Personally, leaving home can be a real pain in the backside. I don’t drive and where we live, while smack in the middle of a relatively major city, is not within reasonable walking distance of anything I typically want or need to do. Okay, there is a liquor store less than a mile away but I’m not a heavy drinker so that’s not much of a factor. The closest grocery is a little over three miles away. Decent restaurants are further than that. Banking is a little closer but requires crossing a major traffic artery that doesn’t have a crosswalk—which is a bit scary most days.
When I do leave home, I have to ask for a ride. Sure, the Young Woman is generally very gracious in taking me where I need to go, but she also has a job outside of our home and I hate asking her to get back out after she’s spent eight or more hours on her feet. There are other friends willing to help but each of them has their own lives and obligations which makes their availability sporadic at best. Besides, no one wants to be that dude that’s constantly bumming rides off other people.
We do have reasonable public transportation, which is a plus for certain things in certain places, but it doesn’t really work when I need to buy groceries or dog food. The bus could pick me up right in front of the house (which it doesn’t) and I still wouldn’t want to be the dude lugging a 20-pound bag of kibble around. Talk about not being cool! Dude (using that term in the most non-gender-specific way possible), oversized bags of any kind for any reason on public transportation doesn’t work for anyone. Don’t be that person.
Fortunately, modern technology now has us at a point where there’s very little reason to ever leave home except for the pursuits of pleasure, such as bowling. I mean, pizza delivery has been a thing for over 40 years. The Internet opened the door to online shopping. And with Amazon having recently purchased Whole Foods, the world of grocery delivery just became a lot more practical and competitive. If your local grocery doesn’t deliver, keep watch because this is the next big make-or-break point for that industry. Stores that don’t offer delivery in some form are going to go out of business. I’ve gone through a list of everything that formerly required me to leave home and the only thing on that list that I can’t take care of online is liquor and that’s only because I live in the insipidly stupid state of Indiana. Most other places, though, even liquor delivery is possible.
Taking care of everything online isn’t necessarily easy, though. If you really want or need to stay home as much as I do then there are some preparatory things one might want to address before you start clicking randomly around the Internet. There are some things to know some places to avoid, and some information one needs to have available before starting. Here are some tips to make your experience a smoother.1Do price comparisons before you start shopping
One of the benefits of shopping online is the ability to easily compare prices at different stores. Where we get into trouble, though, is we find a good price on one item on one website, another great price on a different item at another website, and we end up ordering an entire basket full of goods from a dozen different places. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, if one is making major purchases such as furniture, luxury fashion, and other high-ticket goods. Those almost always come with free shipping built into the price. With smaller items, though, that’s certainly not the case. Most sites have a minimum dollar amount or require a prepaid membership before free shipping kicks in. If one only purchases one or two small items from those sites, the cost of shipping can be more than the price of the purchase!
We also have to remember that, like any brick-and-mortar store, websites put lower prices on some popular items as an enticement for you to buy more from them. A store may have a good price on sugar, for example, but everything else could be 4- to 5% higher, meaning that your overall cost would be more than if you shopped somewhere with a slightly higher price for sugar.
Online stores are no less competitive, and sometimes more so than brick-and-mortar stores. If you’re purchasing things such as groceries, household items, or smaller office supplies, a better tactic is to make out your shopping list and compare the cost of the full list among three or four different websites. Then you will know which website is going to give you the best overall cost for the goods you need.
You’ll also want to compare free shipping thresholds as well. Some places set the threshold as low as $20 US while others go as high as $50 or more. Depending on where in the world on is located, the speed of delivery may be a factor as well. UPS and FedEx don’t deliver ground-shipped items on weekends, for example, except during the winter holiday rush. So, the dog food that I order this morning won’t be here until Tuesday of next week. Price, shipping cost, and speed of delivery all factor into which website is the best source for your purchase.2Check for online coupons wherever your shop
There are coupons and discounts for almost every online retailer but if you’ve never shopped that website you’re not likely to know about them. There are dozens of websites and services that try to keep up with different discounts, but the volume is so very high that none of them are totally accurate on every website.
Personally, I use the Honey plugin for the Chrome browser. Click the link to create an account and install the plugin. The software sits there quietly until it senses that you are in a shopping cart. At that moment, it checks its database of coupons and discounts and pops up a window if it has any codes that might work. You decide whether you want Honey to test its discount codes or not. If you do, it runs through the list, eliminates any that are invalid, and chooses the one that saves you the most money. Cool, huh? It’s like clipping coupons without the bothersome and messy task of clipping and organizing coupons.
There are a couple of downsides to online coupon use, though. One is that discount codes tend to change frequently. The discount code that saved you 30% a month ago is probably useless the second time around. If you don’t have a new code you don’t get a discount and even if you do that discount may not be as much as it was last time. It’s difficult to know if you’re going to save any money if you’re waiting until checkout to discover whether Honey or some other service has a code for you.
