Comparison Shopping: Comparing The Internet To What’s On Your Store Shelf

For about the last year, my wife and I have purchased several household items in bulk from Amazon. Not only is the shipping free, but we don’t pay sales tax and we rack up lots of bonus points on our Amazon card by doing this. Our philosophy is that if Amazon has the same or even a slightly higher price than our local shopping outlets, we buy the bulk item from Amazon. Here’s the process we use to ensure that we’re getting a good deal.

First, we do weekly checks of the level of our supplies. We check the amount of diapers, baby wipes, laundry detergent, shampoo, soap, cleaning agents, toilet paper, and so on. This is part of our normal routine for preparing our weekly shopping list – if we notice an item is getting low, we add it to the list.

Next, we check for prices on Amazon for some of the bulk items before we go shopping. We just look up the items we need on Amazon and note their prices and their sizes. Here are four examples from a recent shopping trip:

Lever 2000 Energize (our preferred soap) @ $17.41 for 24 bars, or $0.73 a bar
Pampers Cruisers (stage 4) @ 39.79 for 140 diapers, or $0.28 a diaper
Pampers Wipes @ 23.54 for 770 wipes, or $3.06 per 100 wipes
Colgate Total @ 22.41 for 6 7.8 oz. tubes, or $0.48 per ounce

Notice how we’ve broken them down into cost per unit, so we can easily make comparisons at the store. Also, to save time, we keep most of our regular purchase items bookmarked so we can quickly run through them and retrieve prices – they actually vary quite a bit, and there are times when Amazon is the better deal and our store is the better deal.

What about other brands? We generally follow Consumer Reports’ recommendations for item quality and because of that we rarely have significant problems with items not working like we hoped. Even though the prices are often higher per unit, it’s worth the additional price on such items if you’re not finding them frustrating or of low quality. That doesn’t mean we completely abandon sale items; we generally find about four or five brands of each item acceptable and will buy these if there is a significant discount.

Once we have our Amazon prices in hand, we head to the store. We generally buy most of our bulk items at a warehouse store, so we buy our bulk items there first. We usually do any needed cost-per-unit math on our cell phones and then buy the option that has the lowest cost per unit – to a degree. If the prices are very close, we usually go with Amazon because (1) they deliver to the doorstep, (2) we earn more points through them, and (3) sales tax (in some cases).

What about coupons? If we happen to have a coupon for an item, we bring it along and use it in our calculations at the store. If the item is still cheaper at Amazon, we don’t use the coupon – in fact, I’ve actually handed coupons to other shoppers in this situation that were appearing to be about to buy the item.

Doesn’t this take a lot of time? Not really. Usually, both of us go shopping (we make an activity out of it with our child, trying to instill a healthy and rational way to shop, and we usually interrupt it in the middle with a trip to a park and a picnic lunch) and one of us is looking for items while the other is calculating prices. It doesn’t really add any significant time to the equation, especially if you would actually spend any time at all comparing two items and trying to decide which one is the better deal. That’s what we do – we just have a plan when we walk in the door.