Local Fish Stores vs Online Retailers

SPS Dominated Reef Aquarium

SPS Dominated Reef Aquarium at a Local Fish Store

Most aquarium hobbyists have their preference as to where they purchase livestock. Some have a favorite local fish store (LFS) they frequent, while others venture into the online world and browse from thousands of different stores. Regardless of your personal choice though, both the LFS and the online retailer are there to turn a buck, and both have their drawbacks and benefits.


Most towns have a local fish store. Some are great sources of livestock, drygoods, and knowledge, while others not so much. The stores can range in size from a small place with a few staff members, to a huge facility crawling with aquarium nerds. Regardless of a place’s size, the store serves many distinct functions. For one, many aquarium keepers buy their livestock and drygoods there. Additionally, the store might be a vast source of knowledge. Chatting with patrons of the store, or even employees, can help expand your aquarium knowledge. But I must warn you to take any advice with a grain of salt. Some employees may not always give out the best advice, and some may even give you advice with the intention of trying to make a sale. So be careful. Another aspect of the local fish store is that they are also a place for likeminded individuals to hang out and bounce ideas off of each other. Hobbyists are drawn to the store like moths to a light. And naturally congregating hobbyists will interact, gawk at the livestock in the store, and chat with the store’s staff. Additionally, the store itself may interact with the community. Many stores join local aquarium clubs as sponsors, hold sales, and host events. Despite the immediate benefits of the local fish store, there are numerous drawbacks. For one, they are limited in their livestock and equipment selections. The store has a limited target audience and, to keep costs down, won’t keep a lot of items in stock or order rare livestock. Additionally, the store’s expenses are typically greater than an online vendor, further limiting the in-stock equipment and livestock. The local aquarium store will also have higher prices, again this being the typical case. The operating costs of the store force owners to keep prices slightly above those of most online stores.

Online Aquarium Retailers

For those who have a limited number of “brick and mortar” fish stores in the immediate area, the online store might be the best, or only, choice available. Online stores typically have lower operating costs, since they don’t have a storefront, and can offer products at lower prices. Another benefit is the shopper has access to a huge variety of fish, corals, and invertebrates. No longer does the shopper have to drive from store to store looking for a particular fish or piece of equipment. They can click away, moving from site to site with ease.

Wild Orchid Favia

Wild Orchid Favia from ReefExotic.net

The downside to using online retailers is the inability to see or hold what you are purchasing. This is more of a problem when purchasing livestock, as color morphs and health status are unable to be seen. Some online stores get around this with “what you see is what you get” pictures of the actual livestock being sold. This alleviates some issues, but others still persist. Another of those issues being shipping. Livestock has to be shipped overnight, which could add $20-40 to an order of a single specimen. The shipping is also quite stressful to the animal. Frags could RTN during the trip, fish could die. Though these are serious issues, they can be avoided when the retailer packages things properly. Finally, the last issue with online stores is that you cannot see the livestock’s living conditions. The seller might have great photography skills or may even enhance images, making the process worse.

Regardless of your personal choice of stores, it’s wise to select a responsible retailer. Pick a store who takes care of their livestock, provides great customer service, and gives back to aquarium communities. Don’t just shop for price, but look for quality stores.


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