Online Shopping and Its Pitfalls

Are you more apt to overspend at the mall or online? Can’t decide? While you’re thinking, I’ll go first. I am more likely to overspend in a store. Without a doubt.

I’ve gone to great lengths to wean myself from brick-and-mortar stores. I must be nuts or something, but I can stroll past a store like Restoration Hardware—not needing a single thing—and just like that have an overwhelming need for the finest Italian linens with sumptuous thread counts. Plus, an entire bedroom suite on which to display them. It’s crazy!


I feel deprived and pathetic not owning the stuff I see. I turn into a spoiled child pitching a fit if I can’t have everything I now want. Clearly, it is better for me to simply not go near anything resembling a mall.

Online shopping is a godsend. It keeps me out of the stores, and makes shopping less emotional so I can just get what I need and be done with it. I don’t feel so vulnerable and compulsive while seated at the keyboard.

It looks like I’m not like most consumers, according to a column at MSN Money. Recent findings by Forrester Research indicate that the average online shopping transaction now runs as much as 15 percent more than the average brick-and-mortar store purchase.

The research says there are five reasons that people overspend online:

You don’t have time to think. Once you have items in your cart, retailers want to move you through the checkout line before you can reconsider.

They guarantee you won’t regret it. More than 40 percent of all online shoppers say product reviews are important to them. However, 80 percent of online reviews are generally positive.

They won’t let you forget. Online retailers use your purchase information to make recommendations for new items, and remind you to get that item that they’re sure you want.

Free shipping. The lure of free shipping is an important tool in getting customers to spend more on each visit. Even if shipping only costs $4 or $5, shoppers will put extra items in their basket that cost several times that much just to qualify.

They give rewards. Most of the rewards that retailers shell out are just incentives thrown in to get you to buy more, such as a 20 percent off coupon or free upgrade to faster shipping.

I don’t doubt that online shopping can be a real budget buster, and I’m sure I’ve made my share of cyber mistakes. But adding to this equation is the time I don’t have to drive across town while burning up $4-a-gallon gas, to fight traffic in a parking lot that has one less parking space than the sum total of cars wanting one at any given time. Online shopping beats the mall for me. I believe I will stick with my answer.

Okay, your turn. Where are you more apt to overspend—online or while in the store? Share your answer here.

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43 replies
  1. Joyce says:

    I live in a rural home. Shopping online is convenient and I am learning to enjoy the convenience. I have mostly used it for books. We live hours away from book stores. There is a wait, but usually not a long one. And then there are e-books which are so quick to access! I like that I have time to think about my purchases. Delivery is nice and convenient when giving gifts. Travel is a big expense for those of us who live miles from stores, so shipping is still reasonable. But I don’t much use it for clothing. I am leery of sizing problems.

  2. Patricia Hackenschmidt says:

    brick and mortar. with online, I usually leave an item in an open tab and think about it for a few days when it’s something I don’t really need. Brick and Mortar – like you, I buy impulsively.

  3. roxy says:

    Living in a Rural area doesn’t give a lot of product options and often not what I want at all. So that leaves traveling to another town or going on line. Also shipping is often as expensive as the item I want. When the item is something I can’t evaluate I read the negative responses. I think they are often more useful as the positive ones often give no information.

  4. Cheryl Designs says:

    I am not overspending ANYWHERE 🙂 I am on a tight budget and I LOVE IT 🙂 I have been shopping online because my small area of Ohio doesn’t stock things I NEED. If the stores DO stock the items, they can cost 3 or 4 times the cost of the same item online 🙁 I TRY to buy locally. I am a small business and I do my best to support other small, local businesses. I simply cannot afford to pay 3 to 4 times the cost of an item just to buy it locally. I also got tired of spending the TIME and GAS money to shop locally and need to order online anyway 🙁 I search online, do alittle comparing and read reviews…. find the item I need and ORDER IT. DONE 🙂

  5. Amy says:

    I agree with you Mary. At home I can shop at my leisure and be sure of my purchase before I submit the order. And I don’t have to fight with crowds or lines at the register!

  6. AmyB says:

    I tend to spend more in the store as I am a terrible impulse buyer. If I shop online, it’s for very specific items that I usually do a lot of research on & comparison shop.

  7. Anne says:

    There were times I wished I hadn’t taught my husband to use the computer, let alone shop online. He frequently overpaid for items that were less locally because he didn’t know the prices or watch shipping charges. The flip side of that is I got more gifts and flowers than ever before. I shop online frequently as I don’t pick up things I see along the way. On Amazon I put my ‘wants’ on my Wish List and wait a few days. I can find filters, cords, etc. that are not readily available locally and I don’t waste time and gas running around looking for them. Few shops are helpful by phone as to what they actually have in stock. Shopping anywhere you have to know your limit and resources.

