Much of what I have bought in the past couple of years, maybe even the last ten years, has been bought on Internet shopping sites and not local stores.
While I'm probably not an extreme example when it comes to that, as I prefer to buy select items such as clothing or groceries locally, I have bought most items online.
I bought computer hardware online, books and media on Amazon, games on sites such as Steam, select household items and even furniture online as well.
I sat down one day and analyzed the behavior. Buying online has many advantages:
- It is very convenient. Just a couple of mouse clicks and you can purchase nearly every item on sale online. I do not have to leave the house for that, and the items get delivered to my door step so no carrying around either.
- I can compare prices. Price comparison engines and extensions help me find the best price for an item. It is possible to save a lot of money by comparing prices as they can differ a lot.
- It is usually cheaper. While not always the case, it is usually true that items are cheaper online, especially when you use price comparison engines.
- Availability may be better. There are so many online shopping sites that it is easy to find one that has the item available that you want to purchase. Locally, it may be just one or few stores that offer the item and if it is not available, it needs to be ordered before it can be bought.
These are strong incentives to buy online. There are however reasons against buying (most) items online as well.
- You support the local economy. This is especially true if you buy from independent local stores and not national chains, but both employee people of the community you are living in. If those people get unemployed, it is a burden for the whole community.
- You build a relationship with a real human being. Online support may be good or terrible, but all forms of online support have in common that you communicate with different representatives. Locally, especially in independent stores, you can form relationships with the owner and staff that go a lot deeper.
- Support is often better. While not always the case, it has been my experience that dedicated local businesses are usually well informed about their products while it is usually left to you to find the right product online. This includes returns as well which are often handled in a better way.
- More money re-circulates locally. Studies have shown that money spend on local businesses re-circulates more locally than money spend on non-locally owned businesses.
- May reduce environmental impact. Depending on what you buy, transportation may impact the environment in a lesser way. This is especially true for produce and food that is made available by local farmers.
- Limits impulsive purchases. Since it is so easy to buy products online, it is much easier to buy something impulsively.
I made the decision to buy most products locally based on the advantages of buying locally. There are some products that cannot be bought locally, or that have such a great price divide between local prices and online prices that I cannot justify buying them locally. This is for instance true for computer hardware.
Would I pay $50 more for a 3TB hard drive because it is offered by a local computer shop? I would not, but it may make sense for others to do. This can for instance be the case if you need help setting it up correctly as you may be able to phone the owner or one of the employees of the store to get that help. That is of course if they are proficient enough to help you out.
I shop online when it comes to unavailable products as well. If something is not available locally anymore, I may still get it online either on retail shopping sites or marketplaces like eBay.
What about you? Have your shopping habits changed in the past couple of years?