Why Don’t More People Buy Electronics Online?

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According to recent research, fewer than half of us are likely to buy many types of electronics online. If you're strictly a bricks-and-mortar shopper, you might be missing out on online bargains.

Many people do some online research before buying electronics. But it turns out most of them will still go to a physical store to make the purchase.

According to new research from The NPD Group, less than a third of consumers would buy any of several different kinds of electronics from an online store. Here are the categories, along with the percentage of people who would be “very likely” to buy online…

  • Computer or software – 34 percent
  • eReader – 32 percent
  • Digital camera – 30 percent
  • Computer accessories – 30 percent
  • Tablet computer – 29 percent
  • Printer – 24 percent
  • Smartphone/mobile phone – 23 percent
  • Camcorder – 21 percent
  • Blu-ray player – 21 percent
  • Home audio – 20 percent
  • Television – 19 percent

I can see a sort of logic behind some of these – people might expect big TVs, for instance, to have high shipping charges. (Not always the case.) But printers, computer accessories, Blu-Ray players – do people even try those out in the store? Or do they just feel more comfortable seeing them?

For me, price is usually the first consideration. And I often find things cheaper online than in stores, especially once I factor in the cost of gas to drive around and comparison shop. So I’m not sure why people buy so much the old-fashioned way, and the survey doesn’t offer many answers.

NPD’s vice president of industry analysis Stephen Baker points out that computers have been sold online longer than the rest of the list, which might explain why consumers are comfortable buying them that way. As for why other electronics are less popular, he suggests “a lack of awareness,” “price,” “complexity,” or a slower push from retailers on selling those products digitally.

I guess those reasons might partially explain the overall trends, but the main thing that makes sense to me is instant gratification: Taking home a box right away admittedly beats waiting for it in the mail.

Other concerns might be that returns are more difficult, or that you can’t assess the quality of the merchandise, but I think those are less a factor. I’ve only had one major mix-up in online shopping, and that was being sent the wrong model of laptop battery – which I was easily able to return for a refund.

Here’s what I do, which I think makes the most sense in saving money on electronics…

  1. Research online. If I’m not sure about a brand or model, I look up some reviews. It’s true that there are fake reviews online (read how to avoid them), so product pages are only one of the places I start. I also look for professional reviews, and consider these reliable sources: CNET, PC World, Consumer Reports and Gizmodo.
  2. Test run. Armed with some background from reviews, I talk to my friends and ask questions about features or address my concerns. If they own the product, I test it out or see it in action. I might also go to a store and test the products:. While I’m there, I note the price.
  3. Comparison shop. Now I start looking at prices online. When willing to wait for a deal, I monitor sites like Techbargains.com, Logicbuy.com, and Slickdeals.net. (Check the last item in 9 Best Ways to Get Free Stuff to learn how to make this easy and snag my RSS deal feeds.) When I want something right now, I consider Newegg, Amazon, and TigerDirect my best bets – but I still compare prices and look up coupon codes.
  4. Buy – but keep looking. At this point, I’ll go with the cheapest price I’ve found, which is usually online. But even if it’s a brick-and-mortar purchase, I take advantage of the return window (return tips here) to keep looking for prices that are lower after any restocking fees and shipping charges. Electronics go on sale all the time, so it pays to keep an eye out. The clearance sections of big-box retailers who aren’t known for electronics bargains are also worth checking: I’ve gotten some good smaller stuff and accessories from Sears and Target.

People looking to save on their gizmos may also want to check out 7 Tips to Trim Tech Spending. What about you guys? Are you against online shopping? If so, why? Or if you love it and have any other great tips, share them on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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