Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Shopping Online vs Shopping at a Store

My boyfriend doesn't believe in shopping in stores. Like a lot of men, he hates shopping, particularly the hassle of digging through racks, having to try different sizes, pushing through crowds, waiting in line and warding off aggressive sales personnel. His solution to this is to buy everything online.

When I say everything, I truly mean everything. Clothes, tech stuff, books, movies, tickets, even drug store products and groceries. When he needed new dress shoes he ordered 3 different pairs from Zappo's, tried them all on and sent back the two he didn't like. He loves bragging about how much money he saved by getting free shipping and the time he can spend doing valuable things like watching basketball and playing video games instead of finding parking at the mall. The only thing he has to get in person is gasoline, but by the time they start selling that online we'll probably have no reason to ever leave our houses.

I hate the same aspects of shopping that he does, but I still prefer to do most of my shopping in person. I like the feeling of browsing through a store and coming across the perfect gift for a friend or something cool I didn't realize I needed (this probably is a good indication that I don't need it but hey, it serves a purpose). And there are a lot of stores that are experiences in themselves, like funky boutiques or glamorous department stores, where you can spend a lovely afternoon by yourself just browsing the wares and trying interesting things. I also love the satisfaction I get from finding the perfect top or skirt or sweater marked down to nothing, knowing it fits beautifully and taking it home to wear that night. When it comes down to it, I need instant gratification, and 2-3 weeks shipping time just doesn't do it for me.

That doesn't mean I haven't been converted to shopping online for a lot of things. Getting my textbooks used on Amazon has saved me thousands of dollars, and last summer when I worked in New York I fell in love with Fresh Direct, the grocery store that ships to your apartment. Netflix has way more movies than my local Blockbuster and Zappo's offers far more sizes than the shoe department at Macy's. I've set my account to mail me a new tube of mascara every 3 months because I always forgot to replace it until the brush got gunky. I've even begun buying about 40% of my clothes online, mainly because I can find out right away which stores are having sales and whether they have my favorite sizes and styles in stock.

But there are downsides to online shopping as well. Mainly, I'm usually too impatient to wait a few weeks to get my stuff and I absolutely despise mailing things back. If I've ordered from a company that has a physical store near my house, I'll return it there, but having to wait in line at a busy post office is about as fun as a trip to the dentist. It's also so disappointing when you've been looking forward for something to arrive for weeks, only to rip open the box, try it on and realize you have to take it back. Often by this time the store is out of the size you really need, so you're totally screwed.

A few online clothing stores offer free overnight shipping, and sometimes even free shipping for returns, which is like the best of both worlds. For other brands, though, I think I'll stick with what's low-tech for now.

What do you prefer?


Kelly said...

I totally agree! Online shopping has its perks but I will usually only buy online if I can find a discount code or free shipping code. However, Zappos is one shoe place that I will ALWAYS buy my shoes from because I can get my spiffy new shoes overnight for free! There are times though that going shopping physically in the store is fun and sometimes rewarding, especially if I don't find anything I like I can feel proud of myself for NOT spending that extra money.

Anonymous said...

I can read newspapers online, but the sensation of holding the thing in my hand cannot be satisfied in this manner. Likewise, shopping. HOWEVER, being oddly proportioned, taller than avaerage, and wearing a ridiculous shoe size (looooong and narrow), I have increasingly been shopping for clothing (occasionally) and shoes (quite regularly) online. How did I live without the internet?!?

Deja Pseu said...

I prefer shopping in person, but due to time constraints, I often end up shopping online. Sometimes I'll see something I like in a store but they'll be out of my size and I can go online and find it. is great for that.

Fabulously Broke in the City said...

I've been burned too many times to shop online (esp on Ebay) any more unless I've seen the product in person, tried on the sizes, colour and fit.

THEN I'll find it online and buy it for cheaper. Other than that, it's much nicer to feel everything in person.

Kai Jones said...

Eh. I really like buying my bras online (, because I can try them on in my home, with different shirts, and get free shipping for returns/exchanges.

I've even bought perfume online, but that's trickier--you really want to know what it will smell like, unless you're just buying samples.

Shopping online lessens the serendipitous discovery, though. Sometimes in person I'll find something I love that I never would have looked for online.

ambika said...

I agree with all of your pros about shopping at b&m stores as well as online. There's something to be said for immediate gratification and *knowing* that something fits. The variety and sprawl of onlin, though...say, for a shop like Forever 21 that is just heinous in real life, cannot be beat.

My con with online shopping is really fit more than anything. I cannot buy pants, dresses or anything else with a tricky fit. Measurement guides seem to vary wildly (I ordered 3 items from La Redoute after checking & rechecking their chart and everything was still waaaay too huge.)

Since most of the shops I've ordered from do offer free shipping, I've never gotten screwed that way (plus I just drop it in the post here at work) but I hate paying for the shipping in the first place only to have the item not work out.

Sara said...

Forgive me for getting all "green" on you, but I think one of the biggest reasons why it's better to actually buy from the store is because of emissions. Your car will emit MUCH less CO2 from just driving 15 minutes to the store than a Fed Ex truck driving (or plane flying) halfway across the country.

We, and myself included, have become a society that NEEDS instant gratification. Everything is instant nowadays and it is just not necessary.

Anonymous said...

Actually, sorry to go all analytical on you, but ordering from the internet is more eco-friendly. Things ordered online skip the intermediate step of first being shipped to the store, sitting on the shelves for a while, and then taken home. Stores use A LOT of energy. Most items shipped by Fed Ex piggy back on other items being shipped. The Fed Ex (or UPS or USPC) trucks are running anyways, and the CO2 generated from one more package is practically nil.

Anonymous said...

Wow to your boyfriend! Impressive on how far he goes! 2 years ago as a freshman in college without a car, I fell to the convenience of online shopping. However, my budget as a college student is always tight, and once I found out that half of what I ordered was not the color it appeared online, and that it was not nearly as flattering as I hoped it would be, I was out of luck. I've that my body type is a little hard to please, and its in my wallet and wardrobes best interest to only shop in stores.

Mimi said...

i like boutique shopping but hwen it comes to hard to find things online is the way love the blog! come visit mine xoxo

Anita said...

I live in a small rural area and don't have access to much retail, so the internet is wonderful. Having said that, it takes planning. When I visit friends in cities, I take a list of perfumes and makeup I want to try, then order those items cheaper (esp. perfume) online. For clothes & shoes, I only order brands that I'm familiar w/ the fit (I actually buy most of my clothes @ Goodwill & resale shops, which is the ultimate in recycling.) I've been burned on the 'bay as well, so I only buy from reputable sites and swap on MUA. I do love b&m stores like TJ Maxx, DSW Shoes and Big Lots, bcs. some great deals can be had, but that shopping falls more into the category of entertainment for me.

Anonymous said...

I love shopping online. It saves me so much time and I really enjoy it. I know my sizes from various sites that I revisit so I have few returns. If a site doesn't have a store locally, I will also print mailing labels online (usually cheaper to do this than to use the website's return mailing label). I'm an online shopping junkie. :)