If you're still spending weekends in line at the grocery store or battling crowds at the mall, it's time to go home and start shopping from your couch instead.
More than half of U.S. households regularly shop on the Web, but online purchases still make up only 7 percent of total retail sales, according to Forrester Research. That suggests most people still aren't leveraging the full power of online shopping to their advantage. Today, consumers can buy everything from food to flowers to furniture over the Web, which can save time (just click and purchase), money (coupons are often easier to find online, plus staying home means saving on gas), and sanity (there are no lines in your den). The reasons to continue visiting bricks-and-mortar shops are dwindling.
"It's crazy to save $10 [on shipping costs] by standing in line for an hour," says Sherrie Schneider, coauthor of The Rules for Marriage, an advice book that advocates shopping online to reduce stress and, ultimately, improve home life. "Maybe that hour of shopping is the hour you could be on the treadmill or getting the house organized. It cuts into the quality of life."
Freebies. Shipping costs can often be eliminated altogether by choosing retailers that offer free shipping or by finding a coupon. Amazon.com, for example, offers free shipping on many orders over $25, and the food delivery service peapod.com provides frequent discounts. Comparison websites, such as eCoupons.com, DealTaker.com, and RetailMeNot.com, let shoppers browse coupons online for thousands of retailers at once—not something that can be done at the mall or by paging through a pile of newspaper inserts. (Of course, users are also missing out on the social aspect of mingling with fellow customers, which some shoppers enjoy.) One RetailMeNot.com survey found that, on average, users saved $29 on a $151 purchase.
"It's all about convenience and reducing stress," says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org, the National Retail Federation's digital division. Improved technology, such as faster Internet connections, also makes it easier, he says. Indeed, consumer satisfaction with Internet retail has climbed over the past seven years, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Safety has also improved: Credit card companies and retailers offer more protections to guard against fraud.
Once you get comfortable buying fruit and vegetables or computers online, don't stop there: Schneider suggests using the Web to find romance.