Should You Buy an HDTV Online or From a Brick and Mortar Store?

December 2nd, 2010 · 5 Comments · 3D HDTV, Connected TVs, Front Projection, LCD Flat Panel, LED LCD Flat Panels, News, Plasma

Buying a TV is an expensive proposition, and there is nothing worse than knowing that you’ve gotten a bad deal. And buying online from sites such as Amazon will usually give you the best price.

But for many people, the service angle should be just as important, or more important, than price. Brick & mortar stores, such as Best Buy and specialty stores, offer more options for delivery and set up — important considerations if you’re not a techie or you want to wall-mount your TV.

And if something doesn’t work correctly on your new TV or you simply don’t like it when you get it home, which has the better return policy? Nothing will make you madder than knowing that you spent hundreds, if not thousands, on a TV that you don’t want, and now you’re stuck with it.

So to help give you the confidence to make the right shopping decision, we’ve made a list of the most important things to consider when deciding where to buy your TV, and tell you who has the advantage-  online or brick & mortar.

1. Price
Advantage: ONLINE

On-line deals are almost always better than brick & mortar store price tags, often by hundreds of dollars. By checking websites like Amazon and Pricegrabber you can compare dozens of etailers prices instantly. You can also price check many brick & mortar stores such as national chains (Best Buy, Walmart etc.) and regional chains that have an on-line presence (the brick & mortar websites usually provide the same prices as in the store).

2. Selection
Advantage: ONLINE

With the exception of a very few models that are not permitted to be sold on-line (i.e. newSharp’s 80″ LC-80LE632), the vast majority of HDTVs can be purchased using a few keystrokes. We don’t know of any retailer  online or brick & mortar — that has the depth of brands and models like Amazon. It is truly one stop shopping.

3. Convenience
Advantage: ONLINE

With on-line TV purchases you don’t have to leave your home, a perfect situation for the agoraphobics out there. You also don’t have to deal with sales clerks who try to pressure you into buying questionable or overpriced add-ons, such as extended warranties or power conditioners. And you’ll also have a bigger selection of peripherals, like HDMI cables, at much lower prices than in stores.

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4. Deciding Which TV to Buy
Advantage: TIE

Whether you’re buying online or from a brick & mortar, you should read reviews from both expert sites, such as ours, and actual customer ratings on Amazon. You can also go into an actual brick & mortar store to look at the sets in person, but there is limited value in doing that. Except in specialty locations, like Best Buy’s Magnolia or boutique home theater dealers, the TVs will almost certainly be mis-calibrated and the lighting poorly designed for comparing picture quality. Worse, many of the salespeople in brick & mortars simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

So do your research on TVs in both places, but don’t let that be the deciding factor of where you’re going to ultimately buy.

5. Setting up Your New TV
Advantage: BRICK & MORTAR

If you have never owned an flat panel HDTV and don’t know anyone that knows about stand assembly, connection to sources and configuring picture and network settings, you may find buying one online fraught with challenges.

Often the table stand must be assembled and mounted to the TV. It’s not very difficult, typically requiring attaching eight supplied screws, but requires at least two people for a 42″ and three for a larger flat panel. Do you have people that are available and able to lift and hold the TV to attach it to the stand? If not, you would need special delivery that includes this service or consider a purchase from a brick & mortar retailer. And if you’re going to be wall-mounting your TV, you better be comfortable using a stud finder and power drill if you’re going the online route.

We have a whole article dedicated to connecting a new HDTV to a cable box, satellite receiver, disc player or digital media player. All these sources need an HDMI cable, and you will also need either a wired or wireless Internet connection to take advantage of the apps built into many of the newest TVs. If any of these concepts make you feel uncomfortable, buying from a brick & mortar may be for you.

Best Buy has its own “Geek Squad”. They currently offer “Premium Delivery” for free (normally $99.99) with a >$999 TV purchase. It consists of delivery, unpacking, table stand attachment and connection to one source component. And for $149.99 Geek Squad provides “Whole Room Service”, which consists of all the above plus connection of up to seven source components, a surround sound system, basic remote control set-up and system operating instructions.

Best Buy’s Geek Squad services are also available if you purchased your TV elsewhere, even online, though they may not be as familiar with your equipment if it’s not a brand stocked by Best Buy. And if something isn’t working, you may get finger pointing between the online seller and your setup service over who is at fault.

Beware of brick & mortars that contract with third-parties for set up services. We’ve seen poor results and flat-out incompetence from these guys.

