I’ve been buying computer parts for several years now, on-line , in several different web stores, on Ebay and similar sites and off-line, from retail stores. Today, I still buy parts from both, depending on the part(s) that I want and my needs. Each of the two options have its pros and cons. Here’s my opinion on this.

Buying On-line, Pros:

  1. It’s usually less expensive, as a website store has less expenses to cover than a retail store, such as rent, human resources, security, theft, etc and passes some of those savings to you. There are also some promotions, online coupons and sometimes discounts if you buy some items together, as a bundle. You can also buy OEM items, which comes without the retail packaging, for less than the retail item. I don’t care about the fancy box, do you? I just want the item inside of it!
  2. It takes less time to buy, as you only have to go on the website, click a few times, enter some information and it’s done. It is even faster if you’re registered and have an account with the website. A matter of several seconds to a few minutes.
  3. It is delivered directly to your door. I love that.

Buying Online, Cons:

  1. There are postal delays to receive your package. Depending how far it is shipping from and what shipping method you select, it will take a day to a few weeks.
  2. You usually have to pay shipping costs , ±(Plus or less) depending on what you shipping method you choose. It’s a choice of time vs money here. You might be able to select free shipping or reduced charges if you buy over a determined price. Prices and promotions varies depending on where you shop and where you live. I’m going to wait anyway, so I rather spend as little as possible on shipping as I usually shop on-line to save up on costs.
  3. There are more steps to do in order to return an item if it’s defective: You have contact the seller, either by e-mail or phone, to obtain a RMA (Return Merchandise Authorisation) number, then re-pack the item in a box, then ship it back and pay for that! Best case scenario, you have to wait for the seller to receive your package, examine the item and then either exchange the item and ship back free of costs or refund it to you. Some sellers even go as far as refunding you your shipping costs. Not all of them do that though, what a shame. Worse case scenario, they will either ignore you by not answering your e-mails or by having an incompetent customer service. In which case, you have to contact the original manufacturer to arrange a return and/or exchange and that’s even more time consuming. All of this is painful and time consuming. Some sellers make this process a breeze, some make it a pain in the …
  4. Assistance by chat, e-mail or by phone : If you need some help or have a question, you usually will have to contact the seller by e-mail. Most companies offer phone support , e-mail support and some also offer chat support. Which are okay but usually not as helpful as a real person, not to mention the delay to answer. Even worse if you get support from India.
  5. Fake items : Some sellers on Ebay, particulary those located in China, Hong Kong and Asiatic regions and also some websites, sell re-branded items, marketed as the original!! Yes, they are less expensive, but the item is WAY inferior. The item will not perform as it’s supposed, will break down quickly and worse of all, have no guaranty at all, as the manufacturer will refuse to exchange a fake item. It is not what it is expected to be. If I buy a Sandisk Extreme III SD card for my camera, I don’t want a fake one. I want that particular genuine item. Simply put, it is fraud. If you try to contact the seller, they will usually don’t answer you or deny that it is a fake item. If you bought it on Ebay, you can fill a complain then escalate to a dispute and possibly get a refund through Paypal, but that takes a lot of time. My tip is to: Buy from reputable stores or sellers and be very careful if they are located in China, Hong Kong or a close region. I’ve bought fake sennheiser earphones recently on Ebay, believe me that I was not pleased when I figured it out, especially when I sold back a pair and that pair was broken right out of the package. I’m glad the buyer was understanding at least.
  6. Pictures, or worse, lack of: When you buy through a website, you can only see the item through pictures or sometime, there are no pictures at all. That’s it. You cannot see the item in front of you, nor can you try it out before buying it. For some items, like a processor, it doesn’t really matter, as they are standard parts but for a case, screen and such, not being able to see with your own eyes, in person, can prove to be a problem. In this case, if the seller provides a lot of pictures and plenty of information, such as dimensions, it won’t matter as much.
  7. If I order outside the Canada, I will have to pay custom fees on it. Thus why I tend to stick to and recommend Canadian stores. Those fees usually include federal taxe on the declared value(5%), plus various other fees. I recently paid over 40$ of fees on a double-edge razor kit worth about 65$ from the U.S.A.. I was not pleased, to say the least. Then again, that was shipped with UPS, who seems to be a bit random on customs fees, as I paid no fees what so ever on a digital camera with a declared value of over 300$, received shortly after the razor kit.

Buying in a retail store, pros :

  1. You get to see the item right in front of you, sometime as a functioning demo.
  2. You can request assistance or have your questions answered by a real person, on the spot, with no or minimal delays.
  3. Retail stores usually have much better return policies and you only have to go back to the store, with your invoice, to be able to return the item. Even better, some stores will accept a return because you were not satisfied with the item. THAT particular reason is why I buy some items in retail stores. Now, that’s customer service!
  4. Retail stores are more reliable for offering genuine items. Especially large retail chain stores, as they buy in bulk from the the producing company directly. Be careful though, I’ve read about fake Sandisk flash cards in Staples, on a Nikon’s fans forum. Click here to read the story, most importantly, read the 1st reply.

Buying in a retail store, cons :

  1. On average, retail stores are more expensive, but there are promotions all the time. Check out the weekly ads and the websites. You can get great deals, especially on items that are liquidation, that the store is trying to clear, in order to make space on the shelves for another product or a more recent version.
  2. You will spend more time in order to buy your product, as you have to get to the store. You have to pay your mean of transportation, gas or bus/train/metro tickets. The closest Future Shop from my house is about 40 minutes away (5 minutes to walk to commuter train station, which takes 20 minutes to get to downtown Montreal, then I walk for 15 minutes). So, in the best scenario, when I know the location of the store, I know where is the item you want, I don’t wander around looking at other items and that there is no line-up at the checkout, I will spend about 5 minutes in the store. So, that is 40 minutes to get there, 5 minutes in the actual store and then another 40 minutes for the ride back home. That adds up to 85 minutes , or 1 hours 25 minutes! However, that does not consider any time that I have to wait for the train(Either from home or from downtown) and I might have already been in the downtown area to do something else. Still, going to a retail store takes much more time than ordering online. Not to mention that you have to carry your items back home! No problem for a few sticks of ram, but for a computer case…
  3. In most stores, you will, at one point, get an incompetent salesperson. In my case, I know what I want/need and I will ask for help if I require some. No, I do not want that product, even if YOU say it is the best. Especially for computer hardware and general electronics, as I usually can outsmart the salesperson.

From my experience : While both options are great, I will usually buy my items from a reliable on-line seller that I’ve used before or that have been recommended to me. I will also consider sellers that have a great feedback. Why? Because I get better deals and I can save some money or help fellow friends save up some money. That is usually what matters the most for me, that is to get the best “bang for the buck”.

However, in some cases, I will go and buy it retail. When prices are barely different or that the shipping makes it more expensive on-line, when there’s a good promotion on an item that I want, when I want something now, when I can’t find a reliable on-line seller. There are some things I prefer to see with my own eyes too.

What do you think? Where do you shop for your items? Do you prefer off-line or on-line shopping and why? Fire away your comments!