My kitchen needs are, at the moment, almost exclusively from Cooking.com. The best pieces that I own in the kitchen all come from this one online store.
For the past... let's see... at least 10 years now, I have been buying all of my kitchen items online. I have tried many different stores online. I've looked at "the best deals" and tried to get the lowest price possible on the specific items that I want to purchase. For kitchen items, I am pretty much strickly a Cooking.com shopper. They have a well-established customer base with enough reviews to do the kind of research you need. Their packaging and shipping is absolutely stellar, and they are customer-accessible when it comes to contacting them. They are an A+ store.
My decision to exclusively use Cooking.com didn't come easy. My experience with other online deals have led me to stick with stores that have a proven track record. What I have learned is this:
1. Just because a store sells online, doesn't mean they are an internet store.
The biggest problem with getting the absolutely lowest price on the item you want to purchase is the risk you take in the quality of the item you receive. If you are ordering online from a company that is not exclusively established as an online store, or go to the "Marketplace" section on Amazon for a lower price, you risk the chances of getting a re-packaged item or the worst looking box on the shelf. This is how they get rid of their "ugly stuff" as long as they assume the item inside works fine. This is because they know that an internet shopper is less likely to go through the hassle of returning an item as long as it works ok. But think about it. "Repackaged" means someone had their hands on it before you got it -- or worse, actually used it. Or a ratty looking package could contain a brand new item, but you have to ask yourself why the packaging has been worn down. Was it handled badly? Has it been on the shelf for over a year or two with small parts deteriorating from age and environmental factors (temperature and humidity).
2. Exclusive Online stores have established packaging and shipping practices.
My number one pet-peeve with face-to-face shops that try to be online shops is how they skimp on packaging and shipping. These companies do things that are HUGE no-no's. First, when it comes to packaging, they do not use the regulation size box where you need at least a certain amount of space between the item and the shipping box. Second, they generally do not use the adequate filler (packaging balloons or foam packing peanuts to ensure minimal shifting during the shipping process. Or worse, not using a shipping box at all, and just sending it as is in its packaging. These companies don't stock adequate packaging items like large boxes and packing peanuts. (Target is probably the worst of all of the companies I've had to deal with.) Time and time again, I've looked at the trend of items received. Items ruined during the shipping process. Boxes that fall apart upon delivery because somewhere along the way, they were exposed to too much rain or moisture. Items that are packaged inside without the standard plastic or foam covering you expect from a newly packaged product. There is a marked difference between exclusive online companies, and those who try to add an online component to their business.
3. Shipping and Handling Prices
So, this sort of follows from #2 above. Stores who try to add an online shopping component will generally always over charge on the shipping and handling. For this reason, they do their best to reduce the size of the shipping box (to reduce the shipping cost) and minimize packing materials to save costs. They are doing what they can to save on shipping because they do not have enough online business to qualify for larger shipping contracts with shipping companies like UPS or FedEx. Chances are, if you are responsible for the return shipping costs, you are likely getting a product from a company who is not well accustommed to the online shopping business. Covering the cost of return shipping is a standard for online shopping. Get a company willing to back their product.
Cooking.com is a great example of an online store that does it right. Amazon is another one, though packaging and mailing books has a lot less chance of damage, and getting used books is totally acceptable, and not the same as getting a used toaster. (You think I'm kidding? Believe me, I'm not)
Now please, don't take this ramble as me saying not to give small businesses your consideration. There are countless things that you do not want to buy from a huge name-brand distributor. In fact, I do internet shopping at smaller stores all the time. But I do it with the understanding that the chances are higher that I may have to return it, and accept the hassle associated with it when I press the "check-out" button. I even have items that are broken during shipping that I resolved not to return because the return shipping costed higher than the item itself. C'est la vie.
Shop smart. And enjoy yourself! And change your passwords regularly!!!
Have an online store with a great reputation? Love to hear about it! :)