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Small Business

Managing a Small Business

Should You Buy Online or In-Store?

Ask the Right Questions to Decide Where to Buy

Shopping online can mean convenience and good deals, but there are potential pitfalls to consider: What about shipping costs? Is the item on the website exactly as described? Do you need to touch and feel what you're buying first?

With so many options, finding the best deal and the right purchasing option can be complex. Here are some questions to ask as you determine whether it's better to use a virtual or in-store shopping cart.

The Online Experience

Consumers have become savvy navigators and investigators when shopping online. Reading reviews, comparing prices, and looking up shipping costs all go into the process of being an informed shopper. If you really want to come out ahead, here's how to up your online shopping game.

What are the actual shipping costs?

Pay attention not just to shipping fees, but how they're calculated. If you must spend $75 to get “free" shipping, it really isn't a deal to buy more to hit that magic number. Weigh the savings on the online purchase against the cost to ship to be sure you come out ahead. And keep an eye out for memberships, loyalty cards, and other programs that provide free or discounted shipping.

Are you using tech tools/apps?

Technology has redefined shopping both online and in person. Some savvy shoppers check online tools like RetailMeNot before making a purchase, to see if there's a discount or coupon available that will lower the price.

Jamison Cush, an executive editor with, recommends "showrooming" when shopping for electronics. Go to the store to physically try out a device, and then shop online to find the best price, he says.

Cush is also a big fan of apps that let you photograph an item or a barcode and take you to information about where you can buy it, and at what prices. He does see some limitations to shopping with technology, however. “Ever try to input a username, password, and credit card info via a smartphone touchscreen? It can be an exercise in frustration."

The In-Store Experience

Despite the convenience factor or even finding the best deal online, some purchases require an in-store, personal touch, says Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle, a retail expert and publisher of “Retail Minded," a publication supporting independent retailers, and author of “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business." Before you head to the checkout counter, consider these factors.

Do you need to see the product in person?

Many shoppers appreciate the store experience with its visual and visceral components. “There will always remain perks for many product categories to buy in the store. Shopping in person for footwear, clothing, and accessories is fun, as it lends itself to an experience, not just a chore," says Leinbach-Reyhle.

Are there store-only specials?

For online shoppers who also enjoy exploring retail settings, there are often incentives to draw them into the store. Leinbach-Reyhle points out the proliferation of in-store-only discounts, and even invitation-only savings parties.

What is the website/store return policy?

Returning an item purchased online can be a hassle and possibly incur an extra cost. Retail stores have tightened up their return policies as well, but are sometimes more lax and less complicated about taking something back than online sellers. Considering you may require an authorization from the seller and may have to pay shipping charges to return your item, in-store returns are sometimes easier.

Whether you're using the latest cutting-edge apps to locate the best deals online or prefer the interactive engagement of the in-store shopping experience, follow the experts' advice and do your homework first.

In-store or online, find out how to earn cash back for your purchases. Explore the cash back rewards of Chase Freedom.

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