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eCommerce Product Sourcing Strategy: Online vs In-Store Sourcing

Savvy eCommerce sellers go to great lengths to source their inventory effectively. Saving money on products with high selling-potential is a top priority, and online sellers tend to shape their strategies around getting the biggest bang for their buck. But when it comes to product sourcing, which route is better — in-store or online?

With each eCommerce product sourcing strategy having its own pros and cons, we asked sellers for their honest opinions to help determine which method is best and why.

Along the way, we were able to find specific pros for each, as well as detect some areas where there were mixed reviews.

Keep reading to see what we discovered.


Benefits to sourcing eCommerce products online


There's a lot to be said about online product sourcing for your eCommerce operation. After all, it's pretty incredible to be able to acquire great products for your inventory without leaving your house.

The following bullet points show the main selling points for sourcing eCommerce product online:

• Convenience: Perhaps the most obvious benefit to sourcing online is that it allows sellers to remain in the comfort of their homes or offices while building and/or replenishing their inventories. Not to mention the hugely underrated perk of avoiding crowds.

 Free Shipping Gear: Many sellers choose to place orders online because they reuse the boxes that their items come in for re-shipping. Not only can the boxes be reused, but so can the Styrofoam and air pillow fillers.

 Faster Research: Sellers tend to have their go-to spots where they retrieve their usual items. However researching where to buy a new item, or simply looking for better prices on a familiar item can be time-intensive. Conducting research online is much faster than driving around to different stores. Not to mention, sellers can print out offers from store sites and bring them to the store if they decide to purchase in-person— to guarantee a low price.

 Rebates: One seller on a third-party selling forum claims to shop purely online because of the rebate discounts she receives. Several websites and online programs offer rebates to loyal customers, so this may be a great option for someone looking to source online.

Now, let's make the case for sourcing eCommerce products in-store.



Benefits to eCommerce product sourcing in-store


If you're actually going to leave your house to source products for your eCommerce store, there'd better be a compelling rationale behind it.

That being said, we've pinpointed five potential draws for in-store product sourcing.

Decide for yourself if the following reasons make the case for you to source products in-store.

 No Waiting: One of the biggest disadvantages to shopping online is that even with overnight shipping, you still have to wait for your goods.

But when purchasing in-store, sellers have the luxury of leaving with their products in hand that day, and the potential to fulfill orders for those products the same day.

 Product Verification: Whether purchasing a new or familiar item, shopping in-store offers the security of taking home exactly what you want. Sellers can check for defects, damage, sizing, weight, measurements, expiration dates and any other quality/shipping concerns they may have.

This removes the hassle of receiving a defective product and having to deal with returning it plus waiting for a new one to arrive.

 Scanning: Many sellers use scanners that allow them to instantly check how much a particular item is selling for on Amazon. This helps them make informed decisions about what to purchase for resale—right on the spot. 

 Varied Clearance Prices: Many sellers cite that there’s nothing better for great deals than a clearance bin. Steep markdowns due to returns, seasonal liquidation, overstock, and other factors can provide sellers with high ROI potential that can’t be found online.

 Exercise: This may sound silly, but exercise is a concern for many full time sellers who spend several hours a day seated at a computer in their homes. Going out, getting some fresh air and blood circulation is often provided by a trip to their local big box store to replenish inventory.


Areas where the advantage is unclear between in-store and online sourcing


While there are some obvious advantages to sourcing online versus in-store and vice-versa, there are a few areas where it's unclear which sourcing method reigns supreme.

That's why we encourage sellers to find a healthy mix between sourcing products through digital channels and finding top-selling products the traditional way, at brick-and-mortar stores, on a quest for retail arbitrage.

Here are the areas where we find the most mixed up opinions on which sourcing strategy works best:

Saving Time: While you’d assume that shopping online saves time, many sellers note that because of how easy it is to fall into a research rabbit hole, shopping online can take just as much, if not more time, than shopping in-store. 

Sellers who rely on online sources should discipline themselves when it comes to how much time they spend researching products before they buy them.


Saving Money: Sellers who source exclusively from online or in-store may claim their method saves them more money. This may certainly be the case for them individually, but neither can be held as the standard for every seller.

In-store shoppers spend more on gas, while online shoppers spend more on shipping. Therein, the balance has to be stuck for each seller individually.

It's mportant to note that many sellers, including loyal online buyers, cited steep in-store discounts in Q4 because of the holiday season.


Quantity: It’s never safe to assume that when shopping online or in-store that there will be more stock to purchase. Some sites limit the quantity you’re able to order at one time, and stores often run out of stock quickly. 

On the flip side, some sellers claim to have been able to stock up easily via online shopping. And there are seller who've reported in-store clerks being accommodating to their large orders by retrieving inventory from the back. 

Bottom line: Don't assume one sourcing avenue is better than the other when you're looking for volume.

Rare (BOLO) Items: There’s a constant debate as to whether it’s better to shop in-store or online for rare or BOLO — a.k.a. “be on the lookout” items. The truth is, there’s no way to know. 

Depending on the nature of the item, one option may be better over the other. Make sure to do your due diligence before making any large rare item/BOLO purchases to ensure you get the best deal out there.


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