There are plenty of reasons to do your shopping online instead of in stores: Maybe you can find a deeper selection of merchandise on digital shelves. Or maybe you just prefer shopping from the comfort of your couch.
But if what keeps you swiping and typing your way to a purchase is the belief that it’ll get you the lowest prices, you may want to rethink your strategy.
Researchers at Anthem Marketing Solutions compared online and in-store prices on a wide assortment of typical household products. They controlled for brand and package size, and only assessed items that were available in at least three brick-and-mortar stores and at three online outlets.
In 75 percent of their observations, they found no difference in price for a given item. Stephanie McAndrew, senior project manager at Anthem, said that since the team began conducting the semi-annual study in 2010, it has seen a consistent move toward more uniformity between online and in-store prices.
The finding suggests that retailers are unifying their prices as people get comfortable jumping between channels.
The increased consistency on pricing may also reflect a move by many stores to develop a more holistic view of their inventory. In the past, many retailers had separate silos for items to be sold online and in stores. As they move to a single inventory pool, it’s easier for them to maintain uniformity on prices.
The researchers found that price consistency was highest in the household products category, which includes items such as detergent, garbage bags and air fresheners. With prices being the same 80.8 percent of the time, this is the category in which there is perhaps the least incentive to check prices across channels. Meanwhile, the beauty category had the lowest price consistency, 62.1 percent. So it might be helpful to do some research before you pick up a new lipstick or nail polish.
Overall, researchers found that when there was a difference, online prices were better in 75 percent of the cases they observed. But the depth of the deals online varied widely.
For instance, there is potential for deep savings on entertainment items such as DVDs, video games and board games. And the chasm is growing fast: In Anthem’s previous study, there was a 43 percent average savings online in the entertainment category, compared with nearly 74 percent this year.
At the other end of the spectrum is groceries, the only area where there is more of an opportunity for savings in stores than online. Grocery is a retailing category that so far has been among the least disrupted by the boom in online shopping, and perhaps the price difference is in part why some have not given online grocery shopping a try.