For some, shopping is a hobby. For others, it’s a chore. Love it or hate it, you’ve got to do it. (We all need food, clothes and home supplies, after all.)
And thankfully, you’ve now got options. But which one should you pick: online vs. in-store shopping? Sure, one means a leisurely stroll down every aisle, sipping your latte to retro pop music. But the other means you can literally upgrade your entire wardrobe or fully stock your pantry while you wait for that casserole to finish baking.
With the change in shopping options comes a hot new debate: What’s the best way to shop? Online or in store?
Online vs. In-Store Shopping: Overall Considerations
As our lives get busier, online shopping grows more and more popular. And for some, you just can’t beat the convenience.
So, which is better? Drumroll, please . . .
Yeah, there’s no straightforward answer—because what’s better depends on so many things!
Before we get into the specifics of those “so many things,” check out this quick list of overall considerations:
Overall Benefits of Online Shopping
- Online-only deals
- Helpful reviews from other customers
- Digital alerts for promotions
- Convenience (no parking hassles, checkout lines, etc.)
- Easy price comparisons
Overall Benefits of In-Store Shopping
- Ability to touch and feel the item before buying
- Fewer exchange hassles
- No delivery waiting time
- Confident purchases
Pros and Cons of Online vs. In-Store Shopping
Now, let’s break down the pros and cons of shopping online vs. in store. We’ll look at a few popular budget lines: groceries, clothes, household items and home décor.
- Less Tempting: Ordering your groceries online and picking them up at the store can save you money. How? You’ve already heard you shouldn’t shop hungry. But when you’re physically in the grocery store—hungry or not—your five senses can tempt you into overspending. Those tiny pictures online aren’t as tempting, making it easier to avoid impulse buys.
- Easier Math: When you grocery shop online, there are no surprises at the cash register. You can watch that total add up before you ever hit “Check Out,” and if you start to go over budget, it’s easy to delete items. No need to carry around a calculator to keep things in check.
- Extra Fees: The convenience of shopping online is hard to resist, but don’t forget, it comes at a cost. A delivery fee or tip could cancel out the money you’d save with the pros we just covered.
- Less Control: You can’t pick your own produce, which means someone else will decide just how ripe you like your bananas. Plus, if the item you ordered is out of stock, you could be stuck without the pot roast you needed for dinner.
- Fresh Food Options: We already mentioned this, but some people are pretty picky about their produce. Buying in store means you can thump that melon and squeeze that avocado. You can inspect all the packages of meat and pick the one you prefer. A can of beans is a can of beans, but fresh food looks different in person.
- Focus: We tend to online shop when we’re doing a ton of other things. But when you’re in the actual grocery store, you can focus on the task at hand—instead of multitasking purchases at midnight while binging The Office (again) and answering emails that can honestly wait until tomorrow.
- Time: Hey, we’re busy. And going to the store can be a time suck—especially when you think about how long it takes to make the drive, search the aisles, and stand in line at the register.
Clever Marketing: Grocery stores are clever with their marketing. They know how to position the shiny temptations right where you’ll see them. And it’s way harder to put your blinders on in an actual store.
- Never forget the power of coupons—when shopping online or in store!
- The in-store deals work differently than the online deals. Check out both options to make the best shopping choices for your grocery budget.
- Customer Reviews: Before you buy something, you can check out reviews from customers who already purchased it. That’s a huge advantage of online shopping. How does the item look after it's been worn, and washed, a few times? This kind of insight can help you decide if you’ll add the item to your virtual shopping cart.
- Email Alerts: If you sign up for emails from your favorite clothing stores, you’ll be notified when they have huge online sales. And we mean huge. If you’re willing to wait (and you should be!), those pants that were full price last week could be 50% off (and an extra 30% off that) today!
- Kids Clothes: Once you know which stores and brands fit your kids best, you can watch for online sales before you stock up on what they need for the next season—or when they outgrow those pants after wearing them only twice.
- Complicated Returns: If you buy online and need to return the item for any reason, you’ll probably have to notify the retailer, box up the item, and take a trip to UPS. If you’re reordering in a different size, you’ll have to wait for the retailer to receive your returned item, deposit your refund into your bank account, and then ship the new item.
- Many Choices: Since online stores have unlimited scrolling real estate, it's really easy to get lost in a sea of choices and overspend by buying a shirt in every color or five different pairs of pants because who knows which you’ll like better in real life. (Yes, shopping addiction is real, folks! And online shopping can be a real temptation.)
- No Waiting: Even with the explosion of the two-day shipping option, nothing gets your new clothes to you faster than buying them in a physical store.
- Easy Exchanges: If you take the wrong size to the dressing room, all you have to do is go pick a different size off the rack, walk back to the dressing room, and try it on. Easy peasy.
