A month of penury approaches. In four short weeks I've got to shell out for Mrs Matt's birthday, our anniversary and a holiday. This is normally the point at which I'd smugly espouse the time- and money-saving virtues of online shopping. But now I'm not so sure.

This column appears in the June 06 issue of PC Advisor, available now.

I was introduced to the wonders of e-commerce as an eager young hack – back in the days when I'd choose to remain at my desk rather than find any excuse to hit the high street. And the net's never really let me down.

I did all of last year's Christmas shopping from the (relative) comfort of PCA towers – the 15-minute walk to Oxford Street does involve passing several pubs, after all. And when I once accidentally purchased several hundred quid's worth of sound cards – sourcing prices for an article (we do check) – Amazon refunded me even before I'd returned the cards.

But confidence in internet shopping is by no means ubiquitous. And the hassles do add up. Ever left a message on an e-commerce site requesting a call back? Was it returned? Probably not. And it's this lack of human contact that bothers me.

PC Advisor's news editor-at-large Ben Camm-Jones was recently left stranded in an airport departure lounge for two whole days. The site with which he booked his ticket had provided an incorrect confirmation number.

I suspect the vendor acted in good faith – the airline had Ben's name on its passenger list – but there was no human to sort the mess. So one highly trained member of the press corps covered a very important trade show by sniffing out stories among tax-free shopping, Toblerone and expensive latté.

It's always a good idea to buy on the internet – under distance selling regulations you are on firmer legal ground. But check out the vendor before you buy, just as you would in the high street. And if you do buy a plane ticket, make sure you pack a spare pair of pants in your hand luggage.