E-Tailers vs. Retailers: The Pros and Cons of Shopping Online and In-Store

A lot goes into your selection of a notebook: price, size, look and feel, functionality, and specs. What many shoppers don’t consider though is where to make their purchase: online or in a physical store.

Each approach has its pros and cons. A good brick-and-mortar retailer should let you test a notebook’s keyboard and screen (Best Buy does but Wal-Mart does not). However, online shopping is the ultimate in convenience. So how do you know which route to go? Does a retailer carry the same in-store stock as it does online? Which is cheaper? How do return policies differ?

What we found may surprise you.

Among our four samples, only one system (the Toshiba mini NB305) cost less online than in traditional stores. Note: identical notebooks may have different model extensions depending on the outlet. Search by the base model number (e.g., dv7 versus dv7-3079wm) or look for similar specs when comparison shopping.

Return Policies

Returned notebooks are generally subject to a 15 percent restocking fee. To return a notebook purchased online, you typically must pay for return shipping. Return policies for notebook retailers that also sell online (such as Best Buy or Wal-Mart) are virtually identical. However, the details vary from vendor to vendor, as do some other factors.


: Unopened notebooks can be returned within 30 days for a full refund. Opened notebooks may only be eligible for an 85 percent refund.

Best Buy: You must return a notebook in its original packaging with all materials included within 14 days of receipt (either in-store or by mail) for a full refund. A damaged product fee may be charged for missing contents.

Newegg.com: Return a notebook within 30 days of the invoice date for a replacement of the product or an equivalent item. Any LCD on a notebook must have a minimum of eight dead pixels to be declared defective.

Wal-Mart: Return a notebook with any included software in the original packaging within 15 days of receipt (in store with receipt or by mail) for a full refund.

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Best Buy vs. The Competition
Row 1 - Cell 0 In-Store Online Amazon.comNewegg.com
HP Pavilion dv7-3085DX$1,299$1315 (with standard four- to eight-day shipping)$1,649 (dv7-3080US, with standard three- to five-day shipping)$1,365 (dv7-3080US, with UPS guaranteed three day shipping)
Toshiba NB205-N310BN$499$511 (with standard four- to eight-day shippin$349 (with standard three- to five-day shipping)$369 (NB205-N325BN, with UPS guaranteed three-day shipping)
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Wal-Mart vs. The Competition
Row 1 - Cell 0 In-StoreOnlineAmazon.comNewegg.com
Acer Aspire AS5517-5136$349$348 (with free shipping to store)$499 (AS5517-5086 with 3GB of RAM and three- to five-day shipping)$416 (AS5517-5671 with 3GB of RAM;and UPS guaranteed three-day shipping)
ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-VU1XN/A$328 (with free shipping to store)$319 (1005HA-MU17-BK Windows 7 Starter, and three- to five-day shipping)$329 (with free UPS guaranteed three-day shipping)


There are different advantages to in-store and online shopping. The former should allow you to go hands-on with a notebook in order to gauge its design and ergonomics, while online shopping allows for a wider selection, even if you wind up paying more due to shipping costs. The best option is to size up the competition in a physical store, then look at Web sites for both brick-and-mortar shops and online-only retailers for the best deal.

$1315 (with standard four- to eight-day shipping)