  8. Sheila says:

    I will not purchase clothing or shoes online…sizes are such an issue and I hate to pay return shipping. I often purchase books, gotta-have-it new gadgets, self-help “newsletters” online and almost always regret it. Not everyday cheapskate, though; love it. Then I have to email and fax and call to get the charge removed from my credit card…sometimes even contact the state’s attorney general for action. Also, I don’t use a debit card to purchase online, so the charges go on a credit card…likewise my husband. My heart always sinks at the end of the week/month when I see what we purchased. Our credit card is paid off, but the tendency to run up the balance again terrifies me.
    I am pretty strong when I go to a store. Go in for what I planned to buy and leave. Not so when I take my teenage daughter, though.

  9. Jean says:

    Online shopping is ever so gentle on our budget. I play Swagbucks and have a great stash of them in my account. So when I need anything, I go to that site to shop – we’ve had “free” Christmases for two years. If I go into a store, my mind says to me – “what do you WANT?” It’s simplier to just not go!!

  10. Ann Nonymous says:

    I think I’m more likely to overspend in a brick and mortar store than online. Online I search for the specific item I’m looking for and in person I pass lots of pretty items on the way to what I came in for originally. Also, when I have an item I want to buy online, but it’s below the amount to qualify for free shipping, I put it on my digital wish list on my computer. Sometimes by the time I have another item or 2 to put with it, I either no longer want it or have found a great deal locally.

  11. Phannygirl says:

    I don’t get out shopping much, so online is tempting because I can shop at odd hours when I’m not working. I’m in a small town so I can get things online that are not available in my area – things I could probably do without.

  12. Jo says:

    I’m pretty conservative whether on-line or brick and mortar. However, I WILL admit I see a bit of me, or the me I used to be, in all the comments so far. Brick and mortar allows me the touchy feely shopping I enjoy and on-line allows me to take my time making comparisons and a cooling off period. I usually have predetermined thresholds in mind before starting to shop anywhere. However, I AM a sucker for reduced items as in ‘look it’s only 5.98. I can afford that.’ Suddenly I’m at the check-out and the total is much more than 5.98. Good thing its an hour’s drive to any major shopping!

  13. Steve says:

    I think the free shipping can possibly tend towards more purchases, but it is a significant factor since it can be more money than your state’s sales tax. Costco/Sam’s can be tough since they have good deals and I’m not really in there to buy those things. Online allows me to get better prices sometimes and search only for items I really need.

  14. penny50 says:

    I think I spend more on line because of the ease, especially if they have free shipping. Until I get my debt under control I am not spending money either way. For Christmas I ended up making gifts (sewing and knitting) with materials I already had in my stash. I am trying desperately to build a contingency fund, but right now I need to repair two toilets, the element just went out on my stove and, my audiologist told me today that my hearing aids are past the point of repair. I have had them ten years and they have both been sent back for repairs at least three times. Praying that our cars will hold together as we try to rebuild our maintenance budget for them. Has been a hard six months — escrow on mortgage went up, health insurance premium went up, husband’s paycheck went down and have had very little upholstery work to do on my part time job.

  15. Music mom says:

    Oh my gosh! I WAY overspend online. Usually for Christmas shopping I withdraw the cash I have in my Christmas budget and go shopping with my mom. But this year, having last my father before th holidays, mom wasn’t interested in our annual shopping day. Because The months between September and December are the busiest in my career, I didn’t have an opportunity to go by myself. So I shopped mostly online. Well, the budget went right out the window, as I didn’t really have the chance to sit and “count” my money and think carefully about what gifts I had already purchased like I usually do when mom and I are out and about. As a result I am paying for some seriously bad purchase choices still…and will for months to come.

  16. LeeAnne says:

    In store shopping is my budget buster. I am many times more likely to impulsive shop while “just looking”. I’ve only shopped on line a few times, but I put everything I “want ” in my shopping cart & then can very easily delete items that are not necessary. I can also save my cart & come back to it & pare it down even more. If I can touch it, I want it. Just seeing a picture usually means I can delete & not feel deprived.

  17. Ruth says:

    Online shopping is much more dangerous for me. I have always hated “going shopping” in malls and stores, other than grocery shopping, which I love. If I could shop from Sears catalogue, I did. Now, I live 1/2 hour from the nearest town big enough to have malls and WalMart, gas costs a fortune, and at 67, my knees, hips, and back make walking painful. Everything I need, including Sears!, but excepting groceries, I can buy online, and the shipping charges are generally no worse than the cost of gas to drive to the mall. But it means using credit cards, and that makes it much too easy for me to click on the final “buy” button. I have more than once! bought things I didn’t need, simply because of the ease of it. Comparing prices is easier, too, of course. The temptations are great, and my resistance is not!

