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Online shopping really does save you time and money

Get the most out of online shopping by educating yourself about the process and the prices.

25 October 2018
8 minute read

woman sitting on couch buying online

Although online shopping represents only 1% of the total retail sales in South Africa, there are 19.9 million online shoppers in our country, and they spent R10 billion in 2017. The number of users and the amount that they spend online is anticipated to keep growing steeply as internet access and trust in online retailers increases. We took a look at the cost benefits of taking your retail therapy online and addressed some concerns that people have about doing so.

Is it cheaper to buy online?Online shopping offers specific benefits to consumers, compared with shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. The most obvious of these is cost savings, but this is not always a given. Online shoppers should be willing to do some legwork to work out whether the online option is the cheapest option.

Here are some things to consider when shopping online to save money:

  • If you make a list and shop online, you are less likely to impulse buy than if you were making your way down the aisles of a store. While the products at, for example, a food retailer might cost you the same online as they do on the retailer’s website, the mere fact that you are shopping online will probably save you a packet.
  • When buying online, it’s possible to compare pricing more easily. All you need is two tabs open on your computer, instead of having to spend time or petrol visiting two different physical stores. It’s also easy to compare brands within a category, for example “milk” or “tins of tomato”, at one online store.
  • At some online stores, like Pick n Pay online, you can create shopping lists and instantly add your regular items to your trolley, which will save you time each time you shop.
  • As long as your purchases meet the minimum cost for free delivery, you can shop at two different stores for the same batch of products – for example, end-of-year stationery, instead of trying to work out which store is the cheapest overall and doing all your shopping in one place.
  • Delivery fees vary and must be taken into account when working out how much you are saving (or not saving, as the case may be).
  • Be very aware of the dimensions or volume of products you are buying online. What looks like a great saving may just be a smaller size package!
  • Some stores – Makro, Pick n Pay and Exclusive Books, for example – offer “online only” specials, so it’s always worth checking out the pricing of individual items, even if one store is usually more expensive than another. There’s often an emailed newsletter or promotions sheet you can subscribe to.
  • Don’t forget your points – if you are part of a loyalty programme at one store, try to factor in the value of the points as well as the savings by shopping online. It could work out that while another store might be cheaper, the points lost mean that you are losing out on benefits.
  • If sites have a minimum spend before free delivery kicks in, you can shop smart by buying bulk or splitting your order with a friend. Don’t buy things you wouldn’t otherwise have bought, but if there is something you are likely to need in the next month or so, it’s worth buying it now to secure the delivery discount and overall saving.

Shopping by the numbersWe took a look at some price comparisons across some of South Africa’s leading e-tailers to get a sense of how much you can save by shopping around.

iPhone XS

 Store  Price Delivery
 Takealot (online only)  R21 499.00

Free for orders over R450, otherwise R60

 Apple (same price in store and online)  R21 999.00 Free for orders over R1 000
 Makro (product only available at Makro online)  R21 999.00 Minimum delivery fee is R55, calculated by destination and weight of package

While the pricing was fairly consistent across the different e-tailers, one did offer a lower price on the iPhone. Also, worth noting were the differences in delivery costs, which would have been more relevant if the minimum cost for delivery had not been covered. 

Book: Courtney’s War by Wilbur Smith (hardback)

 Store  Price  Delivery
Takealot (online only)  R392.00

Free for orders over R450, otherwise R60

Exclusive Books (product same price in store and online)  R328.00

Free for orders over R350
Local courier R60
Local postal R100

Reader's Warehouse (product same price in store and online)  R249.00 Free for orders over R300

Book shopping is where comparative online shopping really comes into its own. There is a difference of R143 between the cheapest and most expensive price. However, this price difference is not consistent, and shoppers are advised to research the cost of each book they want to purchase, rather than assuming one e-tailer will always be cheaper. Both Exclusive Books and Reader’s Warehouse offer special online offers on some books, which are costlier in store.

Bantex file, 70mm lever arch

Store Price Delivery
Pick n Pay (product same price in store and online) R29.95

Specified by region

Takealot (online only) R52.00

Free for orders over R450, otherwise R60

Makro (product same price in store and online) R59.80 Minimum delivery fee is R55 calculated by destination and weight of package

This again illustrates the value in shopping around – especially if you are buying your child’s school stationery. But it is worth noting that some stores have “back to school” sales, so keep an eye out for these to get the best bargains (but still be sure to shop comparatively).

Tastic Rice 1kg

Store Price Delivery
Woolworths (product same price in store and online) R17.99

Free delivery for first time users, then between R50 and R90 depending on location and order

Pick n Pay (product same price in store and online) R16.99

Specified by region

Makro (product same price in store and online) R13.95 Minimum delivery fee is R55, calculated by destination and weight of package

As you can see, there’s a massive difference in price between the costs of this staple food item at the difference online stores. If you consider the number of items in your shopping trolley, you’ll see that the savings soon add up if you shop at the cheapest store.

As with everything, there are some concerns to consider when purchasing anything online.

Concern number 1: SecurityThe number one concern that most people list when contemplating online shopping is security. If you are worried about this, there are some steps you can take to keep your financial information safe:

  • Only ever shop at a known retailer. If you’re not sure, ask your friends if they’ve heard of the store and look for reviews online.
  • Before you do anything on the internet, especially shopping, your internet security software should be up to date.
  • The URL for a secure website will start with “https”. The “s” means that the website has SSL certification, which will encrypt your credit card details when you enter them.
  • Before you make a purchase, check that there’s a customer care line so you can follow up if you have any queries.
  • Make sure you check your credit card statements regularly so that you can immediately query any irregular amounts and have them reversed by your bank.

Concern number 2: Returns policyWhile it’s not possible to put your mind at rest about every online store’s returns policy, we can tell you that e-tailers are aware of the fact that a reasonable returns policy makes them more appealing. Online clothes stores especially understand that shoppers need to try items on before making a final decision. For this reason, most of South Africa’s leading retailers have a no-charge returns policy, and many will even collect the unwanted item from you. Of course, it’s up to you to research any website’s returns policy before you click “buy”.

It’s worth noting that most international retailers do not have the same forgiving returns policies, as international shipping is costly, so check their policies and stick local if this is a concern for you.

Concern number 3: Your availabilityYou might be worried that if you place an order, you won’t be there to receive it when it arrives. For this reason, you should always specify a daytime delivery address where someone is likely to be. If there’s no one at home in the week, have the order delivered to your place of work, or to a friend’s house. The retailers and their delivery companies are quite good at letting you know when the delivery will be made - some even specify time slots within the day, while others specify a specific day only. And if there’s no one around when the delivery is made, the company will be in touch, and make arrangements to deliver at another time.

The bottom lineOnline shopping is growing in South Africa, and it’s possible to find just about everything you need online. Increasingly, there are brands, products or specials available only online, and not in regular stores. The trick is to work the system so that you get the best possible deal. Fortunately, you can find out everything you need to know with a click of your mouse or a swipe of your finger – so there’s no excuse for being overcharged.

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