Cigar Buying Guides

Buying Cigars Online Vs. Brick & Mortar

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buying cigars online
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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Mike Tobin
7 years ago

Support your local B&M there’s nothing quite like browsing, bullshitting, and smoking. Even if it’s just one stick, everyone wins.

Craig Mandell
6 years ago

I agree also but when B&M stores charge more than double a wholesaler is a disgrace and I think insult to customer who knows the true box price.

Ryan Sabel
6 years ago

Craig Mandell would not be welcomed in my B and M store. Obviously you think every business must work like the Department of Transportation. A disgrace and an insult???? So let me get this straight, a B&M should just invest their money on inventory, property, and labor so you can be insulted because you want to pay the TRUE BOX PRICE??? WOW!!!

Jake Harbinger
5 years ago

I prefer weed. I throw out the tabacco cancer sh!t and pack it with OG stuff. Go green people

Dustin Gwin
5 years ago

I find the the prices equal out unless the online store offer free shipping. The B&M store I frequent actually has cheaper prices most cigars. I have yet to look at the price of boxes but I do plan on doing that one day.

Chad Boyle
3 years ago

A fair analysis coming from an online retailer. If you’re weighing online vs B&M I suggest you base your decision on how often you some. Once a week or more? Buy online. Once a month or less? Shop at your local store. Since I’ve increased smoking and figuring out which brands I like I’ve noticed that nearly every B&M is more expensive than online. The only exceptions are their flash sales, which are usually unknown or not-so-good cigars they’re just trying to get rid of (aka aren’t selling).

The benefits of B&M retailers though is that you know what you’re getting. My first (and last) time buying from JR I didn’t even receive my whole order. Customer service wasn’t good either, so I ended up filing a dispute with my credit card company. That doesn’t happen with a B&M because I’m picking out what I want in-person. But for a $4.50 cigar online I’ll be paying about $6 at my local B&M. If I’m smoking 1-2 per day that adds up.

Also consider shipping costs. Like many online retailers you can get free shipping, you just have to pay above a certain price. So if you’re buying online, do it when you need to stock up or have the cash to buy some premium smokes. Otherwise the shipping cost might completely offset the value you’d save in the first place.

Thanks for the info FS!

Gary Korb
2 years ago
Reply to  Chad Boyle

Thanks Chad. Well put.

KEITH
2 years ago

Need feedback from Famous & a B/M. I was told by my local B/M that the cigars I buy online (no matter the brand name) are different than the same brand sold in my local B/M. He indicated to me that the cigars online are a cheaper version and quote “not the real thing”. Is there truth to this?

gary korb
2 years ago
Reply to  KEITH

Hi Keith. That is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. Do they really think the factories set aside more cheaply-made cigars for online merchants, and others for B&Ms? I think that salesperson may feel threatened by competition from online cigar stores, and that line may “scare” you into avoiding internet purchases so you’ll keep buying from them.Famous is a also a B&M store, and I can assure you that if such was true, we’d know it. Moreover, we wouldn’t stand for it. Be it online or in-store, the cigars made by the major brands, and certainly the boutique factories, which often have very limited production, are the real deal. G-~

Cigarselfieking
2 years ago

I am at approximately 70/30 split … online vs B&M. At the rate I smoke (3-5 a day) good deals are a priority. The same $200 I spend at the B&M may get me 17-20 sticks while I can easily double that online. The key with online purchases, if you are a true aficionado you already know what you want, and more than likely you are purchasing from a reputable site that delivers great cigars ready to smoke. You have B&Ms that only stock what they like not what the customer likes, while others are willing to meet the needs of the customers. Got support the B&Ms but at the same time, this is not a game, so you have to make purchasing decisions that positively affect your cigar experience. Tread lightly.

Gary Korb

Gary Korb

Executive Editor

Gary Korb has been writing and editing content for CigarAdvisor.com since its debut in 2008. An avid cigar smoker for over 30 years, he has worked on the marketing side of the premium cigar business as a Sr. Copywriter, blogger, and Executive Editor of Cigar Advisor. 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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