Many stores have, or are moving towards having, an online shopping option. This allows people who do not live near the stores and those who simply prefer the convenience the option to order right from their home or office. Is it cheaper to buy online or do you have to pay more for the convenience? While every online retailer is different, there are several factors to consider when comparing the overall expense of online vs. in-store shopping.

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics - Introduction

Sticker Price

Prices in online stores are often lower than bricks-and-mortar stores, reflecting the lower cost. Online merchandise doesn't have to be displayed in an expensive storefront and often doesn't need to be held in a warehouse - it can be shipped directly from the manufacturer to the customer. Stores like Walmart often price their online offerings slightly less than you would find in-store. (For additional reading, check out: Is Online Shopping Killing Brick-And-Mortar?

Clearance Items

If you like to shop for marked down merchandise, the traditional store has the internet beat by a mile. Stores often have no choice but to mark down items at the end of a season so that they can clear the space to make room for the new season's offerings. You can often find deep discounts of this type of merchandise. An online store, on the other hand, has no such space limitation and doesn't need to offer clearance sales.

Objective Reviews and Comparisons

Estimating the quality of a purchase and how long the item will last is an important skill to ensure that you do not have to replace it over and over again. When you look at merchandise in-store, it can be difficult to assess whether it will meet your needs or whether there are similar items that would be a better buy. Many online retailers allow previous customers to rate products and describe their experience both the store and the product. You can compare different makes or models side-by-side to look at the features of each. Most importantly, you can spot a shoddy product that has had negative customer ratings and avoid it altogether.

Shipping Costs

Even though online prices are often less than in-store, shipping costs can level the playing field or even make online purchases more expensive overall. This is especially true for large or heavy items as the mailing costs jump exponentially. Some online retailers offer free shipping with a minimum purchase amount and these deals are often worthwhile, as long as you don't spend more than you intended just to get the free shipping.

Return Policies

Having to ship an item back to an online retailer can be more difficult than simply taking it back to the store. Before buying online, be sure to know the return policy so that you don't get stuck with paying to ship something back. Many of the popular online retailers will pay to have returns sent back and include return shipping labels with the purchased items. Some online stores that also have physical stores will allow you to take an online purchase back to the store rather than ship it back.

The Bottom Line

For most purchases, online shopping is convenient and can save you money in the long run by allowing you to thoroughly research your purchase before buying. If you like to shop end-of-season sales, however, going to the mall is still your best bet. (For additional reading, check out: Shopping Online: Convenience, Bargains And A Few Scams.)

Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    JCPenney's Path To Profitability (JCP)

    Learn about what J.C. Penney's management team has been doing to profitably grow its business as the company recovers from years of revenue declines.
  2. Budgeting

    Bespoke Post Review: Is It Worth It?

    Find out if Bespoke Post, the fast-growing, e-commerce subscription service for men's lifestyle and grooming products, is worth all of the hype in this review.
  3. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Costco Stock (COST)

    Read about some of the biggest risks of investing in Costco stock. Gain a better understanding of its business model before buying in.
  4. Stock Analysis

    3 Predictions for Amazon in 2016 (AMZN)

    Learn the top three predictions for Amazon in 2016 as the company comes off an exceptional year in terms of revenue and expands into new markets.
  5. Investing

    7 Creative Ways to Save for an Early Retirement

    Take note of these out of the box steps you can take towards securing yourself an earlier, more comfortable retirement.
  6. Stock Analysis

    5 Reasons Alibaba's Earnings Disappointed in 2015 (BABA)

    Look at the reasons why Alibaba's earnings disappointed in 2015, including weak economic growth, the soft renminbi and allegations of counterfeit products.
  7. Investing

    Seven Sustainable Retail Dividends

    Seven retailers which pat sustainable dividends when examining both the companies' payout ratios and free cash flows.
  8. Budgeting

    Craft Coffee Review: Is It Worth It?

    Learn more about one of the first and most flexible specialty-grade coffee subscription services on the market, a perfect fit for any coffee lover.
  9. Stock Analysis

    The Top 5 Retail Penny Stocks for 2016 (TWMC, DXLG)

    Find out which retail stocks trade for less than $5 a share. Learn about bargains that can avoid bankruptcy and produce nice returns for investors.
  10. Retirement

    Birch Box Review: Is It Worth It?

    Learn more about the convenience of the subscription beauty box industry, and discover why the Birchbox company in particular has become so popular.
  1. Does QVC accept debit cards?

    QVC accepts debit card payments as one of its many payment options. The company, which is the world’s leading video and e-commerce ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does QVC charge sales tax?

    QVC, an American TV network, is registered with states to collect sales or use tax on taxable items. QVC is also required ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Can you pay off a Walmart credit card in store? (WMT)

    Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) allows multiple payment options for its credit cards, including in-store payments. The ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does Walmart take international credit cards?

    Foreign visitors to Walmart locations in the United States can use their credit cards issued by banks outside of the U.S. ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Is QVC publicly traded? (QVCA, QVCB)

    QVC, Inc., is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Interactive Corporation. It is attributed to the QVC Group tracking stock, ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. How can I invest in electronic retailing (e-tailing)? (AMZN, W)

    Electronic retail is one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. Every year, more people are choosing to purchase ... Read Full Answer >>
Trading Center