The Battle of Shopping: Online vs. In-Store Comparison

GREG H. | November 28, 2023

Shopping habits have gone through quite the makeover in recent years, especially in this post-pandemic world. The way we shop has evolved big time! With the boom of online shopping and a growing love for quality stuff, things are a lot different now. 

In this article, we're diving deep into the epic shopping battle: online vs. in-store. We'll break down the pros, cons, and money-saving secrets for savvy shoppers like you. Let's get started!

Person comparing online shopping prices versus in store

Online vs. In-Store Shopping: What You Should Know 

Inflation and the ever-increasing cost of living are the big influencers of how we shop these days, and that trend isn't stopping anytime soon. Folks are getting clever with their cash, opting for thriftier alternatives and off-brand goodies to stretch their budgets. 

Quick fixes and instant gratification are also in hot demand. When you hit up a local store, they might not have all the flavors, sizes, or styles you're craving, which is a big push towards online shopping.

Now, let's chat numbers. In 2023, a whopping 20.8% of retail buys are predicted to happen online, and by 2026, that number is set to jump to 24%. The battleground is set – online vs. in-store shopping, and it's time to explore the ins and outs.

The Advantages of Online Shopping

Online shopping isn't just about comfy pajamas and a cup of tea – it's a game-changer. From killer convenience to pocket-friendly perks, here's why many are clicking their way to savings and satisfaction.


Say goodbye to the gas-guzzling, time-draining store runs. Online shopping is your ticket to retail therapy without the hassle. Think about it, no more driving and wasting precious hours. With a single click on major sites, you can score what you need, pronto. 

And let's talk about speed – when your workday's done, you'd rather cozy up at home than brave traffic. Online shopping makes it happen in a flash, keeping you in your comfort zone.

Wider Selection

When it comes to choices, online shopping takes the crown. Most multichannel retailers stock up their digital aisles with a wider assortment compared to their physical stores. In fact, 46% of online shoppers say it's the smorgasbord of products that lures them in. 

Whether you're hunting for obscure flavors of tea or niche tech gadgets, you're more likely to hit the jackpot online. Options are just a few clicks away, making your shopping experience a virtual treasure hunt.

Easy Price Comparison

No more legwork to compare prices! When you hit up physical stores, you're zigzagging across town to hunt for deals on the same item. It's not always a sure thing that your local spots carry the same goods. But in the online shopping realm, the price-checking game is a breeze. 

A few taps, and you're hopping between websites, all without breaking a sweat. Plus, nifty tools like Google Shopping, Shopzilla, Become, and Bizrate have your back, ensuring you score the best bang for your buck.

No Physical Effort 

Picture this: you're snug on the sofa, rocking your robe, pajamas, and coziest socks, and guess what? Retailers are none the wiser. That's the beauty of online shopping – minimal to zero physical effort. 

No need to lace up your shoes, brave the elements, or fight through crowded aisles. It's a comfy, no-sweat way to shop. This means no crowds or queues, and no time spent battling traffic on your way to and fro. The hours you save add up to more quality time in your cozy spot.

Boxes and credit card atop a laptop from online shopping

The Drawbacks of Online Shopping

Now, let's get real - while online shopping has some killer perks, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Despite around 76% of U.S. adults diving into digital shopping, over half of consumers still prefer hitting up brick-and-mortar stores. So, what's the deal?


The downside of online shopping? You can't get up close and personal with the goodies. When you're in a store, you can touch the fabrics, slip into clothes to check the fit, and even test out gadgets. 

It's not just about trying on the latest fashion trends; it's about assessing furniture's sturdiness or the texture of home décor. Whether it's a plush sofa or the perfect avocado, there are some things your fingers just need to feel.

Shipping Costs 

Shipping costs can be a game-changer. While we're scrolling through the wonders of online shopping, it's crucial to keep an eye on the fine print. A substantial 62% of shoppers won't even consider a retailer without free shipping, while 35% prefer it. 

But, let's be real - not all online shops can swing the free ship dance, especially when crossing borders. And that's where it gets tricky. With more choices at your fingertips, it's tempting to wave off those shipping fees. Before you know it, your family budget is busted, and those "bargains" aren't so bargain-y anymore. Be wise, shoppers!

Risk of Online Scams 

Online shopping can be a landmine of scams. Scammers often masquerade as legitimate online sellers, either by creating fake websites or posting counterfeit ads on real retailer sites. It's a tough nut to crack because while many online sellers are legit, these scammers exploit the internet's anonymity to con unsuspecting shoppers.