- Less Indecision: If the item fits well, the fabric feels great, and the price is right, you can purchase your item right away. No more buying two (or three) of the same thing in two (or three) different sizes because you have no idea what size will fit. You get to leave the store feeling like a shopping champion.
- Not Enough Time: Life is busy! Getting into an actual store, looking through rack after rack, and trying on piece after piece might seem like more work than it’s worth.
- Dressing Room Drama: Have you ever been in a dressing room with a child who's trying on clothes? It's not fun. Either they take waaay too long to decide or they quickly pick whatever they think you like just so they can escape. Will they ever wear it? Not likely.
- No matter how you shop, check the return policy. Always.
- Don’t get a store credit card. The discounts aren’t worth the debt.
- Fast Discounts: For basic items like paper towels and light bulbs, an Amazon Prime membership often provides free two-day delivery and the lowest cost—plus coupons with discounts you can apply at checkout!
- Easy Comparison: Buying household items online offers an incredible chance to easily compare prices. You can visit 10 stores online in the time it would take you to drive to one, maybe two.
- Overpayment Danger: The convenience of buying in bulk online and having those 40 rolls of toilet paper delivered to your door is a beautiful thing. But watch out—make sure you aren’t overpaying each month just so you don't have to worry about running out of something.
- In-Store-Only Deals: Store promotions, coupons and sales often apply to things you buy in the actual store only. Of course! That’s how they get you in the building to also buy all the things you didn’t plan on! But for a shopper with a plan, you can score those deals on what you need without being tempted by the stuff you don’t.
- Human Interaction: Getting advice from an actual human is often well worth your time and gas money to drive to a physical store.
- Time: We’ll talk about this con a couple times because it’s a big deal. The time it takes to run to the store for a few household items (when you know you could buy them online and have them delivered that day) can have a big impact on your schedule.
- Out of Stock Items: If you go in for a specific brand of window cleaner and it’s out of stock, you’re out of luck. Or you’re driving to another store.
- Keep your eye on your household supplies. No one wants to run to the store at 10 p.m. because you didn’t realize you were out of trash bags. When you think ahead, you can buy ahead.
- Rare Finds: You can find beautiful, affordable art online at sites like Etsy, Society6 and Jenny’s Print Shop. It’s like exploring craft shows from your couch. With the popularity of online small businesses, you have access to so much more—without having to pay for gas to get to your favorite hand-lettering pro in a neighboring town.
- See It in the Space: Technology to the rescue! Some online home stores (and even some Amazon products) will let you see how an item would look in your home before you even buy it. If the app you're shopping in offers this feature, all you have to do is point your phone's camera and tap to virtually place the item in the spot you want it.
- Slow Delivery: Even though choosing and buying an item online might not take more than 15 minutes, the delivery can be super slow. Especially with home décor, lack of inventory can delay your shipment anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
- Damaged in Shipping: Okay, items don't arrive damaged often, but it does happen. And it always seems to be that one thing you were looking forward to using right away. Now you have to send it back and wait for a new one. Major bummer.
- Fun Outings: If you love the thrill of the in-store shopping hunt, you can save big by starting your search at stores like T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, Target and others. Even your local flea market, antique stores, bargain centers and consignment shops offer good deals and could be a fun Saturday outing.
- No Shipping Costs: That antique hutch you’ve been eyeing would fit perfectly in your dining room—and would also fit perfectly in the back of your SUV. Just imagine how much it would cost to ship it. Okay, no need to imagine. It’s a lot!
- Forced Decisions: Like we mentioned before, design choices are super individual. And when you’re shopping for a design piece for your home, it’s even more individual. So, when a pushy salesperson is breathing down your neck at the consignment shop or antique store, you might be wishing you stayed home.
- Real-life cart or virtual cart—don’t go through checkout if you can’t pay cash (or debit) for it.
Whether you shop online or in store is really a personal choice. Just be sure you base your decision on your money goals. How can you do that? Good question . . .
Shop With Your Budget in Mind
No matter where you find yourself on your next shopping trip—on the couch or in the aisle—make sure you’ve got the most important money-saving tool by your side: your budget.
Start budgeting with EveryDollar today!
With a monthly budget, you give yourself permission to spend. That means you can shop without guilt and worry, knowing that today’s spending won’t derail tomorrow’s plans. Because it’s in the budget!
And hey, we just so happen to have a free budgeting tool called EveryDollar. You can use it on your phone or desktop, aka in the store or at home. Or anywhere!
This awesome mobility helps you with the most important part of budgeting—keeping up with your spending the entire month. As soon as you buy something—whether in person or online—go ahead and add that transaction into your budget so you can stay on track and on top of your spending.
Hopefully all this helps you make the best decisions for you and your money. Next time you’re shopping, just remember—you’re the one in control of your spending, no matter if the cart is virtual or has three out of four squeaky, wobbly wheels.
Your Shopping Sidekick
No matter how you shop, don’t forget to budget that spending.Download EveryDollar