Stuff isn’t necessarily cheaper online

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It’s called showrooming, where shoppers go to a store to check over something they want to buy. They then go online to buy it, believing that they’ll pay less that way.

The behaviour is based on an assumption that things sold online tend to be less expensive because online sellers don’t have as much overhead.

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In my experience, buying online is often no bargain, especially if you’re anxious to get something quickly and end up paying for premium shipping.

Here are some pricing examples, drawn from things that I recently bought. (By the time you read this, there’s a good chance the prices will have changed. As veteran shoppers know — and I’m only beginning to discover — prices change constantly.)

Rainforest spike lawn sprinkler, $9.99 at my local Home Hardware store. At Amazon.ca, $20.34.

Energizer 9x longer ultimate lithium AA batteries (four-pack), $9.99 at my local London Drugs. At Amazon.ca, $11.89. [I have corrected the Amazon.ca price; originally had the AAA price of $13.20.]

Cascade Action Pac dishwasher detergent tablets, $7.99 for 54, which works out to 14.8 cents each. At Amazon.ca, the prices varied depending on package size; the lowest I could spot was 18 cents per tablet.

Belkin 12-outlet surge protector, $41.98 at the Uptown Future Shop. At Amazon.ca, $44.82.

On the other hand, the Hoover Air cordless vacuum was $299.99 at the Gordon Head Canadian Tire. At Amazon.ca, it was $259, with free shipping as an option. (I didn’t end up buying the vacuum. But I was geekily fascinated by the notion of a powerful vacuum running on batteries.)

A survey in the U.S. by Anthem Marketing Solutions concluded that 69% of the time, there was no appreciable price difference between online and physical stores. But if there was a difference, the price was lower online 65% of the time.

The not-that-hard-to-arrive-at-conclusion: Don’t assume that prices online will be lower than at a local store. Apart from price, there are other reasons where going online makes sense, including availability of a product, size and colour choices. 

Based on an online of survey of 1,000 people, Solutions Research Group is predicting: Shoppers will buy more of their gifts online for the holidays. Amazon was cited as the top online shopping destination, followed by eBay, Walmart, Chapters Indigo and Best Buy. Curiously, the survey found that clothing is the top item that Canadians like to buy online, but no clothing outlets are listed among the top online shopping spots. 

The American Independent Business Alliance has suggestions for how store owners can sway shoppers to buy from them instead of online. Subtle bad-mouthing is among the tips: “A well-timed anecdote about online customers facing problems with sizing, returning defective merchandise, etc. also can be effective toward diminishing resistance to a modest price differential.”

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