Here's the lowdown: Online shopping scams are the second most common consumer-targeted fraud, right behind social media shenanigans. According to BBB Scam Tracker, in 2022, online shopping scams made up 30% of all online scams, with a jaw-dropping 71.6% of victims facing a financial hit.

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Requests for payment via wire transfers
  • Suspiciously fake websites or domains
  • Dodgy links sent via text messages
  • Deals that seem too good to be true
  • Phony shipping alerts

Stay sharp, folks! And here's a pro tip from your friends at Cash Store: If a website doesn't provide clear contact info, steer clear. Oh, and don't whip out your wallet on public Wi-Fi, just to stay extra safe.

Returns and Refunds 

Returns and refunds in the online shopping world can sometimes be a rollercoaster. While giants like Amazon and Zappos make it a breeze, not all online merchants follow suit. Returning items to digital shops might involve complex procedures and, sometimes, frustrating delays that tie up your hard-earned cash. 

On the flip side, when you make a return in a physical store, you've got peace of mind and a clear paper trail for your credit card refund. Paying with cash? No problem – you'll walk out with your cash, right at the register.

Couple enjoying grocery shopping in store

The Advantages of In-Store Shopping

In-store shopping, the OG (original gangster) way to shop, still holds some aces up its sleeves. There's a unique charm in strolling down physical aisles, and we're here to tell you some shoppers find this mode of shopping experience to be like no other.


In-store shopping offers a hands-on and social adventure that's hard to beat. The joy of bumping into a neighbor or a long-lost buddy in the store is a heartwarming bonus, especially in our screen-dominated world. 

It's a chance to connect face-to-face, making shopping more than just a chore; it's a delightful social outing.

Instant Gratification

While some shoppers dig the swiftness of online purchases, there's nothing like instant gratification. When you shop in-store, you don't have to twiddle your thumbs while waiting for the postman. It's immediate possession of your goodies, right there and then, which is pretty darn satisfying.

Personalized Service

In-store shopping is a win for personalized service. Salespeople are your shopping sidekicks, offering expert advice on sizing, style, and finding exactly what you're after. They can give you the lowdown on the latest trends and even unearth hidden gems that might have slipped your radar. 

It's like having your very own shopping concierge, and it makes the whole experience feel tailor-made to your needs.

Easier Returns 

When it comes to returns, in-store shopping often has the upper hand. No complex online processes or waiting for your money to bounce back. You've got the peace of mind and that reassuring paper trail for credit card refunds, and if you paid with cash, there's no waiting - you leave with your cash in hand. It's speedy, simple, and super convenient.

A family shopping in store together opposed to online shopping

The Drawbacks of In-Store Shopping

In the epic showdown of online vs. in-store shopping, it's time to uncover the pitfalls of the latter. While brick-and-mortar stores offer unique perks, there are a few drawbacks to consider as well. Let's dive into what you need to know before hitting the aisles.

Limited Stock and Variety

Physical stores have their limitations when it comes to stock and variety. With limited shelf space, they can't house the vast range of products you might find online. You might come up short in-store if you're searching for niche or less common items. Online shopping's expansive selection often takes the cake in this department.

In-Store Prices

When it comes to prices, online shopping often takes the wallet-friendly crown. With lower overhead costs, online retailers frequently offer better deals. Plus, the chance to stack discount codes can stretch your budget even further.

Not to mention, second-hand shopping sites can hook you up with gently or never-used items at a fraction of the cost. While there are exceptions, in-store prices, when lower, usually come with a significant advantage – 32% average savings compared to 26% online. This said, you need to have the time to hunt for those in-store deals.

Impulse Purchases 

In-person shopping has a psychological flair that can lead to some unexpected spending. It's no secret that retail therapy is a real thing. Studies show that shopping can give us a sense of control and autonomy, boosting our confidence and overall mood. 

That's all well and good until those impulse buys start piling up on your credit card, making it tough to pay the bills. It's a fine line between retail therapy and budget woes when you're in-store.

Cash-Saving Tips for Both Shopping Methods

Now, let's talk business - whether you're team online or in-store shopping, some savvy money-saving tips work for both. So, tighten your belt, and let's explore some budget-friendly strategies for every kind of shopper.

