Try before you buy?

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Image via Mikey Angels

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?

11 thoughts on “Try before you buy?

  1. Eileen, I know whereof you speak. It’s frankly a bit shocking to realize how many e-commerce sites do such a poor job of providing information about the things you’re trying to buy from them. For instance, ever click on a “click for larger image” link and get an image that’s at most 5% bigger than the one you were just looking at? Thank goodness some sites get it right . . .

  2. Thank you for posting about this topic, and thank you even more for mentioning us in it! Rachel and I got a lot of requests for the sampler packs, and this is something that we felt was important for us to offer since we’re an online-only store. It’s a bit of a labor of love for us to do it, but since no one else was offering paper samples, we decided there was a need. We do reviews and have a blog, but sometimes there’s just nothing like trying it yourself. That goes for ink, pens, paper, everything. It’s not always practical to have a ‘try before you buy’ from an online store because of shipping costs and logistical complications, but it is helpful when it’s possible to do it.

  3. One thing I do find disappointing in some online sites is their tendency to use only the box images of products like, say, G. Lalo. I saw a site selling G. Lalo’s Opera, Diane de Poitier, Borghese, Mode de Paris, and Vergé de France without showing what the paper or cards inside looked like. That isn’t to say the site is not trustworthy, just that it makes them seem a bit lazy.

    I had to look at the Exaclair catalog online and even that does not provide any interior images of Opera or Diane de Poitier. Nor has anyone seemed to review either online. So without either good photos or good reviews, I am hesitant to buy them. And I would love to see someone review some grey Vergé paper as I am wondering how letters will look on them.

  4. I live in NZ and have bought several products sight unseen via in Australia. I rely quite a bit on good product descriptions and comparisons with other more familiar products (e.g. Moleskine, Filofax, which are available here). If I can’t trust the descriptions on the site selling the stuff, I probably shouldn’t be trusting them with my credit card…

    To be honest I quite like buying blind. It’s like Christmas when the packages arrive, I have no idea what it will be like and there is the possibility for sheer delight when the products are even more wonderful than I hoped!

  5. I’m on Fountain Pen Network fairly often and I enjoy talking about paper products with other like-minded folks. I usually like to read someone’s review of a product before I’ll consider buying it, especially if I am unfamiliar with it.

    When buying paper online, it helps to know the weight of the paper, in lb or gsm, as well as the texture and the paper’s composition. Good photos are key, too. I bought some G. Lalo Borghese cards online recently but had a hard time figuring out what I was actually getting until I’d looked up other websites selling the same thing.

    Something else you can do that is in-between buying an unknown product outright or buying a sample is to get samples from other people. Through FPN, I’ve received some letters written on paper I was considering buying; I’ve also sent samples of paper to other people so they could try it out.

    The paper and pen paraphernalia section of FPN is a good place to look, too.

  6. It should be noted that I have the HIGHEST confidence in the products which are placed under the banner of Exaclair. That being said, it is also important to me that businesses like Brian Goulet’s gives me the opportunity to try things such as the G. Lalo Verte paper and also the ink samples. Not that I would question the quality, but rather that I would like to make sure this particular product is in fact that which I need for the job which I have so chosen. This weekend I ordered several different types of samples such as paper and inks. I hope to follow up shortly with an order of the full package of the products which I will be trying.

    I live in a area which probably would do well with such an artisan store, but in this economy it’s doubtful that anybody is going to sink $2,500 (at least) per month in rent, alone, to sell me fine Clairefontaine, Rhodia, and Lamy pens 🙂

  7. I either buy from a brand I trust, or, for brands I’ve never used before, I go by photos (the closer-up the better) and reviews, especially reviews from blogs.

  8. Since I’m not buying hundreds of dollars worth of stuff sight-unseen, I don’t think it’s that big a deal to “risk” twenty or thirty bucks on a journal+shipping.

  9. All of the Exacalir products I’ve tried have been great so I am not afraid to buy any offering in the line. Brain at Goulet Pens reviews all of the products so I get an honest opinion form an honest guy.

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