Let's jump right to the chase and say that online shopping works out beautifully at times and not so beautifully at other times. Seeing something in person is a huge plus. I'm sure most of us have had the experience of loving something online or in a magazine and then finding ourselves disappointed with the way it looks (and feels) in person. That's the thing about online shopping; you only get to experience the item with one sense - sight. You don't get to touch it, sit at it, feel the weight of it, etc. And sometimes what you see online isn't exactly what you see when it shows up on your doorstep! Therein lies the risk.
When you consider the cost of shipping and possible duty charges, you may want to shy away from online shopping altogether (or not). Here are some suggestions I've put together to help you wade through the murky waters of online shopping.
1. Visualize the item in your space as best you can. That means dig out the tape measure. Compare a similarly shaped/sized piece in the intended spot to see what it might look like. If necessary, construct something out of cardboard or use painter's tape on the floor to visualize the size of a rug. And above all, follow good space planning rules.
2. Talk to a real person about the item. Get on the phone with a salesperson who has seen the item in person and can describe it in detail to you. This will give you a better idea of what it's like. Tell them what your misgivings are about the item and see what they say. They may suggest looking for something else if it doesn't seem like a good fit for you.
3. Read reviews on the item and take them seriously. Poor reviews usually mean a poor product. On the other hand, if some thing's popular, there's usually a good reason for it.
4. Try to buy over sized (big and heavy) items locally because those are the most expensive to ship.
5. Pay tax and duty up front (if that's an option) to avoid extra, unexpected charges.
6. Watch for the item to go on sale to counter the cost of shipping.
7. Buy online when (A.) You can't get the item locally. (B.) It's cheaper to buy the item online (even with shipping). (C.) You're prepared to take a bit of a risk because that *whatever-it-is* is oh. so. perfect.
Sorry this is a rather wordy post. I hope it gives some help though. We've made big and small purchases online, and I've tried to follow these "rules". So far, so good. Although I did send a couple rugs back because they just weren't right. The biggest online purchase we made was our sofa from Elte (Toronto). I still can't believe we went for it in some ways. Thankfully it turned out well and we're totally happy with the choice we made. Let's see: we couldn't get it locally, it was on sale (which helped with shipping), the sales staff were terrific to work with and gave me confidence that we were buying a good product (I talked with them over the phone several times), I had seen the sofa used in a number of spaces (magazines etc.), and it was a similar size to our old one so I thought it would fit alright. Whew! Buying a large item like that is not for everyone though. It is a risk, but sometimes well worth it!
Are you an experienced online shopper? I'm sure there are some other great tips out there. Do tell.