  18. kaetra says:

    Online shopping is more dangerous for me than a “real store” because it’s all too convenient to shop online. I find things online that stores don’t have in stock or don’t even sell. Things online also seem more appealing to me than if I actually see/touch the item in person. (I’m more likely to find something wrong with it if I see it “in person” first.) To shop at a brick and mortar I have to leave the house, drive from store to store, hunt around a giant store, try things on in their dressing room’s awful lighting, lug around items and then lug them home. Shopping online makes it so much easier to find the things you want and they always give those helpful pics and links for “people who bought this also bought this”. Yikes! I LOVE shopping online and I HATE going to stores. So online is definitely more dangerous for me.

  19. Elle says:

    I tend to stick to my list and ONLY my list regardless of where I shop, and I rarely buy anything online. But I am curious about one thing: for those who use only cash at brick-and-mortar stores, is it easier to overspend online since it requires that the shopper pay with plastic? Just wondering because handing over actual hard-earned bills is one of the things that helps me curb spending at the store.

  20. Lynda says:

    I prefer to see and touch items while shopping at a physical store. I have been known to spend/buy much more than anticipated at the big box stores in the past, but now I KNOW I cannot afford any of that. Sometimes browsing through a store is just fun and sometimes it is depressing, but I do get out these days with only what I NEED. I have seldom bought things online, but when I have they have been things that were unusual or cumbersome to have carried home. My family is all out of state, so it is great to be able to buy the gifts for the person whose name I have online and have it shipped directly to their family member to wrap for them. I have also started to buy out pet food online through WalMart when I get free shipping. We have 6 indoor pets so their minimum pruchase for free shipping is not difficult. Plus I do not have to handle those heavy bags as much (into the cart, into the car, in from the garage) – they come right to the front door. Plus I get points buying through WM for My Points that accumulate and I redeem to get gift cards for various retailers or restaurants.

  21. Jackieg says:

    I do my best to avoid malls. Just feel too deprived in them! The “basket” on line is my best friend, it gives me that 24 hours I need to think. Amazing how much stuff I may have out there in “basket/carts” that I didn’t buy!

  22. Rover's Mom says:

    I generally know what I want/need when I shop on line. I compare prices at various retailers and often find good values. Recently I saved a great deal on Calida nightgowns by going to Google, inputting “Calida,” and visiting six sites.
    More than big box stores, upscale catalogs are my downfall. When Gumps or Scully and Scully catalogs arrive I find them hard to resist. Fortunately I have learned to mark items in a catalog, put it aside for several days, and then ask myself whether those items would really add that much to my life. Often the answer is no.

  23. Doxie Mom says:

    Online shopping for me is both good and bad. I definitely buy more online than I would ordinarily buy but the flip side is that I find great bargains online. For instance, I buy my refrigerator filters online for about half the price than I would pay in Sears for the same item. Also our dog is taking a medicine that would cost almost triple from the veternarian but I get it online (prescription) so much cheaper. They even call the vet for you once you set up the account. The internet can be a big help but you can get yourself into real trouble with spending if you aren’t careful.

    • Cheryl Designs says:

      Doxie Mom, I love my vet but they charged $40 more for Heartgard than Drs. Foster and Smith, an online store. Vets didn’t seem ‘happy’ with my decision to order online but the dollars ADD up..FAST…I am thankful we can order our pet prescriptions online 🙂

  24. Texasgirl says:

    Love online shopping! Just get what I want, can shop around, can get hard to find items (I recently bought a 1980’s sewing book online for $7 including shipping!) AND no gasoline needed!

  25. GaelicWench says:

    My biggest weakness is Target. Thankfully, it’s a 45-minute drive, so the need to drive that far is not very strong. Online, I have my favorites with Amazon being #1, but only if I can download a free ebook or get them for .99 each. They had better be worth reading, too. I had contemplated becoming a Prime member but thought that would increase my temptation to spend even more. And with a price ticket of $79 yearly, no way!

    Living in the country with the nearest Walmart 13 miles away truly helps make it a no-spend day most days for me. I just think of the cost of gas I am using and that is the impetus to just stay home and not go out that day.

  26. Erika B. says:

    I don’t overspend at either! Fortunately or unfortunately, I have become a master at talking myself out of purchases I don’t need. (Thanks, Mary!) Online helps me because normally I make the first pass, and drop everything I think I could possible want in the cart. Then I go away and leave it. A few days of thought helps me realize what I really need, and what I don’t. Then I make the purchase after removing most of what’s in the cart!

    • kaetra says:

      I do this too, leave things in the cart. It is a nice mechanism for a “cool down” period. I’ll find things in the cart later and wonder why on earth I wanted such a thing.

