Favorite online retailers better step it up.

With the holiday shopping season now upon us and Black Friday less than two weeks away, nightmares of being stranded in the middle of a busy store aisle, surrounded by frantic shoppers clawing at the merchandise, have started their annual invasion into my dreamtime. Even though I've decided that no amount of dollars saved is worth risking my sanity – and physical health – for Black Friday, and the days of hitting a dozen stores just to be able to snatch up the last remaining copy within a 100-mile radius of the most in-demand toy of the season are long gone for me (and never really happened much in the first place), just thinking about them spawns panic attacks.

    Having absolutely none of my Christmas shopping done, mostly because I haven't a clue on where to start or what to get anyone on my list, shopping thoughts have plagued my mind during daytime hours as well. These thoughts are primarily focused on e-commerce, or shopping online, and less on the holiday season.

    I do a lot of online ordering, especially for clothing and items that are impossible to find in stores. As such, I might be classified as somewhat of an expert in the practice. So, I'm offering a few words of wisdom to those who are new at it: Don't expect to save a whole lot of time over shopping in the traditional retail store unless you know exactly what you're getting and from where.

    Oh, the exasperating hours I've spent scouring the web for a particular style of jacket in the right color and size – a search that's still going strong, by the way; special occasion dresses for the quartet of ladies in the house; household items such as appliance covers that the brick and mortar stores have apparently stopped selling; and a hodgepodge of other items. Sometimes, the thing I'm looking for eludes me altogether.

    Although disheartened, I can accept the fact that the object of my search is no longer manufactured or, perhaps, never was and I just conjured it up in my vivid imagination. What's really, really frustrating is when a website has, say, 100 items shown under the category listing and the last 50 are either temporarily out of stock (translation: you'll be lucky to get one in the next year), not available online or no longer available, period. 

    What often happens is that one of these items has piqued my interest enough to click on it, only learn about its stock status after reading the description. Some sites wait until you actually add the product to your shopping bag before a message tells you it's completely out of stock or that the winter coat you ordered Nov. 1 is expected to ship March 20.

    I recently ordered a few items from Sears, all of which I assumed would be delivered to my doorstep within the next week because the whole order appeared to have gone through with no problem and my credit card charged the appropriate amount. Two days later, an e-mail informed me that one of the items was no longer available and my card would not be charged. This was in addition to clicking on several other items I had really wanted to order, only to find they were out. At least my hopes were dashed in mere minutes on those occasions, rather than prolonging my misery.

    These kinds of sales practices are apparently common across the web. I've experienced them on pretty much every retail site I've used, from big ones like Walmart and Target to the  specialized clothing shops Dress Barn and Jessica London, to smaller e-commerce sites offering  quaint gifts and unique art pieces.
    My question to all these online retailers is, WHY LIST THINGS YOU DON'T HAVE?!?

    We can send civilians into space, cram tons of information onto a tiny flash drive and save people's lives with remarkable technological advances, yet no one has figured out how to  keep retail websites updated? Has anyone bothered to try, or do the companies that sell products online just figure they'll get the business anyhow, so why put the time or money into updates?

    Here's a novel idea: These retailers could employ eager interns to take on these tasks. The companies save by not having to lay out much larger sums of money on wages, plus the interns gain valuable experience. The retailers might also be pleasantly surprised and find their sales actually increase.

     I try to balance my shopping habits between brick-and-mortar stores – especially local businesses with unique gift offerings and household items – and online, depending on my needs at the time. It's gotten to the point, though, that I'm really sick of wasting countless hours adding up to days of being snubbed while trying to shop on the web. Sometimes, I feel as though I'm getting the runaround from these stores, stringing me along, making me think that I'll actually get something, only to disappoint me later.

    So take heed, all online retailers in my Favorites Toolbar: If you don't start presenting your merchandise in a more professional matter on your websites, you may just be deleted.