Do you feel like a cable modem has been wired directly to your brain—that you’ve been branded a sucker for e-commerce and, as such, have been relentlessly bombarded by online shopaganda since who remembers when. No wonder. Dot-com companies spent an estimated $1.6 billion luring shoppers in 1999, with some Web sites sinking 80 percent of their annual budgets into advertising. And with good effect: Consumers bought an estimated $23-billion-plus in goods and services online last year—around $6 billion during the holiday season alone.
At least a few (okay, a lot) of those purchases were made by me. To help readers of Texas Monthly Biz understand the e-phoria now gripping the state and the nation, I spent a few weeks last fall surfing the Internet. To find out the difference between a good site and a great site, I comparison shopped. I stuffed my credit-card number into countless “cookies,” the techie mechanisms that hold your personal information, and hurled it into the ether, daring cyberthieves to come and get me. I griped to various e-tailers about merchandise that arrived in pieces or not at all. I ordered tricky stuff, like perishable foods and used CDs, from obscure vendors. I even sent a computer to my in-laws halfway across the country.
My criteria for distinguishing good from evil were clear. I considered sites based only in Texas. (I paid for my geographic bias by suffering through a plague of justtexas.com-types that peddle cornpone products like stuffed armadillo toilet seat covers.) I had to be able to place an order online; that is, the entire transaction, from browsing to payment, had to take place over the Net without my ever having to talk to a real live person. I wanted more than snazzy graphics and slick presentations; I