Should you buy computer hardware locally or on the Internet?

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 16, 2013

Back in the pre-Internet days, you had two options in regards to buying computer hardware. You could head out to a local store and see what was on offer there, or use mail order. Many shops advertised in magazines so that you knew about price and what was on offer before you went there.

The rise of the Internet made things more comfortable. Not only could you browse multiple stores -regional or not - in rapid succession, you could also browse foreign country stores or use price comparison engines to get the best price on a piece of hardware that you were interested in.

If you ever wanted to get something that was not available in your country, say the latest Japanese video game system, a modchip, or a specific video card or processor, now was the time to get those things delivered to your doorstep without having to rely on back channels to do so.

Today computer users have two options: buy local or on the Internet. So which is better and which should you choose? This cannot be answered this easily as factors need to be considered, including:

  • The type of hardware.
  • Your experience with computer systems.
  • How fast you need the hardware.
  • If price plays a role.
via XKCD

Local stores

Most local hardware shops have a website that you can use to check out their offers before you head out. It is usually also possible to call them to find out if an item is available or needs to be ordered first before it becomes available again.

You may not get the best deal when you compare the price with what is offered by Internet shops, but it is usually not that far off. It is still recommended to compare prices and maybe try to broker a deal by pointing out that you could order on the Internet for less.

Local shops have other advantages. First, if the item is available, you can get it right away. If you order online, you may have to wait a day or two, or even longer, before you get the package.

Second, you often get better support. If you are inexperienced, you may have troubles adding the new shiny Solid State Drive, video card or processor to your system, or may have questions about compatibility in first place.

While you may not get those answers in most chain stores, you will certainly find experienced shop owners in smaller stores that can help you with that. Many stores offer to add the new hardware to your system for a price which may be an option if you do not want to do it by yourself. That is also one of the advantages they have over Internet stores.

You can also still use the Internet for research, say to find out what other customers say about the item.


  1. Tech support is usually better, and pre-sales questions can be answered right away.
  2. If an item is available, you get it the same day.
  3. May offer extra services such as adding bought hardware to an existing system.
  4. May spot compatibility issues and tell you about them.
  5. If you need to return a device, you may get a replacement right away.
  6. Once you are a customer, it is often possible to call them for tech support, especially if it is related to a device you bought in the store.


  1. Prices usually higher as on the Internet.
  2. You have to go to the store.
  3. Expertise may vary highly.

Internet stores

Internet stores are just like mailorder stores, only faster and easier to search and navigate. It is usually the case that you get better deals on the Internet than you get locally.

You can use price comparison engines to find the best price or the most trusted online store out there to buy your hardware at.

The second advantage over shopping locally is that you do not need to go out and buy the hardware. That's not a big advantage if the local store is right across the street, but if it is not, you may prefer delivery to your doorstep, especially if the hardware you want to buy is heavy and you do not have suitable means of transport.


  1. Price is usually cheaper, which means that you will save money when you are ordering online.
  2. You do not have to leave your home or carry the items to it.


  1. Support is either non-existent or not trained well, which means that you have to go elsewhere, support forums for example, to get your answers which in turn may mean that you have to wait longer before you can purchase the hardware (as you are waiting for answers).
  2. Returning an item is often less convenient.
  3. You do not get items on the same day, unless you pay extra for express delivery.

Closing Words

When I look at my buying habits, I have to admit that I buy on the Internet usually. I tend to get better prices there and do not need any special support for the devices I buy.

There are exceptions to the rule though. If I need something urgently, say a new keyboard or mouse because mine broke, I usually hop to the next local store and buy them from there. While they may be more expensive, it provides me with a replacement on the same day.

Generally speaking: if you need tech support then your best bet is to shop locally. If that does not matter, you may prefer to buy on the Internet as you get better prices there.

What about you? Do you buy computer hardware online or locally?


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  1. Kunal said on December 23, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    Very Informative content

  2. zeno said on September 9, 2014 at 6:23 am

    i think it depends on who it is , us techie types who having one pc down for parts /or repair isnt going to hurt too much and can afford to wait.People who arent so techie and only have one computer, are probably going to buy in the store.I thinking most of the replacement parts i would need in a hurry , wouldnt be carried locally. Say a weird laptop charger/psu.
    1 computer/laptop locally
    2 or more computers/laptops online
    ~Phones yep i know~
    ~i know its old , but what the heck~

  3. August said on November 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    What about buying online and store pick up? Best of both worlds. :-) It won’t work for all your hardware though. I think that it is better to buy from a physical store.

