net.
Traditionally prepared hams, delivered throughout the UK. Orders are placed by telephone or fax.
Fresh Food Company
Organic vegetables and freshly caught fish delivered direct to your door every week.
malls & search engines
One of the first UK shopping malls online, including Toys R Us, Victoria Wine, Argos and Blackwells. Secure ordering is supported but navigation isn't always intuitive.
Food Shop directory
If you can't track down the food you're craving, try this directory.
Greenwich Worldwide portfolio
Finely crafted furniture, textiles and antiques from a selection of British and Irish craftspeople. Rather than a traditional mall, the pages provide a means for your contact information to be passed to the traders.
A wide selection of food and drink from Scotland, with an emphasis on fish. Online ordering is provided.
Frames-based mall housing a small selection of shops, many computer-based but some also selling menswear. Secure ordering is supported.
Tartan Shopping Mall
Everything you could want from Scotland - tartans, haggis, whisky and salmon. It's not state of the art but it's quick and fairly simple to use.
The Shopping Service
Worldwide delivery of goods from a range of London stores, with secure online ordering and payment available in a wide range of currencies.
UK Shopping City
A wide range of shops but the mall lacks the polish of BarclaySquare.
You can order online if you've already joined the online club, which saves you sending card details via the Net.
Not strictly an Internet shopping site. Click on an area of the UK to find your local shopping centres, including how to get there and where to park and which shops you'll find.
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