Head online to figure out what you’re looking for, but head to a furniture store for your final purchase to get a feel for its comfort and craftsmanship, says Brent Shelton, online shopping expert for FatWallet.com. “Do all your research online and do as much as you can because that can save you time. There are hundreds of models and types, and you can narrow it down before you go in the store,” says Shelton. “But going in the store is going to ensure you’ll be happy with the purchase.” Returning to the store after thinking it over could even up your chances of getting a better price. A salesperson who makes commission won’t want to see you leave empty-handed a second time, so you’re likely to land a great deal. (This is how to figure out if furniture is poor quality.)
Do you need a new mattress? You may not want to just click and buy the first mattress you see online. “If you get eight hours of sleep a day, that’s a third of your life, so that’s a pretty important investment,” says Shelton. Online reviews are a good jump-off point, but you should take them with a grain of salt. After all, a back sleeper will experience a mattress differently than a side sleeper would, so you might not have the same preferences. Find one you love in a store, then price check after you leave to see if you can find a better deal online. Like with furniture, going back and haggle with the same salesperson who’d helped you before could help you get a better buy. You might not just get the price matched, but also snag extra perks like free shipping as the salesperson tries to seal the deal, says Shelton.
You’ll want to see and feel rugs, curtains, bedding, and other home goods before you bring them to your house, says consumer and money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. “Colors can appear different online, and the quality of material is impossible to assess by viewing through a Web page,” she says. If you need drapes that match your carpet, buying in person will ensure you’re happy with how your room comes together. Check out these tips for dressing up an ugly window.
Shipping and returns aren’t a big deal if you’ve got time to spare, but if you’re ordering a product for an event that’s coming up fast, your safest bet is buying straight from the store. “If it’s something you need now, you can’t return it and you have the risk that it won’t work out for whatever you need,” says Shelton. That quick dash to the store might take more time, but save you regret. (In the future, use these tricks to stop procrastinating so you have the luxury of waiting for that online purchase.)
Cosmetics you’ve never tried
You’re safe buying your go-to mascara online, but if you want to try out a new makeup product, pick it up from a brick and mortar store. “A lot of online purchases won’t take things back that have been opened up if it’s sealed like cosmetics,” says Shelton. Get products that aren’t sure bets from stores like CVS, Ulta, or Sephora, which will let you return items even after they’re opened.
Clothes from unfamiliar brands
If the retailer doesn’t allow returns or exchanges via mail or a physical store you can access, you could be stuck with an ill-fitting piece. Feel free to buy from shops where you know your size, but take caution when trying new stores. “Make sure you are familiar with the brand and sizing, or make sure that the retailer allows returns or exchanges,” says Woroch.
Clothing with uncommon materials
You might feel confident ordering a certain dress size from a store you shop at often, but fit isn’t the only aspect to consider when buying clothes—comfort is also key. Certain textures might not feel good on your body, so if you’re buying something more extravagant than your typical cotton, you might want to try it on in a store before adding it to your cart, especially if you’ll be spending a lot of money on the piece. “Luxury items you want to check out to make sure they feel right when wearing it, as well as if it has good craftsmanship,” says Shelton. (Read how to make your outfit look expensive here.)
Buying secondhand clothes can save you money and let you find some offbeat gems, but purchase with caution. Jeans could have formed to someone else’s shape, or you could find unexpected wear and tear. “It’s pre-worn, so you don’t know if it’s shrunk or if shoes are broken in for someone else’s feet,” says Shelton. Feel free to give it a shot, but be discriminating with what you buy. (Related: Find out which clothes you shouldn't buy at garage sales here.)
“A lousy fitting shoe or boot will be a waste of money if you can’t wear them, and sizes even on brands you’re familiar with will vary slightly,” says Woroch. It’s not that you should never buy shoes online, but you should only buy from sites that give you free shipping and returns—which a lot of shoe retailers do, knowing how tricky it can be to find a comfortable fit, she says. Here's how the wrong shoes cause you pain.
Imitations of the designer looks you want will save you tons of cash, but some knock-offs are way better quality than others. “Especially if it’s from a store that isn’t that trustworthy and you’re not sure about the return policy, you want to go in and look at it,” says Shelton. That way you can inspect the quality in case you can’t get a refund. (Related: Here's how to spot a well-made piece of clothing.)