  4. Sam said on September 24, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Interesting post.

    I always buy online.

    I’ve constantly got lower prices when buying online than when buying at my local shops. I’m also a big fan of buying second hand tech from forums or ebay.

    As long as you buy from reputable sellers you can save a great deal!

  5. said on September 17, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    For hardware its better to buy from local store. As if it has some problems then they will replace it asap.

  6. X said on September 16, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    You can also check e-stores ratings on sites like

    1. Rick said on September 16, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      Not a good site at all – they don’t check IP addresses on comment submissions. People have been known to hammer a company’s rating by bogus comments.

      More importantly, people find it easy to complain, with many not taking the effort to report positive experiences.

      And when it comes to computers (etc), the experience level of the buyer is so important. We have all heard about the person who called his local shop complaining that his coffee cup holder stopped working on his PC – that coffee cup holder being his cd/dvd drive. We laugh at this but I have had a few experiences that mimic this very thing .. first question “Is the wireless printer plugged into the wall?” And I’ve gotten …”well of course not, I bought it because it is wireless”

      Unfortunately there are folks out there that should still be buying the pre-built boxes that decide one magical day to DIY, and it seems that these same folks are the first to complain when something goes wrong.

      1. X said on September 18, 2013 at 11:36 pm

        Of course, the fact your own (independently, ha ha, no IP verified) recommended store could score a terrific 3.83 / 100 out of 39 reviews at undoubtedly entitles you to an educated opinion.

  7. Rick said on September 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Or if you are lucky, you have a local store that has an internet store as well, and even more, matches the price of any other store/ Add in that they give you a discount of 25% of the price difference too!

    Well fortunately, I am just this lucky! And this local store ( has a huge product list so it doesn’t suffer from the selection limitations that local stores often have. It isn’t surprising that they have grown to 6 locations or so in western Canada, and has become the choice of IT departments of many companies.

    I don’t have to choose between cheap online, or local expertise and convenience.

    1. Blue.bsod said on September 16, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      I also shop at as well as TigerDirect, NewEgg, and Amazon, but my latest and greatest finds have all been on eBay as of late. I once solely believed in the product information of TigerDirect over NewEgg and MemoryExpress, but after a few mis-fires bad orders and annoying returns I don’t believe anyone but the manufacturers website.

      My default site will always be TigerDirect for general information but when I can find deals you’ll find me on eBay and doing research all over.

      As for purchasing the latest and greatest. When I build a computer, I make sure it or the components are upgradeable. Example: When AM2/2+ core came out, manufacturers like ASUS began making some motherboards (mobo) that could accept the AM3 core after a bios update. That when when I did get around to updating I could do an easy bio’s update and be up and running in a few minutes or less.

      Sadly when I was given an AM3 core a few years back the mobo I purchased was literally one step behind lol and there was no bios update to support the core I was given. The mobo supported max Athlon IIx4 640, the core was Athlon IIx4 645… damn just one series away… So I ended up going with Gigabyte which not only supports my chip but it also supports the current AM3+ chips.

      Bottomline, I mainly purchase online whenever I can, but like some lucky people I too have a TigerDirect close by so if I really want to forego the shipping rates and the week long wait I could simply stop by.

      p.s. even manufacturer websites can be wrong, always do research and question everything. I’ve written inquires to dozens of manufacturers about specs I suspected were wrong or typo’d.

      p.p.s. when reading others reviews I not only read their reviews for the product I am looking at I read their other reviews if possible to determine if this person really knows what they are talking about, using the product wrong or assumed the wrong conclusions.

  8. Oxa said on September 16, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Where I live there are no “local” shops that sell hardware. Best Buy and Staples are all there is, and their selection is limited. So it’s online all the way for me. I’ve never needed support after a purchase, but if I needed repair or installation help, I’d go to a local repair store, which still exist in my area.

  9. KRS said on September 16, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    In NYC, we’re fortunate to have two have two retailers, J&R and B&H, with large stocks and expert salespeople. I’m price-sensitive up to a point, but I don’t make decisions based on a few cents or a few dollars. Also, shipping and sales tax need to be figured in.

