In 1979 Michael Aldrich created online shopping using a modified domestic television connected with a telephone line to a processing computer. Today, consumers can use their personal computers or mobile devices to order everything from shoes to groceries and have it delivered to their homes within days.
Consumers have many online stores to choose from, and your choice will depend on your individual needs. Want to see where your order is at? Many online retailers provide detailed tracking updates. For the eco-conscious shopper, a company's green initiatives may be important. Not sure if you will like the size, color or feel of your new shoes? Consider the online store’s return policies before you buy. Before deciding where to make your e-purchase from, be sure to evaluate your options for selection, price and customer service.
Top 10 Best Rated Online Shopping Companies
Founded in 1909, P.C Richard & Son is a family-owned company that offers electronics, appliances and mattresses. P.C. Richard & Son has a service center for electronics and appliances, as well as a support call center.
|Read 1650 Reviews|
HomeClick was established in 2000 and is now a leader in name-brand, luxurious home improvement items. They feature a broad inventory of items for every room, including appliances, lighting, bathroom fixtures and more.
|Read 169 Reviews|
From its humble beginnings in 2002, Wayfair has become a one-stop shop for home furnishings and décor. Wayfair and its brands like AllModern and DwellStudio offer over seven million products from over 7,000 suppliers.
|Read 3461 Reviews|
JustFab is an LA-based online retailer of women’s clothing, accessories and shoes. The site offers deep discounts to customers who become members and shop every month. JustFab has a wide variety of shoe styles and sizes.
|Read 4557 Reviews|
Founded in 1999, ConsumerAffairs.com is a consumer advocacy website. It features news and resources to help consumers make smart purchasing decisions, including buyer’s guides and thousands of customer reviews and complaints.
|Read 668 Reviews|
BuyDig.com offers deals, including blowout deals, clearance and coupons, on a wide variety of products. They sell to both individuals and corporate customers and can fill orders quickly. Most ship within 48 hours.
|Read 80 Reviews|
Established in 1999, HobbyTron is now a leading retailer of remote-controlled toys and airsoft guns. They have a broad selection of helicopters, cars, trucks, boats, airplanes and more, and offer Daily Deals on popular items.
|Read 442 Reviews|
Since its beginning in 2002, Hayneedle has evolved into a leading online décor and home furnishings retailer. Headquartered in Omaha, Neb., Hayneedle sells products from over 3,000 brands, including their own in-house designs.
|Read 293 Reviews|
East Coast TVs is a New Jersey-based electronics company founded in 2008. They specialize in televisions; appliances; and audio, video and photography gear. They offer free shipping on most items and a points-based rewards system.
|Read 333 Reviews|
Jet.com is an ecommerce site that saves consumers money on everyday purchases. Enjoy free 2-5 day shipping on orders totaling $35 or more and receive rewards in the form of JetCash, which can be used on future purchases.
|Read 27 Reviews|
What online shopping features matter most?
Safety and reliability
Whether you are in the market for personal care items, clothing, auto parts or art supplies, you will have many stores to choose from on the Internet. And while you can find adequate supplies at many of these stores, you should use caution when choosing an online retailer.
- Reputation: Shopping from an online store requires divulging personal financial information and trusting that your information will be used appropriately and that your product or service will be delivered as promised. Be sure you buy from a reputable store that is known for ethical business practices and a quality product.
- Secure payment: When making a payment online, be sure that the company has a secure payment portal that won’t compromise your financial information. Before typing your credit card or other payment information, look for a small padlock icon in the web address bar and check to see that the web address begins with the letters “https” and not “http” (the “s” stands for “secure”).
- Value: Nearly every item, supply or service can be found online at many distinct price points. Choose a store that carries products you need at a price you can afford, then search online for the same product from other companies to see if the online store you chose is offering a fair deal. Ideally, a store should offer a guarantee on their products, which will help you feel better about your purchase if you’re unsure of the quality.
Depending on what items or services you need to purchase; selection may be more or less of a factor when you choose an online store. Generally, you can save time and money in shipping costs if you can make all your purchases at one website.
- Niche or branded stores: Some stores specialize in a single brand or even a single product. This can be acceptable if your needs are very specific (for example, if you need a component part for a specific model of computer) or if you are brand loyal and don’t want or need to try new products (for example, if you know you prefer a certain brand of cosmetics).
- Mass merchandisers: Just like offline mass merchandisers, some online stores offer many choices when it comes to consumer products or goods. Consider whether an online store has options that vary in price, size, quality or variety. You may not care much whether you have a choice when you’re purchasing items like component parts for a computer, but you might need more variety when it comes to apparel or personal care. Whether you choose an online store with a big selection or a boutique with just one product option is a choice that depends on your individual preference and needs.
