Brian Cooley, CNET Editor At Large

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Buying a TV used to be an in-store experience, but increasingly people are making this big purchase online.

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A lot of people used to be afraid of buying a TV online; You wanted to see the thing in person first, and were afraid it would either get damaged in shipment, cost a fortune to ship or be hard to ship back for a return.

Most of those concerns are now alleviated and I would no longer hesitate to buy an HDTV online. Let’s knock down the concerns one at a time.

As far as buying a TV sight unseen, I don’t recommend that. Start by getting your short list together from independent reviews, like those we do at CNET.

Then you can go to the nearest TV retailer to actually look at televisions on your list and find the one you want based on picture and case design. Then, if the best price or availability happens to be from an online retailer, buy it there. It’s called showrooming, retailers hate it – except when its from their web site, which you might want to do simply to avoid having to haul the thing home in your too-small car.

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Note that the exact same TV you see in store might have a different model number online. Big retailers demand their own model numbers in some cases to throw a wrench in the works of showrooming shoppers, but a little scrutinizing usually makes it clear when two models are actually the same TV.

As far as the shipping thing, read the return policy first. It should be short and clear. The word “may”, as in “may incur a restocking charge”, etc. is a red flag to me. Also, know that if you buy from the online arm of a physical retailer, like Best Buy, etc., you can likely return the item to a local store if need be. That can save you a lot of hassle of boxing up a television.

Then look at the shipping charges to your zip code. A lot of TVs ship free these days. And while you’re at that stage, see if the merchant is going to collect sales tax. That can be a huge savings.

Finally, don’t sweat the damage in shipment issue. Yes, its possible, but the cartons TV’s come in are made for shipping and like anything else it will be the retailer and shipper’s problem, not yours.

Save the box for a year in case you need to ship it back during warranty. After that, it may not be cost effective to repair a TV.

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