Buying a TV Online vs. In a Store

The best way to buy a new television

If you're in the market for a new television, there are two basic places to shop. We've considered the angles, and here's a side-by-side comparison of online stores versus retail outlets.

Online vs in-store shopping

Overall Findings

Online
  • Possibility of online-only deals

  • More convenient than leaving the house

  • Can pay with a card or debit

  • More models are available with minimum effort

In-Store
  • Can judge size, picture, and features

  • Less time until you have the item

  • Can pay with a card, check, or cash

  • Limited to what store has in stock

Both shopping methods provide advantages and disadvantages. Buying online gives you more payment options (although you can't use cash), but it doesn't let you see your options in person. Hopping between websites is also less time and effort than driving to different stores, and you have many more choices of makes and models.

If you need your new TV as soon as possible, it's better to go to a store, where you can bring it home on the same day without waiting for shipping. But by transporting it yourself, you may introduce more risks in case of damage. Both options will get you a new TV, but your specific needs at the time you're buying will determine which option is right for you.

How Soon Do You Need It: Skip the Internet

Online
  • Buy with Paypal, credit, checking account, or some sort of online financing option.

  • Wait for shipping

  • Possible damage in shipping may add a delay

In-Store
  • Pay with credit, debit, or cash

  • Take it home with you immediately

To buy online, you'll most likely need a credit card, PayPal account, checking account, or some sort of online financing option. You'll also have to wait for the TV to ship to you, although an increasing number of online retailers deliver within days.

You also face the possibility of your TV suffering damage during shipping, which will add a delay while you return the broken one and wait for a replacement. This option is still preferable to a TV you mess up while transporting yourself, however, since you'll have to pay the retail price (again) to get a new one.

But retail is the easiest place to purchase products if you have cash. All you need is a way to get there and a means to take your item home.

Product Selection and Availability: Stay at Home

Online
  • Easier to check different websites for stock than different physical stores

  • Huge selection of makes and models available

In-Store
  • Ability to examine products up close

  • Availability limited to what store has, physically, in stock

When you shop online, every make and model is at your fingertips without having to drive miles to find it. Don't see your television at this store? Surf to another. The only drawback is you can't test the product beforehand unless you find it at a retail store near you. But you can read product reviews, user opinions, and manufacturer specs with minimal exertion. Most reputable sites make aware of the availability of each item.

With retail, you're limited to only products it sells at the local level, but you can test your new television in-person before buying it. Depending on store size, selection may be limited, but availability is almost always certain.

Base Price: Physical Stores May Cost You Money

Online
  • Less overhead can mean lower prices

  • Accessibility to online coupons and deal apps

In-Store
  • Store may pass costs of rent, staff, and utilities on to customers

  • Open-box discounts more readily available

Generally, online sellers feature lower prices because they don't have the overhead of renting a pad in a strip mall, high electric bills, and a staff of salespeople. Discount codes could save even more money.

To compete with online purchasing, however, retail outlets are slashing prices all around. In-store discount prices might get as low as some online sellers. Also, many retail outlets resell returned items for even lower prices.

Taxes, Shipping, and Delivery: Online Convenience May Raise Total Cost

Online
  • May be charges for shipping

In-Store
  • No shipping charges, but you may pay extra for delivery/installation

Depending on where you live and which website you buy from, you might not have to pay a sales tax. Shipping might be a different story. Some stores don't charge shipping while others do, which might drive the final cost of the television up several hundred dollars.

You will pay your local sales tax at a retail outlet, and there won't be any shipping charges. However, most stores will charge a fee to deliver your new television (if you choose) or offer free delivery. If they charge for delivery, try to get the fee waived.

Customer Service and Warranty — Returns, Exchanges, Repairs: Easier in Person

Online
  • May have to pay shipping to send product in for service

  • Restocking fees may apply

  • Manufacturers may recommend you return to the store, anyway

In-Store
  • Faster to return or exchange at the store than to wait for warranty service


While most online retailers excel in servicing the customer, due diligence is necessary. Read user opinions before buying and make a gut-call. At times, consumers are charged restocking fees, have to pay for shipping if sending the item to be fixed through warranty, or buy the item with a "no return" clause in the sale. With some warranties, the consumer will get a replacement model temporarily or permanently depending on the issue.

With a receipt, modern retail outlets are easy to deal with when returning, exchanging, and using the warranty. Customer service is usually driven to retain your business by any means necessary, even if it means taking one on the chin now and then. To be on the safe side, read their return/exchange policy before buying.

Security: Use Your Common Sense

Online
  • Reputable sites will have encryption in place

In-Store
  • Transactions are encrypted at the point of sale

Most online retailers use some sort of 128-bit encryption and are as secure as banking sites. Sure, there's a risk, but no more than buying in a store. Read user opinions, check their security license, and you'll be fine.

What's written for online security goes for retail security. For the most part, your information will remain private, but there's always the rare case of identity theft at some level.

Final Verdict

Buy online if you are looking for the best possible deal. Even with shipping charges, most online prices are lower. While retail can't compete across the board with prices, it has an advantage in customer service. If meeting the salesperson, feeling a sense of community, and security knowing you can walk into the store at any time is important then you should buy at a retail outlet.

Where to purchase is as important as what to purchase. Before buying, be sure to read the fine print, do a little research on the company you plan on buying from, and everything should be all right.