Online includes all transactions whether they're from a retail store with an online store, manufacturer, or third party electronics outlet.
WHO CAN BUY - HOW SOON DO YOU NEED IT
Online: Most likely, you'll need a credit card, Pay Pal account, checking account, or some sort of online financing option. You'll have to wait for it to arrive through the mail.
Retail: The easiest place to purchase products if you have the money. All you need is a way to get there, and means to take your item home.
Online: Every make and model is at your fingertips without having to drive miles to find it. Don't see your television at this store, surf to another. The only drawback is you can't test the product beforehand unless you find it at a retail store near you, but you can read product reviews, user opinions, and manufacturer specs with minimal exertion. Most reputable sites make aware the availability of each item.
Retail: Limited to only products it sells at the local level, but you can test your new television in-person before buying it. Depending on store size, selection may be limited, but availability is almost always certain.
Online: Generally, online sellers features lower prices because they don't have the overhead of renting a pad in a strip mall, high electric bills, and a staff of sales people. There's even Web sites that offer 'percent off' discounts if you enter a code after meeting a minimum purchase requirement, which could save even more money. Though, pay attention whether or not your television is brand new or refurbished.
Retail: In order to compete with online purchasing, retail outlets are slashing prices all around. Paired with a coupon or special 'in store' discount, prices might get as low as some online sellers. In addition, many retail outlets resell returned items for even lower prices.
TAXES AND SHIPPING/DELIVERY
Online: Depending on where you live and what store you buy through, you might not have to pay a sales tax. Shipping is a different story. Some stores don't charge shipping or you can get coupons for free shipping while others do charge, which might drive the final cost of the television up several hundred dollars.
Retail: You will pay your local sales tax at a retail outlet, and there won't be any shipping charges. However, most stores will charge a fee to deliver your new television (if you choose) or offer free delivery. If they charge for delivery, try to get the fee waived.
CUSTOMER SERVICE/WARRANTY - RETURNS, EXCHANGES, REPAIRS
Online: This is a sticky point with online purchasing. While most excel in servicing the customer, there's also a negative stigma associated with online sellers. Please read user opinions before buying and make a gut-call. At times, consumers are charged restocking fees, have to pay for shipping if sending the item to be fixed through warranty, or buy the item with a 'no return' clause in the sale. Though, with some warranties, the consumer will get a replacement model temporarily or permanently depending on the issue. Customer service is sometimes hard to contact, and there's usually no storefront to voice a grievance in person.
Retail: With a receipt, modern retail outlets are easy to deal with when returning, exchanging, and using the warranty. Customer service is usually driven to retain your business by any means necessary, even if it means taking one on the chin every now and then. To be on the safe side, read their return/exchange policy before buying.
Online: While some people think buying stuff online means your credit information is there for the grabbing, that just isn't true anymore. Most online retailers use some sort of 128-bit encryption, and are as secure as banking sites. Sure, there's a risk, but no more than buying in a store. Read user opinions, check their security license, and you'll be fine.
Retail: What's written for online security goes for retail security. For the most part, your information will remain private, but there's always the rare case of identity theft at some level.
WHERE TO BUY
Buy online if you are looking for the best possible possible deal. Even with shipping charges, most online prices are lower. While retail can't compete across the board with prices, it has the advantage in customer service. If meeting the sales person, feeling a sense of community, and security knowing you can walk into the store at anytime are important - buy at a retail outlet.
Where to purchase is as important as what to purchase. Before buying, be sure to read the fine print, do a little research on the company you plan on buying from, and everything should be all right.