The Pros and Cons of Online Shopping

Keep these benefits and drawbacks in mind the next time you shop online

Illustration of woman shopping and opening a box

The Balance / Jiaqi Zhou

Online shopping is more popular today than ever before. A report from the U.S. Census Bureau found that in the second quarter of 2021, an estimated $222.5 billion was spent in retail e-commerce sales. In 2011, for comparison, the estimated total for retail e-commerce sales was $47.5 billion.

Due in part to new and growing technology, online shopping has become incredibly easy and convenient. It also offers a greater selection than one storefront, opening the doors to products and services that may not be available at a nearby brick-and-mortar store.

While online shopping comes with a number of benefits, there are drawbacks to know about, too. Let’s dive deeper into the pros and cons of shopping online.

Pros
    • Convenience
    • Greater selection
    • Easy access to information
Cons
    • Can be more expensive
    • Increases risk of fraud
    • Leads to longer wait times

Pros of Online Shopping

Using your computer or another digital device for shopping needs can be convenient, offer more options to choose from, and provide you with insight you might not find in person at a store.

Convenience

The greatest benefit of online shopping is its convenience. Through the digital space, you can buy anything you want from the comfort of your own home. Since online stores are open 24/7 and accessible from anywhere with internet access, it’s easy to fit online shopping into your life no matter how busy you are. You don’t have to plan your purchases based on when a brick-and-mortar store is open and available to serve you.

Greater Selection

Because products online live within the digital space, online retailers are not restricted to shelves and often have more inventory on hand with a wider selection of products. Also, online shopping gives you the chance to buy anything from any retailer, no matter where you’re located. If you’re in the market for a new lamp, for example, you’ll have more options available to you than you would if you only shopped at stores in your local area.

Easy Access to Information

When shopping online, you will often find more details about a business’s products than you would get in physical stores. Instead of speaking to just one or two sales associates in person, you can peruse product descriptions, recommendations of similar products, and reviews from other shoppers online that may help you make a more informed purchasing decision.

Online retailers also tend to have membership options, typically via email or newsletters, that give shoppers early access to sales, seasonal releases, and other events. This way, you can be one of the first to know of offerings from your favorite brands.

Cons of Online Shopping

Shopping for items online can also have its pitfalls, including hidden price mark-ups, an increased risk of fraud, and the inability to use or wear the item you purchased right away.

Can Be More Expensive

Online purchases can cost you more for several reasons. Even though many major online retailers offer free shipping, they generally require you meet a minimum to qualify for it. In addition, online retailers may use several strategies to encourage you to buy more items or more expensive items than if you were shopping in person.

Depending on the state you live in, you may be required to pay an internet sales tax, too. In Texas, for example, you may have to pay a tax on out-of-state purchases delivered into Texas or purchases made from online-only sellers.

Many online retailers take part in digital tactics to convince shoppers to make more purchases, often considered impulse buys. Some include using “limited time” sale pop-ups that reset every time users reload the page, fake customer testimonials, or messages that promote higher-cost items.

Increases Risk of Fraud

Unfortunately, online shopping scams do exist. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), online shopping was the second most common fraud category for consumers as of February 2021. Some scammers pretend to be legitimate online sellers with fake websites or create fake ads on real sites.

Always pay by credit card rather than a debit card, as you can easily report fraud to your credit card company. Also, it is best to avoid online sellers that only accept payment via money transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Scammers may encourage you to pay through these methods so they can access your money faster.

Leads to Longer Wait Times

When you shop at a brick-and-mortar store, you can walk away with the product you bought and use or wear it right away. Online shopping forces you to wait days, weeks, or even longer for your order to arrive. If you’re in a time crunch and need a product right away, such as a gift, going to an in-person shop may be a better option for you.

How To Make the Most of Online Shopping

These tips can allow you to enhance your online shopping experience.

Know Which Products To Buy Online

Some items are better to buy online than others because you can find countless consumer reviews, discounts, or other deals pertaining to them. For items you use regularly (such as a laptop, phone charger, luggage, or textbook), the internet may be the best place to compare offers. For things you require to have long-lasting value (like a car) or must get right away (such as groceries), shopping in person may be best.

Read Reviews

Before you check out, read reviews on the retailer’s website as well as third-party sites like Google and Facebook. This can help you find out if the retailer is legitimate and whether there may be any potential issues with the product you’re about to invest in. Reviews are beneficial for small businesses, too. Eighty-seven percent of consumers read online reviews of local businesses, according to marketing consultancy BrightLocal’s 2020 Local Consumer Review Survey.

Some companies have more nuanced review options than others. Clothing rental service Nuuly, for example, lets its customers add photos of themselves wearing products with written reviews, enabling future customers to make empowered, smart purchasing decisions.

Examine Product Details

If you’re interested in a product, read its description. Make sure you know what it’s made out of, whether it comes with a warranty, available sizes, etc. By doing so, you can avoid unwanted surprises that cost you time, money, and headaches upon arrival.

Money-Saving Tips for Online Shopping

There are many ways to save some money while making online purchases. Consider these tips to improve your online shopping experience.

Comparison Shop

If you have a specific product in mind, it’s in your best interest to comparison shop, similar to how you would when looking for life insurance. Look at various online stores that offer what you want. Then, compare prices so you can find the best deal.

As you comparison shop, read product descriptions very closely. The FTC recommends looking out for words like “refurbished” or “vintage,” as this could mean a product will arrive at your door in less-than-perfect condition.

Follow Online Retailers on Social Media

Online retailers often promote their sales and discounted items on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels. If you follow some of your favorite companies on social media, you may be one of the first to see and purchase the latest offers.

Use Money-Saving Apps or Plug-Ins

There is no shortage of apps or plug-ins that can allow you to save money online without the hassle. Some examples are Honey, Swagbucks, Capital One Shopping, and Rakuten. You can also look for coupon codes online on sites like RetailMeNot.com and Coupons.com.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you get your money back from an online purchase?

This process varies by retailer. Some may automatically refund your money when you report a problem with your purchase; others may require you to return the product first. You may not be able to get your money back at all, especially if it's after the retailer's return window. If you're buying something that may not work for you, like clothing, check the retailer's refund policy before you buy.

How has the internet changed shopping?

The internet has completely changed the shopping experience. People have access to products from around the globe. Payments are instant, and recommendations are tailored to your shopping and browsing habits. Brick-and-mortar retailers have had to respond by launching websites and improving their in-person customer experience.