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Bricks and Mortar versus Internet Retailer

What criteria do you use to choose between buying in a bricks and mortar shop versus buying online?

Last week I finally got around to fixing  a cupboard door in our kitchen that has been broken for several years. Essentially it needed two gas pistons to be replaced. Here is the page for the par on the manufacturer's  web store: http://www.clever-storage-shop.com/kompressionsfeder-softlift-beschlag-und-tuer-liftbeschlag-200n.html . I needed two of them so that would come to just over  €50 (Irish sales tax is a few percent extra). Pricey to repair a single microwave cupboard door but hey German engineering doesn't come cheap and it would be worth it to finally get that job off my list.

Before pressing "Buy" I decided to check for a local distributor. A quick email confirmed that yes there is one and yes they do have that part in stock and it costs €15. Wow that's a surprising discount. They are the far side of the city from me but €20 saved from buying two of them would more than pay for my petrol.

I picked them up yesterday on my way home from work. They guy at the counter immediately understood what I needed, handed me two of them and asked for €15.

"Uh.." I said "€15 each that makes €30. Right?".
"No" he said "€7.50 each. €15 for the pair"

To be honest the times when bricks and mortar retailers are cheaper than online are  rare enough despite this extreme example but I do think that many retailers have responded to competitive pressure and now try to match online pricing more closely.

I still buy a lot of stuff online. Living in a small peripheral European country you kind of have to because a lot of specialised stuff simply isn't available here. Thankfully the European open market makes it easy for me to import stuff from the bigger economies (UK, Germany, France mostly) and all the major retailers now collect our local sales tax (VAT) so it doesn't even feel like smuggling any more. There is even a solution to the annoying issue of never being at home when the UPS guy calls. I now use  a collection service that holds my parcels at convenient local point that is accessible 24 hours a day.

There are still many reasons for buying stuff in a  real shop. It is great to be able to touch and see things before buying. Essential for any big ticket items I think and certainly for anything with a significant aesthetic value (clothes, furniture). The returns issue should also be considered. Returning stuff bought online is frustrating and can often incur expensive postage costs.

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