Buying Online or Offline – Which is better, and why?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Following our popular post, “Who’s the cheapest? – Amazon, Taobao or Lazada?”, the RateX team has come up with a new post to share some tips on getting more bang for your buck and more value for your money!

Mr Krabs showering in money

So which is better? Online or offline shopping?

As usual, it depends.

For the busy reader, we’ve condensed the pros & cons into a short table here:

Online Shopping

Ahhh, the wonders of online shopping. Perfect for those who never want to leave their room or simply don’t want to waste time and go through all the hassle.
Online Shopping

To rehash and add in a couple more tips, let’s run through all the Pros again:


Online shopping saves time and effort. Just click away and your items will be delivered in a flash!

PROTIP: As much as convenience is concerned, this option only works if the company you’re buying from ships to your address. Don’t choose all your items only to find out you can’t get them. (p.s. Use a freight forwarder if you’re desperate.)

Google Discount Codes anytime

If you haven’t already been doing this, you’re doing Online Shopping wrong.

PROTIP: Always search for codes before making a purchase – you can save quite a bit of money and sometimes even get a free gift for virtually nothing! I’d use the RateX extension because I’m lazy to search and it does that for me – you can make use of it too!

Compare prices from different sellers

If you think 50% off an item online is a bargain – you’ve been cheated.

PROTIP: Online shops almost ALWAYS mark-up their prices to ensure that their “discount” looks bigger. An item that’s originally $100 will suddenly be at 50% off, even if the so-called discounted price is $80. For stores like Amazon, camelcamelcamel is a good price checker to make sure shops aren’t marking up. Although not accurate all the time, iPriceSG tries to compare prices from different websites – but honestly, I’d just do it manually. Use this when you’re not sure what websites carry the item you want!

Legitimate reviews from Real People

If you’re buying something just because someone told you so, you may be disappointed when the item comes. Make sure the item is exactly what you want and worth the money you’re paying.

PROTIP: If a review makes the item sound too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true. There are fake reviews out there – sometimes they’re easy to spot, sometimes they’re not. A good safeguard around this is to check out numerous websites, you can try out Review sites like Hungrygowhere, Yelp and so on! It depends on what you’re looking for. Rule of thumb: NEVER trust reviews on the homepage of the company itself.

From here, let’s go through the Cons and about how to avoid them:

You can’t tell if it’s a legitimate store

Reviews, reviews, reviews. If the store has little or virtually no reviews, don’t buy from it – no matter how cheap the deal is.

1) https:// websites with the lock at the side tend to be safe
2) Websites that end with .biz and .info tend to be not credible
3) .com sites are easily obtainable – only .gov and .edu sites can be counted as somewhat “safe”
4), is not (in this case it is, because Amazon bought that website too. But this isn’t always the case – and you should always be careful!) 

Hidden Charges

This one’s a toughie. They’re called hidden charges cause they’re hidden (really well, in fact!), so you only realise you’ve been charged extra at the end of the month when the bank statement hits you.

PROTIP: Read the fine print (if you have time). If not, ask on forums, google the website or if you’re really curious, consult your bank! There are such things as online “service” fees (like admin fees, processing fees) but they don’t tell you upfront – in fact they usually don’t tell you at all. Here’s an example of how shopping overseas is more expensive than you think due to hidden charges.

Inaccurate Waiting Time

To you, one week means one week. But to the seller, one week means 9 days. Or maybe 15, depending on how honest he or she is.

PROTIP: If it’s important, always pay for tracking. This means you can see the progress of your item, and question the seller if it’s not been dispatched yet. (This will save you time since sometimes sellers cancel 7 days after the order without telling you – it happens)
If it’s even more important, pay for insurance.
If you definitely need it and your head will roll if you don’t get it
(especially on a deadline!), then don’t buy online. There’s always the risk of the item not arriving due to a billion reasons (shipping delays, mix up in address, damaged goods). Don’t risk it. 

Offline Shopping

Room for bargains

If you didn’t already know, you can actually bargain at Best Denki. Tell them you don’t want their free gifts and lame vouchers – you want a discount. Usually, if you insist enough (and you’re nice about it!) and the salesperson speaks to the manager, you can get a pretty decent discount even if the item isn’t on sale.

1) It never hurts to ask. If the salesman can give you $50 off, why not ask for $10 more? Sometimes successful, sometimes not. It really never hurts to ask!!!
2) The more you buy, the more discounts you can get. 
Buying more gives you more bargaining power, but don’t buy an extra item just for the discount – it isn’t worth it and you probably didn’t need it anyway.

What you see is what you get

I’ve a friend who ordered a baking pan that was supposed to be 23cm wide. It arrived 23mm wide and she laughed. We all did.

PROTIP: Applicable especially for clothes, what you see in pictures is not always what you get when it arrives. There are many shades of blue: baby blue, light blue, periwinkle, pantone, ultramarine… and so on! You get the picture. Buy offline if you have a very specific item in mind – especially if you need to try it on to make sure the cutting fits! 

Immediate Gratification

Your baby is crying and you’ve run out of diapers. You need it. And you need it right now.

PROTIP: If you need something quickly – a birthday gift, a household item, a perishable – buy offline. Even if the estimated delivery date is on Monday and the party is on Tuesday, you can never be sure and you won’t want to risk it!

Get to meet new people

Similar to the bargain tip, it’s always good to build rapport with the store assistants! It’s always great to have someone to help the next time you’re looking for things, or when you simply want to chat.

PROTIP: Don’t be nasty to staff even if you’re impatient, that gives them even less reason to help you. In fact, people tend to help nice customers and even go out of their way to rectify the problem for you!

And on to cons of Offline Shopping…

Higher Prices

This is almost always inevitable because of costs like rental, utility bills and so on, but this can be mitigated by sales and some pretty hard bargaining… Still, certain things are a lot more expensive offline than offline, like the Nintendo Switch that’s just US$299 today!

PROTIP: Compare prices online and offline before you make your final decision.

Browse items you don’t know you want – Until you see them

This is a con that isn’t really a con. When you’re in a shopping mall, you have a wide, wide variety of things to choose from – in fact you can just be window shopping when you see something that you suddenly decide you want, and you’re maybe $100 poorer! (Like when you get the Fitbit Flex for fun… p.s. Fitbits are more often than not cheaper online!)

PROTIP: Unfortunately, if you want the item then you want it. Just make sure to check if you have enough money for supper after buying your product!

It’s easy to overspend

When you’re buying all your snacks for movie-night, it’s hard to tell yourself when to stop. Especially since groceries don’t have price tags on them, you can’t even calculate how much you’re spending until you reach the counter!

PROTIP: Always have a grocery list so you can estimate how much you’re going to spend. Your list will be like your virtual shopping cart!

So is Online Shopping or Offline Shopping better for you?

For me, I think I’m going to stick with both… 🤑