8 Things You Should Never Buy Online
There’s a lot to be said for shopping online. The Internet is basically the biggest shopping mall the world has ever seen, with every product you could ever imagine available for sale – and it’s open round the clock. You can compare prices easily, search for coupon codes, and have your purchases delivered straight to your door, all without having to leave your own living room. And for many products, you can find much better prices online, as well.
However, there are some products that experts say just aren’t worth buying online – no matter how good the price. Some of these are big-ticket items, such as furniture and appliances, that aren’t worth the risk of buying without the chance to see them in person. But even some small items, such as fresh food and makeup, make more sense to buy in a store. That means giving up the convenience of shopping in your pajamas, but it’s worth it to be more confident you’re getting a good deal.
There are three major problems with shopping online. First of all, you can’t see or feel the merchandise up close before you buy. For some products, such as books, that’s not a big deal; a picture on the screen gives you all the information you need. But for other products – such as a pair of shoes that need to fit just so, or a pillow that has to match your wallpaper exactly – it’s a deal breaker.
The second big downside of online shopping is the shipping costs. Again, for some items, this is no big deal. A lightweight package doesn’t cost that much to ship, and many sites even offer free shipping if your purchase is over a certain dollar amount. But really big items, such as furniture, come with really big shipping fees – and if you end up returning your purchase, you have to pay them twice.
Finally, there are some products that are actually cheaper to buy in-store. Usually, online prices are lower because it’s cheaper to run a website than a brick-and-mortar store, and businesses pass those savings on to their customers. But in a few cases, there are special factors – like the ability to use coupons or negotiate with salespeople – that make in-store prices a better deal.
Here are eight examples of products that shopping experts say you should definitely avoid buying online.
Today, it’s easier than ever to buy original art online. Web-based marketplaces like Etsy offer all kinds of art pieces – as well as decor items, such as rugs, pillows, and lamps – often at very tempting prices. However, shopping experts warn that it’s best to pass up these bargains. Shopping in-store for home decor makes more sense for several reasons:
Buying furniture online has all the same problems as buying art and accessories. It’s just as hard to judge a couch’s color and quality on a screen as it is for a pillow, and it’s even more important to get it right for such a big purchase. On top of that, there are other big advantages to shopping for furniture in-store, such as:
Finally, don’t forget that the Internet and traditional stores aren’t your only choices when shopping for furniture. There are plenty of other places to buy inexpensive furniture, such as thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales, Craigslist, and auctions. These sources can offer even bigger bargains on furniture than the best Internet sites.
Sleep is incredibly important to your health, and the quality of your mattress makes a big difference to how well you sleep. However, this doesn’t mean that simply buying a pricier mattress guarantees a better night’s rest. Mattress comfort is a very personal thing; it depends on a wide variety of factors, such as your height and weight, whether you sleep on your side or your back, how much you move around at night, and so on.
That’s why the need to test furniture for comfort is especially crucial when it comes to mattresses. Reading online reviews can give you a general idea of what a mattress feels like, which can help you decide which models you want to look at. However, to know how it feels to you, you have to lie on it yourself.
Consumer Reports recommends putting a mattress through its paces before you buy, spending at least five to 10 minutes on each side and on your back (and your stomach, if that’s how you tend to sleep). That should be enough to give you an accurate first impression. The magazine says people who brought home mattresses for a month-long trial usually felt the same about them at the end of the month as they did after the first night.
Another perk of shopping in-store is that you can negotiate with the sales clerk for a better price. According to Consumer Reports, there’s more wiggle room in the price of mattresses than there is for most products. A few chains, such as warehouse clubs, charge fixed prices with no haggling allowed. However, at other retailers – especially mattress specialty chains – there’s a lot of leeway. These chains tend to charge huge markups on their products, which means they can drop their prices by 50% or more during sales. These sales are most likely to occur during holiday weekends, such as Memorial Day.
