Shopping online is so temptingly easy. There’s no need to drive or even walk to a store. You can just browse and order via your laptop or cellphone at any time of the day or night. And you can take all the time you need perusing different fashions, books, gadgets or more.
But every temptation comes with its problems. Even if you have the bank account of billionaire Warren Buffett, there are times when it’s better not to shop online. Here are some of those times.
1. When you’re hungry
It’s a cliche of grocery shopping: Never shop while hungry. Ditto for online shopping. Buying your groceries online can be helpful and budget-friendly, especially if you nab yourself free delivery (often offered for those who spend more than a certain amount). But make a list and try to stick to it, which is easier if you’re not starving when you sit down to order. Besides, if you load up on sweet treats while online shopping, you don’t even get the instant gratification of snarfing down that Snickers bar, as it won’t show up right away.
2. When you’re sad
Shopping is often called “retail therapy” for good reason. The thrill of the hunt and the fun of clicking that “buy it now” button may feel good in the moment. But in reality, it’s a substitute for addressing your problems and usually doesn’t result in any lasting happiness or life improvement. Here are six ways to avoid the trap of retail therapy (yes, you can still window shop, even online).
3. When you’re in a rush
Sometimes, good old-fashioned, in-person shopping beats the online equivalent. That’s especially true if you’re in a rush, such as during the holidays. When you’re pressed for time, you might buy the wrong thing or overpay by missing important details, such as the site’s return policy or delivery date.
4. When the item you want is very specific
Say you need towels that exactly match the mint-but-not-too-mint green of your new bathroom. Or your deck space is limited, and the outdoor dining table you crave could be too big to fit on it once you add those six armchairs. As good as online store photos and descriptions may be, if it absolutely, positively has to be a certain size or color, you’re better off finding what you want in a physical store.
5. When you’ve never heard of the site
Anyone can set up a retail site online, but not all of those sites are reliable. I fell for this during the coronavirus pandemic when I ordered what looked to be an exquisite living room rug with an arts-and-crafts style design from an online site that looked legitimate but had an unfamiliar name. What arrived was a thin mat that had obviously been run through some kind of color printer, far from the plush rug that the online catalog showed. A few Google searches turned up other outraged buyers who’d been equally scammed. Before you try a purchase from a new site, search the company name and see what people are saying about it. The Better Business Bureau is a good starting place.
6. When you can’t return an item
That failed rug purchase leads me to another time when you shouldn’t shop online: When you can’t return an item or when the site’s return policies are complex. Even well-known sites may have limited return policies for online purchases. You might only have a certain time period to return an item. Some stores won’t give you your money back and only refund you with store credit. And some insist you keep the tags on your purchase or any return is void.
7. When you don’t know all the fees
The price listed for an item on a website might not be the full amount you pay. There are taxes, of course, but there may also be shipping and handling fees that pretty much negate any deal you received by shopping online. Also, the site might tempt you by advertising free shipping but only offer that perk once you’ve spent a large amount. Let the buyer beware.