What product can I buy offline what I can't online?
December 12, 2006 5:20 AM   Subscribe

Offline vs. online shopping - is there anything (other than services) that you can buy offline, but not online?

This Christmas season, the mother-in-law has become a convert to the joys of buying everything online - a major boon considering how much she hates trawling around town.

Hearing this made me stop and think - is there anything (physical) that you can buy offline which cannot also be purchased online, irrespective of differences in cost and delivery?
I've wracked my brain, and can't think of anything, but the wife thinks that there must be something out there... can any Mefites think of anything?
posted by Chunder to Shopping (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by randomination at 5:42 AM on December 12, 2006

Have you ever tried to buy a 2x4 online?
posted by malp at 5:44 AM on December 12, 2006

Malp, one of my local lumberyards sells via the internet.

I think randomination has it...anything which is a product that has a quick (as in minutes) expiration. Unless you consider something like a big mac a service.

Also, very big ticket items...you can shop for a home online, but I'm not sure you could (or would want to) complete the purchase exclusively online.
posted by maxwelton at 6:01 AM on December 12, 2006

A drink? Can you order a beer (freshly poured) online? Although I guess that would be partly service as well....
posted by twirlypen at 6:06 AM on December 12, 2006

Anything that needs a tailor? Ditto on it being partly a service, though.
posted by Leon at 6:09 AM on December 12, 2006

The first thing to come to mind is gasoline. (Although I'm willing to bet one could purchase credit at a fuel retailer online).
posted by majick at 6:09 AM on December 12, 2006

(There are plenty of things it would be stupid to buy online, though - buying a car without a test-drive, clothes without trying them on, paint without knowing exactly what colour it is, that kind of thing).
posted by Leon at 6:10 AM on December 12, 2006

While there are a variety of ways to order food online, there's a variety of specific types of food that you couldn't.

For example, there's a little stand downtown where I live that makes excellent breakfast tacos, probably the best I've ever had. I have to doubt that the guy that sells them for $1 has some sort of elaborate JIT B2C ordering system established.

Same thing goes for this one type of chocolate milk I like. The manufacturer doesn't sell directly, and there's only one store near me that sells it.
posted by owenkun at 6:10 AM on December 12, 2006

Lots of people buy clothes without trying them on, Leon.

Granted, I don't, but my girlfriend does. Most clothing sites have pretty good return policies since they know it's inevitably going to happen.
posted by owenkun at 6:11 AM on December 12, 2006

Not to be a spoilsport, but Google is your friend. You can buy these things online, yes.

2 x 4s

Some assembly required on that last one.
posted by rokusan at 6:11 AM on December 12, 2006

If we're talking really obscure, I'm having a hell of a time getting some Indian metal CDs. I've e-mailed several retailers with English webpages in Bangalore and Mumbai and no-one's gotten back to me on whether they ship to the States or not. Small-release CDs in general are one of those things a lot easier to just happen upon in person; MySpace, as much as I hate it, is making it easier, but as of right now I'm waiting for some friends to make their annual trips to get it for me.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:15 AM on December 12, 2006

That is just a menu. You can't buy a latte online and have it delivered, or made hot and ready for you at your local Caffe Costabucks. But please prove me wrong (I know you can do it with pizza at Domino's).
posted by randomination at 6:17 AM on December 12, 2006

Possibly firearms, or at least certain types of firearms.
posted by fvox13 at 6:20 AM on December 12, 2006

I was going to say real sex with other real people, but then I found this. I'ts like German eBay for sexual services. Obviously NSFW
posted by chillmost at 6:28 AM on December 12, 2006

The complexities of state by state liquor laws can make it anywhere from difficult to impossible to buy alcohol online. The states that don't allow it seem to be driven about 25% think-of-the-children and about 75% protectionism for their local liquor wholesalers.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:36 AM on December 12, 2006

After spending half a morning sorting through the crappy lumber at most yards these days, I can't imagine how worthless buying lumber online surely must be. I can't see it being any kind of time-saver, considering you'd still have to sort it.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:40 AM on December 12, 2006

You can buy guns online, and depending on where you live, and shipping regulations, have them delivered to an FFL dealer near you, who will handle the final Federal paperwork. If you count sales between private buyers in the same state facilitated by email, you can buy and sell guns on the Internet at your own risk, without even most of the Federal interstate overhead.
posted by paulsc at 6:44 AM on December 12, 2006

I don't know if e-mail counts as "online," but there was a roving espresso van that took e-mail orders and delivered coffee in Longview, Wash., when I worked out there.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:02 AM on December 12, 2006

posted by JeremiahBritt at 7:06 AM on December 12, 2006

Thorzdad, I think most online lumber sales are for framing lumber, as in give me 500 8'-2x4s delivered to my job site. Framers often use lumber you wouldn't even burn, in my experience.
posted by maxwelton at 7:08 AM on December 12, 2006

I know this might not count, but I can't buy booze online because of the state I live in (PA). When I lived in MI I could.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:11 AM on December 12, 2006

Lottery tickets, perhaps?

