Best online shopping sites

CHOICE members nominate their favourite virtual stores.
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01 .Introduction


CHOICE saves you legwork, time and money of shopping by foot by bringing you the best websites for popular gifts. 

More than 6,000 members responded to our survey. We provided them with a list of popular online retailers and also invited them to volunteer their own favorites. Sites were rated on how easy it is to find products, product range, availability, price, delivery costs and returns policy. Overall, the respondents said the smaller merchants provide better services than bigger online marketplace giants such as eBay and Amazon.

An overall satisfaction rating for each site is provided to find out how they stack up in the following categories:

  • Books, CDs, DVDs and video games
  • Clothes, shoes and accessories
  • Electrical goods
  • Cosmetics, hair care and toiletries

Please note: this information was current as of November 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


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Half of our respondents bought items from this category online in the past six months.

  • Amazon and eBay are the most commonly used sites - possibly because they offer more range and variety. One survey respondent said: “Books, DVDs and CDs ordered from Amazon UK arrive within a week to 10 days at a cost, including shipping, below the retail cost in Australia – sometimes significantly less.”
  • Savvy book buyers told us they like shopping at Amazon’s US site, as the Australian dollar has been trading strongly against the greenback.
  • Price is not the only thing respondents value – delivery costs and returns policy are also important. Smaller retailers such as The Book Depository (delivers free Australia-wide), EzyDVD and Booktopia fared better overall.
  • Fishpond rated well for finding products, but had the most number of complaints for delayed deliveries, followed by Amazon and eBay.
  • Apple rated highly in the delayed delivery category as well. You can buy songs, albums, TV episodes or movies and send them as gifts through Apple’s iTunes website. An email is then sent to your recipient, who clicks on a link to start downloading the song or media clip to their iPod, iPhone or Apple TV.
Online Retailer (sample size in brackets) Score
The Book Depository (37)
Apple (38)
Amazon (1187)
EzyDVD (31)
ABC Shop (47)
Booktopia (169)
Deals Direct (39)
Doubleday (33)
Fishpond (186)
eBay (499)
Dymocks (36)
Angus & Robertson (128)

About 26% of our survey respondents bought products from this category in the last six months. The most commonly used site for fashion shopping was eBay, followed by catalogue company EziBuy, a New Zealand clothing and home decor retailer that has had a following in Australia since 1992. Good and bad points of the EziBuy website:

  • Has a large range of women’s clothing, as well as more eclectic items such as bedsheets, golf balls and bean bags.
  • Each year, more than 40 shopping catalogues – accessible on EziBuy – are mailed to more than half a million people in NZ and Australia.
  • High delivery and return postage costs – $9.90 for purchases up to $200. If you spend more than $200, you still pay $9.90 but receive your purchases faster with priority mail.
  • Clothing sizes were inconsistent. “The only problem I’ve had with Ezibuy is that their clothing sizes are all over the place, despite having a sizing guide,” said one survey respondent. While you don’t have to pay postage if you’re exchanging an item for a different size or colour, a $9.90 postage charge applies for all other returns or reorders. Customers must bear the cost of sending items to EziBuy’s mail order department in NSW; a costly exercise if you have multiple items (more parcel weight) and live in another state.

Other sites and notable points:

  • There's a flat $7.95 delivery fee if you buy children’s clothing online from Pumpkin Patch. The return postage is capped at $3.50 if you’re seeking a refund, or $7.95 for an exchange. You can also exchange goods in person at any Pumpkin Patch store as long as the items are still in season.
  • Pumpkin Patch and Rivers received higher satisfaction ratings than eBay and Deals Direct, possibly due to their massive online discounts.
  • Pumpkin Patch’s online store offers discounts of between 40% and 50% for selected sale items.
  • Rivers’ e-store offers discounts of up to 70% off the ticket prices at its retail stores for men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and footwear.

Online Retailer (sample size in brackets) Score
Pumpkin Patch (22)
EziBuy (276)
Rivers (28)
eBay (556)
Deals Direct (39)
Amazon (57)

About 25% of our survey respondents bought products from this category in the last six months. Of the 22 sites CHOICE specified for electrical goods – the highest number offered for any category in the survey – respondents reported shopping at only 10.

Appliances Online, a site that sells mostly whitegoods, has the highest satisfaction score. If you're looking to buy coffee machines, vacuum cleaners and BBQ pits, this is a good bet. Prices are competitive with those found in high street stores. It also has free delivery to Sydney and Melbourne. 

