9 Things You Should Never Buy Online

You can buy almost anything on the internet, but that doesn’t mean you should.

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Things you should never buy online

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While online shopping is a dream come true for many people because of its convenience and affordability, it’s not always the most dependable way of buying what you need.

According to Toronto-based personal finance expert Jessica Moorhouse, it’s smart shopping to turn to the internet when stores offer discounts and affordable shipping, but some things are better off bought in person.

“For more high-end products, you want to make sure that you’re making the right purchase,” says Moorhouse, adding that there’s the added bonus of being able to support more local businesses that don’t have an e-commerce store.

Here are nine products that you should strongly consider actually going inside a store to purchase:

Prescription Drugs

To be clear, there’s a right and wrong way to go about ordering medicine online. Many pharmacies, including Shoppers Drug Mart, have started offering home delivery for medication. For people who have mobility issues or don’t have time to pick up their prescription, that’s a safe alternative. But if you see a pop-up ad online for medicine being sold at a price that seems too good to be true, look away. Other warning signs may be that the site is unfamiliar, and when going through the purchasing process, they don’t ask for your prescription or health card information. Visit your local pharmacy to stay on the safe side.

Car

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This may seem obvious, but you’re better off not buying a car online. Even if it’s coming from a well-known source like Autotrader or Zoom, take the time to go to the dealership, ask the right questions, see the vehicle in person, and actually drive it before making this big purchase.

Produce

We all want to believe that having fresh groceries delivered to your home is a better way to live, but while you may save time, you could end up wasting your money. More and more companies are beginning to offer home delivery services, including Costco, Longo’s, and Chef’s Plate, a meal kit delivery service. It sounds fantastic on paper, but what’s not accounted for are the sometimes higher prices, delivery fees and the risk of getting lousy produce. Of course, buying produce online can be a big time-saver, and some services will offer free delivery, but you’ll need to be careful to inspect the quality of produce you end up with and check expiry dates on perishable items carefully. If you’re going this route, consider shopping around and experimenting with different services to find one that works for you.

If you don’t trust having your food delivered but also don’t have time for a long shopping trip, some stores, including Loblaws, have begun offering pickup services, which let you skip the chaos of shopping in store. This way you’ll be able to ensure you’re happy with the products while you’re still in the store and avoid those extra impulse buys.

Music gear

Along with cars, high-end music gear should be tested in person before making a purchase. Whether it’s an instrument, speaker, or expensive pair of headphones, the product’s sound and feel are more important than its look, and those can only be experienced in person.

“For those types of items, there’s generally not that much of a discount online because they’re so high-end and niche,” says Moorhouse.

Mattress

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If you ride the subway, chances are you’ve seen mattress ads for Endy, Silk + Snow, or Casper (which has plans to open 200 North American stores) — three online mattress companies that claim to be game-changingly comfortable. A good night’s sleep is vital to your health, which means getting the right mattress is just as important — and that’s a tough call to make by just looking at a photo on your computer screen.

“A mattress is something you keep for a number of years,” says Moorhouse. “You want to make sure it’s right. I always prefer to go to a mattress store to actually test them out.”

Some online mattress companies now have partnerships with select stores, which allow you to test them out in person before purchasing — Casper, for example, is available at The Bay. If you’re going to buy a mattress online, opt for a company with a good return policy so you can return the mattress no-strings-attached if you aren’t satisfied.

High-end clothing

It’s common knowledge that buying clothing online is hit or miss when it comes to size and quality. While basics like pyjamas, fitness wear or undergarments are pretty foolproof if you know your size, buying a pricier piece or something for a special occasion is riskier. To avoid the anxiety-riddled “What if it doesn’t fit?”, opt for an actual store to try on different sizes and styles to ensure you’re happy with your purchase. (But if you’re really desperate for a good price, try it on in the store and buy it online with a promotional code.)

Cheap makeup and skincare products

If that foundation costs $0.99, chances are it’s not that great for your skin. Don’t be tempted by those extremely affordable prices because there’s most likely an unpleasant reason why it’s so cheap.

Jewelry

Buying affordable costume jewelry from stores like Aldo Accessories is one thing, but ordering an engagement ring or diamond necklace online is another. Not only is it difficult to ensure the seller is being honest about the quality and value of the product, but sometimes a piece doesn’t turn out the way you imagined.

“Try it on, see how it looks on you,” says Moorhouse. “A necklace can look really different in a photo than on your neck, so you want to make sure you’re making the right choice.”

Real estate

There are many ways to make a home appear more spacious and appealing with the help of a high-quality camera and editing, which is why seeing it in person is the only way to be certain, especially when making such a large investment. Even if you’re buying an international property, it’s worth flying over before making anything official.

“You may look on MLS and think the house looks great, but there also a bunch of things you may not notice online,” says Moorhouse, who learned that lesson first-hand. When she was first house-hunting, there was one property that she and her husband really liked, but when they went to see it, they both were instantly turned off by a strong smell. “That’s something you’d only notice if you went to see the property in person. If I were to buy a property in Mexico, I’m going to Mexico before I sign the dotted line.”


This post is part of Spend It Better, a personal finance collaboration between Chatelaine and MoneySense about how to get the most for your money. You can find out more right here.