Groceries are among a larger class of items that are typically better to buy in stores: lower-priced goods. While pricey consumer electronics are usually better bought on the Web, less-expensive everyday items from shampoo to pens are often better to buy in an old-fashioned store.
Shipping is a significant factor here. While $5 to ship a blouse might not make a big difference if you’re saving $20 off the price online, it makes a very big difference if all you’re buying is, say, a bottle of shampoo. And since those less-expensive items often don’t add up to a Web site’s free shipping threshold, you’re often left paying $5 to ship a $10 purchase. Even if you’re saving 40% by going online, you lose it right back by paying for shipping.
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But even the base price tends to be better in stores for such items. Gault, for instance, points to wrapping paper she got on the cheap at discount retailer Big Lots, as well as flower vases she found at a deep discount at a dollar store. Neither discount would have been available online, she says.
Pricing surveys back up this assertion. Anthem, a marketing analytics firm, conducts an annual study that compares the price of select items online and in stores. In the most recent iteration of the study, it found that items $7 and below tended to be cheaper in stores. While online retail got a slight advantage for items priced between $7 and $20, it’s worth noting that the study only looked at the base price, ignoring shipping costs. As such, buying something in that price range might still be wiser to do in stores, depending on what the online retailer charges for shipping and whether it collects sales tax.