At first blush, it might seem like a good idea to buy your laptop at a brick-and-mortar store. After all, if you can visit the store, you can personally look at the screen, type on the keyboard and swipe on the touchpad to make sure all of those features all meet your needs. Still, in most cases, you’re better off shopping for and buying your computer online.
Here are five reasons why you should buy your next laptop from a website.
Much Better Selection
If you want to see all the latest and best laptops, you probably won’t find them on display at your local branch of Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, Costco or other big box retailers. But you will find pictures, videos and descriptions of all those laptops if you search the web or visit online retailers.
When I checked the inventory of local Best Buys in Nassau County (Long Island), New York against our Laptop Mag list of Best Laptops, only 4 out of 13 were in stock. Among those absent were our favorite laptop overall, the Dell XPS 13, the best laptop for college students (ThinkPad 13), the top Chromebook (Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA), the best gaming rig (Alienware 13 OLED) and our top choice for kids (Asus Chromebook C202).
Staples didn’t list even one of our best picks as available in-store. Microsoft Store had only the Surface Book, a Microsoft product, and the last-gen version of the HP Spectre x360, our favorite 2-in-1.
More Competitive Prices
Even if you can buy a laptop at the store, you can often find a better deal online. For example, at publication time, I found an HP Spectre x360 selling for $899 on hp.com with a Core i5 CPU and $1009 with a Core i7. On Best Buy, the cheapest model was the Core i7 for $1,159.
If you happen to see a good deal on a store’s website, don’t assume you can just pop into the local outlet to get the laptop at that price. In many cases, the brick-and-mortar store has a different set of prices than its online companion.
You can sometimes get a store to price match its website or even competitive websites if you go to the customer service desk and inquire (Best Buy has a price matching policy for its own site, Amazon, Newegg and a few others). However, if you don’t want to have to wait in line and potentially argue your case with sales people, the hassle-free way is to order online for in-store pickup.
No Pushy Sales People Online
Brick-and-mortar stores make a lot of their money by trying to upsell you on extended warranties, accessories and other crap you don’t need or want. Even after you’ve gotten the laptop box and you’re waiting in line to pay for it, the cashier often tries to push protection plans on you.
When they’re not pushing unnecessary extras, in-store salespeople are just another barrier between you and your purchase. They may try to convince you to buy a more expensive laptop or hang over your shoulder while you browse the aisles. Online, nobody harrasses you or offers unwanted advice. You may get a pop-up window offering a live sales person to chat with, but you can just close or ignore it.
Shopping online is like ordering at Burger King: you get it your way. While a local store may have a few configurations of the laptop you want, e-tailers may carry dozens. If you’re buying a Dell, Lenovo or HP laptop, you’ll find a lot more choices if you buy directly from those companies’ sites.
For many models, you can even custom configure the laptop, choosing the processor, screen, battery, RAM, storage and Wi-Fi card to suit your needs. For example, on Lenovo.com, you can configure your ThinkPad T460 with a high-capacity battery for an extra $15 at purchase. Even at B&H Photo, a local New York City retailer which has five different T460 configs in stock, you can’t get one that comes with the 6-cell battery.
Helpful User Reviews
In lieu of experiencing laptops in-person, you can read some very detailed and trustworthy reviews on sites like this one. We perform objective tests and spend quality time with each laptop to tell you not only how it performs but how it feels. Since we test hundreds of laptops a year, we can tell you how a particular model stacks up to everything else on the market, rather than just comparing it to the two similarly-sized models on the shelf next to it.
If you shop online, you’ll also find a lot of great user reviews from people who have bought the product and spent time with it. While most consumers haven’t used all the competing products or run laboratory tests, they may have found quirks and defects they weren’t present on the one or two units we saw.
Amazon, Newegg, Bestbuy.com, Lenovo and Dell are among the many e-tailers that allow visitors to put up their own ratings. When you look at both the highest and lowest ratings, you can see patterns. Perhaps 70 percent of consumers gave a product high marks, but another 30 percent got units with serious defects. Seeing those numbers might tell you that there’s a quality control problem.