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Contractors and building professionals know that finding great deals on materials is a must. A lower price allows for a more competitive bid on a project, ensuring the ability to attract more clients. Today, many of the best deals on construction supplies are available online. But if you've always purchased from a big box retailer, it might feel a little intimidating to purchase supplies online you haven't had the chance to examine in person.

If you're wondering whether those online wholesale prices are really worth it, we have you covered. Check out this comprehensive guide to buying construction supplies online versus at big box stores to learn more. We'll walk you through all the pros and cons, so you can make the right choice for your unique business needs.

Benefits of Buying from a Big Box Retailer

For years, the main resource for contractors was the nearest big box retailer. Before the days of the internet, there wasn't another option for builders. It’s no surprise that old habits die hard, but as a result many contractors continue to buy from big box stores merely as a case of routine. Here are some of the reasons building professionals like buying their building materials from these retailers:

  • Seeing products in person: It's great to be able to see a product in person before you buy it. Display products make it easy to compare and inspect various materials to find the right fit for a project.
  • In-store service: If you have a question about any materials, you can just ask a store staff member.
  • Same-day use: You don't have to wait for items to ship when you buy from a big box retailer. You can purchase materials at the store and use them on your worksite on the same day if you’re sourcing some emergency, time-sensitive material.
Big Box Store Drawbacks
While there are certainly some benefits to shopping for building materials in person, big box stores do have some drawbacks to consider, including:
  • Limited selection: While big box stores do live up to their name when it comes to square footage of their store, there are still limits on how much inventory can be kept onsite. That gives you fewer options when shopping for building materials, and you may have to settle for subpar products, overpriced materials, or a limited range of colors and finishes.
  • Limited Quantities: If you need more than a few hundred square feet of a product, or are ordering multiple items, you may be hard pressed to find it at a brick and mortar location. While they may offer free shipping, you might be waiting a while for products to re-stock.
  • Staffing issues: While it's great to be able to talk to a staff member face-to-face when buying building materials, you may not always get access to the expert advice you're looking for. Most staff members at big box stores are not highly trained in the pros and cons of certain products. While they can help direct you to any materials you might need, there isn't always someone on hand to help you decide what's right for your project. 
  • Different locations: You can't get everything in one place when you use big box stores. Shopping around at various lumberyards, wholesale distributors and specialty retailers to get all your materials can slow down your project significantly.
  • Transporting materials: When you buy from a big box store, you're responsible for shipping the materials yourself. If you need the store to deliver them, it adds to the total cost.

Benefits of Buying From an Online Retailer

More building professionals are starting to expect an option to buy materials online. That's because this purchasing method comes with a number of important advantages, including:

  • Lower costs: In many cases, buying building materials online grants you access to wholesale prices. Being connected directly to vendors and suppliers cuts out the middle man of product sourcing and all the associated costs. 
  • Vast selection: A major advantage of shopping for building materials online is the huge selection. Online retailers can offer thousands more options than local brick and mortar suppliers because they're not confined by the space limits of a retail store. Having seemingly endless options when it comes to finishes, colors and material types allows you to have more control over your project and offer additional customization options for clients.
  • Order anywhere: Contractors can simply use a computer, a phone or a tablet to search for exactly what they need and order it within minutes. This is convenient and also cuts back on the time spent driving to and from the store and wandering the aisles in a massive warehouse. You never have to take store hours into account when shopping online, either.
  • Ship anywhere: Online retailers will ship your materials anywhere you need, including right to your jobsite. Online tracking makes it easy to schedule your work projects according to shipment arrival times.
  • Stores are open 24/7: Unlike brick and mortar stores that have limited business hours of operation, online store are open all day, and all night, so you can place product orders at any time that’s convenient for you.
  • Shopping cart: An online shopping cart creates a convenient tool for contractors. You can add to the cart to keep track of material needs as they arise for a single project. Once you're ready to order, you can just click a button and have everything shipped right to the jobsite.
  • Online chat: Speak with an expert in real time, and they’ll have the answers to all your questions. Online chats allow you to speak to a rep that has all the information associated with a product at their fingertips. Get answers to your questions instantly. 
  • Saving programs: If you join an online retailer's rewards program for contractors, you can save thousands on materials and get some great perks, such as product discounts, unlimited free samples, expert advice and preferred shipping methods. 
  • Unlimited product samples: Although the display products available for inspection at brick and mortar stores offer you a great idea of the look and feel of a product, the same can’t be said about the durability. Ordering online however offers you unlimited free product samples (in some cases delivered overnight), that allow you to really put their performance through the wringer and put their durability through the test. Because these samples are yours to keep, feel free to scratch them, stain them or dunk them at your leisure.
  • Order History: Arriving at a brick and mortar location and forgetting what you purchased last time can often put a halt to your in-store experience. Having your order history available at the click of a button makes it easy to repeat orders or compare previous purchases. 
Online Store Drawbacks

Shopping online obviously comes with many great benefits, but a couple of drawbacks to consider are:

  • Shipping time: If you need your building materials sourced same-day, you may be frustrated by waiting for items to ship from an online retailer. 
  • Purchase anxiety: Not being able to see and feel a physical product can cause nervousness amongst buyers when purchasing materials online, especially when committing to large-scale purchases. 

For some building professionals, switching to online retailers for materials can be a bit of an adjustment. But once you see how easy, convenient and affordable it is, you'll probably use big box stores for a few last-minute purchases and stick to online for most of your building needs.

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