The Pros and Cons of Online Shopping: What You Need to Know

Written by Bradon MatthewsUpdated: 1st Oct 2021
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The internet has revolutionized nearly everything we do. From connecting with friends to finding the answer to a burning question, you can do most things with a few taps on a screen.

Shopping is no exception. Online shopping has grown so ubiquitous and widespread that it’s rare to find someone who prefers shopping in person anymore.

Online shopping tends to be more far more convenient, with a greater range of products. This leads many to believe that online shopping is simply better than shopping in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

But is this really the case? Is online shopping always better than shopping in person?

This article will dive into these questions, looking at the pros and cons of online shopping to help you find the best products at the best prices.

To begin, let’s look at whether online shopping really is the smartest way to save.

Is Online Shopping the Best Way to Find Good Deals?

It seems common sense that shopping online would allow you access to the best deals on products.

When you shop online, you’re able to compare products from all over the world, meaning you can find versions of just about anything for cheap.

Additionally, even if you have your eyes set on a specific item from a specific brand, online shopping will almost always let you get it for the best price. This is because you can buy directly from the manufacturer rather than order through a third-party seller.

Buying directly is always going to be the cheapest way to get new items. Any third-party retailer will have to market the product up to make a profit.

There are a few times you may save a bit of money by shopping in person. For example, if the manufacturer has a store, buying from the store may save you on shipping.

You may also save money by going to thrift or second-hand stores. These stores don’t tend to sell online, but you may find items that are exactly what you’re looking for at extremely cheap prices on their shelves.

Pros of Online Shopping

There are many benefits to shopping online. Let’s turn our attention to the main reasons you may want to look for products online rather than in stores.


Maybe the most obvious benefit of online shopping, ordering items from the internet is incredibly convenient.

You don’t have to drive, you don’t have to walk from store to store, you don’t even have to peruse a store’s inventory. Everything can be ordered straight from your couch.

On top of that, with sites like Amazon prioritizing fast shipping and easy returns, online shopping can be more convenient even when things go wrong. Many online retailers will let you ship items back straight from your front porch.

Wider Selection of Products

The internet is fantastic because of its immense scope. Online shopping has no geographic limits. You can order items from anywhere in the world.

Because of this, online shopping will always give you way more options than even the largest mall.

You aren’t limited by stock list or location. If a brand has an item somewhere, shopping online will let you buy it.

Product Reviews

Many proponents of in-person shopping say they need the chance to inspect an item’s quality before buying it.

While that may be true, online shopping gives consumers the chance to see the review of thousands of customers before committing to a purchase.

Not only do these reviews give you information on things like materials and fit, but they also offer insight into longevity. This means you can make your purchase more worthwhile by purchasing items that will last.

Better Prices for Consumers

As stated above, one of the biggest draws to online shopping is the amount of money you can save.

Because most brick-and-mortar shops are third-party vendors, they mark up products to make a profit. In other words, you end up paying more than the item is really worth.

Online shopping allows you to order items directly from the manufacturer. Doing this gets you the absolute best deal possible on any new goods you might need.

Easily Compare Prices

Even if you buy from a third-party vendor, you still stand to save money by shopping online.

Online shopping lets you compare prices for the same item across a wide range of stores. You may find that the item you want can be bought for significantly less money from some vendors than you would pay at your local shop.

Shopping online can also let you compare the prices of similar items. For instance, if you want to buy a black peacoat, going online will let you see hundreds of options with various features and prices.

Because of this, online shopping lets you get what you want while sticking to your budget.

Can Buy Used Items

If you’re looking for a specific item from a specific brand, it’s incredibly unlikely you’re just going to stumble upon it in a second-hand store. The same isn’t true online, though.

With numerous websites that allow users to list their possessions for sale, online shopping can help you find exactly what you’re looking for in a used condition. This will almost always result in significant savings compared to buying new.

Free Shipping

As the internet takes over the retail space more and more, many brands and stores have started offering free shipping.

Thanks to the spread of free shipping, those looking to save money online face one less obstacle in doing so. You can find the item you want at the best price, and rest assured that no in-person store would result in a cheaper purchase.

Cons of Online Shopping

While online shopping can be great, it isn’t completely without drawbacks. Let’s discuss a few of the downsides to purchasing your products online.

Harder to Return Items

One of the major annoyances of online shopping is the return process.

If you happen to order an item that doesn’t fit right or isn’t what you expected, sending it back can be highly inconvenient. At the very least, you’ll have to print out a shipping label and repack the item before shipping it back.

Sometimes the company will make you pay the shipping fee on returns, meaning you’re losing money while having to wait even longer to receive the item you really want.

All of this is compounded because online shopping doesn’t let you see or feel the item before buying. This means returns are more likely when online shopping.

Fraudulent Items

Because online retailers don’t have to show you the item before you buy it, there is a much higher prevalence of fraud.

