Since the rise of online stores such as Amazon, many large retailers, such as Macy’s, Sears and Kmart, have closed some of their brick-and-mortar locations recently. While this might impact your local shopping capabilities, online shopping is a great alternative. In fact, online sales increased 10.1% compared to traditional retail stores at a measly 1.4% in 2016 alone.
Sure, with online shopping, convenience is highly valued and shopping online offers you the opportunity to purchase pretty much whatever you want whenever you want. However, online shopping isn’t a holy grail.
Both online shopping and shopping in person at a store have their own pros and cons. Read on to find out when it might be a good idea to go online and when it makes sense to purchase an item in person.
In-Store Shopping Offers More Personalized Experiences
When you’re shopping online, you’re essentially by yourself searching for products. Sure, there are chat boxes and you can call customer service with questions, which are great tools for some. However, others may prefer speaking with an associate in person.
If you’re purchasing an item that’s a bit more complex, such as a digital camera, computer or large appliance, it’s probably a good idea to check it out in person so you can ask questions and get answers in real-time from someone who is knowledgeable.
Some people like to rely on online reviews before making a purchase. Those can help, but having someone walk you through a large purchase – especially for a product you don’t know much about or have never purchased before – could be a plus.
When It Comes to Convenience, Online Reigns Supreme
There’s no doubt that purchasing items online can be much more convenient than at a brick-and-mortar store: The internet is open 24/7 so you’re not at the mercy of the store’s hours, which might not align with your busy schedule.
If you live far away from the nearest retailer or don’t have transportation, online shopping makes a lot of sense. It’ll save you time and online retailers tend to have more of a selection and are less likely to tell you the item you want is out of stock.
When you want to purchase gifts for family and friends, online shopping is a great option, as most retailers offer gift wrapping and shipping directly to the recipient. This can save you time and extra shipping costs instead of having the item shipped to you, wrapping it yourself and then going to the post office.
Some Items Are Better Bought Offline
While shopping online can save you time, it cannot replace the experience of shopping for items you’d want to try out in person before you purchase.
According to a study conducted by Autotrader, 88% of shoppers prefer to purchase a car in person. This could mean that people prefer to test drive a vehicle before purchasing one. Sure, you can shop around for loans online, but it may be a bit tough for most people to plop down thousands of dollars without first seeing the car in person.
Or, let’s say you recently lost a bunch of weight and need to purchase clothes in a new, smaller size. It may be a hassle to guess what your new size is at each popular retailer, have the clothes shipped to your home, try them on and then possibly have to return/exchange them through the mail before finding a fit and style you like. In this case, shopping at the store might be your best bet.
Scams and Fraudulent Activity on the Rise
Anytime you enter personal data, such as your credit card number, online you risk having that information hacked. Not to scare you, but online shopping fraud attacks went up 30% in 2017 versus 2016, and identity theft affected a total of 16.7 million consumers that year.
That’s not to say online shopping can’t be safe. Most online retailers operate on secure websites and have implemented every safety procedure possible. However, you need to be aware of the risks.
Aside from becoming a victim of identity theft, you may also risk purchasing items from shady sellers. While online marketplace retailers like eBay and Etsy have protocols in place, buying an item from an individual can be a different experience than buying an item from a corporation. Not to say you won’t receive the item you paid for, but you could find yourself buying something that is of poor quality or not what’s pictured at all and then have to deal directly with the individual to get a refund or exchange, which can take more time than you might think.
Shopping at a brick-and-mortar location isn’t safe from identity thieves, either. You could have your credit card information stolen by what’s known as a skimmer, a machine illegally installed and disguised to look like a legitimate credit card reader. When you swipe your card, your information is then stored for the thief to use at a later time.
Delays and Returns May Cost More with Online Shopping
If you’re shopping online primarily for the convenience factor, there may be some cases when it becomes the opposite. Even if you timed your delivery well, you may run into delays such as lost packages, technical errors and even weather delays. If you need an item quickly, online retailers can offer expedited shipping – but at a high price.
While many online retailers offer free shipping, many still don’t offer free returns. Meaning, if you didn’t like your purchase or need to exchange it, you’ll need to pay for return shipping.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there isn’t one right way to shop. What matters is how you want to shop, so pick what works best for you.
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