    I buy a new computer every three years or so, when the current one starts to misbehave or can’t handle increasing program demands. I buy more hardware power than I need — not the bleeding edge, but maybe two steps below — which seems to be the best compromise, particularly since I’m not a big gamer. I’m not willing to build from scratch, so I get what’s available.

    I think CPU microarchitecture is an overlooked criterion. My previous desktop was i7 Nehalem. When I got an i5 Ivy Bridge laptop, I was surprised to find that the performance was very noticeably snappier. Haswell is probably the choice, now that the price is coming down.

    My current desktop is an Acer Predator i7 Ivy Bridge with 12 Gb of RAM and Nvidia graphics. I paid a couple of hundred extra to get plenty of reserve and added a 4 Tb disk for backup. I’m hoping I’m set for a couple of years.

    The point is that I need some expert hand-holding at the point of sale, even though I know pretty much what I want, and it’s worth the extra to be able to take just one box home and plug it in.

  10. Toto_student said on September 16, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    > What about you? Do you buy computer hardware online or locally?

    Well, I have to say expertise in local shop may vary a lot, so it’s not always the best for advices. More generally, when looking at my habits I tend to shop online for: 1) items that I know about because I have expertise in the field (in some hardware store I know more than sellers). 2) Because I want a specific model from a specific brand and it is easier to compare prices from various shop to get the best deal. 3) For small items that do not require huge expertise or where the cost make errors less of a problem (the time to get the refund won’t impairs to buy the correct piece in the meantime).
    Shopping locally will be more for situation where I have an issue with no idea how to solve it (what piece of equipment, what setup, etc) or for expensive items where tech support before and after is more important. Paying 10% more to shop locally is probably less expensive in some case that having a rebate online, but having to send (at your expenses) the item for repair, or having trouble to get any repair at all.

  11. Anonymous said on September 16, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Office Depot, Amazon, and Tiger Direct.

    I love our local Office Depot. Never had a bad experience with them, and they always answer my questions . However, I don’t usually need tech help, and when I do, like installing a new power supply, I go to a local computer repair shop.

    Amazon is quick to get orders off. Whenever I’ve had a problem, like when the laptop I ordered wasn’t there the day they’d promised delivery, they are just as quick to respond. When I complained about the late delivery (mostly because I was afraid it had gotten lost), they sent me another laptop. The next day I had two and had to send one back. Having said that, I am less likely these days to go to Amazon first. Now they have a physical presence in California, and big sales tax plus shipping means Amazon is no longer the cheapest place to buy.

    Tiger direct is best (IMO) for peripherals and parts. Their prices can’t be beat, but expect a very long wait.

  12. imu said on September 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    What most people do these days is to go to local store ask all the pre-sales questions, touch the item etc. and then go home and order it online .

  13. Kneyfield said on September 16, 2013 at 11:28 am

    > What about you? Do you buy computer hardware online or locally?

    When I began buying computer hardware, the Internet wasn’t being used for your every-day shopping purposes yet. As I grew up in a very rural area with no recommendable electronics or computer shops in town, I started buying computer hardware and electronics from mail order companies, which were often found in the ads section of computer magazines.

    Today I order almost exclusively from online shops, where I’m a repeat-customer at about half a dozen of them. If the price is reasonably competitive, most of those purchases come from Amazon (directly and not from the marketplace). After I had to wait several months (literally!) for repair or replacement with some shops in the past, I have grown to love Amazon’s uncomplicated warranty process: send the defective product back, get your money refunded and buy the same part or something different.

    My parents have had a number of negative experiences with local shops in the past few years. Technical advice may be superior to the faceless experience when shopping online, I don’t doubt that, but I have come to realize, that after-the-buy service in your local shop hasn’t been better for a while now. The clear worsening of consumer-friendly rules and attitude within the past two decades has managed to bring most local shops down to the same level you experience while shopping online. The few local shops that are left had to cut corners somehow to survive. It’s simple economics: for the owner of a small shop in the city, everything is more expensive and that counts for the handling of warranty claims as well.

    If you’re not completely computer-illiterate or if you have even a little bit of experience with modern electronics, then buying from an online shop shouldn’t scare you. In today’s Internet, you can get valuable consultation for free in so many different places, that the only advantage of a local shop is negated. I don’t even feel guilty for doing my part in pushing out the small shops, because I never wanted to pay for the implied premium services absorbed in the higher price – not back then, when this kind of service still existed widely, nor today, where it has become a rarity.

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