Electronics: Online vs. Brick-and-Mortar

We covet many things in life other than thy neighbor's wife: nice houses, lucrative careers, a chic wardrobe. And yes, we covet other people's electronics. The devices of choice these days seem to be high-definition televisions, iPods and GPS devices for the car. But the question is -- where to buy them.

Luckily for Shop To It readers, I set out to find the answers at the big chains, small retailers and online shops. (You can all send me flowers later.) In the high-def television world, I searched for the Sony Bravia KDL-46S3000, which got high marks from Consumer Reports. I also shopped for the third generation 8-gigabyte iPod nano. And my GPS device of choice was the Garmin nuvi 660, also a Consumer Reports favorite. (The prices you see here don't include sales tax.)

Here's what I learned: If you can install a television on your own, not a small task, then buying online is the way to go. Many sites offer an in-home delivery service called White Glove Delivery, which provides the muscle to get the television in the house, unwrap it and set it on its stand. It's then up to you to figure out the tangle of wires and cords. Not a big deal for a Ph.D. in electrical engineering but for the rest of us mere mortals, a professional installation may be required.

Amazon.com and B&H, an online electronics retailer, blew others out of the water with their prices on this particular television. Amazon had the TV for $1,729; B&H had it priced at $1,732.95. (Both prices include the White Glove Delivery service.) If you're like me and can barely change a light bulb, go for a store that will do the connecting. Belmont TV, a small local chain with stores in Arlington, Wheaton and Laurel, had the same television for $1,866.50, which includes delivery and setup.

There was very little variation with the iPod nano; most stores sold it for $199. Amazon.com and Newegg.com, another online electronics retailer, both offered the nano for $5 cheaper, including free shipping. Newegg's price even includes three-day shipping.

The GPS device, which helps the directionally-challenged get to their destinations, had one of the most dramatic price variations. Amazon.com sold the Garmin model for $540.44, including shipping. Best Buy and Circuit City had it for $699 and Target sold it for $684.99.

Another thing I learned in my search is that many of the online sites require you to temporarily put the item in a shopping cart or click on a link to see the price. They claim that the manufacturer of the device doesn't want the sale price shown if it's dropped below a certain level. Yes, I'm scratching my head too. Also, some online prices were different than the in-store prices. Check out a brick-and-mortar store's Web site before whipping out your credit card.

So where have you found the best deals on electronics? And what do you plan to buy this holiday season?

By Tania Anderson |  November 1, 2007; 3:00 AM ET General Interest
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Anyway, I've already told my near and dears that they're all getting gift cards. I work two jobs (one of which at a local retail place) and I don't want to nor do I have the time to fight crowds to find the perfect present for everyone. Because I'll be the one processing returns and hearing everyone's story about how the dog ate the receipt. And I'll most likely have to spend the day after Thanksgiving at my second job, even though I schedule a day of leave from my primary job.

That said, I hope my loved ones listened to me when I said I want them to pool their money to get me a gift certificate to a spa. I'm going to need it.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | November 1, 2007 8:23 AM

The iPod was a poor choice for this demonstration, due to the strict price controls mandated by Apple. Virtually any other brand of MP3 player would have shown more disparate pricing.

Posted by: LMW | November 1, 2007 8:40 AM

I always check on CNET for reviews, online places to buy.

Posted by: bkd | November 1, 2007 10:03 AM

I see in your Shopping section that the Garmin nuvi 660 is on sale at fotoelectronics.com for $492.92 with a standard $16 shipping rate to anywhere in the U.S.

Posted by: McLean | November 1, 2007 11:53 AM

I would NEVER buy a large electronic item like an LCD television from an online site again. Late last year, I purchased one from a reputable site. Had a remote control problem early on, and getting customer support was a bit of a headache, but finally was resolved. Well, in September the TV broke. It was under warranty, but there was a 3rd party designated as the servicer...well, they never returned calls. I had to go all the way up the corporate chain at this online retailer, and after weeks of hassle they agreed to refund my $ and pay for pick up of the TV. This would have been a much more onerous process (no more box after 10 months and paying big $$ for a return), had I not been able to go right out and bought a new LCD TV from...Costco (no affiliation). Fit the broken TV in that box and the co. paid for return shipping. That would not have been the case for a plain old return. Plus, I was fortunate I had the $ to buy the new TV before getting a refund for the old one.

Plus, Costco is doubling my warranty to 2 yrs and if something goes wrong, it's right around the corner (same could be said for any brick-and-mortar local retailer).

My 2cents.

Posted by: RestonVAMom | November 1, 2007 2:02 PM

For online, use Amazon. Use the power of google and other search engines to find good deals. Be wary of the shipping charges.

Brick and mortar, use Costco if possible.

Don't shop at the Malls, unless you're going to Sears.

If you're middle aged, buy your clothes at LL Bean. Relatively inexpensive, clothes work in any social situation, wears reasonably well. But good return policies, and retail at several places that allow you to return web purchases.

There. I've simplified your life.

Posted by: Ombudsman | November 1, 2007 7:00 PM

...B&H, an online electronics retailer, blew others out of the water with their prices on this particular television.

Thanks for mentioning B&H. Readers may be comforted to know that in addition to our web presence, we have a "Brick-n-mortar" store occupying the full block from 33rd to 34th Sts on 9th Ave in Manhattan and are in the midst of doubling the retail floor space.
Henry Posner
B&H Photo-Video, Inc.

Posted by: Henry Posner | November 2, 2007 10:49 AM

I think online marketplaces are the best places to sell electronics. They don't have shopping carts and you have a better idea of what you're getting. Try this new site called anythingforsalebyowner.com of afsbo.com

Posted by: Liz Janoski | November 2, 2007 3:45 PM

I always prefer to visit at Buy.com store through Couponalbum.com that provides me thousand of coupons and coupon codes on electronics......!!

Posted by: Sam | November 12, 2007 4:01 AM

Good quality electronic equipments I have seen at Buy.com store through Couponalbum.com....!

Posted by: Kallis | November 14, 2007 5:24 AM

fun search test!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 3, 2008 1:34 PM

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