We also have to keep in mind that sites typically don’t let one use more than one discount code per transaction. There are some exceptions, but if, for example, one has a discount code for 20% off a specific item and another code for 15% off your entire purchase, you’ll have to do some math to decide which is the better discount to use. For those who don’t count math among their strengths, this can be problematic. Still, when shopping online there is almost always some kind of discount to be found somewhere and that’s always helpful.3Know the source before you buy
Erg. Yeah, there’s so very much to do and we’ve not bought a damn thing yet. But hey, we’re getting to stay home, right? A little bit of work on the front end really pays off.
One important point with online shopping, though, is that it is important to know where the online retailer is getting their stuff. Are they making it themselves? If so, that’s super cool! Supporting makers is an uber dude thing to do. If the retailer didn’t make the goods they’re selling themselves, though, then we have two different reasons to be careful. One is that the goods may be unethically sourced. The second is that what you’re buying may actually be stolen. Let me explain.
First, there is a shit ton of goods sold in the US and around the world that are unethically sourced. By unethically sourced we mean that the people producing those goods at dirt-cheap prices are paid wages that amount to pennies per hour, often living in company-owned housing and rarely, if ever, allowed to leave the manufacturer’s facilities. This happens most frequently with goods made in Southeast Asia, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, but can occur almost anywhere and often the consumer has no way of knowing the human cost of what they’re buying. Among the brands who have been caught using unethical labor are H&M, Zara, Nike, Walmart (including its store brands), GAP, Victoria’s Secret, Adidas, Primark, Aldo and Urban Outfitters. Of course, all of those companies deny that they’re involved in anything resembling slave labor, but the Southeast Asian manufacturers responsible for everything from textile production to garment assembly keep on producing more and more and we keep finding it in our closets.
What makes this an especially difficult issue for the online shopper is that there is no obligation to inform consumers where the clothing is made. Yes, the garment itself has to be tagged with the country of origin, or final assembly, but websites are not obligated to publish that information. Websites are still treated as advertising entities and are not subject to labeling laws. Even if they were, though, that garment that says it was made in Taiwan almost certainly passed through three or four other Southeast Asian countries with different pieces being made in different places before final assembly, which may have only been adding a size tag.
Is that really a big issue? For me, personally, yes it is. While I like a bargain, I find it reprehensible that my savings come at the cost of someone else’s prolonged suffering. Maybe it’s not that big a deal for you. Let your conscience be your guide.
The other issue here is a matter of stolen goods. When thieves are able to steal large quantities of items, online outlets are a much safer way to get rid of the merchandise than, say, setting up a pop-up store on a street corner in the hood.
Product theft is a serious problem and is a significant reason the cost of things such as cell phones is so very high. This issue got a little bit personal this week when a good friend who works for a major cell provider was robbed at gunpoint just as the store was opening. The robbers were experienced and knew exactly how long it took to open the safe. They only took iPhones because they knew they could sell those quickly. Fortunately, no one was hurt this time and thanks to some quick thinking on the part of my friend the thieves were caught along with the merchandise before her shift ended.
A large portion of the time, though, the thieves get away with the phones, store them in a rented storage facility, and then sell them online, sometimes through custom websites that are made easily enough, other times through sites such as Craigslist. Almost any time one finds any electronic item priced dramatically below cost one can be pretty certain that the item is stolen. The problem is extremely common and once the phones are sold they’re almost impossible to track.
How do you fight against this problem? Purchase name-brand products only through licensed and/or authorized retail partners. Yes, you’ll pay more, but you’ll also get a warranty that is invalid if the product is stolen and your purchase won’t be putting any lives at risk. This is totally a matter of supply and demand. Remove the demand and there’s no reason to steal the supply.4Know your sizes when shopping for clothes
One might think that knowing what size clothes they wear is a given but it only takes a couple of times receiving something that doesn’t fit to know that the size we think we are and the size we really are can be very different things. Even if your height and weight have held steady for years, our bodies change as we age. Weight shifts from point A to point B slowly without us noticing. Making matters worse, the clothes already in our closet stretch and adjust to our bodies with repeated wearing. So, that pair of jeans that you love wearing may not actually be the size on the label.
This is where you may need some help because no one likes getting all excited about new clothes only to open the box and have them not fit. Disappointment like that can ruin an entire day and make it very difficult to abide. Taking one’s own measurements, especially inseams, is damn near impossible. So, find someone who’s not likely to smirk and crack jokes about how big your gut or your butt is to help you find key measurements: chest (bust), waist, hips, inseam, sleeve (measured from top of shoulder to wrist), and neck (give yourself some breathing room). For most adults, checking those measurements every six months or so should be sufficient. I know we think we stop growing as teenagers, but our bodies never stop adapting to our environment and health.
Once you have your measurements in hand, you can consult a general size chart to get a basic idea of what your size is. Note that sizing is significantly different between the US and Europe. If you’re buying from a website that is not located in your home country you’ll want to double-check those sizes. Most major clothing retailers have size charts on their websites that are helpful. I always consult those charts to make sure that their specific sizing scheme isn’t terribly different from the standard. You’ll be surprised how many places use proprietary sizing charts.
