I really don't like how often the word 'research' shows up when discussing game purchases. It shouldn't.
PC games have always, always required you to look at the box and examine the requirements.
As consumers, we PC gamers get treated very badly.
Restricted or no return policy, no guarantee that the specs on the box will be realistic or not (minimum spec can mean anything from just about loads up, to perfectly playable but worse graphics).
On the subject of Steam, I've had to avoid buying Empire: Total War and Dawn of War 2, both which I would have liked to play. But they both would require Steam, and I really don't want to use it. AFAIK, there's no alternative (legally).