- Luxury items: Some people want to purchase only the best products, but not every store offers niche brands or boutique-style items. If you want to purchase high-end items, you’ll have to look at a store that offers these options.
Customer service availability
When you make a purchase online, you may encounter problems or concerns. Customer service representatives can often help with product selection, payment questions, shipping concerns and processing returns.
- Prominent customer service features: An online store should make it easy for you to shop with them. Consider whether the customer service features on the website are clearly presented and easy to navigate. Some websites will have a “Contact us” tab on the page, while others will feature a text box on the side of the page.
- Chat feature: Some online stores offer the option to chat live with a customer service representative, who can help you choose the right product or address any purchasing concerns. Before making a purchase with a store, give this feature a try. Ask a representative a question about a product you’re considering. You will get an idea of how quickly they respond and whether or not they are helpful.
- Customer service hours: Online stores are open all the time but may have certain hours when you can chat with a customer service representative if you need help choosing an item or completing a purchase.
Every online store sets its own policies regarding purchases, returns and guarantees. Look for a company that makes purchases and returns simple and affordable, and guarantees their product or service in case you are unhappy with your purchase.
- Sales, deals or coupons: Many online stores have sales on items you might need, and these sales often rotate seasonally or by department. You can also save money if the online store you select accepts manufacturer coupons (often in the form of a code that you enter on the payment page) or if it offers store coupons.
- Return policies: If you’re unhappy with your purchase from an online store, you’ll likely have to go to the trouble of sending it back in the mail. Find out about your online store’s return policies. Some online stores do not accept returns, particularly on products that have been opened or used. Some will accept returns within a certain time frame (such as 30 or 60 days). Other stores have generous policies and accept returns at any time for any reason. You should also consider whether the store or the customer is responsible for return shipping costs.
- Guarantees: Some online stores stand by their products and offer a money-back guarantee if you’re dissatisfied with the purchase. Particularly if you are making a major purchase, be sure the store has a solid reputation for honoring its guarantees and will refund your money if you don’t like the purchase.
Shipping and tracking
When you pay an online retailer, you want to be sure you will receive the product within a reasonable amount of time and that it won’t get “lost” in the mail system.
- Autoship or subscription options: Many online stores offer the convenience of auto shipping products you need on a regular basis, such as medicine or personal care items. You can choose how frequently you’d like the store to ship a new product (for example, once a month or every other month) and your credit card will be charged with a new transaction every time the product ships. Some stores even charge a bit less for products that you buy on a subscription plan, which can save you quite a bit over time since you use these products so frequently.
- Affordable or free shipping: Standard shipping rates for orders at online stores can vary from a few dollars to ten or more, particularly if the weight or size of your order is large or bulky. However, many online stores offer free shipping if you spend a minimum amount (such as $25 or $50). Larger, more popular stores are often able to offer free shipping on all orders, which can save you quite a bit of money over time.
- Expedited shipping options: Many online stores allow you to choose between a standard shipping time of several days and one or more expedited options (such as 2 day or overnight shipping). These faster options almost always cost more, but can be a great choice if you need a product right away.
- Choice of courier: Some online stores have an exclusive contract with one mail courier, such as USPS, UPS or FedEx. However, others allow you to choose which courier you prefer, which can save you money or time depending on where you live.
- Tracking options: Most online stores are able to track your order once it has been shipped. They will often email you a tracking number that allows you to log into the courier’s website or sign up for status updates on your package. This can help you track down your package if it is shipped to the wrong address or if it is stalled during delivery. It also helps you know if your package has been stolen from your porch or another drop-off spot, since the tracking updates will change to “delivered” once the package has been left by the courier.
What are different types of online stores?
Mass merchandisers and department stores
Some online stores offer many products in many categories or “departments,” much like a brick-and-mortar big box store or department store. These stores can often offer products at cheaper prices or with free shipping.
Boutique or niche stores
Some online stores specialize in one particular product or category of products. In some cases, you might not have many options if the item you need is a boutique or niche item, such as a particular brand of boutique footwear or a part for a particular brand of appliance.
Online stores with offline counterparts
Most major brick-and-mortar retailers also have online stores. While this might not affect your choice of store, it can be beneficial if there is a local retail store near you. You might browse the physical store first and choose a product, then buy it online for more selection in size, color or variety. You can also often return unwanted items purchased online to the store’s physical location.
Many online shopping sites do not have a physical counterpart, and are often run by a small staff. This can be a great way to support small businesses and boost the economy, and often means you can find unique products you might not find in a big store.
Some websites are not “stores” per se, but instead offer a platform for many different sellers to advertise and sell their goods. Sellers set up virtual stores or list products for sale, typically paying a fee to the hosting website, and buyers bid or buy items they want.
