Undoubtedly, one of the best feelings is buying something on Amazon that sharply undercuts what you’d typically pay in a drugstore or supermarket.
Conversely, one of the most annoying feelings is when you overpay on Amazon and see that same item on the endcap in Target for one-third the price.
I beat myself up for three days over what I thought was a wise purchase—toilet paper and paper towels on Amazon with a coupon. It looked like it was Prime, so I was thrilled to worship the free overnight shipping gods and felt I had outsmarted the CVS next door and their laughable markups.
I must not have been paying close attention at checkout, because at later inspection of my receipt, I noticed I had paid $5.99 in shipping.
What the expletive?
These household goods were Prime Pantry, not Prime, some other godforsaken magic voodoo Amazon service for which I (a) had not paid for previously and (b) had not noticed while checking out. My fault, for sure, but still incredibly aggravating that my total for six rolls of toilet paper and the equivalent in paper towels had cost me upwards of $17.
(I realize this isn’t that big of an expense; I’ve spent $17 at a taco place for lunch before, but it was the principle of attempting to do something in order to save money and inadvertently wasting it that made me feel like the world’s worst online shopper.)
To rub salt in the Bezos-inflicted wound, I was in Target the next day picking up protein bars and saw their new Smartly line of ultra-cheap health and beauty products. Paper towels? $1.19 for two rolls (or $3.57 for the amount I bought). Toilet paper? $0.99. No f***ing shipping costs in sight!
I practically kicked over the display, I was so pissed (but not before I picked up a $0.99 body wash that smells like an attractive man).
Whatever, lesson learned. I won’t buy household products on Amazon again unless I can confirm (and confirm again) that they’re significantly cheaper than their generic, store-brand cousins.
There are, however, some things I’ll never buy in a store again after seeing how much more cheaply I can get them on Amazon (if you’re one for DIY furniture, Amazon is a great resource—check out my “Chic Bedroom on an Entry-Level Budget” post for my entire bedroom under $1,000).
Keep in mind these aren’t mind-blowing, slap-yo-mama differences. When the store price is $30, even a $6 break represents paying 20% less. So while $6 may not sound like much, you’d take a 20% coupon to the store if you had one, right?
Moreover, recently I’ve noticed Amazon offering coupons right in the product description portal. Between an additional 15% and 30% off, usually you can save more on top of the initial undercut price.
For the most part, it’s beauty products, but there are a few outliers I love.
It’s a 10 Hair Products
You’ll pay roughly $1.62/oz. for the It’s a 10 conditioner at stores like Target (a 10-oz. bottle is about $16.19) vs. $0.91/oz. on Amazon. I buy the 33-oz. pump-top bottle for about $29.88 and it lasts several months. The same bottle is $44.29 at Ulta.
I’ve been using this conditioner for a couple years now and I’m obsessed with it. I deviated (like a moron—never abandon a beauty regimen that works!) and was so annoyed by the other products that I returned them and went back to this one.
Absolute difference: $14.41
Percent difference: about 33% off
My holy grail purple shampoo that I recommend to everyone, the Joico Color Balance Purple Shampoo
For $26.66 on Amazon, you can get the size that’ll set you back $33.99 at Ulta. And it’ll come delivered to your door, rather than require you to tempt yourself by walking through the other 400 sq. ft. of beauty products that you don’t need.
Absolute difference: $7.33
Percent difference: about 22% off
ONE Protein Bars
In the aforementioned Target story, I was stopping by the new Preston Center location to pick up a four-pack of these bad boys (1 gram of sugar and 20 grams of protein—can’t beat it, and they taste incredible).
Due to poor planning, I had to pay *gasp* full price for a four-pack, or $7.99. It makes WAY more sense to buy things like this on Amazon because you can buy them in bulk (i.e., more than a mere four days’ worth) for less.
This story illustrates a separate point that’s served as a major takeaway during my shift toward a ~reformed materialist consumer~ lifestyle: a little planning goes a long way. Small amounts of discipline and thinking ahead make for a pretty easy life.
But because I hadn’t planned for my expensive protein bar habit, I spent full price. Blah.
Instead, I like to buy them on Amazon—a 12-pack for $17.49. That’s $1.45 per bar vs. $1.99 per bar at Trader Joe’s or in the Target four-pack.
For the same amount (12) at Target or Trader Joe’s…
Actual difference: $6.39
Percent difference: about 27% off
The Birthday Cake flavor (my favorite) is on sale right now for an additional 30% off, so I got 12 bars for $12.24 (half off the price I’d pay in store) with free shipping thanks to bae, Amazon Prime.
As my paper towel/toilet paper debacle illustrated, Amazon isn’t always cheaper. But if you typically buy products at pseudo-specialty stores (Whole Foods, Ulta, GNC, etc.), you could probably find the product on Amazon for cheaper—and maybe with an add-on coupon, too.
Of course, you can’t overstate the convenience of next-day free delivery with Amazon Prime. I think paying for convenience is a little fruity-First-World, but if you’re paying less for MORE convenience, I don’t know why you’d trek to the store anyway and risk buying a bunch of other shit you don’t need or fighting the masses in crowded parking lots.
Check out these categories of things you buy regularly and make the comparison:
Protein shakes & bars
Happy online shopping, Cyber Monday friends! While I'm not encouraging you to buy things you don't need, I DO encourage you to buy the stuff you already use and need for less.
P.S. Anyone have the Amazon credit card? I know it gives you an automatic 5% back. Thoughts?
The young woman's money guide to all the things you're too embarrassed to ask your friends. Build the life you thought you were too broke to afford through managing your spending habits, travel hacking, and simple, smart investing.
Full-time Brand marketer at Southwest Airlines, part-time Yoga Sculpt teacher, occasional Waffle House Model and reformed materialist.
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