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Hot Sites for Online Shopping

Looking out for the little guy applies online as well. Several of the price-comparison search engines point customers to smaller outfits such as bibliophile boutique Alibris.com, which -- along with Oregon-based Powell's Books' site Powells.com -- has been the bookworm's undercover source for new and used books and videos for more than a decade. Clothing retailer Like.com also gets the nod for letting customers search by shape, color or pattern.

"One of the advantages we've found if you are using one of those search engines is that you may come upon a site you've never heard of," Rohlena says. "You can go to the bigger sites, but you can also check out these smaller sites and find some useful information."

More often than not, the data online consumers seek resides in a product review section. According to a survey of 27,000 online Internet conducted by Nielsen earlier this year in 55 markets around the world, 57% of online shoppers consult reviews before making purchases. Of those, 40% would not even consider buying electronics without consulting someone else's review first. They're not afraid to advise, either, as 41% say they wouldn't hesitate to share a negative product experience online.

Amazon, Wal-Mart and just about every other online retailer is well aware of the review's might, but some of the small-timers have started using it more effectively in mobile apps. Price-comparison site NexTag, for example, uses Apple iOS, Research in Motion BlackBerry and Google Android apps to help consumers access product reviews while they shop. GoodGuide, meanwhile, allows iPhone users to scan a product's bar code and access reviews of the product's safety, health and environmental records.

"We like the ones that really help you in the store," Rohlena says. "You've got the phone with you, let's face it, so you might as well be using it to your full advantage."

Even if the reviews that matter most come from friends and family, there's an app/site for that as well. Shoppers comfortable with both their friends and their credit card statements can post recent purchases on Blippy.com for the scrutiny of their inner circle. Less confident consumers can take the JustBought.It route and offer up purchases to Twitter and Facebook followers for approval before buying or passing, based on the responses.

"You used to think of shopping as a very social activity: You'd grab a friend and go to the mall," Rohlena says. "Now you're shopping online and that's a solitary activity ... except when it isn't."

Online shopping might be hotter than ever, but so is online product research. Check out this MainStreet article to learn why.

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