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Selection / Variety
The greater the selection or variety of items available at a vendor, the easier it is to shop there. Companies differ greatly by how good their selection is, and unsurprisingly, customers prefer those that have more selection over those that have less. I am one of these: I am willing to pay a bit more to buy everything in one place, as it saves me time and hassle. Remember though that in some cases prices can be made lower at a company that has less selection; this is in fact one of the primary facets of the business models underlying warehouse stores and group buying clubs.
The selection at retail stores can usually be gauged quickly by looking at the size of the store, and then walking the aisles. Of course this doesn't tell the whole story: some stores have a "room in the back" where they keep some items, and others may have a nearby warehouse. Since inventory is expensive, some vendors will stock some items but special-order others. Ask a salesperson for assistance.
In general, online and catalog sources have better variety than retail stores. I discuss this to some extent where I talk about the different sources, but in a nutshell, this is because online vendors don't have the costs of managing a retail store to deal with. They ship straight from the warehouse, and sometimes shipments are made from the wholesaler or distributor, direct to the customer. This makes them a great place to buy obscure items that are of low demand and therefore are impractical for a retail establishment.
When shopping from a catalog, you obviously have the selection of the company right there to peruse at your leisure--this is arguably one of the biggest advantages of catalog stores. You can't "eyeball" the selection of an online vendor, of course, so how do you tell what their selection is? Primarily, by using their Web site, and in particular, the search capability of their site. Spend some time searching for different items you are interested in, and you'll figure out quickly which sites carry what. Incidentally, a web vendor with a poor search engine often isn't worth the trouble, and you'll find that out pretty quickly as well.
Note: Be aware that many
companies sell both OEM and retail versions of components; see here for more on this important issue.