Looking at ourselves and the world through the lens of the 21st century.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

When a Bargain Isn't a Bargain...or Is It?

I hate shopping. I know…I’m a weirdo, but I just hate it. Don’t get me wrong, I love to “acquire” things, but the actual shopping part…not so much. I hate traffic. I hate crowds of rude people. And I especially hate going out of my way to buy something specific only to find the store doesn’t have what I want. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve had to go out in search of an outfit for a specific event or to buy a gadget to fulfill a certain function in my home, and then to traipse from store to store searching for the right thing. The one that fits. Or the one that’s the right color. Or made out of the right kind of material. And as often as not, I never find exactly what I’m looking for, but have to settle for something that “will do”. I just hate it.

That’s why I love online shopping. I can sit at home in the comfort of my pajamas and shop – any time of day, for any number of items, with as much or as little specificity as I care to explore. I can sit here for hours scrolling through Amazon search results looking for just the right notebook or craft supply. I can order two items, have them shipped to me for free (thank you, Amazon Prime!), and keep the one I want. The other is as easy to return as dropping by a UPS store with a pre-printed barcode (or scan it from your phone) provided by Amazon when you request the return.

I have become such a hermit since the onset of COVID. Between the worry about spreading the disease, the discomfort of the masks, and the sheer number of people who seem to be out and about during the daytime lately, I’d just rather stay home. I try to reserve my forays into the public for activities that truly interest me or tasks I simply must complete. I mentioned in our “Eating Healthy on a Budget” podcast that I subscribe to HelloFresh. When I’m working on a scrapbooking or creative project, I usually get my photo prints delivered by Amazon or Persnickety Prints. I’ve even changed many of my prescription drugs over to auto-delivery, and those that couldn’t, I’ve set up for 90-day refill cycles. If I can automate it – I do. If I can schedule it, I will. 

You would think all this home delivery would cost more, but really it doesn’t. Being willing to wait a few days, denying that instant gratification of going out to a store and acquiring it right now, often makes products and services less expensive. A retail store has to pay for retail space, which is often very expensive. The more products a store has to have on hand, the more space the store needs to display it, which also means more employees, not to mention the initial outlay of capital to have the product on hand in the first place. The exceptions to this are, of course, big box stores like Walmart, Costco, Sams, etc. who can buy in bulk, but even they are subject to the reality of having retail space and employees to display the merchandise, while online retailers sell right out of their warehouses, eliminating the middle-man of retail space, retail employees, and supply chains entirely.

I also like to shop from small business entrepreneurs – small mom-and-pop shops and sole-proprietors who offer unique items, sometimes at boutique prices. While it’s not strictly “inexpensive” (more often than not, it’s actually higher-priced), it is often exactly the item I’m looking for, and I like the idea that I’m helping support a person rather than a corporation. It’s an even better plus if the shop is local, but I’ll buy from online retailers, too. I like to support that individual creativity, and the quality of service you get from these businesses is worth every penny you pay for it - so really it IS a bargain. Etsy is a great online source for these types of creative endeavors, and another bonus is that I can both shop and sell there.

In the end, I think you have to be the judge of what a “bargain” means to you. After all, the New Oxford American Dictionary defines a bargain as “an agreement between two or more parties as to what each party will do for the other.” If you don’t mind spending your time and gas driving to multiple locations to get the best sale price, then that’s a good bargain for you. Or if you’d rather pay a little more to shop in private or to shop from specialty sellers, then that’s really a bargain, too. The price is only a small part of it.

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