Buying Online Has Its Pros and Cons


Aug 10, 2001


The Bottom Line Online shopping is here to stay but regular stores will be here to stay also.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to shopping online. I have been shopping online for over four years and feel that I am fairly well qualified to compare and contrast online and brick and mortar (B&M) shopping. B&M stores are the typical stores one walks into to shop.


ADVANTAGES OF SHOPPING ONLINE

1. You can do it 24/7. You can shop whenever you want. If you want to buy a new Ann Taylor suit at 3 a.m., you can.

2. You can shop from the comfort of your own home. If it is hot outside, you don't have to go out in the heat. If you don't feel like getting dressed, you can wear your pjs (or even nothing at all). If there is a foot of snow on the roads and you can't get out, you can still shop. Also, if you don't feel well, this is definitely the way to shop.

3. Wide variety of stores within a few clicks. This is very important for me since there are few stores in our locale. However, I can get online and find almost anything I need or want. I have been able to sample foods from all over the world via online shopping. And I am not talking about the Americanized version of various foods, but foods from the country of origin.

4. Comparision shopping is simplified. Let's say your daughter has told you that she would like the video, "National Lampoon's Vacation" for her birthday. Comparing the prices of this video is much easier online than by running to a variety of video stores. The easiest way is to use some price comparison sites such as www.mysimon.com or www.pricewatcher.com. There are several other price comparison sites listed at www.dealzconnection.com.

5. Discount coupons are more readily available online. For example, if you are planning to buy a book at a BM bookstore, you are unlikely to find a coupon to reduce the cost of the book. However, many online bookstores (like other types of online stores) offer discount coupons. At www.flamingoworld.com, I found a coupon for $5 off of a $40 book purchase through Amazon.com. Flamingoworld.com is where I head first to find discount coupons. However, there are MANY other sites that list these types of coupons. www.dealzconnection.com has over a 100 of these sites listed. There are also forums such as www.mycoupons.com where coupons are posted and discussed. I HIGHLY recommend mycoupons.com! See my review of this site at http://www.epinions.com/content_13508513412.

6. No lines to wait in nor cranky people to deal with. Many people find this to be great, especially during the holiday season when lines and tempers can both flare. Also, all of us have days when we are "out of sort" and no one has to deal with US when we shop online.

7. You don't have to drag kids all over the place. When my kids were little, I really wish that we had the availability of online shopping. It can be a real challenge to shop with several little "pitter-pattering" feet around you who have "shopped 'til they have dropped" the moment they entered the store.

8. You can use anyone's credit card (assuming that they authorized you to use it. Careful clerks will not allow you to do this in the store. However, there are times when that person is not available and they have approved of your purchase. I used to let my kids use my credit card all of the time online. If they wanted to buy the same things in the store, I would have had to go shopping with them and that was not always convenient.

9. You can listen to whatever music you like while shopping online. Or, you can listen to the TV, talk on the phone, or listen to NOTHING at all. However, if you are in the store, you may have to hear someone else's kid screaming, hear Christmas music in September, or hear stuff you just don't want to listen to. I would think that this would be especially helpful for individuals who do not celebrate Christmas. I can't imagine what it would be like to be Jewish yet have to listen to "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" all of the time.

10. Online shopping is PERFECT for buying gifts that are to be sent to distant friends or relatives. Most online stores will even wrap the gift for you before sending it. You can even indicate that it is a gift so that the invoice is not included with the item. Buying these types of gifts online is very convenient since you don't have to wrap the gift, properly package it, and then drag it to the post office.

11. One can shop in private. There are times when privacy really matters for many people. For example, lets say that someone needs to buy Depends, condoms, or viagra. Many people would be too embarrassed to buy these items in a store where they have to face at least one other person who knows what they are buying. When you buy these items online, that embarrassment is minimized.

12. Online grocery stores are great to use when on vacation. When I take business trips, I usually stay in downtown hotels. However, I don't have much money to spend on expensive foods. Also, I don't have time to take a cab to a grocery store. Likewise, I don't like to check my bags at airports because I hate losing my luggage. Therefore, I can't take much food with me. So, a few days before I leave, I place an order with Netgrocer.com. When I arrive, my groceries are waiting for me. Typically, I order things like milk, cereal, canned fruits, juices, tuna salad mixes, bread, peanut butter, Cheetos (yep, I LOVE junk food when I travel), etc. Then I have my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for MUCH cheaper than I could get in the hotel restaurant.


DISADVANTAGES OF SHOPPING ONLINE

1. You can only see what will fit on one page at a time. When you walk into a B&M store, you can see many more items at a glance. When I know EXACTLY what I want (item name, brand, style, etc.), I find that I can locate the item more quickly online. However, if I only have a general idea (or less) of what I want, then I find that it can take me much longer to shop online. For example, if I am looking for a gift for a friend's birthday but I don't know what to get her, I will probably have to load MANY pages before finding the perfect gift. However, I find that I can browse through the store more quickly for purchases like these.

2. If you have a slow connection or if there are many shoppers at this site, shopping will take F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I only have a 56K dial-up modem so I find that online shopping can take a considerable amount of time. Sure, I know that it does take time to get into the car, drive to the store, park, walk around the store, check out, find the car, drive home, and unpack the stuff. However, at least I am busy doing these things so I don't get as annoyed as I do when I have to sit and wait for page upon page to load.

