THE BOX STOPS HERE
Shopping online is no guarantee that you're always going to get a cheaper price than you would at a bricks-and-mortar store. Depending on what you're buying, you still may pay less at a local retailer or a warehouse club, such as Costco or Sam's Club. But convenience is a selling point too. If delivery is free, then offline price advantages can evaporate. Here are 20 items that are cheaper online or discernibly more convenient to have shipped to your door — or both.
Amazon started as an online bookseller, and books were the first product that was really popular to buy online. Naturally Amazon is the first place consumers are likely turn for online book bargains. The hardcover version of the best-selling "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry" by Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, is currently $11.37 on Amazon, compared with a list price of $18.95.
Cereal is something that many people, especially those with kids, buy often and in large, bulky boxes. The long shelf life makes online shopping an option. A 28-ounce box of Post Honey Bunches of Oats sells on Amazon for $4.85 — which is somewhat less than you'll find at a number of other retailers, making this a product to buy online for convenience, rather than any big savings. Shipping is free on orders of $40 or more with an Amazon Prime Pantry membership.
You are unlikely to find a better deal on printer ink at a bricks-and-mortar store than online. There are lots of choice here, including the online storefronts of Office Depot and Staples along with dedicated printer-ink websites, which sell brand-name ink but also cheaper remanufactured cartridges (recycled brand-name cartridges) and compatible cartridges (made by third parties). There is some risk to buying the off-brand cartridges — the quality may be lower, and Hewlett-Packard blocked some printers from accepting them, although it later reversed its decision.
Whether it's an extra cable for charging your smartphone or connecting your printer to your computer, or just a little bit of extra storage, it's typically a better deal online. Amazon has developed a massive online electronics section over the years and offers deals such as a 32GB Samsung flash drive, which it sells for $12, more than half off the $25 list price. Amazon has also dropped the minimum total for free shipping to $25.
Students can save significant money and choose from a much larger inventory, including cheaper options such as used books, if they buy textbooks online. Amazon has a section devoted to textbooks, and it was one of Cheapism’s top picks for buying and renting textbooks. But it doesn't have the market cornered. Other leading sites include TextbookRush, eCampus, and Chegg.
This is one type of clothes shopping that doesn't benefit from fitting rooms. And babies have limited patience for trips to the store, so there's a big convenience factor in buying online. Baby clothes also aren't expensive enough to worry too much about a package of them being left outside the door. Click on the clearance sections of retailers such as Baby Mall Online to find deals such as $1.49 for an organic-cotton onesie (regularly priced at $5).
Buying diapers is one of those thankless tasks of parenting. Your baby isn't old enough to appreciate it, and you really don't want to run out of diapers. The good news is that consumers can buy them on a subscription basis — often at a discount — to guarantee a steady supply. For example, Amazon Prime members can save 20 percent when they buy Amazon's Mama Bear brand diapers (size 1, 216 count) with a subscription.
BULK CLEANING SUPPLIES
The experience of buying your favorite dishwashing detergent, window cleaning fluid, or floor cleaner in person doesn't really add a whole lot of value. Online, you can buy large refill sizes without having to heave them in and out of a cart and car. Windex glass and surface cleaner from Walmart costs $15 for a gallon jug and a 32-ounce spray bottle, or about 9.3 cents an ounce, and ships for free with a $35 minimum order, compared with $6.53 for two spray bottles, or 15 cents an ounce. Not huge savings, but a lot less lugging.
There are a couple of important things to know about buying contacts online. The first is that you can order from a number of big online retailers (such as Walmart Contacts) at competitive prices. The second is that a valid, current annual prescription is required to make an order. Before reflexively buying contact lenses through an eye doctor, look online for savings.
Shopping for pots, pans, strainers, measuring cups, and other cooking implements online offers a far broader range of choice than even a major kitchen-supply store, and likely also a better deal. Amazon, for example, is selling a 12-piece Cook N Home cookware set with a claimed list price of $70 for $49, an amount that qualifies for free shipping.
A lot of exercise equipment is too big and heavy to have delivered to your door, and you'll likely want to try something like an elliptical machine in person before buying. But fitness accessories that might be heavy or cumbersome to bring home from a store often nonetheless ship for free with a minimum order online. For example, Amazon sells a highly rated kettlebell weight for a little over $25.
Online is the way to buy makeup if you have a set of products you always use and don't care to experiment with new shades or looks. You may also want to buy directly from the manufacturer to save by "cutting out the middleman." Makeup health advocate and author Paula Begoun, for example, established her own brand and online store, Paula's Choice, and sells directly to the public.
For people who typically choose the same style of pants, shirt, and other basics and don't need to try them on, online shopping is a godsend. You save all the time you would have spent in stores, and probably some money, too. Old Navy, for example, is selling regular men's jeans online at half off their usual price. A discount like that is likely to empty store shelves of popular sizes and washes.
Pet food purchases don't usually vary a lot, and you can buy online in whatever quantity is the best value — without having to haul heavy bags yourself. If you buy a mainstream brand, head online to Target, Walmart, and other large retailers. For something more specialized, try a pet store. PetSmart.com is currently selling 13-pound bags of Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diets Dog Food for $39.78 (down from the regular $42 price) and offers free shipping on orders in excess of $49.
Socks always seem like an incidental purchase. You're buying shoes, so you may as well get some more socks. Or you're stocking up on underwear, so you fill up the sock drawer, as well. Online shopping affords an opportunity to give socks some more attention and have fun with them. Instead of making do with the basic choices from big retailers, why not try a sock specialist with panache, such as The Sock Drawer? Unlike clothing sizes, sock sizes aren't precise, so there's little concern about fit.
VITAMINS AND DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
The biggest advantage here is choice and convenience. If you are a regular consumer of vitamins, it may be quicker and easier to stock up online. If you take less-common supplements, you'll have a broader range of choices. In some cases, you can go directly to the website of the vitamin or supplement maker. GNC, for example, offers an extensive range of vitamins under its own brand.
If you don't enjoy shoe shopping, or you want a lot of selection, head to an online shoe-shopping site such as Zappos. It pioneered the idea of free shipping and free returns, so you can return any shoes that don't fit, don't suit you, or just don't look as good on your feet as they did on the website. Zappos also has a free rewards program that offers expedited two-day shipping at no cost.
Gift Card Granny shows where to buy gift cards online for less than face value — and who says a gift card has to be a gift? Shop at a discount by paying with gift cards at big-name retailers.
Shopping online for luggage is a wise move, and prices from big name stores like Kohl’s and JCPenney can even be better on the web. Comparison shopping is easier, and you’ll be able to put online reviews to good use. You won’t have to lug any suitcases, either. There’ll be time enough for that on your trips. March is the prime time to find bargains on luggage.
If you have a simple eyeglass prescription, buying a new pair of specs online can be a huge money saver. Some online vendors offer prices starting below $10, and others boast free shipping for returns. Plus the selection will be far wider than what you’ll likely find at your local optometrist’s shop. Check out Cheapism’s review of online eyeglass sellers to see which vendors are the best fit for you.