Most independent specialty stores offer their own custom installation crews that do it all, from simple to complex installations including custom in-wall wiring. With the selling dealer doing the install, there can be no finger pointing. Discuss and agree upon the cost of installation at the time of purchase, never afterward. Some companies’ price out jobs with flat rates by the work involved such as wall mounting an HDTV. Others will give a written estimate for the entire job. The selling dealer should provide a maximum cost within 10% of the estimated cost (assuming the you don’t make changes).

6. Shipping
Advantage: BRICK & MORTAR

We’ve seen online retailers charging $200 or more to ship an HDTV. And even then, it may just be “curbside”, which is exactly what it sounds like,  they deliver it to the curb and then it’s your job to haul it into the house. Though some online retailers, like Amazon, ship for free. On the other hand, Best Buy’s free (with the purchase of an HDTV>$999) Premium Delivery service even includes basic set up.

7. Returns
Advantage: BRICK & MORTAR

Unless the retailer is also setting up your TV, you won’t be able to inspect it to ensure it is functioning properly before the driver leaves your home. If not, what happens if there is hidden damage? If the TV will be a gift, and isn’t opened until Christmas day, will the seller claim you took too long to report damage? And what if you simply don’t like the way the set performs or you realize that it is too small/big for your room?

Circuit City (now an online seller) charges a whopping 25% restocking fee, and most online sellers don’tt allow returns at all unless the TV is defective.  Yikes!

Amazon is one of the few online exceptions. It charges nothing on TVs bought directly from them (not another retailer in the Amazon Marketplace) as long as it is returned within 30 days. And for the holidays, you can return it any time before Jan. 31, 2011 if shipped between now and December 31, 2010. Follow the guidelines and you pay nothing  for the return shipping costs either.

Some brick & mortars tend to have liberal return policies. Best Buy allows returns within 30 days for any reason on HDTVs (Note: they deduct a 15%  restocking charge for opened notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS navigation and in-car video systems) and Costco up to 90 days from purchase. You’re still responsible for getting the TV back to the store, though.

Wherever you shop, always check the return policies before you buy. And if you’re not comfortable with them, shop elsewhere. You can learn how to negotiate with b&m stores here.

 

By Gary Merson

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Tomahawk yardsale

    There are no brick and mortar stores within a 350 mile radius of where I live (remote highway Alaska). Online is a no brainier for me.

  • Sandy

    Frankly, I’d rather spend a few extra dollars to support a B&M establishment for a couple of reasons:

    1. It supports the people in our neighborhood.

    2. It keeps the local economy running and contributes to a tax base that supports our infrastructure needs, education, etc.

    3. I can talk to a real person if I needed assistance or if there’s a problem with what I purchased.

    Life isn’t ALL about money… it’s also about supporting our neighbors!

    This is just MY personal philosophy.

  • John

    I agree that B&M edges out online purchasing in terms of service and installation. Plus, I’ve gotten BB to match online prices on flat panels on several occasions. You’d be surprised at what you can get if you just ask and have a good attitude. Also I think BB also has free pickup (for returns) on large TVs and the restocking fees have all gone bye-bye.

  • Bob

    I had a 50″ Panasonic TV (TC-P50G25) delivered yesterday that I had ordered from Amazon. This was the first time I had ordered a TV online and had some concerns, but I was impressed. The delivery was scheduled from 9am-Noon. They arrived just before Noon.

    The TV was double boxed. That is, the sealed Panasonic box secured inside of a Amazon shipping box that consisted of a card board pallet with a cover. It was sort of a pyramid (base wider than the top).

    The delivery people (two guys) brought it into my living room, unpacked it, installed the base on the TV, and turned it on to verify it worked. I paid them $20 to move my old TV to the garage. They did not remove the shipping box.

    The new TV is great. I would definitely do this again. I had tried to buy the same TV locally at Fry’s, but they were out of stock. I got the TV and a BD player from Amazon for less than I would have paid at Fry’s for just the TV.

  • tinyhands

    I respectfully suggest that #4 gives a slight edge to B&M. It is absolutely true that the sets may be miscalibrated and the lighting is usually sub-optimal. I’ll go one step further and add that the source material/demo loop is rarely representative of what you might watch at home. But the advantage tips slightly in favor of B&M because the sets are likely to ALL be similarly miscalibrated and the sub-optimal lighting will be the same. As long as there is consistency in how they’re configured and viewed (which is, I admit, a stretch), it is still useful to compare sets in person.

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