Also, Starbucks did in-store testing of an online order service in the Denver area a few years back. Order online, pick up in the store.
posted by littlegirlblue at 7:20 AM on December 12, 2006

Perishable and fresh groceries (dairy, produce, meats, etc) may not be available online, depending on your delivery location.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:22 AM on December 12, 2006

You can buy lottery tickets online in the UK, though they're not physical tickets.

OK, I sit corrected about lattes.
posted by randomination at 7:26 AM on December 12, 2006

Despite the ads on the side of Google, you cannot buy cocaine on Ebay or Amazon.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:29 AM on December 12, 2006

Souvenirs from local businesses or events like t-shirts, mugs, etc.

Fireworks if you live in AZ, CA, DE, HI, MA, MD, ME, NJ, NV, NY, OR, RI, VT and Washington D.C.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2006

posted by jesirose at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2006

Oh Wine! You can't buy it online if you live in certain states.
posted by jesirose at 8:28 AM on December 12, 2006

No, there isn't. Between con men and quirky services that cater to the rich — for instance, an online service in Boston that will courier food from restaurants that don't deliver (which includes Starbucks) — there's nothing that you can't obtain via the Internet, depending on where you live.
posted by cribcage at 8:35 AM on December 12, 2006

quirky services that cater to the rich — for instance, an online service in Boston that will courier food from restaurants that don't deliver (which includes Starbucks)

This isn't so much a service that caters to the "rich" as it is a service that caters to overworked upper-middle class professionals (lawyers, i-bankers, etc.) that routinely work 100 hours a week and aren't allowed (by corporate culture) to leave their desks to grab dinner. And it's available in a lot of places, so yes, if you're in a major city, you can probably buy a latte online.
posted by gd779 at 9:23 AM on December 12, 2006

International shipping rules for food are a real hassle. For example, shipments into the US containing pre-packaged candy must have FDA approval before crossing the border. In practice, this means you can't order Canadian candy and have it delivered or mailed to the US. I miss Laura Secord.

Customs agents will also seize all kinds of meat at the Canada/US border, from dog food to hot and sour soup. They'll be real dicks about it too.

Importing anything into the US can be a real pain in the ass. Seniors take those bus trips to Canada to pick up their prescription drugs for a reason (ie, avoiding seizure of drugs at the border).

If you need to import specific items into the US that you can only get from Canada, it can often be easier and more reliable to get off your butt, drive to Canada, and fetch the item yourself. Having shipments stopped at the border or refused by the post office sucks.

Booze is another issue due to the fucked up laws in the US. The inter-state restrictions on shipping wine are insane.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2006

Homemade cookies, maybe? All the sort of yummy stuff that can get sold cheaply at church bake sales but is not made in an FDA-approved kitchen. Anything unique that the maker doesn't put online.
posted by dagnyscott at 11:31 AM on December 12, 2006

malp writes "Have you ever tried to buy a 2x4 online?"

A single 2X4 might be a problem. A few thousand board feet is easy.

Leon writes "clothes without trying them on, paint without knowing exactly what colour it is, "

Anything that used to be mail order is available online and one of the staples of the Sears Roebuck company was clothing and building improvements like paint, wallpaper, blinds and sinks. You even used to be able to buy kit houses out of their catalogues.
posted by Mitheral at 12:41 PM on December 12, 2006

Well bundled Wii for MSRP. Store waiting is required, evidently.
posted by thadk at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2006

Live animals are only available in certain species. For instance, you can get locusts and ants by mail-order, but I think puppies and horses might be a bit difficult.
posted by Myself at 5:56 PM on December 12, 2006

A roll of quarters.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:44 PM on December 12, 2006

you can't buy a company online*. there's sure to be way too many forms to sign and hands to shake. plus some of the forms have to be notarized, just like completing the transaction for a house.

sure, some of the transaction stuff could be done online, but not all of it.

*i don't mean just buying some shares of said company
posted by philomathoholic at 11:22 PM on December 12, 2006

The current issue of a magazine.
posted by joeclark at 9:24 PM on December 13, 2006

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