Online Shopping vs In-Store Shopping: Which Is Better?

January 07, 2021
a woman shopping in a store

Shopping has evolved dramatically over the past several decades, providing consumers with more choice and convenience whether they shop the brick-and-mortar stores or browse online for their purchases. Even holiday shopping has adapted to the changing landscape with Black Friday and Cyber Monday appealing to both in-store and online shoppers. It’s easy to assume there is a generational divide between those who choose more traditional or modern shopping methods, but in reality it involves factors ranging from accessibility and variety to local support and the shopping experience itself.

Advantages of online shopping

Although online shopping has been around for consumers since the mid-1990s, mainstream use has skyrocketed over the past several years as people grow increasingly comfortable with it and accustomed to the ease and speed of online retail.[1] It’s hard to dispute the advantages of online shopping. After all, the availability of extensive online research and reviews promotes buyer confidence. And few would dispute the convenience of around-the-clock shopping from the living room sofa. Unfortunately, all this online activity also creates ample opportunities for scammers, so it’s important to always follow safe online shopping practices.

1. Grocery delivery and pick-up

Everyone must buy food, but the transition to online grocery shopping has been recently accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.[1] The benefits are clear, especially for those who may struggle to find an hour or more a week to spend browsing the store shelves for groceries. Not only can you fill your cart from the comfort of your home, but you can also clip coupons online and even speed up the process by saving regular items in your app. Grocery stores have made pick-up a breeze, allowing shoppers to schedule a pick-up time that ensures their vehicle is packed and ready to go within minutes of parking.

2. No sales pressure

Although sales representatives can provide helpful knowledge and expertise, they can make some in-person shopping experiences nerve-wracking for consumers. It’s no surprise that some shoppers prefer to remove the pressure altogether by relying on online shopping sites where they can take their time and not feel forced into a sale by somebody working on commission or just trying to help.

3. Research and product reviews

The internet is a great place to research and compare products before pulling the trigger on a purchase, especially a big one. Blogs and other online articles from trusted, unbiased sources can take a lot of the work off your plate by testing products, outlining the pros and cons of different brands, and comparing prices. Customer reviews are also a great resource for finding a reliable product that fits your needs.

4. More variety

While brick-and-mortar stores must deal with the limitations of shelf space and retail agreements, online shopping presents few restrictions. There are many options to choose from, such as whether your product comes from brands or sellers – both local and international. You can even reach small independent shops that may have been far off your radar before the development of online shopping.

5. Convenience

When it comes to online shopping versus in-store shopping, the convenience of online shopping clearly stands out. A shopping list that once might have required an entire day of shopping can now be completed in one sitting thanks to online shopping platforms – if you can wait for delivery. You can also squeeze in some shopping whenever you have the time, whether that’s during a 15-minute break at work or after the kids are in bed for the night. And with front-door delivery, that’s one less thing to fit into your schedule.

6. No crowds

Crowds have been a shopping headache for a long time, but the pandemic has made them even more of a deterrent. Even with the efforts to enforce social distancing in stores, it’s nearly impossible not to find yourself within six feet of other shoppers as you browse the shelves or round an aisle. Online shopping also saves you the time of waiting in long lines to check out.

Advantages of shopping in store

Despite the many advantages of the internet, shopping in-store still has many benefits and a prominent place in retail. Some things are unique to an in-person experience, such as physically examining a product or discussing your needs with a knowledgeable sales associate. Let’s not overlook the peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what you’re getting when you leave the store with your merchandise in hand. No one likes to worry about the timeliness and accuracy of online order deliveries.

1. Try on or test products

Some items are easier to buy if you can check them out personally to ensure quality. When it comes to perfumes and cosmetics, stores offer the opportunity to test the products to make sure they’re right for you. It’s also nice to be able to try on clothing at the store so you can choose the best style and fit for your body. Bigger purchases, ranging from eyeglasses and mattresses all the way up to a new car, are also worth the extra time and effort to test before you buy.[2] Even in-person grocery shopping has its perks – as you can pick out your own produce or compare labels more easily.

2. In-store promotions

In-store promotions are designed to attract customers to brick-and-mortar stores and build brand or product awareness. If you’re not physically visiting these stores, you may be missing out on temporary discounts on popular services, free giveaways, and the special promotion offers available by completing the survey at the bottom of your receipt.[3]

3. Instant gratification

When you shop in-store, there’s no waiting around for an item to arrive. You immediately have what you need – and there are no shipping costs. For shoppers who like to quickly eliminate items from their shopping list, it may be appealing to visit the store and leave with your purchase.

4. Personalized experience

A friendly and knowledgeable sales associate, combined with an up-close look at the products, creates a more personal shopping experience. This is especially true for local and specialized stores where you’ll likely talk to somebody who’s keenly familiar with the products. From bookstores to car dealerships, personal recommendations and expert guidance can be quite helpful.

5. Support local businesses

One of the most compelling reasons to visit your Main Street brick-and-mortar stores is the support you give to local businesses. Many shoppers are willing to forego convenience and savings in exchange for supporting their local community. When you shop local, you’re getting more than just a product. You’re strengthening the local economy.

How to shop safely during COVID-19

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the playing field for shopping, pushing more and more consumers to shop online and limit the spread of the virus. But whether out of preference or necessity, some in-person shopping is bound to still take place.

Social distancing guidelines for safe in-person shopping include[4] :

  1. First, you should avoid shopping in-store if you are sick or have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  2. Wear a mask.
  3. Avoid peak shopping hours.
  4. Stay at least six feet away from others.
  5. Disinfect your shopping cart.
  6. Whenever possible, touch only the products you plan to purchase. Produce makes this difficult. Use your eyes to eliminate bad fruit and veggies as much as possible.
  7. Use touchless payment if possible.
  8. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
  9. Be diligent about hand hygiene. Use hand sanitizer before entering and after exiting a store, and wash your hands with soap and water when you return home.

Remember to stick to your budget

Payment options have evolved right along with shopping trends so that now even the smallest retailers can accept credit cards and other digital payments. But as shopping online and in-person becomes increasingly convenient, it’s also easier to overspend. It’s good to know you can stay on track with a monthly budget. Be realistic when planning your expenditures, both essential and non-essential, and then stick to your budget. The time and effort you put into budgeting will be worth it when you’re able to meet your expenses, pay off debt and build up your savings.

[1]“The curious origins of online shopping,” (July 26, 2020).

[2]“5 Things You Should Always Try Before You Buy,” (Aug. 7, 2016).

[3]“How to Use In-Store Promotions to Promote Your Business,” (Oct. 2, 2015).

[4]“Headed Out? How to Stay Healthy When Running Essential Errands,” (April 20, 2020).

  • My Money