In 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their airplane for the first time. Could anyone have imagined the importance of the airline and air freight industries back then? Perhaps you’ve already ruled out e-business. But it’s only 1910 in the online world. We’re only beginning to feel the impact of online buying.

eBay & Amazon

Consider this, from the Feb. 3 Boston Globe: “Online auction site eBay said it has agreed to buy the assets of Carad.com, a Web-based auction management site for car dealers, and has sealed a partnership with Kelley Blue Book, the well-known publisher of car reviews and pricing guides.

“eBay is hoping the two deals will encourage auto dealers to sell more cars over its eBay Motors site, an area of the online auction house where eBay says individuals sold more than $3 billion worth of motor vehicles and parts last year.”

Note that $3 billion figure. One February day, ebaymotors.com offered more than 1,000 Ford pickups for sale (and 955 Chevys).

Note also that Graybar is selling materials on eBay (not necessarily at auction). After piloting this concept in 2002, the company planned to expand its program no later than Feb. 28. At graybar.com, click on the eBay discount store logo.

Amazon.com is known for its book bargains, but has plenty else to offer. Reconditioned tools are among the offerings. Categories under that rubric include job site equipment, cordless tools, drills and drivers, saws, and more. Take a look at amazon.com by clicking to “home and garden” and then “tools and hardware.”

Computers

Dell.com offers sites for home and home office computer buyers, small business and larger businesses—at which one can custom-configure a PC. You have the ability to price before you buy. Put every bell and whistle into a purchase and see what that costs. Or, strip out every optional item to get to the lowest price. Given the will and time, you can see what various “package” deals will run you; throw in a printer one time, and/or a digital camera another.

You could, if you wished, open an account on any computer maker’s site and return weekly to find the best time to buy.

Alternatively, you could prowl the Web for a great deal on a brand-name or non-branded computer. When I put the phrase “cheap computers” into Google.com’s search rectangle, 1,290 links came back in 0.21 seconds.

Airfare

Going to a convention, trade show, or on a business trip or vacation? The Web offers bargains; here are just a few.

Priceline.com allows you to “name your price” for travel (and more). A friend got a hotel room in downtown Washington D.C., for a recent convention at less than half what most convention-goers paid. Far from the “official” convention hotel, he had to take a taxi to the convention center. But cab fare for the week did not add up to one day’s savings.

Travelocity.com is easy to understand. Compare its deals to those offered on other discount sites and airline sites; I’ve not found an advantage elsewhere. My business travel, however, is pinned to specific dates and times. Expedia.com, or any of the other sites out there, might work better for you.

Finally, there are the airlines’ sites. Two notable items:

- The airlines say you will often find cheaper fares on their sites than anywhere else. It is not clear to me whether these deals are exclusive to the airline’s site, or can be found at Expedia, Travelocity, etc.

- Many airlines offer e-mail alerts. You will learn about deals on specific destinations—quickly. If your plans can be fluid, you can’t pass this by.

A few caveats

Before buying online, a few warnings:

- Do Web business only with those that have a great reputation. Research first. Sites named above are not fly-by-nighters. Don’t input your credit card number willy-nilly.

- Check out conditions before your purchase. How do you get a refund? What’s the shipping cost?

- Make sure you are getting a bargain. There are many stories around about folks who bought a book collection or “antique” item for $50, and sold it weeks later via eBay for $750. Do you want to be on the “buy” side of that deal? EC

SALIMANDO is a Vienna, Va.-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. He can be reached at jsali@cris.com.