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WORLD WIDE WISHBOOKS FUEL CYBERSHOPPING.

Byline: James Coates Chicago Tribune

As the 1996 holiday season opens, a growing number of Americans who used to relish spending a cozy winter evening pouring over mail-order merchandise are finding the mother of all catalogs to keep them company.

These World Wide Wishbooks live on the Internet. They come into your snug little home over the telephone line and play out on your computer screen in the form of sites on the World Wide Web.

American merchandising moguls are rushing onto the Net, smelling enhanced sales as a result of the Web's ability to enhance their pitches, lures and order forms.

From Spiegel's to Sears, FAO Schwarz to Fire Girl Chili Peppers, the great global amalgam of computer networks known as the Internet abounds with the online equivalent of storefronts, an all but unending stretch of virtual strip malls and tony boutiques.

Cybershopping, in other words, is like real shopping. One doesn't send one's children out on their own with a fistful of plastic.

Like their cardboard and glossy paper cousins, cybercatalogs are replete with photos of each company's wares along with boastful descriptions about why you can't live without each item listed.

The great bulk of all Web shopping currently works just like regular catalogs do. You find what you want and then either phone up the company or send them a written order via fax or U.S. Postal Service snail mail to arrange payment.

Meanwhile, daring souls can find many sites that will let them send their credit-card numbers and expiration dates over the Net using a variety of security schemes built into various Web browser software. No clear single encryption standard has emerged to date here, however, so binary buyer beware.

Already, there is much to recommend using the Web in place of paper catalogs without giving another thought to the technology problems of the vendors eyeing the gigabyte grail called electronic transactions.

Because the online catalogs are coming over the new, interactive computer linkups, they boast bells and whistles no paper catalog ever could - things such as eye-grabbing animations, sounds and even small movies that play out on inch-square windows on your screen.

For example, one can jump to Elektra Records' site and listen to a few bars of the lead cut on Nanci Griffith's latest album and then order the CD on the spot. Ditto for roughly 200 other Elektra artists, most of them better known than Griffith. (That site is at http://www.elektra.com)

And there is plenty of space on Elektra's Web store to publish photos of each of its hundreds of artists along with lengthy biographies and links to Web sites posted by fans of each.

A more mass-marketing climate reigns elsewhere on the Web, where entire shopping malls now are online in the form of iMall and America's Choice Mall, which include 700 stores each, and a similar site called Downtown Anywhere.

The Downtown Anywhere site at http://www.awa.com also lists stores in the hundreds, but uses the metaphor of a town's shopping district rather than a traditional shopping mall. Imall is at http://www.imall.com, and America's Choice Mall is at http://www.choicemall.com.

The malls are just that, grand collections of just about every store one finds at the real things, but with merchandise displayed in the form of photographs, drawings or multimedia sound and film clips.

Like shopping in a real town, the experience at Downtown Anywhere is broader than cruising a commerce-only mall. Downtown Anywhere includes art museums, points of interest and even postings of mini-sites done by people who have come before to shop and browse.

Web shoppers can also visit the Chicago-based Netmall, a project of the programmers at American Information Systems Inc. that boasts stores for companies including Encyclopaedia Britannica, Spiegel, Elek-Tek, and Ameritech. All these stores can be found at http://www.netmall.com.

The Elek-Tek site linked through Netmall is particularly appealing to computer-oriented folks who tend to find their way onto Web shopping sites at the dawn of the phenomenon.

The site amounts to an online and always up-to-date version of the computer seller's major inventory items, complete with extensive descriptions of each product and information about whether it is in stock, what it costs, etc.

One can even do the actual buying of items such as $5,000 notebook computers online.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 21, 1996
Words:728
Previous Article:EXOTIC DECOR ADDS UNEXPECTED SPICE.
Next Article:HAVING AN E-MAIL HOLIDAY SEASON.


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