3. Online sites malfunction more frequently than B&M stores unexpectedly close. As the holiday season nears, sites are more likely to go down. You may have been shopping at the site for 30 minutes, have 10 things in your cart, and then the site freezes. However, it would take a major calamity to cause a B&M store to suddenly close its doors and not allow people with full shopping carts to check out.

4. You can't buy with cash or write a check (at most sites). If I want to pay for shampoo at Wal-mart, I can pay cash, write a check, use my debit card, use a credit card, or put the item on lay-a-way. However, on-line one is typically limited to using either a credit or debit card.

5. Errors in billing are more common online. When you buy an item at a B&M store, the clerk tells you how much you owe BEFORE you pay. Then when you pay, you immediately get a receipt. So, if you happened to be overcharged, you can get it taken care of IMMEDIATELY. This prevents the store from causing your bank account to overdraw or your line of credit to be reduced unnecessarily. However, on-line errors in billing are much more common and MANY times one is not aware of them until they get their bank or charge card statements.

Some online stores have very strange ways of dealing with coupons. I know of several stores that charge one's card the total amount (before coupons) then a few days LATER give a credit for coupon used. If one is using a debit card with a low balance, this can cause checks to bounce even though there is enough money for the purchase price that was agreed upon.

6. Warranties mean nothing if the store has gone bankrupt. Online stores have been "dropping" like mad the last two years. They seem to be here one minute and bankrupt the next. Sure, this happens to B&M stores also. However, the online shopping economy is more volatile right now. So, if one is making a large purchase and the item breaks down under warranty, the warranty may be useless if the store is no longer in business. This is especially true concerning generic items that cannot be returned to the manufacturer.

7. You can't touch the item, let alone try it on. The same difficulties one encounters while shopping from a catalog plagues online shopping also. That wonderful burgundy dress that you see on the screen may actually turn out to be more of a purple shade. Or, the material may be flimsier than what you had expected. And, it will probably look much better on the model than it does on you (unless you are a raving beauty also). In a B&M store, you see the real color, can feel the material, and can try on the item.

Likewise, I have a hard time imagining how big a 9" X 3" X 8" purse is. However, when I can pick it up in the store and compare it to the purse I am already carrying, I KNOW if it is the size that I would like. I also KNOW if I like the feel of the material, whether the straps will comfortable fit over my shoulder, etc.

8. Returns are more difficult online than in B&M stores. A few days ago I bought a phone at Walgreens. When I got it home, I discovered that there was more static than I was willing to tolerate. So, I just put it back into the box, gathered my receipt, and took it back to the store the next day. The manager handed me the cash that I had paid for the item. If I had purchased that same item online, I would have had to take the package to the post office or UPS office (which are only open during times I am working). I would have had to pay the postage and insurance. Then my credit or debit card would be credited only after the item was received by the company. When online stores credit your card, the entire process commonly takes 10 - 14 days. And, most do NOT refund the fees you paid to ship the item back to them. And, if for some reason they do not approve of your refund, you will have to either call or e-mail them to deal with the issue. On the other hand, if you are physically present in a store returning an item, you can talk directly to a human being and explain why you are returning it.

9. Shipping and handling costs can be astronomical. Let's say that you want to buy a $6.95 paperback online. You will probably have to pay at least $4 to ship it (and that is from a company that charges reasonable shipping fees). So, your $6.95 book will end up costing you $10.95. One time I almost bought a 19" TV online. The TV was on sale for $99. However, after shipping was added, the cost came to $169!!! Sorry, but to save that amount of money, I will be glad to put that TV into my trunk and drive it home. But I understand why it cost so much to ship it; that TV was heavy. Can you imagine how much it would cost to ship several cases of pop to your home? Believe me, it would be cheaper to lug it home from the store oneself.

10. On-line shopping lacks the personal touch. There is no clerk to smile at you and say, "How are you today?" You don't meet friends you have not seen in 10 years at the Barnes & Noble site online. However, you may run into them at a B&M Barnes & Noble. Also, shopping online tends to be a solitary activity. I have had some of the best times of my life spending the day shopping with friends or my significant other.

11. Packaging materials can take over your home (and our earth). Once you start buying items online, you will be astounded at how many boxes and packaging materials you accumulated. You will quickly come to the conclusion that we are being taken over by styrofoam peanuts, busted plastic bubbles (you and your kids will pop those things like mad), and boxes. Yes, this is bad for the environment.

12. Dangerous for shopaholics. Don't laugh. This is serious. In the past, a shopaholic didn't have to worry about controlling their addiction while at home. However, if their is no internet access in the home, that person must face their addictive behaviors even while at home.

13. You can read parts of a book at a bookstore but not online. Browsing for books online is very difficult for me to do. I like to read a few pages to make sure that I can "get into it" before I buy it. This is not allowed online.

14. Credit card insecurity. I don't care how secure a sight claims to be, the reality is that it is relatively easy for credit card numbers to be stolen online. Just last December, my VISA card number was stolen (along with an estimated 300,000 others credit card numbers) and then used by a telecommunications company in Russia.


CONCLUSION

As with everything else in life, there are pros and cons with shopping online. I find shopping online to be an excellent way to shop for certain items. However, for other items, I would rather shop at a B&M store. Also, there are times when just want to get out of the house and need to do some shopping. For these times, it is "Hi Ho It's Off to the Store I Go".

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