I have a love/hate relationship with online retailers. Reasons to love (mostly obvious):

  • huge selection. Obscure DVD? Rare recording? Out-of-print book? It’s all there.
  • read customer reviews. I love the ability to check the collective wisdom (and, of course, cynicism) of the internet.
  • do multiple price comparisons. Since a big part of the online appeal is price, it makes sense to evaluate on this point.
  • no sales tax. Saving 7-9% adds up quickly.
  • convenience. It’s certainly nice to be able to shop without having to drive 15 minutes to a store and have the item delivered directly to my house.

The reasons to hate are the same. By shopping online, I am taking business away from local merchants and tax dollars away from my (currently struggling) local economy. Not long ago we bought a Samsung LCD HDTV. I looked at Walmart, Best Buy, and Ultimate Electronics, pricing them all. I talked to helpful salespeople, got a good look at the product, and compare between various manufacturers. Then I chose to save over $300(! about 20% of the purchase price) by buying from Amazon.com, saving price, sales tax, and shipping cost. The TV was delivered to my living room and tested by the deliverer in two days from purchase.

On the one hand, it’s hard to turn down saving $300. On the other, I wouldn’t have felt nearly as comfortable about the purchase had I not received advice from a knowledgeable associate and seen it in action.

Last year I bought a Canon 40D and two nice lenses to go with it, all online. I would have preferred to test them out, but I didn’t feel good about driving to a camera store and asking to handle/test a lens I had no indention of buying from them. I’ve been to Barnes and Noble to look at and sample books, only to buy them for 40% less at a different retailer online.

So that’s the tension. I’m choosing the demise of local stores, with their knowledge, physical products, and higher prices for convenience and lower prices. After reading an article about Amazon and publishers and fees, I question the wisdom of the whole process even more. But that’s the free market, I guess…