Is There Anything You Shouldn't Buy Online?

By , dealnews Copy Editor

We live in the age of online shopping and m-commerce, and it has become arguably harder for stores without an online presence to compete with the lower prices of many online merchants. But still, according to MainStreet, there are five products you should never buy online. Consumers are advised to buy heavy items, groceries, and clothing in-store to avoid hidden costs, and to achieve the biggest savings via sales and coupons.

But we beg to differ. We've combed through our dealnews archives and believe that the prevalence of free shipping, coupon codes, and online sales are valuable enough to make shopping online for almost anything completely feasible.

Free Shipping
Lots of sites offer free shipping, whether it be on an everyday basis (newegg), with a minimum purchase (, at a premium (Amazon Prime) or through a promotion or coupon code. What's more, even big ticket items, like furniture and appliances frequently qualify for free shipping. For example, right now Home Depot is cutting up to $750 off a selection of appliances — plus offering free shipping. You could just as easily head to your local Home Depot and mingle with the home improvement crowd, or you could do your research, take your space measurements, and order this GE Profile 24.8-Cu. Ft. Bottom Freezer Refrigerator for $2,023 (a low by $196), from the comforts of your couch.

MainStreet points out, however, that smaller retailers are often guilty of charging exorbitant shipping costs on heavy items. That's because even if a smaller online retailer offers competitive prices, they frequently can't afford to comp shipping charges. Consumers therefore need to be aware of how shipping and handling costs can skew small vendors' rock-bottom prices. Thus, not all lowest-priced goods are the "lowest total price" available. What's more, take note of the recent hike in UPS and FedEx shipping charges, which could make those shipping charges even higher.

It's admittedly hard to find coupon codes for Fresh Direct and Peapod (once you've placed your first order), but that doesn't mean buying groceries online isn't sometimes economical. Consider Amazon's Subscribe & Save program, which not only offers free shipping, but takes up to 15% off everyday foodstuffs. We like stocking up on things like Stretch Island Original Fruit Leather ($10.19 with free shipping, a low by $8) in a variety of flavors and St. Dalfour Gourmet Ready to Eat Wild Alaskan Salmon for $11.42 per 6-pack (a low by $10).

We do, however, see a plethora of coupons on apparel and footwear, ranging from higher-end to oh-so-affordable. Right now, Jos. A. Bank is offering 50% off full-priced in-season items via coupon code "FIFTY", and you can take an additional 20% off any item at Hanes with a quick email sign-up (you'll receive a link to the code). For the ladies, we frequently see coupons that sweeten Victoria's Secret purchases (like these current codes for dollar-off discounts and a free gift), while strict apparel retailers consistently offer online promos. Plus, the current Nike Sale — which takes up to 70% off with an additional 20% off via coupon code "FULLCOUNT" — makes it easy to keep pace in the fashion of fitness.

What's more, dealcoupon houses thousands of promotional codes for popular online stores, and is updated daily with the newest and most popular discounts. From Coldwater Creek to Hot Topic and more, you'll find savings with just a few keystrokes.

Everyday Sales and Clearance Sales
For some people, seeking out coupon codes and comparison shopping can be daunting. (Those people should read dealnews, by the way.) Merchants like Walmart and most recently JCPenney thus cater to this concern by offering "everyday low prices" — both in-store and online. And if you're a savvy consumer who isn't afraid of "looking around," the Internet makes comparison shopping much easier.

We're also always happy to see frequent clearance sales from stores like Nordstrom and Target, both of which have brick-and-mortar operations and are always discounting merchandise to the clearance racks. But these "inventory-motivated sales" also show up online, and often yield better deals than in-store offers thanks to stacking coupon codes. What's more, consumers also tend to benefit from greater centralized stock when shopping online; instead of riffling through sale racks for the right size shirt, all products' available sizes are clearly laid out, making for a simpler experience. And, so long as purchases aren't final sale, returns can be made in-store to avoid any return shipping costs. Plus, sometimes even within a single chain, prices can vary from store to store, so there's no guarantee that buying in-store means you're even getting the best price from that retailer.

Even though this MainStreet article makes some valid points, we do think the ease and convenience of online shopping should be taken into consideration. You can shop at work or at home, from your desktop or your smartphone. Even if you're buying less expensive items, like shampoo online, consider the opportunity cost of having gone to the store just to find out your brand of hair care is out of stock.

However, despite sales, coupon codes, and promotional discounts, we wonder, are there any items that you refuse to buy online? Or goods that you know are always cheaper to buy at your local market or department store? Tell us in the comments section below. [MainStreet]

Front page photo credit: Zuperstores
Photo credits top to bottom: Headrest DVD and Barginism

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DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I do most shopping online, but agree with Mainstreet in this reformulation: better deals on sale/clearance items are often found locally, most often in the categories they named.  Amazon is still  awesome for many dry/canned grocery items, but they've modified prices on certain items to account for shipping to the point that local stores are often cheaper.  For example, Amazon's subscription prices for our toilet tissue and paper towels are competitive with normal prices locally, but are much higher than the circular sale prices that pop up every month or two locally (during which we stock up).  Ditto for many canned goods and ethnic/specialty items like spices and sauces (and obviously also for meats or fresh produce).  We bought all of our large appliances in the local hardware store's clearance/scratch-and-dent section for 50-75% off (none obviously scratched or dented), prices rarely if ever matched online. Similarly, while clothing is often cheaper online comparing retail to retail, the clearance prices usually bottom out higher.  My wife just bought me several sweaters for $3 to $5 (90-95% off) yesterday at a major department store.  Rest assured, that deal was not on their website.
Free shipping, convenience, and a sale price are good reasons to shop online, but recently several purchases I've made don't fit. So I'm going to skip pants and shoes unless there is a brick & mortar close by for exchanges.