Online or in-store shopping: which is more frugal?

by Karen on December 3, 2008

Photo by engnr_chik

Who doesn’t love online shopping? It’s fast, convenient, and often offers lower prices. But it’s not always the most frugal way to shop.

I bought all of my nieces’ and nephews’ Christmas gifts through Amazon. They were shipped right to my door, and I did all of the shopping right from my couch. It doesn’t get more convenient than that.

But what happens if one of them already has the gift? What if it’s defective or they just don’t like it? In the past, I loved including gift receipts with any and all gifts. There’s no way to include a gift receipt with gifts purchased online.

It’s also easy to overlook shipping costs when shopping for online deals. Sure, the item itself might be $5 cheaper than in stores, but you’re not saving money if you’re paying $6 to ship it.

Time is another important factor. Are you shopping at the last minute? If so, it’s best not to risk holiday shipping delays for a few bucks off.

Shopping online may be more convenient overall, but it requires extra research and care.

Compare online and in-store prices, and be sure to factor in shipping costs when shopping for the best deal.

Consider the likelihood that the gift will need to be returned. For gifts like clothing that must be tried on, it might be worth it to spend a little more in-store so you can include a gift receipt. If it’s an appliance, book, or other item that you know the recipient wants, online shopping is the way to go.

Find out the person’s clothing sizes before you start shopping, and make sure they don’t already have the item you buy.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to include a gift receipt, I was extra careful when I shopped for my nieces and nephews. I checked with my sisters to make sure the gifts were a good fit. I also read product reviews to ensure I was buying quality toys that weren’t likely to be defective.

Shipping was free, and I paid for the gifts with an Amazon gift card I received through MyPoints. You can’t get a better deal than free, but if I had been paying out of my pocket, I would have comparison shopped to make sure I was getting the best deal.

In our culture of convenience and technology, it’s very easy to convince yourself that online is always better. Be sure to look at the whole picture before you make a decision, though.

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