Buying Cigars Online Vs. Brick & Mortar

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Famous Smoke Shop offers both a world-class B&M cigar lounge as well as an industry-leading online retail site.

Buying cigars online is the more common means for purchasing premium cigars, rather than buying them at your neighborhood brick & mortar tobacco store. Some cigar smokers buy exclusively online for price, selection, and convenience, while others prefer the experience of a store where they can see the product “in-person.” Then there are those who buy their cigars both online and at their local tobacconist. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages to both.

Inventory

Most of the better brick & mortar shops carry a good selection of imported cigars; usually the best-selling brands such as Macanudo, Partagas, Montecristo, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, and Arturo Fuente. Other selections may include bundle cigars, and in some cases, the store’s own “house brand.” Brick & mortar shops also stock the popular machine-made cigars such as Swisher Sweets, Dutch Masters, White Owl, Phillies, etc. You’ll also find cigar accessories including cutters, lighters, ashtrays, humidors, and humidor accessories. In many cases, tobacconists will carry a selection of pipes, pipe tobacco and accessories, plus cigarettes by the pack and carton. Suffice it to say, most of what you’ll find for sale depends on the size of the store and how profitable it is.

Online cigar stores tend to have a much larger selection of cigar brands and accessories because they have their own warehouses, and therefore much more room to house more brands, including many of the so-called “boutique brands” like Tatuaje, Aging Room, E.P. Carrillo, and Liga Privada for example. Some online cigar retailers may also sell pipes and cigarettes, but consumers are more likely to buy from sites that specialize in those products.

Storage & Merchandising

Brick & mortar cigar stores display their cigars in humidified cases. If the store is big enough, it may also have a walk-in humidor. While good quality shops will store their cigars in prime smoking condition, there are many that do not properly maintain the humidity in their cases or walk-ins, resulting in over or under humidified cigars. In addition, B&M cigar shops typically turn their inventory slower than online retailers. That can be a good thing or a bad thing – you might stumble upon a box of your favorites that has been aging nicely for years, but you also might encounter old stock that has become moldy or dry and flaky because of long-term poor storage. When shopping, if you’re looking for a particular cigar, you also have the opportunity to hold it and inspect it. The store may also have counter, and floor displays to call your attention to a particular brand or deal. Additionally, cigar stores can hold events where the manufacturers can showcase their brands and press the flesh with their consumers. This is often one of the ways cigar smokers discover new cigars (though they may eventually wind-up buying them online.)

Online cigar stores don’t offer the opportunity to “inspect” the cigars you want to buy. Instead, you must rely on photographs of the cigars, or know exactly what you want. Buying cigars online makes it easier to find what you’re looking for because the websites feature a list of all the brands they carry, and/or a search field where you can type-in the name of the brand you want. Instead of displays, the website may have eye-catching banners to make you aware of brands and/or deals they want to promote. Online stores also have the inventory to make 5-packs and cigar samplers for their customers, offering a more economical way to buy cigars. Many sites (like Famous!) also feature reviews from real customers so you can get an unbiased perspective on the cigar from another enthusiasts to help with your purchasing decision. From a storage perspective, the larger online shops keep their cigars in carefully maintained condition, however the transit time for shipping the cigars is a factor. It is typically beneficial to let cigars rest for a week or so in your humidor to allow them to recover from their journey before smoking.

Customer Service

There’s nothing like speaking to an expert or getting personalized service when it comes to buying cigars. Most brick & mortar cigar stores have a manager and/or salespeople who are knowledgeable about the products they carry, and therefore, well equipped to help you find the right cigar at the right price.

Buying cigars online is a different story. Though the biggest online cigar stores (like Famous!) have call centers staffed with friendly and very knowledgeable folks you can speak to, most online customers rely on the written descriptions of the brands, photos, customer reviews, and the prices before they add anything to their carts. Some online cigar retailers include videos about certain brands which help educate the consumer and may contribute greatly to helping a customer select the best product for their needs.

Price

buying cigars online

Getting to enter the warehouse of a large online cigar retailer can be a religious experience for smokers.

Here’s where we get down to the nitty-gritty. Generally speaking, cigar smokers want to buy their cigars, regardless of the brand, at the cheapest price possible. For the most part, brick & mortar store prices tend to be higher than online cigar stores because they don’t have the same buying power. That’s not to say you can’t find the occasional deal, and for many cigar smokers, paying a little more is OK, especially if they only smoke cigars occasionally.

Consumers who buy their cigars online often benefit from lower prices but because cigar websites are selling to consumers world-wide, the competition is greater, sometimes resulting in online price wars. Online shops utilize a variety of methods to offer customers value, through free bonus items, coupon codes, special sale pricing, e-mail newsletter sales, deal-of-the-day sites, and even online auctions for cigars.

The availability of greater selection and lower pricing from buying cigars online frustrates the hell out of a lot of brick & mortar store owners. They find themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place because they have only so much room to move. On the other hand, many brick & mortar stores have lounges where their customers can relax with their cigars, meet other cigar smokers, watch TV, or work on their laptops. You can’t do that online. But when it comes to finding the best bargains, buying cigars online is a hard act to follow. While for the other aspects we’ve discussed there are ups and downs to both B&Ms and online retailers, in the pricing category online cigar retailers win hands down. If price is your main or only concern when it comes to your cigar purchases you should probably be doing your cigar shopping online.

Conclusion

There is no clear answer here. Both cigar purchasing channels have upsides and downsides, and it is up to each smoker to determine what makes their experience the best in the end. One piece of etiquette we do suggest adhering to is that if you’re doing some or all of your cigar shopping online, be respectful if you wish to enjoy the lounge at your local B&M. Some B&M cigar shops have strict policies against bringing in outside cigars, while others will simply charge a small “cutting fee” if you wish to smoke something you brought from home. Some lounges will be just fine if you smoke a cigar you brought with you as long as you are purchasing something else from them, whether it be alcoholic beverages, food, cigar accessories, or other cigars that you’ll be saving for later. Whatever you do, avoid bringing a cigar you bought online to a shop, strolling in, plopping down in a big cushy chair and firing it up while you watch their TV and enjoy their free coffee and/or Wi-Fi without making any type of purchase. These places are not charities, and all that stuff costs the owner money! Our tip is to ask a staff member or regular customer to find out exactly how your lounge feels before you bring in outside cigars, and then respect their wishes accordingly.

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Gary Korb

Gary Korb

Executive Editor at cigaradvisor.com

Gary Korb has been writing and editing content for CigarAdvisor.com since its debut in 2008. An avid cigar smoker for over 30 years, during the past 12 years he has worked on the marketing side of the premium cigar business as a Sr. Copywriter, blogger, and cigar reviewer. A graduate of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, prior to his career in the cigar business, Gary worked in the music and video industry as a marketer and a publicist.

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