As much as we love local retailers, we realize that many cities don’t have a kick-ass stationer.
Online buying helps make up for that fact, but paper is a sensual product, and it’s nice to be able to run it between your fingers, maybe write a line or two, before you pull out your wallet. Some online retailers (Goulet Pens is one) offer cheaper sample packs that contain a few sheets of a particular kind of stationery to help people determine whether or not it’s right for them. That adds another step to the process, but at least you’re not gambling blind.
There are also, of course, plenty of forums where paper geeks meet to review stuff — see this section of the Fountain Pen Network and just about every one of the blogs on our own blogroll. Over time, you’ll learn which reviewers share your tastes and sensibilities, and whose opinions you trust.
Online stationery buyers, I’m curious! What are the circumstances under which you’ll try a product you’ve never seen in person? Do you request a sample? Do you need to know the brand, or have read a particular number of rave reviews?