For smaller electronic items, JB HiFi’s online store is competitive against other online retailers, such as Shopping Square. When we compared purchasing a Canon Digital Ixus 951S camera, for example, the prices were similar but JB HiFi’s postage charge was half that of Shopping Square’s.

Apple’s online store also scored highly. Whether you’re buying Sennheiser earphones or an iPod Touch, delivery is free. Apple received above-average satisfaction scores in almost all aspects (except price), from availability of items to ease of ordering.

Online Retailer (sample size in brackets) Score
Appliances Online (32)
Apple (139)
Shopping Square (32)
eBay (470)
Deals Direct (157)
Dell (79)
Amazon (47)
JB HiFi (51)
Offi ceworks (55)

05.Cosmetics, hair care and toiletries


StrawberryNet stood out as the clear favourite, eclipsing eBay as the most commonly used site for cosmetics and fragrances. It's run by a Hong Kong-based company and supplies face, hair and skin-care products to 200 countries.

  • It has wide range of brands, listed A-Z, and includes products for both women and men.
  • Shipping is free for all products except fragrances, which attract a fee of 10% of the sale price (capped at $10).
  • Discounts are offered to regular shoppers and those who make multiple purchases.

While customers of Melbourne-based Adore Beauty are generally happy with this site, prices and delivery costs ($5.80 for postage) are an issue. A local online perfume discount store, efragrance, has a much wider range of scents, but likewise did not score well on delivery costs. 

It pays to compare prices and delivery costs from at least two sites selling similar items before you buy anything online. For example, we found the Davidoff Cool Water cologne (75ml) for $50 on StrawberryNet, with a postage charge of $5 (postage is only for fragrances), while at efragrance the same scent costs $65 with an additional $8.50 delivery charge.

Online Retailer (sample size in brackets) Score
StrawberryNet (305)
Adore Beauty (23)
eBay (223)
efragrance (20)
Deals Direct (36)

When big isn't best

Amazon and eBay have a huge range and attracted the largest number of shoppers in our survey. They lost out to the smaller players in overall customer satisfaction because of their higher delivery costs.

  • Online shoppers cited faulty goods, delayed deliveries, and no-shows as major bugbears.  
  • Slow delivery was a consistent problem in all four categories for eBay customers, as were faulty goods and no-shows, especially for books, CDs, DVDs, video games and electrical goods.
  • Many respondents claimed the delivery costs for Amazon are too high - though they liked the wide range of books and CDs offered by the British version of the global website.

Deals Direct, a local online general department store, received similar feedback for delivering faulty goods, especially electrical items. Said one respondent: “Deals Direct sent me an electric coffee machine that had already been sent to someone in Victoria (their name and address were still on the box) and returned to the company because it had a twisted collection tray. I returned it as well and only received a brand new machine after I told them I was going to complain to Consumer Affairs.” Respondents also complained that the quality of the products from Deals Direct fell short of what they expected from the online photos of the products.

The upside of visiting these bigger online retailers is that they offer a wider range of items and almost always have them in stock. In the electrical goods category, Amazon and eBay have higher satisfaction scores than JB HiFi for range, finding the product and availability, while Deals Direct scores well for price in most categories.

Its clearance deals for anything from jewellery to electronics could be one reason shoppers rated it well for price.

Online convert

online-xmas-shopperCHOICE member Marissa Millar started shopping online in 2002, when her teenage children wanted to buy T-shirts of an American music band they liked and could only buy from the US. Since then, she’s come to love the convenience of online shopping. “It’s just too tiring having to throng through the mall from one end to the other just to get two things,” she says. “With online shopping I can shop anytime and when I know what I want, I just have to click to find the items and compare prices at various sites.”

Nowadays, Marissa jumps online to buy groceries, books, DVDs, airline tickets, clothes for her children, as well as gifts for family and friends. She says: "I love the discounts I find online." Two years ago, she found wines she regularly bought for $18 per bottle going at $6 each in an online clearance sale and bought 11 cases in one go. Last year, half her Christmas gifts were purchased online.

However, Marissa warns of a couple of things to look out for. “Always read the fine print when it comes to delivery costs and return postage, as they can outweigh the benefits of buying online. I also keep a separate credit card with a lower credit limit as a form of security against fraud.”

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