Big box stores like BJ's, Costco, and Sam's Club lure customers with the promise of saving by buying in bulk. But do they really pay off for the average consumer, or can you get better deals by shopping at smaller retail stores and local shops? Is shopping big worth it for you? Here are five pros and cons to consider.
Price is the biggest factor most of us consider when choosing where to shop.
Big-box stores offer their most attractive discounts on big-ticket items, undercutting specialty stores and smaller retailers. So yes, you can save hundreds of dollars on electronics, appliances, and other major purchases.
But not everything in big-box stores carries a deep discount. Once they have you in the store, they're counting on you to purchase other items that aren't deeply discounted and that you might not even need.
When you're in a big box store, your best bet is to buy what you came for and avoid browsing around. Check out the weekly specials in your neighborhood market or discount store and collect their coupons. You may find you'll get a better deal on some items.
Big-box stores typically carry items in extra-large sizes. Real bargains can be had by purchasing bulk non-perishable items like paper goods. Food items with a long shelf life such as soda, canned goods, or jumbo bags of frozen chicken wings are usually well priced.
That works for large families but it might not be worth it for singles or small families. And it doesn't work well at all for people who live in small spaces with limited storage.
Be practical. Purchase what you can easily store and avoid buying large volumes of perishables that may go bad before you get a chance to use them.
Warehouse clubs charge yearly membership fees, usually $60 to $100 a year. That fee gets you in the door.
If you have a large family and shop frequently, the money you save over the course of a year should easily cover the cost of the membership fee.
If you don't frequent the store, your fee may not be recouped, and you're better off shopping at smaller retailers and local markets.
Consider your shopping habits before you fork over $60 or more for the privilege of walking through the door.
The Shopping Experience
Big-box stores attract big crowds, which can mean long checkout lines and mobbed parking lots.
Sometimes fighting the crowds is worth it. If it weren't, retailers wouldn't be able to count on Black Friday sales to get them through the fourth quarter. But sometimes the struggle isn't worth it, not to mention the time and stress. When you count up your savings, offset it by considering what your time is worth.
At the very least, try to shop at off-times when the crowds are likely to be smaller. And think long-term, buying enough to last a few weeks instead of a few days.
When it comes to customer interaction, big-box stores are very different from your typical Main Street shop.
Some big box stores don't spend much on customer service. The few employees on the floor are kept busy re-stocking the shelves. For that matter, their customers typically aren't so much interested in chatting with the sales associates as they are in making their purchases. If you're confident being on your own, the big-box store is the place for you.
Some shoppers like the personal attention and expert assistance that mom-and-pop stores and specialty shops can offer.
Ask yourself which you prefer, anonymity or up-close and personal attention.
The Bottom Line
Big-box stores definitely have their place in the American consumer landscape, as do small retailers and local shops. The wise shopper considers the advantages of each and takes a hard look at where the real bargains are.