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If you want electronics, go online

Net retailers are tops in consumer survey

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In today's world of mass retailers, it's easy to assume that a big-box store like Best Buy or Wal-Mart would be the best place to buy consumer electronics.

Guess again.

A Consumer Reports reader survey suggests that shopping online might be the smarter choice.

As a group, online outlets did a better job overall than traditional retailers of satisfying customers when it came to their purchases of televisions, digital cameras, DVD/DVR players, camcorders, handheld computers, or audio equipment, according to more than 18,700 readers surveyed in the spring. The rankings were based on price, product selection, product quality, service, information quality, and return policies.

At the top of the list: Crutchfield .com, Amazon.com, Costco.com, J&R.com, and Buy.com. Retailers that sell both on the Web and in-store, such as Costco, Circuit City, and Best Buy, scored higher marks on the Internet than at their walk-in locations.

But there are trade-offs either way.

The survey, to be published in the magazine's December issue, found that while online outlets may have wider selections and lower prices, physical stores -- such as Tweeter Home Entertainment and Ritz Camera -- offer good service.

Mass merchandisers like Target, Wal-Mart, and Costco might have decent prices, but they rated poorly in service and selection, the survey found.

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