Hybrid store websites
Some websites function in multiple ways simultaneously. For example, Amazon.com is both a seller of its own goods, kept in warehouses and shipped through Amazon’s couriers and a marketplace platform for other people or businesses to sell their goods.
Who would benefit from online shopping?
Between work, school and family obligations, many adults don’t have the time to shop at multiple physical stores for all their purchasing needs.
Those who need specific products
Some products are only available online or might be in limited supply in retail stores.
People who are homebound
Online shopping can be a great choice for seniors, those with disabilities or others who have trouble leaving their homes.
Anyone looking for convenience
Online shopping takes the hassle out of purchases for many people. You can avoid a crowded shopping mall or try on clothes or shoes in the comfort of your own home.
Information in this guide is general in nature and is intended for informational purposes only; it is not legal, health, investment or tax advice. ConsumerAffairs.com makes no representation as to the accuracy of the information provided and assumes no liability for any damages or loss arising from its use.
11 – 52 Best Rated Online Shopping Companies
Vistaprint is a well-known custom printer that specializes in professional-quality business cards, marketing materials, signs, stationery and more for small businesses and personal use. They serve over 10 million customers a year.
|Read 1422 Reviews|
Abt was founded in 1936 and is now a major appliance and electronics retailer with a massive retail site in Glenview, Illinois. Abt’s e-commerce site launched in 1997, offering electronics and appliances nationwide.
|Read 32 Reviews|
Established in 2002, Lulu.com is a self-publishing company that allows authors to create and sell printed or electronic books. Users can design their book jacket, format their manuscript, apply for an ISBN number and more.
|Read 42 Reviews|
Poetry.com is an online community for amateur poets. Members receive points for posting an original poem or commenting on another member’s work, and points are redeemable for digital badges and pins.
|Read 114 Reviews|
Founded in 1993, Alibris is an online marketplace company that facilitates sales between independent merchants and website users. Among many other things, consumers may rent textbooks and supplementary materials.
|Read 67 Reviews|
Based in California, Dream Products was a mail-order company and now advertises merchandise in newspaper inserts, catalogs, magazines and on its website. Their items include As Seen on TV products, gifts, apparel and home goods.
|Read 148 Reviews|
Founded as Sixth Avenue Electronics in 1984, this New Jersey electronics company now operates as 6 Ave Express and offers a wide selection of electronics including small appliances, gaming systems, cameras, televisions and more.
|Read 81 Reviews|
Founded in 1948 as a mail-order catalog, Fingerhut’s website features over 700,000 products including home goods, apparel, automotive and more. It allows consumers to use credit and make monthly payments, with added interest.
|Read 722 Reviews|
Newport News previously sold women’s fashion online and via direct mail, but now only sells its clothing on cruise ships. Customers can still purchase women’s fashion online from Spiegel, Newport News’ parent company.
|Read 126 Reviews|
Formerly known as Lane Bryant and established in 1901, Woman Within is a women’s plus-sized clothing company featuring catalog sales and a retail website. Woman Within sells clothing in sizes 12w and up and ships internationally.
|Read 129 Reviews|
Founded in 2000, OpticsPlanet.com specializes in sports optics, tactical gear, eyewear and other optics products. They offer a wide product selection, serving civilians as well as government and law enforcement agencies.
|Read 76 Reviews|
Home Decorating Company, a division of Yankee Retail, is an online retailer specializing in designer bedding and home decor. Based in Connecticut, it offers a loyalty rewards program and free shipping on qualifying purchases.
|Read 55 Reviews|
|Read 14 Reviews|
Nordstrom, Inc. is a publically-traded clothing and shoe retailer with brick-and-mortar stores and a website. The site sells clothing and accessories as well as men’s, women’s and children’s shoes in a variety of styles and sizes.
|Read 187 Reviews|
Brookstone began as a catalog company in 1965, and today is a major tech retailer with store locations nationwide. Its extensive website allows you to browse products by category including gifts, massage, audio and more.
|Read 143 Reviews|
Blair began over 100 years ago as a mail-order catalog company specializing in raincoats. Today, Blair features home goods and apparel for men and women, still available via catalog but also through a full-service retail website.
|Read 77 Reviews|
The Bradford Exchange was founded in 1973 as a purveyor of collectibles. Today its online store, The Bradford Exchange Online, specializes in jewelry, art, collectibles and memorabilia, many of which are exclusive to the site.
|Read 295 Reviews|
Established in 2003, ArtsCow is a photo printing company specializing in products that are customizable with your own digital photos. Choose from a range of products including photo books, phone cases, apparel, blankets and more.
|Read 29 Reviews|
AsSeenOnTV.com launched in 2015 as the online retail branch of the company As Seen on TV, known for television infomercials. They specialize in home goods, health and beauty, apparel, gag gifts, novelty items and more.
