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Online Stores vs Retail Stores - Which is better?

For many people, when they think of shopping and sourcing building fixtures, online is not their natural first choice. Rather, despite common knowledge that retail shops are more expensive, people tend to steer towards them for the comfort of the known and familiar.

Young couple in consumer electronics store

If you're in the market for some new fixtures or practically anything at all, there's two basic places to shop. Here's a side-by-side comparison of online stores versus retail outlets.

Accessibility and Speed of Service.

To be an online shopper, you'll need a credit card, Pay Pal account, checking account, or some sort of online financing option. You'll have to wait for it to arrive through the mail.

On the other hand, all you need is a way to get to the retail store, and your mode of payment - cash or charge, plus the means to take your item home.

Product Selection - Availability

Without having to drive miles to find what you need, shopping online gives you every style option, model, and size at your fingertips. Don't see your preferred product at this store?, surf to another! The only drawback is you can't test the product beforehand unless you find it at a retail store near you, but you can read product reviews, user opinions, and manufacturer specs with minimal exertion. Most reputable sites make aware the availability of each item. Not to mention, online stores often have money back guarantees or return policies that are more than reasonable. Another interesting fact, is most online stores like will tell you if an item is in stock or out of stock. Although many online stores are actually "bargain basements" that only house most items seasonally or temporarily and never on a permanent basis, as well as some major online stores house items permanently and are equipped with spare parts for repair and exchange purposes.  When it comes to building fixtures, you want the comfort that the online store stocks a range for the long term, as well as the latest styles, and has the ability to provide the follow service.Depositphotos_3359148_original

Shopping in retail stores allows your choices to be limited to only products sold at the local level. Though, you can often test your new item before buying it, but depending on store size, selection may be limited. In fact many smaller stores will simply order the item when you order from them - which begs the question: what service are they actually providing and should it be at full retail price if it is not in stock?  Some premium designer items may also come in on a per order basis or have gone out of stock which could also leave you the hassle of waiting for weeks for it to be available again.


Generally, online stores like have lower prices because they don't have the cost of renting a showroom in a strip mall, high electric bills, and a staff of sales people. There's even web sites that offer "percent off" discounts if you enter a code after meeting a minimum purchase requirement, which could save even more money.  If you are good at researching and have a fair idea of your style preferences then you may not need to pay the hefty premium for the "showroom experience".

In order to complete the system that allows you to be shopping at your favourite retail store outlet, retail store owners pay rent, people, electricity and wages. These costs are passed on to the products and increases base price - in some cases by more than 100%!

GST and Shipping/Delivery

There are some online stores that ship from overseas and avoid the GST.  Renovator Store is an example of an Australian owned and based business that has all its products in stock in Australia so that they can be shipped quickly - of course this means it charges GST just like any normal bricks-and-mortar store.

Shipping can be a different story. Some online stores don't charge shipping or you can get coupons for free shipping while others do charge, which might drive the final cost of your item up several hundred dollars.  With free shipping on an online store you can truly compare the prices against traditional stores - however, many shoppers forget that the costs involved with with the inconvenience of driving to a store and parking, and coming back to collect an order.  Free shipping online is actually a key advantage - especially if the product itself is also more fairly priced.  If you ask a traditional store - they can usually deliver but will usually charge a fee. If they charge for delivery, try to get the fee waived.

Customer Service / Warranty - Returns, Exchanges, Repairs

This can be a perceived sticky point with online purchasing. Though most online shops like excel in servicing the customer, there's also some negative stigma associated with online sellers.  Some online stores make the customer pay for restocking fees, shipping if sending the item to be fixed through warranty, or buy the item with a 'no return' clause in the sale. With some warranties, the consumer will get a replacement model temporarily or permanently depending on the issue. Customer service is sometimes hard to contact, and there's usually no storefront to voice a grievance in person. Luckily this is all history due to the increase in competition and the recent changes in the pattern and business maturity of consumers. The successful online stores nowadays bank on excellent customer service and quality.  An entire Customer service department is involved in fulfilling customer satisfaction and assuring concerns and complaints are resolved immediately.


Retail outlets used to be easy to deal with when returning, exchanging, and using the warranty. Customer service is usually driven to retain your business by any means necessary, even if it means taking one on the chin every now and then.  However, contrary to how online shops have developed, retail stores seem to be taking an opposite direction. Retail store personnel in some shops tend to be either pushy or irate and hate to be asked if they can match the transparent prices available online - probably due to the long hours of standing and assisting both buyers and window shoppers.  Due to the strain a replacement or claim would make  - some personnel try to hide if not totally forget comments, complaints and criticisms to either safeguard their status, or prevent a salary deduction. Though personal contact and face to face interaction is normally perceived better, human error and outside factors affect and create a positive and negative effect on what used to be great retail store service.


Most people are on the impression that buying stuff online means your credit information is there for the grabbing.  That just isn't true anymore. Most online retailers use some sort of 128-bit encryption, and are as secure as banking sites. Sure, there's a risk, but no more than buying in a store. In fact the best practise is for an online store to actually have a bank manage the payment gateway on their e-store which means the e-store does not even see and never stores the credit card or payment information.  That is safer than a bricks-and-mortar store.   Read user opinions, check their security license, and you'll be fine.

What's written for online security goes for retail security. For the most part, your information will remain private, but there's always the rare case of identity theft at some level.

So whether your shopping for door stoppers or LED bulbs, try to see your options with eyes wide open. Go past the cliches and stigmas of what people used to think. You'd be surprised to a whole new world of value and opportunities you'd uncover with your fingertips. After all it is hard earned money that you're using!

2 thoughts on “Online Stores vs Retail Stores - Which is better?”
  • Alica Herrod

    Sometimes a consumer can shop online and make a purchase with a few clicks of the mouse (or taps on the screen). Maybe she’s replenishing, doesn’t have any questions about the product, or is content with the online customer support she received. Meanwhile, another consumer may need to visit a physical store. He may need to see-and-feel the product he’s considering before making a final decision. Or he may want to talk to a sales associate in-person. Or maybe he simply needs to bring home his purchase right now, today.

    • Charlotte Conquilla
      Charlotte Conquilla December 31, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      Those are very good points Alica, some people indeed still have preference for the physical stores. Though it may be a notable consideration to wait for a couple of days for an identical item if the waiting would mean almost half the price. And the talking to a Sales Associate part are almost always available with online stores as well.

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