January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Boutique Sites Rate Caveat Emptor from Consulting Firm

Boutique sites will attract more customers in the upcoming holiday shopping season, predicts Carlsbad, Calif.-based technology research firm Computer Economics, but may not always offer shoppers a seamless shopping experience. "We expect Web boutiques or small specialty sites to do much better this year and that they will experience an above-average increase in sales," says Michael Erbschloe, vice president of research. "Many shoppers were frustrated with the hassles of 1999 and are looking for more personalized service and well as unique items." But as a recent audit by the company shows, smaller sites arenât always in the big leagues when it comes to customer service. Researchers contacted a list of 40 sites to buy neckties and found that only 15 worked and conducted retail sales on the site. Calls to phone numbers listed on the sites found only 10 actually still in business, and only six of them answered the phone when testers called to ask questions. "We urge consumers to check out the companies before shopping," says Erbschloe.

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