cybercritic

It’s not just how you cook but also how you look. This month, The Cybercritic reviews Websites selling chef apparel

New Chef Reviewed Jan. 5, 4 p.m., Explorer 5.0 (www.newchef.com) The bright blue home page of the New Chef site immediately wakes up The Cybercritic. This site is a winner, at least in terms of design and navigation. The home page has the current date and time listed as well as information and images that change when you point the mouse to the various selections. The home page also includes a listing for live customer service, a mailing list sign-up, and links to company press releases, specials, and job listings.

Despite the name, New Chef isn’t for chefs only. Product categories include Front of the House, which sells uniforms for front-desk staff, maids, and the like; and Wait Staff, apparel for servers. At the top of each product page banners flash with merchandise specials. And a search engine allows me to look for items by product type, style number, or keyword.

Unlike many other online marketers, New Chef prominently displays its toll-free ordering number on the home page. And that’s a good thing. From there my experience goes downhill. When I try to check out online, I’m given the option of “Secure” or “Normal” ordering, but when I choose the Secure checkout, a notification comes up stating that it is not possible to establish a secure connection because the identity certificate has expired. I’m not sure what this means, but I’m instructed to enter my e-mail address; from there I’m led to the Website’s policies. I weed through the privacy policy, which states that some versions of browsers do not permit a connection through a secure server and recommends that I order by phone.

Even if my browser could support a secure connection (it has on many other sites), I would still need to set up an account before placing an order. To try to become an authorized shopper, I click on the link provided. It takes me back to the home page, and I have to start all over again! So much for online shopping being easier and less time-consuming.

Chefwear Reviewed Jan. 5, 3 p.m., Explorer 5.0 (www.chefwear.com) Chefwear believes that even laypeople have the right to don puffy white hats in the kitchen. While the site sells professional attire, offering a wide variety of staple items such as chef jackets, hats, aprons, neckerchiefs, and shoes, it also carries an exclusive line for pros and amateurs alike by fashion designer Nicole Miller. It even sells what it calls “pint sized duds,” or chef wear for children.

I decide to explore the hats product category. Clicking on the link calls up generous-size photos of the hats available. I click on a style I’m interested in, and the product page presents the necessary information about the item and the order form – just as a good Website should, but just as all-too-many Websites don’t. Chefwear also provides comprehensive size charts and conversion charts for men and women.

But in many ways, this site is not living up to its potential. A few of the special offers are quite outdated. For instance, the home page has a button that says, “Design a Chef’s Jacket Contest.” I’m thinking, `How fun!’-until I read that the contest ended two months ago! Though the site provides editorial about Chefwear, including how to become a member of its Culinary Community and receive information about special offers, products, and trade shows, the site lists a 1999 events schedule! It makes me wonder when Chefwear gets around to processing orders.

The other features are fairly reliable; the home page offers links to Contact Information, About Us, Shop Online, and Terms and Conditions. The Terms and Conditions link brings me to a description of the site’s trademark notices, modification and disclaimer information, and privacy policy. The navigation bar that appears throughout the site includes the Chefwear logo and pictures of the product categories to use, as well as sections labeled Order by Item Number, Catalog Request, Contact and Company Information, View Cart, and Checkout.

The ordering process is easy. At checkout, the secure order promise is shown again, along with delivery information, shipping charges, and a statement that Chefwear can’t process online orders from foreign countries. (But customers from outside the U.S. can print out an order form and fax it to Chefwear.)

All in all, while this site is easy to use and offers some interesting products, it needs to bring its information into the new millennium.

Chef Direct Reviewed Jan. 3, 2 p.m., Explorer 5.0 (www.chefdirect.com) Chef Direct promises “Wholesale prices direct to you!” but the site needs to deliver a little more in terms of design, navigation, and service.

For starters, the muted gray typeface of the product categories is fuzzy and hard to read. The home page has links to product categories, as well as Shopping Cart, Contact Information and Send A Catalog links, but no links to information about the company or to any special offers.

What’s more, the so-called search link brings me only to a more specialized list of product categories. The search button does not appear to have any true searching capabilities that will allow me to do a search for a specific item.

The site does offer a wide selection of merchandise, such as kitchen apparel, cooking utensils, and cleaning products. Although small, most of the pictures are clear enough. Available sizes for apparel are listed, but there isn’t a size chart.

The site’s privacy policy is clearly written and easy to find. But, the Cybercritic is somewhat put off by the $50 minimum purchase order and the limited 14-day return policy. Still, I try to order, but a page keeps popping up saying that information might be missing from my order and to “try again.” The site provides contact information for Chef Direct, but at this point who needs the hassle – isn’t avoiding purchasing hassles a key point of shopping online?

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