It’s said that the only high street businesses that aren’t threatened by the imminent takeover of online retail are hairdressers, since it’s impossible to order a short back and sides, or a blue rinse online! We take a look at a few of the pros and cons of online shopping as it relates particularly to disability products.

Choice
The whole (online) world is at your fingertips and that means an ocean of choice, even with something as specialist as disability equipment. If that choice seems overwhelming, fret not, you can filter your search by brand, colour, price, geographic location and anything else you can think of.

Price
Buying online makes it easy to compare prices. You can visit 10 retailer’s websites in the time it would take you to drive to one shop – and online market forces keep pricing competitive. However, if you’re looking for something very specific that is subject to applied specification, such as say a wheelchair that needs to fulfil very specific requirements, online retailers will sometimes leave the price unspecified and insist that you make contact with them for an ‘assessment’. This is a good and a bad thing in that it’ll slow down your price comparison activity but if you do move towards making a purchase it’s likely to be more satisfactory as a result of the assessment. (It’s an essential for the retailers since they can’t possibly stock every single configuration of a particular product – and it also gives them a chance to explain every single price per value point.)

Elsewhere online, if you sign up to receive alerts or newsletters (and are prepared to wait for the right moment) you can make huge savings with exclusive online offers.

Relationship
Sometimes online retailers will have instant chat services or frequently asked question (FAQ) sections on their website but it isn’t the same as speaking with somebody face-to-face. A longstanding personal relationship can enable the sales assistant to apply their knowledge to your criteria but at the same time some people don’t want to feel inclined to buy something just because they like a the person selling it.

Temptation
You’ll probably know not to shop while you’re ‘hungry’. Shops are absolutely designed to tempt the senses into spending. Standing in front of an item is always way more impressive than viewing a thumbnail image on a screen. That said, internet shopping for more basic items is arguably too easy. Everything is just a click away and it’s easy to overspend beyond your original purchasing plan.

Independent information
Online customers are often given the chance to review a product. This may give you at least some idea as to how it might work in practice. That said, some customers are gifted coupons or discounts in return for their views. (It may also be the case that people are generally more motivated to review a product if they either really love it or really loathe it, so you’re likely to get a polarised collection of opinions, making it tricky to find a trend.)

Memberships
Signing up for a subscription to say, Amazon Prime, will provide members with free delivery and discount coupons, etc in return for an annual fee. It’s likely to be useful for mainstream items but not so much for a single particular disability equipment purchase.

Touch and feel
The biggest criticism levelled at internet shopping is that you can’t physically experience the product as you can in an ordinary shop. You can’t get a proper understanding of its weight or how well, say, a piece of equipment works, etc.

Indeed, if the web provides choice, perhaps a shop provides clarity. Once you’ve looked over a product in store, you might even note a mark or blemish, which may even get you a small scratch and dent discount. (You can’t do that online.)

One of the clear downsides regarding shopping for disability equipment, for example, in person, is that you may need to travel quite far to find an appropriate dealership that stocks what you’re looking for.

Having said that, if you find the right company that are thoughtful about online shopping, you can make confident purchases, even of disability equipment, as Andrew Atkinson of Mobility Smart says: “Mobility Smart has gained a very loyal following of online mobility shoppers over the years. We think this is because we try to see the online shopping experience from our customers’ point of view, making it easier and faster for you to buy what you need, while keeping our prices as low as possible. We stock everything from top branded mobility scooters, wheelchairs, beds and chairs to daily living aids and much more, so we’re your one-stop shop for mobility and wellbeing”. (Visit: www.mobilitysmart.co.uk)

Delivery
Depending on your point of view (and the product(s) you’re purchasing), delivery is a great help or an inconvenient period of waiting. Most disability product retailers recognise the importance of delivery to disabled people – both in store or online.

There’s even some debate that convenient delivery discourages active lifestyle choices – but that’s up to you.

Returns policy
Make sure you’re always aware of returns policies. You may have to pay to return a product that doesn’t quite suit you within a certain time frame. This might also require a trip to the Post Office or waiting in for a courier to turn up.

If you purchase a product in a shop you can simply take it back – and you won’t be waiting days for the refund to hit your bank account.

Big brother or big data?
Lots of people are nervous about how companies use data. They worry that organisations will use it to bombard them, attempting to sell them stuff that they don’t want or need. There is some truth to that but it’s worth remembering that this is also how they channel the right discount codes to the right people – and that it isn’t unique to the internet, since loyalty cards (and indeed credit and debit card spending) are also monitored in modern day retail environments.

Mix it up
Clearly there is no definitive answer as to whether online retail or old-style shopping is better. It’s going to depend on what you’re buying, when you want it and what you need to know about it during the buying process. Perhaps the best advice is to mix the two: either research online and then buy from a shop or the other way around. In any case, that research will arm you with a good idea of what’s around and help you to make informed purchasing decisions.

Shop savvy
However you decide to buy, there are some time-tested points that will help you keep focused and get what you want.

  • Shop with a budget in mind.
  • Stick to your shopping list. For any extras, ask yourself: Can I afford it? Do I really need it? Will I actually use it?
  • Write down the questions you need to answer in order to make a sound purchase. These could be about what the objective behind the purchase is and how you’ll use the item.

Find loads of helpful online reviews of disability products on the Able Magazine website buying guide at:
www.ablemagazine.co.uk/buyingguide