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The $152 Internet Bargain

When to decide if a trip to Target is a better bet

   Steve BassBy Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group

I don't have a good head for numbers, so double-check these figures for me, okay? I went online, pressed a few buttons, and two minutes later, bought a bottle of multivitamins for $10 and some Folic Acid for $3. Shipping was $3 so the entire bill was $16, right?

Nope. It cost me closer to $152 and two hours of futzing.

Raise your hand if you think shopping on the Internet can save you money. No doubt it can, provided you use it efficiently.

In the next few minutes, I'll show you the mistakes I've made (hey, I'm not as bright as I look, okay?), how you can avoid them, and maybe stave off a few gray hairs in the process.

Bargain Hunting

The trap I always seem to fall into is spending a few minutes trying to find the best deal on the Internet. (Computing minutes, as you may have noticed, are not related to real minutes, but that's another story.) I started by opening my Internet Explorer Favorites and trying to remember which folder I tucked the “vitamins and drugs” into.

Oddest thing, I muttered, is how these darn Favorites have a way of getting disorganized. I mean, what was I thinking when I combined DVD Rentals and DVD Player Research into the same folder. That's confusing, even to me, and it might be best if I separated them into two folders. I wouldn't take five minutes to fix. You think?

Of course, an interesting thing happened while cleaning and dusting my Favorites. I noticed the “Free Stuff” folder, the one with coupons, discounts, and giveaways. Right, I think, I'd better stop by there first and see if Drugstore.com or MotherNature.com is offering free shipping. My first stop is to couponsforyou.com. Nothing for me there because it's a dot.gone. So were four other coupon sites. I hit the jackpot with www.dealofday.com because drugstore.com offered free shipping and a free diaper travel bag with any $20 order. Cool, I could use the diapers for buffing the car and I'd find something to do with the bag. And free shipping will put $4.95 in my pocket.

So What's the Deal?

The deal wasn't difficult to handle. Do all your shopping, stick the code into the special box on checkout, and shipping was deducted from the total. I did all my shopping, clicked done, and drugstore.com gleefully greeted me. “Yo! Steve-o! Welcome back buddy. Good to see you! But listen, the free shipping, and diaper deal? New customers only. Sorry, pal.” Busted.

I couldn't just let that go. It was a challenge to my hacker mentality and less-than-adequate hacking skills. Creating a new user name and account couldn't be much work, and drugstore.com wouldn't be the wiser. I really wanted that diaper bag.

Busted Again

“Hey, Frank, when did you move in with Bass?” Around ten this morning, I fumed. It was a good question and one that I felt drugstore.com had no right to ask. As a consenting adult, what I did with my alias is my business.

I was busted again and chose not to play around with drugstore.com's cookies. So I headed back to AdvanceRX's site, added three bottles of Folic Acid to AdvanceRx's shopping cart. But it hit me that Drugstore.com was selling it in bottles of 200 tablets, a better deal. I think. But hell, even if I paid for shipping and went without the diaper bag, that'd save me roughly $2. Better check.

So I open a fourth browser window, navigate to the site, and find I was right the first time. Advance RX is the best deal. You know, Bass, I think, kicking myself. You oughta stick this stuff on a spreadsheet so next time you can refer back to it. Easy enough to do, so I do a few rows and columns, stick in sites, vitamins, prices, shipping, and whether I've ordered there before. It was worth the 35 minute investment, really, even though I decided to forego any fancy fonts or formatting.

Stay Calm, Okay?

By now I'm feeling a little antsy so I head back to AdvanceRX to place the order and get on with my life. At this point, you're probably one step ahead of me. I faced a really dumb problem: After all my futzing elsewhere, AdvanceRX timed out. The shopping cart was empty, my patience was fading, and I was in dire need of a psychotropic drug. Try clicking IE's Back button, I thought and Windows applauded my decision with a General Protection Fault. With all the B vitamins I'd depleted, I didn't think it made sense to bother rebooting.

I asked my wife if she'd like to make a quick trip to Costco. She did, we found the vitamins (about $2 more than online, not including the stress formula I felt a need to buy); we also bought $100 of stuff we really didn't need and went out for lunch.

Next month? Shopping Tips for Internet Shopaholics. 

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and ran the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://www.pcworld.com/newsletters/index.html. 


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