Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Think the Best Prices Are Always Online? Think Again

By Selena Maranjian - Apr 30, 2016 at 4:22PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Much of the time, you'll find the best prices online. But not always. Sometimes the bigger discounts are in brick-and-mortar stores.


Image: Pixabay

More and more of us are shopping online these days, and we often do so assuming that we're getting great prices. That's frequently the case, but it isn't always true. Many times, the best deals are found offline.

Take a moment to appreciate just how big e-commerce has become. According  to Forrester Research, online sales are expected to leap 56% between 2015 and 2016, surging from $335 billion to around $523 billion -- more than half a trillion dollars. Clearly, if you're doing a lot of shopping online, you're not alone.

Many researchers are paying attention to the e-commerce realm, with some focusing on pricing. Anthem Marketing Solutions, for example, released its semi-annual report on online versus in-store pricing early this year, studying prices for many categories of commonly purchased items. Here are some of its findings:

  • Three quarters of products studied were sold at the same price online and in stores.
  • When prices differed, it was most often (about 75% of the time) the online price that was lower.
  • The product category with the least pricing difference was household products, at 81% consistency, and the category with the most difference in prices was beauty products, at 62% consistency.
  • While most categories reviewed saw greater discounts online than in stores, the grocery category bucked that trend, posting better discounts in stores, overall. Categories with the greatest discounts online were entertainment and office/school supplies.
  • Discounts spotted online were as high as 74%, while in-store discounts hit 59%.
  • Overall, Anthem found that online and in-store prices were increasingly becoming more similar.

Image: Pixabay.

What to do
So what should you do with this information? Well, keep shopping in both online and offline channels, as there are bargains (or at least better prices) to be found in both. For groceries, you might favor brick-and-mortar stores, while for entertainment (such as DVDs, video games, and board games), the online channel often delivers the better deals. Pay attention to shipping costs, though, if they exist, as that can sometimes tip the balance back toward offline stores.

You can also be more aggressive in comparing prices. Don't just settle for a 20% discount at Amazon.com or a local brick-and-mortar store, because you might be able to do even better. There are lots of great apps that can help you zero in on great prices. The RedLaser app, for example, will let you scan a barcode and will then show you prices at various online and offline stores. The ShopSavvy app will store items you want to buy and alert you of discounted prices when they occur. The BuyVia app offers similar services, as do many other apps. Some, such as Purchx, add product reviews from experts and/or consumers.

Remember coupons, too. They come in the mail, are found in newspapers, and are available online, too, for both online and offline purchases. You can save a lot of money before making any significant purchase by taking a minute to check coupon websites such as RetailMeNot for discounts available from the retailer you're using. You might get free shipping, 10% or 20% off, or something better. You can just search online for the retailer's name and the word "coupon," too.

If you spend a lot of money at Amazon.com, check out its Prime Store Card, which will give you 5% back on many items you buy there. That's $50 for those of us who spend $1,000 there, and many of spend far more than that. Other stores, online and off, have special cards and programs for loyal shoppers, so look into what's offered by the retailers you patronize most.

So keep shopping, but know that with a little effort, you can increase your savings by finding better prices.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning service.

Stock Advisor Returns
332%
 
S&P 500 Returns
118%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 05/26/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.