However, Consumer Reports says it’s possible to get these sale prices at other times by haggling. If you simply refuse to pay more and are prepared to walk out if you have to, the salesperson will often back down. On top of that, you can negotiate for extras, such as free delivery, free disposal of your old mattress, or bedding accessories thrown in along with the mattress.
Online appliance deals can certainly be tempting. Browsing the Web, you can find offers for appliances at drastically reduced prices, sometimes with free delivery thrown in. However, online shopping expert Brent Shelton, speaking with GOBankingRates, says you can often get exactly the same discounts and delivery offers shopping in-store, so there’s no big advantage to buying online. Shopping in-store has a few other advantages over shopping online, as well:
Buying a car can be a very stressful process. From the minute you walk in the door of the dealership, the salesperson sticks to you like glue, doing everything they can to lure you into signing a contract right then. It’s tempting to just do your car shopping online and avoid all that hassle.
However, experts say buying a car without seeing it in person is a big mistake. Using the Web to research different car models and prices makes sense, but before you actually settle on a car, you need to get behind the wheel for a test drive. It’s the only way to know for sure how comfortable the car feels, how well it handles, how good the visibility is – even little details like whether you can reach the radio controls without taking your eyes off the road.
If you’re buying a used car, you need to do more than just drive it yourself. You should also take it to a trusted mechanic for a thorough checkup. They can spot all the potential problems that you can’t detect in a 10-minute test drive. That way, you won’t risk falling in love with a car that turns out to need thousands of dollars’ worth of maintenance work.
Which brings us to another benefit of buying a car in person: If you discover that you’ve landed a lemon, it’s a lot easier to return it. Even though many online car-buying sites are perfectly trustworthy and have good return policies, it’s still a much more complicated process than driving it back to the dealership where you bought it.
If you’re a serious musician, you should have serious reservations about buying an instrument online. A high-end musical instrument, such as a Taylor guitar, costs hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Before making an investment like that, you need to know how the instrument sounds and how it feels in your hands – and the only way to test that out is to play it for yourself. Relying on the brand name isn’t enough, as tone and playability can vary widely even within trusted brands.
Another big problem with buying an instrument online is the risk that the instrument could be damaged during shipping. Shelton, who’s a musician as well as a shopping expert, says in a Kiplinger interview that this has happened to him. Insurance can cover the financial loss, but a truly rare or vintage instrument isn’t easy to replace. However, Shelton admits that this rule about online shopping isn’t as hard-and-fast as some of the others; it depends on the type and quality of the instrument he’s buying. Instruments made of wood vary more in tone, and they’re also more delicate and vulnerable to breakage.
So, if you’re buying something like a flute – especially if it’s a low-end student model – the risk matters less. If you find a good value online, it could be worth snapping up.
It makes sense to shop online for toiletries and pantry items, such as paper towels. Having them delivered through a subscription service, such as Amazon’s Subscribe & Save, can save you up to 15% on your purchase, and it guarantees you’ll never run out at an awkward time. However, when it comes to actual foodstuffs, experts say it’s better to head over to the grocery store in person. It offers three big advantages:
If you find a great deal online on your favorite lipstick, which you already know you love, there’s no reason not to snap it up. However, when it comes to finding new products, experts say it makes more sense to shop in-store. This allows you to:
There’s one more thing experts say you should never buy online: anything that’s marked as “final sale.” These closeout items usually aren’t returnable, so if you don’t like your purchase, you’re out of luck. Unless the cost is completely negligible, it’s best to steer clear of these items when you’re on the Web – even for products that are normally best to purchase online.
Fortunately, you can get many of the benefits of shopping online without actually clicking the buy button. You can hit the Web to compare products, check prices, read online reviews, and search for coupons. This will help you narrow down your choices and find the best stores to shop in. That way, when you finally head to the store to make your purchase, you’ll know exactly what you want and what you should expect to pay for it.
Can you think of anything else you would never buy online?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
8 Things You Should Never Buy Online
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