Some stores will list inaccurate product descriptions. Others will sell knock-off products that are cheaply made and sometimes even dangerous.

When online shopping, it’s important to be wary and read reviews before hitting the checkout page.

Sales Tax

With the rise in online shopping, many states now charge sales tax on online purchases. While not a huge piece of the financial impact of online shopping, this does mean that online purchases might not be the same deal they once were.

You tend to only have to pay online sales tax if the company has a physical location in your state, though this varies from state to state.

If you’re very careful, sales taxes can be avoided, but going to the lengths to do so can be tedious and ruin some of the convenience of online shopping.

Shipping Fees

While free shipping is becoming more common, many online stores still require you to pay shipping fees on your purchase.

While not normally large, shipping fees can make online shopping less financially intelligent. If a physical store sells an item for the same price without shipping fees, you’ll wind up losing money going online.

Shipping fees can be particularly annoying on small purchases, where the cost to ship an item may exceed the price of the item itself.

Time Consuming

The plethora of options you get from shopping online is great, but it also means you have a lot to sift through.

The sheer volume of choice can make online shopping a long, tiring process. Sometimes it’s just easier to go into a store and pick from a handful of options instead.

Lack of Customer Support

When you shop in person, you are almost always around an employee who can assist you. The same can’t be said for online shopping.

While some online stores have great customer service, others outsource or simply don’t have a way to contact them. This can make it difficult to get answers to questions you need or to handle things like returns.

5 Tips for Shopping Online

If you’re shopping online to save the most money possible, there are a few things you want to take into consideration

#1. It Is Best to Compare Products from Different Marketplaces

Rather than limit your search to the same range of products and stores you’d find locally, your best bet is to shop different marketplaces.

Various vendors will sell the same or similar items at different prices. By taking the time to browse through, you can save on the items you want by finding the cheapest vendor.

Additionally, you might be able to find discount codes for some retailers, saving you even more.

#2. Make Sure Product isn’t Fraudulent

Once you’ve found the item you want to buy, take a moment to ensure its authenticity. The best way to do this is to check the reviews and search out pictures of the product to compare against the images on the website.

#3. Buy from Reputable Websites

It’s best to buy from reputable websites for a few reasons.

For one, you are less likely to receive a fraudulent item from a well-known online store.

You’re also less likely to experience technical difficulties or customer service issues with a reputable site. Should you wind up needing to make a return, you’ll be glad you purchased from a site that has an established procedure.

#4. Look for Online Retail Outlets that Offer Free Shipping

When possible, it is always best to search for free shipping. Paying for shipping adds no value to the purchase, meaning it is just money flushed away.

#5. Do Not Use Overnight Delivery Unless Necessary

If you must pay for shipping, try your best to never need overnight delivery. This service can be very expensive.

Instead, use a bit of planning to ensure your item arrives before you need it.

How to Save Money Online Shopping

You can do a few more things if you’re trying to absolutely maximize your savings online.

Use Coupons

Online stores almost always offer coupons if you’re willing to look for them. These codes are often exchanged for a bit of information, but sometimes they are related to sales.

Regardless, it’s always wise to search for coupon codes before purchasing. You may wind up saving significant cash by spending a few minutes looking around the site.

Shop Tax-Free (if Possible)

As stated above, many states are now charging taxes on online purchases. That said, you can avoid it in some instances if you are careful.

Try to find an online retailer that doesn’t have a physical location in your state. Doing this may save you from paying tax on your purchase.

Budget Accordingly

Online shopping is incredibly convenient, which is normally a good thing. However, it can sometimes be a bit too easy to buy things online.

Make sure you set a budget when online shopping. Don’t get swept up in the ease of use on offer by most websites. Don’t let yourself make frivolous purchases just because you can.

>> More: Best Budgeting Apps

Memberships Offer Additional Benefits

Many companies offer memberships that can save you money in the long run.

Amazon Prime is a great example. For a single yearly payment, you can avoid paying for shipping altogether.

If you know you’ll be purchasing from an online store frequently, it may be a good idea to look into online memberships with them.

Bottom Line: Pros and Cons of Online Shopping

It’s hard to argue against the convenience and scope of the online marketplace. Not only does it offer you a great chance to save money, but it can provide you with goods you wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

That said, online retailers can be fraudulent and difficult to work with. Be careful before making purchases.

Stick to reputable sites and take the time to read reviews. Doing so will ensure you reap all the benefits of online shopping without risking your time or money.

Bradon Matthews
Bradon Matthews

Bradon Mathews is a personal finance writer & product analyst with a breadth of experience. He enjoys analyzing market information and trends to help you make sense of the complex and ever-changing world of finance. His passion is providing practical advice so you can feel more confident managing your money. Bradon attended Colorado State University where he studied Philosophy.