Is Shopping Online Really Cheaper?

The answer is often yes, and here's why.

Hand holding credit card and wallet by laptop
••• Johnnie Davis/ Moment/ Getty Images

Shopping online can save you money, especially when you couple it with online savings codes, deals of the day, no-taxes-charged and free shipping offers.

Why Online Stores May Be Cheaper

Retailers do not always offer the same deals in brick-and-mortar stores as at their online counterparts because the cost of running a physical establishment can be considerably greater than for an online store. Factors such as rent, electricity, payroll, fixtures and shrinkage loss all contribute to the gross margin and overhead of doing business in a shopping center or elsewhere.

Retailers have discovered that they can meet the needs of their customers, but with less operational expense, with an online location and not a physical store. Good online retailers then pass the savings on to their customers by cutting the cost of the products.

The Advantages of Online Shopping

Online shopping is a great resource for finding products that are from past seasons or that are being liquidated. Housing this type of product in a central warehouse allows the retailer to sell products longer by letting them sit unsold without destroying the profit margin. This practice can then result in significant savings for customers who do not need to purchase the most current products.

Communication with online shoppers is often streamlined with automatic responses to questions and follow-up, often with more professional and corporately trained employees than those found in brick-and-mortar operations. Customer service policies are clearly stated on reputable sites to lessen any consumer confusion. Well-trained live sales representatives are made available to those who have questions without waiting in long lines or searching aisles for a store associate.

Price-comparison sites such as PriceGrabber enable shoppers to shop smarter, through utilizing services that compare the prices of a product at several stores. Shoppers not only get competitive pricing information but also product and site reviews to help with their decision of what and where to buy online.

Many online stores waive sales tax charges or shipping costs to entice shoppers to make an online purchase. Also, reputable sites offer toll-free numbers for customers who do not want to post their personal information and credit card numbers online.

Online Promotional Calendars Stay With Tradition

Online stores are on the same promotional calendar as the brick-and-mortar stores, offering great seasonal sales and discounts. The after-Christmas sales equal those of local department stores. Late winter sales typically offer huge price cuts for the annual "white sales" events.

Early spring is when the online outlets offer up to 75 percent off winter merchandise. Throughout the year, big sales events are held during holiday weekends like Fourth of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day, just like the local stores.

With more people turning to the internet to do their shopping, the smarter retailers are responding with improved user-friendly sites, more direct promotional events, and just some good old-fashioned customer service.

Shoppers seem to be returning to a more back-to-the-basics concept in shopping: "Here is the product, here is what it costs you and here are the advantages of shopping with us." Online stores are proving to be the best at adapting their promotions to meet a simpler approach.


A growing trend among shoppers is to go to a brick-and-mortar store to check out and compare the features of a product and then buy it online at a lower price. Several apps available to shoppers check competitors' prices both online and in-store. Some customers walk around with their smartphones, then ask the brick-and-mortar sales associate if the store is willing to match prices.

Amazon is a huge competitor for online and local retailers. With its vast amount of inventory in multiple categories, trying to convince a shopper to buy a specific brand is not the goal, like it would be for local retailers that are often limited by the brands that they carry. Amazon offers shoppers an opportunity to branch out beyond what is available at their local stores.

Although showrooming can be a major source of frustration for brick-and-mortar operations, it has forced many local stores to improve their services. Walmart now has the "In-Store Mode" on its iPhone app that allows shoppers in the stores to scan barcodes, read customer reviews and find out about the latest discounts that might lower a product's price. The app does not show competitors' prices, which still makes it a step down from what can be accomplished when shopping online.

Today's Browser Plug-Ins Make Saving Easier

Online shopping and saving have come a long way over the years. Today's technology has made it so that all shoppers need to do is shop and the coupon savings are deducted automatically at the checkout screen. The plug-ins run in the background and are not even noticeable until there is a coupon available. One such company called Gumdrops by Goodshops offers the ability to not only find, verify, and place the coupon into the proper field on the checkout page (no more hunting for coupons), but it also will donate a percentage at no extra cost to the charity of your choice. With browser plug-ins that bring coupons to the shopper, missing out on extra savings is almost impossible.