When Is It Cheaper to Shop at the Mall?

by Emily Guy Birken · 6 comments

In general, savvy shoppers know that online retailers will beat the prices you find in brick-and-mortar stores. After all, online retailers don’t have the overhead that’s necessary for maintaining a storefront. Add in the fact that comparison shopping online takes nothing more than the click of a button, and it’s clear that online retailers need to offer the lowest prices possible to remain competitive.

However, there are some instances when it’s actually cheaper to run to the mall than it is to visit Amazon.

Here are three situations in which you can expect to spend less if you shop at a traditional store:

1. You’re buying ubiquitous and inexpensive goods.

In 2012, Brad Tuttle of Time reported that shopping for back-to-school basics, like erasers, construction paper, and markers, was actually cheaper if you were to purchase the items at a store rather than online.

There are two reasons for this. First, brick-and-mortars can use these types of common items as loss leaders to get more traffic into the store, whereas online retailers can’t do the same. So a careful shopper can spend a great deal less money (but a lot more time) to find the deals on these types of general items.

Second, shoppers who choose to buy their school supplies online are by and large hoping to get their shopping done quickly — and are willing to pay a little more for the convenience. Price sensitivity isn’t a reason to do your school supply shopping online.

2. You’re offered coupons.

While some online retailers offer various coupon codes and savings opportunities, many of these coupons will require a minimum purchase for redemption.

Several brick-and-mortar stores, on the other hand, have made a practice of offering coupons that are good for almost any purchase. For example, Bed Bath and Beyond regularly mails out 20% off coupons that are good on almost any of their merchandise and for any purchase, no matter how small.

Even if the products you’re searching for are a little cheaper online, the brick-and-mortar store will come out ahead when you factor in shipping costs and in-store coupons.

3. The store offers a price-match guarantee.

In order to remain competitive with online retailers, many stores are now promising to match any online price. As long as you have to pay for shipping for your online purchase, then taking advantage of a brick-and-mortar’s price-match guarantee will be cheaper.

The Bottom Line

In most cases, it makes more financial sense to do your shopping from your laptop, rather than in a store. But if price is your main concern, recognize that the internet doesn’t have the market cornered. Brick-and-mortar stores can still be competitive, despite the cheaper reputation of online retailers.

What items do you still prefer to buy at brick-and-mortar stores?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Amy says:

    I’m a big user of coupons, so I typically shop for groceries, household products, and personal care items in stores. Also, if I’m not sure about a products or the different options available, sometimes I prefer to see and compare them in-person.

  • bert says:

    This title is slightly misleading, as this is basically a comparison between the brick and mortar vs. online shopping. There is rarely a good time to go malling. Who do you think pays the money to allow the retailer the ability to pay up to $50/ft for their space?

  • Paul says:

    When shopping for things that I don’t need right away, I frequently use the comparison shopping app called RedLaser. It allows my to scan the bar code on the item which brings up a couple of online retailers with prices for that same product.

  • I definitely shop around for the best deals. I typically start at the malls and if there is something regular price, I try to find it online. If not, a coupon is likely to pop up. So, patience plays a part in saving money and finding the best deals.

  • The only time that I shop at the mall when they have untestable offers like Buy One Get One Free. These usually wok out well for me from a cost saving standpoint because I can get a great deal on a brand that I like that would normally cost me more.

  • MoneyNing says:

    I’ll add clothing on the list. It’s difficult to know (unless you buy all the sizes) which exact size will fit you the best just by looking at the sizing charts since some brand’s “large” is another brand’s “medium”. Plus, you can’t really tell the quality of the fabric and how it looks on you unless you see it in person.

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