    • Sheila says:

      Me, too! I am so good at talking myself out of things. I can recall many items, usually clothing and shoes I REALLY loved, that I walked away from. Now I laugh that I even had to labor over the decision.

  27. techknowiz says:

    While I can overspend anywhere I find that shopping online keeps me from overspending more then when I am out shopping. Online I limit myself to sales and clearance, in a store I also shop sales and clearance with the thought in mind that I will return it, and I am more apt to forget and keep the item whether I ever use it or not. Online items have generally been thought about several days and left in the shopping cart till I purchase.
    I will say though that being a teacher online book shopping can be very dangerous!

  28. Barbara says:

    I am more apt to overspend in a brick n mortar than on-line. Like a comment below, I put it in my basket and sometimes think about it for several days before I purchase. When in a store shopping for things, because of lack of time, I buy things thinking I will return them later if I am not satisfied. This return does not happen 80% of the time. I usually give them away to family or Salvation Army.

  29. Kay in Florida says:

    I’m generally a conservative spender, but shopping in the store is a real challenge for me sometimes. Even though I have a detailed list of things I NEED, I am prone to buy things for my grandchildren that are not on my list. I’m a real sucker for them. It’s FUN to buy for them. Gotta get control.

  30. Carolyn says:

    Neither, actually. I stick to a budget. When I do shop online about every 2-3 mos (and it’s to purchase toiletries, supplements, similar items), I take into account how much I will have left for my groceries and other necessities from stores. I never feel intimidated by the checkout process – and sometimes I will leave items in my online cart for several days before making a final decision. Some times I take out, sometimes I add to it, and other times I will empty the entire cart – after coming to the conclusion that I can’t afford anything after all. In stores I stick to my shopping list. I will browse in ‘fun stores’ on occasion and I find myself really wishing I could update our home and/or our personal appearances with the latest (and expensive!) styles, but I have my husband (and especially God) to hold me accountable. I very rarely come home with ‘extras’ unless I have a reason. Our kids don’t always like it – but they have set great examples for their peers, for they have learned to shop like me, look for great sales and bargains (for ‘needed’ items), and to be frugal. And, yes, they are quite popular! They also dress stylishly, have expensive clothes, accessories, and make-up that they purchased at great sale prices, and they have amazing tastes.But they have learned to manage their money wisely. I guess it’s partly my upbringing, because I came from a poor/middle class family – and I married a frugal guy.

    • Grace says:

      I;m the same. In fact in a store I actually change my mind and put a lot of things back. With online shopping my things remain in the cart for several days too. Sometimes they will email me to remind me that my shopping cart has items in it.

      • Carolyn says:

        I very recently experienced this myself. I am presently in need of gardening supplies and seeds, but I refuse to pay the high shipping charges when I know this same company periodically offers discounts on top of free shipping. I had my cart ready…and waited, trying to decide what I should do. In the meantime, the company sent numerous notices and personal emails encouraging me to complete the order process. I told them why I wouldn’t, much to their dismay and one rude reply. I still waited. Two days ago I received an offer for a discount AND free shipping – like I knew would eventually come around.

  31. MaryMcC says:

    Don’t forget saving/dodging sales tax! Some online retailers charge because they have a brick & mortar presence in your state – but many do not.

    • Anne says:

      Law requires that you report online sales tax not charged on your state tax form and pay it there. This applies in Utah and in California, am pretty sure it applies in other states.

  32. jmhperson2 says:

    I think I do overspend online. I have been a plus-sized person and I have a much better chance of getting something in my size than I do at a brick & mortar store. Plus, I can get a blouse or shirt that goes with the slacks or jeans that I have found. You can feel really rejected in a store. I also like not having to drive and find a parking space.

    • Tonya says:

      Interesting. As a plus-sized person, I find most the things I order online don’t fit me. I think because I carry my weight in my hips and a lot of plus-sized clothes are built for women who carry their weight in their stomachs. I can’t remember the last online clothing purchase I didn’t take back. Oh, yeah, I do. I bought a jacket and some gloves. But those things don’t have to fit like a pair of pants! I don’t have a problem overspending on clothes but rather FINDING clothes that fit me and I like. There aren’t many stores near me that sell decent plus-sized clothes, so I usually get most of my clothes at Savers (a Goodwill-type store).

  33. yoder178 says:

    Black Friday is the worst for me for overspending my budget. The last time I went into a store on Black Friday I spent almost $350–about $200 over my budget. How did this happen? Well while standing in line AFTER purchasing my items on the list, I kept finding really nice deals and continued to put them in my “stash” until I finally had to “beg” for a box from a clerk who was breaking down boxes, just to hold all my “stash”!

    The items I purchased were great deals which were used as gifts that I would have given anyway, but maybe not spent quite so much. I have never gone shopping on Black Friday again! I try to go the week after Christmas and find I spend less and stay well within my budget.


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