|Read 22 Reviews|
Founded in 1986, QVC is a leading online retailer and television-based home shopping network. It offers name-brand products on a rotating basis, including boutique and established luxury brands in home care, beauty and more.
|Read 413 Reviews|
Established in 1922, Maidenform is a women’s intimate apparel company owned by HanesBrands and affiliated with Playtex and Bali. Maidenform’s website offers undergarments, shapewear, and activewear in women’s and plus sizes.
|Read 13 Reviews|
Founded in 1995, Angie’s List is a website that compiles consumer reviews of local service providers. While the reviews are free to access, consumers can purchase a plan for more benefits like lower rates with service providers.
|Read 322 Reviews|
SkinMedix is a retail website specializing in skin care, including sun protection, body care, eye care and accessories. Based out of Florida, it offers name brand skin care products at discounted prices.
|Read 25 Reviews|
Established in 1999, 123inkjets is an online supplier of printer supplies at discount prices. They sell a full line of branded supplies as well as remanufactured ink and toner, an eco-conscious option that reduces waste and cost.
|Read 24 Reviews|
Half.com was acquired by eBay in 2000 and focuses on reselling books, music, movies and games. Half.com is not an auction site; instead, sellers list an item at their best price and compete with other sellers for customers.
|Read 60 Reviews|
Founded in 1995, Evine began as a home shopping network and now includes an integrated retail website. Evine specializes in jewelry, watches, apparel, beauty and more and a daily “Today’s Top Value” product at a steep discount.
|Read 556 Reviews|
Lids.com is a subsidiary of The LIDS Sports Group, established in 1995. Specializing in sports-themed ballcaps with professional and college team logos, Lids.com also sells other hats and apparel for men, women and children.
|Read 114 Reviews|
Established in 1993, today f.y.e. features retail stores and an extensive website specializing in entertainment merchandise. It sells music, movies, merchandise and tech gear and features the option to re-sell used products.
|Read 37 Reviews|
Etsy launched in 2005 as an online marketplace for unique handmade goods. Today, Etsy sellers can sell vintage or unique merchandise in their individual virtual shops. Etsy sellers pay a 3.5 percent fee for each sale completed.
|Read 551 Reviews|
Bidz.com is an online auction specializing in jewelry. Users register on the site and then place bids on designer rings, earrings, watches and more. Some items are also offered for immediate sale through a “buy it now” feature.
|Read 27 Reviews|
Launched in 1982 as the first television-based home shopping networks, today HSN also features an online store. HSN’s website sells name brands and new products in categories like fashion, jewelry, home and more.
|Read 506 Reviews|
Founded in 1998 in California, eBay has several businesses including its auction website, eBay Marketplace. Users list items for sale for a fee or bid on ongoing auctions. Items are sold by individuals or third-party retailers.
|Read 2746 Reviews|
NFL Shop is the official sales website of the National Football League, offering jerseys, memorabilia, gift ideas and more with official NFL team logos and colors. NFL Shop offers many products that cannot be purchased elsewhere.
|Read 217 Reviews|
Formerly Taylor Gifts, Collections Etc. is a catalog- and Internet-based retail store owned by Winston Brands. Established in 1997, it offers over 2,000 items at $14.99 or less, including apparel, gifts, seasonal decor and more.
|Read 83 Reviews|
Founded more than 100 years ago, Roaman’s was one of the first plus sized fashion retailers for women. Today it is headquartered in Indiana. Its website carries special occasion wear, denim, tops, outerwear, lingerie and more.
|Read 44 Reviews|
Founded in 1947, Fredericks of Hollywood was a women’s lingerie retailer with stores across the United States. The company declared bankruptcy and was bought out in 2015, and is now an online-only lingerie and erotica retailer.
|Read 106 Reviews|
Founded in 1998, Big Girls Bras is a bra retailer. While they carry many sizes, they specialize in bras, corsets, swimsuits and shapewear in sizes that may be difficult to find in stores, including full figure and plus sizes.
|Read 35 Reviews|
Anthropologie was founded as a high-end women’s clothing store in 1992. Today, it has a retail website and over 200 retail locations. Anthropologie’s website sells luxury women’s apparel, accessories, shoes, gifts and home goods.
|Read 52 Reviews|
Based in Ohio, Ascendtech was established in 2002 and specializes in wholesale computers, laptops, servers, parts and accessories. They carry most national brands and offer purchases in bulk for additional savings.
|Read 33 Reviews|
Geeks.com is an online technology retailer specializing in cameras, tech components, headphones, speakers and more. After some financial difficulties, Geeks.com now offers “Daily Deals” instead of a full line of products.
|Read 10 Reviews|
Amway is a multi-level marketing company previously known as Quixtar. Established in 1959, Amway recruits independent distributors to sell personal care products. Products are also available for purchase online.
|Out of Business||Read 51 Reviews|