Online shopping is ubiquitous in the U.S. and across the world. We can buy nearly anything with the click of a button and a credit card number. Sometimes, the purchases are great deals. Other times, well, they’re not. Here’s a guideline:

Never Buy Online

  • Groceries: Food and sundries are cheaper in stores because of coupons, sales and markdowns. Buy these in person using techniques!
  • Expensive Fabrics/Curtains: It is notoriously difficult to determine fabric quality from a photograph. Those sumptuous draperies you just ordered might turn out to be threadbare duds. If you must, first order a swatch (which you might have to pay for.)
  • Clothes and Shoes: Most jeans, tees and sweaters are much less expensive during sales and at discount stores (with coupons). Store-bought clothes come with two added bonuses: trying things on and no shipping fees.
  • Scented Household Products: Candles, room sprays and air fresheners may sound appealing online. Who doesn’t want their home to smell like sandalwood and lemon verbena. When you open the box, though, it could smell like garden weeds and mildew. The truth is, you don’t know how alluring that scent might be unless you test it in person.
  • Used Cars: Any vehicle you purchase should be inspected by your own mechanic before you plunk down the cash. Save the headaches and cash by avoiding major repair bills.
  • Major Appliances: Never buy large appliances like refrigerators, washers or dishwashers online. You can’t haggle with the sales person over the internet. Also, it is much cheaper to ask for and buy out-of-box, floor models and discontinued lines at steep discounts.

Always Buy Online

  • Prescriptions: Shopping online is one of the best ways to compare prices on prescription drugs. Consumer groups report 35 percent savings from regular price. This is an especially good option for filling prescriptions for a chronic condition like depression or high cholesterol. One caution: use only U.S. websites with the VIPPS seal.
  • Designer clothes and Shoes: Wander into a designer boutique and soak in the ambiance and luxury. But be prepared for a fit if you peek at a price tag. If you have royal taste on a serf’s budget, consider buying high-end luxury items from online bargain outlets like or Because the items may be a season or two out of cycle and sometimes the sizes and colors are limited, the deals are so much better. The quality is exactly the same as the chichi shops but at discounts ranging from 30 to 85 percent. Track down a coupon or special code to increase the savings.
  • Music, Books and Movies: With digital music players, PCs, tablets and eReaders, there is never a need to pay for brick-and-mortar overhead at bookstores (or the gas to get there). Retailers like Barnes & Noble even offer free ebooks. Don't have an expensive eReader? No problem. Sites like Open Library offer more than 1 million free book titles with online formats like PDF and Daisy. Project Gutenberg hosts more than 30,000 titles. DVDs are even cheaper online than you'll find in the jumbled bargain bin at a big box retailer. Movie buffs can find gems for as little as $2 online. Check out and Don't forget digital downloads and free movies online at sites like and inexpensive subscription sites like It is cheaper to buy music online at $1 a song you love, rather than paying $9 – $13 for an entire album. Look for coupons for the iTunes store. Many sites offer free and less expensive downloads. The Internet Archive's Audio Archive hosts over 50,000 recordings, all for free download.
  • Travel and Tickets:  Vacation packages, airline tickets, hotel rooms and transportation are all cheaper and easier to book online. Use sites like,,, and, and Online travel newbies should know that most U.S. airlines offer last-minute deals at significant savings. The very best time to buy airline tickets is about 3 p.m. (Eastern) on Tuesdays, but you have to act fast because those screaming good deals sell out fast. Hotels also offer their "leftover" rooms online. That's where you'll find the best savings, as much as 40 – 50 percent. These are not roach-filled flophouses, rather top-quality hotel chains and good motels.  Book in off-peak months for even better deals.
  • Training and Meetings: There is no reason to rent room space for group meetings or one-on-one training. Innovative sites like Yuuguu allow users to share computer screens for easy sharing and training. Hold virtual, real-time interactive meetings with sites like and cut hotel and travel costs for your business.
  • Cloth Diapers: Cloth diapering babies is a movement that is (re)gaining steam. Today’s moms don’t use droopy cloths with safety pins and sweaty plastic pants. They use fitted, reusable, easy-to-clean diapers that are cheaper than disposable pants and much better for the environment. Check out sites like


Think Twice, Click Once: When to Buy Online and At Stores