Seasonal Sales

Timing is everything when it comes to snagging deals. November, with its Black Friday and Cyber Monday extravaganzas, is the holy grail of discounts for many. But it's not one-size-fits-all. January is prime time for holiday goods, bed linens, and fitness gear. In February, think tax software, winter attire, and space heaters. 

March? You're looking at fine jewelry, luggage, and vacuum cleaners. April's a win for new tires, carpet cleaners, and leaf blowers. The theme? Different months, different savings, so mark your calendar wisely.

Loyalty Programs 

Loyalty programs are your golden ticket to rewards and discounts. Earn 'em, and watch your savings pile up. Here's the trick: shoppers often crank up their spending when rewards are dished out instantly. 

But for the long haul, saving up for bigger rewards can lead to even more significant savings. Just remember, it's all fun and games until your finances take a hit. Keep an eagle eye on your budget to make the most of these money-saving opportunities.

Price Tracking Tools

Price tracking tools are your secret weapon in the battle of the bucks. These nifty apps and websites help you keep tabs on price drops and snag the best deals. Here are a few handy options to consider:

  • Honey: The Honey app is a popular browser extension that automatically finds and applies coupon codes during online shopping.
  • CamelCamelCamel: CameCamelCamel is ideal for Amazon shoppers, it tracks price histories and sends alerts when your desired item drops in price.
  • PriceGrabber: Compare prices from various online retailers using PriceGrabber to ensure you're getting the best deal.
  • ShopSavvy: Scan barcodes in-store or search online using ShopSavvy to get the lowest prices on products.

These tools put the power of price tracking right at your fingertips.

In-Store Price Matching 

In-store price matching is your ace in the hole for squeezing every penny out of your budget. Many physical retailers are on board with this savvy strategy, which allows you to bring online prices right into their brick-and-mortar stores. 

Just show proof of the lower online price, and they'll match it. It's a game-changer for bargain hunters, ensuring that you get the best of both worlds – the convenience of in-store shopping and the competitive prices of the online realm.

Making Smart Shopping Choices

In the battle of online vs. in-store shopping, the choice ultimately rests in your hands. With online shopping offering convenience, diversity, and ease of price comparison, it's a go-to for many. But in-store shopping delivers tactile experiences, instant gratification, and a dose of retail therapy. 

To save money, look out for seasonal sales, wield loyalty programs wisely, and harness price tracking tools. So, whether you're clicking or strolling, make informed choices tailored to your preferences and needs.

Illustration showing the pros and cons of shopping online vs offline


Which is generally cheaper: online or in-store shopping?

In general, online shopping often offers better deals due to lower overhead costs. It's a prime choice for budget-conscious shoppers. However, in-store shopping can score substantial discounts during sales events, with immediate possession of purchases. It ultimately depends on your specific needs, preferences, and timing.

How can I ensure my online shopping experience is safe?

For a secure online shopping experience, opt for trusted websites, employ secure payment methods, and fortify your devices and accounts with robust passwords. Be cautious of suspicious emails, offers that seem too good to be true, and verify the site's legitimacy. Consider installing antivirus software and using a VPN for added protection.

Are there any specific times or seasons when online deals are better than in-store?

Certainly! Online deals often shine postseason when retailers clear out holiday-themed items in January. Leading up to a season is prime time for discounts on related items. Spring, for instance, sees deals on yard equipment. 

Plus, don't forget the November Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, perfect for holiday gift shopping. Online shopping can be a treasure trove for season-specific bargains.

How can I avoid impulse purchases in both shopping methods?

To dodge impulse purchases online and in-store, create a shopping list, set a budget, and stick to it. Prioritize needs over wants, and give yourself a cooling-off period before finalizing a purchase. In store, shop with cash to better control spending, and online, remove saved payment details to slow down the checkout process, making it easier to reconsider.

What's the environmental impact of online shopping vs. in-store shopping?

The environmental impact of online vs. in-store shopping is a complex equation. A MIT study indicates that traditional shopping typically has a larger carbon footprint compared to online shopping, but this doesn't consider rushed online deliveries. 

Online shopping reduces personal vehicle emissions but may increase delivery truck emissions due to additional miles traveled. So, the impact varies, depending on several factors.

The content on this page provides general consumer information or tips. It is not financial advice or guidance. Each person’s circumstances are unique. The Cash Store may update this information periodically. This information may also include links or references to third-party resources or content. We do not endorse the third-party or guarantee the accuracy of this third-party information. There may be other resources that also serve your needs.

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