Another resource helpful with sizing is reading product reviews. There are some stores that are consistently shorter than expected, shrinks after washing, or tends to run long. Product reviews tend to give us some insight to these all-too-common problems inherent to shopping online. Little things like this prevent us from having to go through online return hell. No matter how easy the retailer tries to make the return, it almost always involves leaving home. I still have two pairs of shorts that are immensely too large for me because I didn’t want to leave the house to drop the box off at the shipping company. Yes, I can be that lazy. You don’t want to be in the same boat.5Avoid using a payment for tied directly to your bank account
Perhaps the biggest hesitation people have about shopping online is the threat of fraud or theft. There have been stories of financial disaster floating around ever since the first person bought something on the Internet way back when. Not all those stories are true, of course, but it doesn’t really matter because one true story is enough to cause our wallets to stay closed. We’re not encouraged by reports of hacking at major retailers such as Target, Home Depot, JCPenney, or many others. Friends in the tech industry have been telling me for years that there is no such thing as a hack-proof system. The larger the store the more of a target (no pun intended). Hackers will spend years trying to breach the toughest systems.
The best way to protect ourselves from complete financial ruin is to never use a payment method that is directly tied to your bank account. Anywhere. Debit cards are a great convenience but if you’re using one to make purchases, whether online or at the store, you’re putting your finances at risk. For many stores, the databases that hold customer financial information are the same whether the purchase is online or in person. When those systems are hacked it doesn’t matter where the purchase was made, you are now vulnerable. You have to contact your bank and ask for a new card, a process that takes about a week to complete. I know this because I’ve been there. The bank froze our account when it saw suspicious activity. While that kept our account from being cleaned out it also meant we were late paying a couple of critical bills while we waited for new cards.
We have a couple of options here. One is to use a separate credit card that carries fraud protection when making purchases online. Having a card like this is never a bad idea providing one has sufficient credit to actually obtain such a card. Those who have been a bit careless with their credit, which is several million of us, have a bit of difficulty getting some of these cards and sometimes, even more, difficulty when we get one. Not everyone knows how to handle revolving credit well. If you’re in the market and eligible, though, Capitol One seems to have one of the best products out there. That’s not an endorsement, merely an observation. I don’t have one so I can’t speak with any experience.
My personal preference is my PayPal account. I use PayPal a lot. Many of my clients pay through PayPal. If you happen to make a donation to this site (which we encourage) it is processed through PayPal. I then have a choice. If I need to, I can transfer funds to my bank account easily enough. I rarely do that, though. Instead, I use PayPal to make the online purchases I need to make. Granted, PayPal isn’t accepted everywhere yet, but it is accepted by many places including Walmart and Target, both places where I am really reluctant to use a bank card. Even when a PayPal link isn’t listed as the main option (on Walmart’s site you’ll have to click the “more” option at checkout) I’ve been pleased that a quick note to customer service usually results in being given the link to make a purchase with PayPal. Retailers want your money. It’s not in their interest to make that exchange difficult.
PayPal offers some of the best fraud protection I’ve seen. I had one instance where an ordered item was listed by the shipper as being delivered but we had not received it. PayPal worked with the retailer to issue a refund within minutes of filing the complaint. Not days, mind you. Minutes. I can live with that level of responsiveness.
Leaving Home For The Fun Stuff
While no one in our house is especially keen on leaving home when it’s not necessary we’re not exactly hermits, either. We can still be coaxed out to do the things we like, such as attending a friend’s comedy show, a PATTERN launch party, or a chance to go bowling. We like having fun and being around friends when it can be on our own terms, when we’re not already totally exhausted, and when we actually like the people involved.
We’re not as thrilled by the prospect of having to go out and stop at five or six different places, making one or two small purchases at each place, before coming back home. Those trips are both physically and mentally exhausting. I don’t drive and I still get upset when we’re caught in ridiculous traffic. Being able to address all those errands and make all our purchases online helps relieve us of a lot of the stress that comes with day-to-day living.
There are still some challenges, mind you. Fresh meats and fruits, which can spoil quickly, are sometimes a challenge to buy online. I have sources that are reliable, such as Instacart, but depending on what I need their cost may be higher than the store from which the goods are purchased. Sometimes, the ability to stay home is worth paying a little more, especially as we head toward winter. Other times, though, it’s a problem.
People who are reliant on public assistance such as SNAP (food stamps) may also find it difficult to shop online. Because of the restrictions applied to what can be purchased with SNAP or WIC funds, there is no reliable way for the retailer to easily distinguish what is or is not an eligible purchase. Anti-fraud measures typically require that a benefits voucher or EBT card be presented in person to make a purchase. There’s not much retailers can to do help that situation.
Still, any reduction in the number of trips one has to take away from home is helpful. We much rather reserve our fuel and energy for fun trips to the park or visiting a friend. I’m all for leaving home for the fun stuff. Running errands is not fun stuff, though. I’d rather stay home. Thankfully, we can pretty much do just that.
And now, it’s nap time.
Abide in Peace,
The Old Man
And yes, I’m passing the hat