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Choosing the right product is only part of the headache when you're hunting for new tech gadgets or computer parts. Shoppers these days also face an almost overwhelming number of options in how and where to make a purchase: Buy the product offline and get it today, or buy it online and wait a few days? Go offline and pay sales tax, or go online and pay for shipping? Will a big store like Wal-Mart treat you worse than the little computer shop down the way? Is more trustworthy than a tiny Web outfit with unbelievable prices?

"Now you have more [buying] choices....But you're making a more informed choice." --Mike Radway, financial services consultant, Portland, Oregon
Photograph: Robbie McClaran
As experienced tech shopper Mike Radway, a financial services consultant located in Portland, Oregon, puts it, "When your only choices were Coke and Pepsi, it was easy. Now you have more choices, which can make things more difficult. You can spend an endless amount of time obsessing over which product to get and whether you're getting the perfect price. But you're making a more informed choice."

To get a picture of how buyers are making those choices and of which Web-based and real-world stores best meet their needs, we surveyed thousands of PC World readers and visitors. We then conducted interviews with some of the surveyed shoppers, performed our own in-person tests at brick-and-mortar stores, and took multiple spins around the most popular online retailers.

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