Friday, December 23, 2011

It's All About the Benjamins: Online Ordering vs. Brick and Mortar

We all love a good bargain. At least I think we do. I don't know many people who go out of their way to pay more for something than they have to. And let's face it, there is no better place to find good deals than on the Internet. With the exception of clothes and food, roughly 85% of my purchases are made online. I've bought everything from DVDs, tools, a grill, even my latest television. Through it all I never struggled with my decision to buy online versus picking my items up at a traditional brick and mortar store. That was until I started looking into buying my comic books through online retailers.

About two years ago I decided to take a serious look at my monthly expenses to see where I could make some cuts. Absent refusing to pay my mortgage and switching to Ramen noodles exclusively for sustenance, there was only so much I could do. The one discretionary expense that could have used some trimming was my weekly stack of comics. This was not an easy truth to accept. After going through the five stages of grief, I accepted the fact that it was impossible to buy everything so changes needed to be made. Most cuts were easy to make. There were books I was picking up solely on habit instead of quality and they were the first to go. But in the end it wasn't enough. I still needed to find a way to save money on my books. I decided to look into online comic shops.

I had been hearing about this type of service off and on but I had never really considered it as an option for my own purchases. It seemed at first that most people ordering online were doing so in part because of a deficiency in comic shops in their area. I didn't (and still don't) have this problem. I'm fortunate enough to have five comic book stores a reasonable distance away, and most of them I like very much. Each store has something unique to offer and they all stock a diverse selection of books, something that is very important to me. Eventually I came across the website Discount Comic Book Service. The way DCB Service works, and many other online retailers, is that it allows you to order anything found in the Previews catalog. This includes comics, trades, apparel, toys, etc. You place your order three months out, the same way a shop does, and then you choose to have items shipped any where from weekly to once a month.

I was skeptical at first about how much I'd actually be saving if I made the switch, so I decided to put together a dummy order to see how much it would come out to online. I then compared the total to the price I would pay if I purchased them from my local shop. In that particular month, if I had bought all of the items from my local shop I would have ended up paying just over $80. That didn't sound too bad. Until I made the comparison. After adding all of the same books to the online shopping cart, the total, plus shipping, came out to around $45! I was not expecting that much of a difference. It was jaw dropping. If the totals were closer it would have been easy to just stick with my local shop. But here I was looking at about $35 a month in savings. The only downside was that I was choosing the once a month shipping so I would have to wait longer for my books, but I was willing to make that sacrifice. You pay more in shipping depending on how often you want things sent out. Even if I went with the most expensive option, and had items sent once a week, I was still looking at around $30 a month in savings.

At this point I had three options. First, I could stick with the local shop and cut my stack significantly to save. Second, I could switch to ordering online and pay about 43% less for the same amount of books. Or third, I could switch to online ordering, pay the same $80 or so a month, but actually buy significantly more titles a month since everything was so much cheaper. Needless to say the savings were too good to pass up and for about a year I switched to an online pull list for my comics, trades, and hardcovers.

Having more money in my pocket was fantastic, but as time went on I started to miss going to the comic book store every Wednesday. It was part of my routine. Not only that, but I lost the opportunity to talk about books and other general geekery with the other customers. I missed the store but I didn't miss the added expense. I was conflicted. Even more so than when I made the decision to switch. So after a full year of online ordering, and some serious thought, I found a new balance. I decided to purchase my single issues from the local store, and all of my hardcovers, trades, action figures and so forth online. This way I would save on the bigger ticket items and still get to hit the store and support that business.

I know a lot of comic book readers feel an "obligation" to support their store. Comic shops are hurting for customers and in this economy it's difficult to keep any business afloat, much less one that is such a niche market. I understand this, although I don't think it should affect your decision making. I was able to afford the higher weekly expenses for my books so I found a way to save a little but still enjoy and support my local shop. This may not be an option for everyone. You have to make the decision that is best for you and your financial situation. Although they cater to a much smaller clientele, comic book stores are a business. They provide goods and services at a price. It's your right as a consumer to shop around and find the best deal so you can get the most for your money. Most shop owners understand that this is the harsh reality.

I'm curious to hear what you all think. Have you had a similar experience? And remember, this doesn't just apply to comics. How about books and DVDs. Do you tend to shop online through stores like Amazon, or keep it local? Do you struggle with the idea that your decision to shop online is hurting a local business or do you say "Damn the mom and pops! Save the empire!"?


Tressina Bowling said...

We've gotten to the point where we buy all our trades and figures online as well, that is if we don't find them at the next con. We still use our local stores for singles and the random purchases.

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

I forgot about cons. That's where I get a lot of my figures. I always talk myself out of buying them when they first come out and then when I see them at cons and have them in my hand I can't resist.

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