What items are ridiculously over priced at retail stores vs. online?
November 28, 2010 12:01 AM   Subscribe

Just bought a bunch of cables on the cheap online, and so now I'm of course wondering -- what are other kinds of products that are generally wildly overpriced at retail stores but actually can be purchased cheaply online? And which online stores are best for these products.

Basically, I'm looking for sites equivalent to monoprice.com but for non-computer products.

I'm aware that most items are less expensive online, often by a good percentage. But cables particularly are ridiculous -- I've been charged $20 for a pretty looking version of what was basically a $2 cable. I'm also aware that you can by used books online for a song but you could do that IRL before pretty much every used bookstore closed their storefront and sold everything through eBay/half/Amazon.

Also inspired by this comment by muirne81 that offered cheap places to buy gaffer's tape, which I've never seen for less than $14/roll.
posted by Deathalicious to Shopping (42 answers total) 220 users marked this as a favorite
Button batteries: a buck or more apiece at the store vs buying 25-50 of them for ~$3 with free shipping. There's a couple of ebay vendors who seemingly sell nothing else.

Curling ribbon (for gift wrapping): ~$4 for a 15' long spool at the store, vs a 500 yard spool for $1.50. Plus a better selection of colors. And different widths.

Furminators (expensive but effective cat/dog deshedding combs): $30+ in stores and many online stores, inc. Amazon but half that on ebay.
posted by jamaro at 12:26 AM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

I was amazed at the low prices of knock-off accessories for my cellphone. Screen saver, USB cable, car charger, plastic case, the little stylus pen - everything was very cheap, but when purchased in a store or via brand name sites was pretty expensive.
posted by CathyG at 12:53 AM on November 28, 2010

Oh, and light bulbs. Especially if you need specialty ones, like the bulbs for the can lights in our ceiling or the round bulbs for the bathroom vanity mirror.
posted by CathyG at 12:55 AM on November 28, 2010

You have to be careful with generic brands though. I bought cheap cell phone accessories only to have them not work a few months later. Same with AA batteries. I often bought button batteries from eBay for $1.00/20pk and never had issues.

Almost anything is cheaper online, I find. You just have to watch the shipping prices and see if it adds up to be cheaper than buying from a local retail store.

I look through Amazon first. I either buy directly from them or 3rd party sellers with decent feedback (new or used depending on the item). Ive bought from domestic sellers on eBay that have good feedback ratings as well. Also a few things from buy.com and newegg.com.

I've bought keyboards, mice, cables, books, clothing, razors, make up, vitamins, printing supplies, etc.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:57 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Amazon has a subscription program where you can get an extra 15% on certain things you buy regularly if you sign up to have them shipped automatically on a schedule of your choice. Shipping is free as long as you are subscribed to the product.

Just type "subscribe and save" in the All Departments search box to get the program information and see what products are available.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:50 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and eyeglasses can be bought online for a fraction of the retail price you'd pay in stores. I recently purchase 5 pair from Zenni Optical for just under $100 including the shipping. They're nice glasses, not designer, but they seem sturdily made and they have a nice selection of styles. I wore my last pair from them every day for two years and they were still going strong when I had to retire them due to a change in prescription.

Of the 5 pair I purchased, one didn't look good on me so I'll be eating the cost of those, something like $12. But having spent about $100 total, that still works out to only $25 a pair for the remaining glasses. I've spent close to $300 for a single pair at my optometrist.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:21 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]

AppleCare via EBay is way cheaper.
posted by backwards guitar at 5:06 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

In my city, top end bicycle components. There are no major stockists of high end parts here, but if you do find a retail store that stocks what you need, you're likely to pay 100-150% more than you would online.
posted by Ahab at 5:07 AM on November 28, 2010

Home pregnancy tests and ovulation predictor sticks are ridiculously overpriced in pharmacies. I usually buy them on eBay for less than a dollar apiece, and the quality is comparable or better.
posted by barney_sap at 7:08 AM on November 28, 2010

Cables are the only thing I've noticed where you get the same quality for the insanely reduced price. (@pccables.com) I bought the Zenni optical glasses once, and they were horseshit. Very terribly made. Same for the cell phone accessories.

(But I'm sure there are other online glasses places where you can get the real brand name frames for a fraction of the cost. Lenses and frames ARE subject to insane markups, no doubt. Ask your eye doctor to show you stuff that has been discontinued but is still available for sale. Got a really nice pair of Nikon frames for like a quarter of the price, and he still made a good 25-50% markup on them.)

Car parts can be had at a pretty good discount from amazon and a place called rockauto. Never had a problem with quality. If you need a dealership-only part, many dealerships operate ebay stores or website stores where you can get the parts a lot cheaper.

Honda dealers install a lot of accessories at the dealership as a highly profitable add-on to the sale. Moreso than regular dealers; it's part of their business plan. (Mudflaps, brush guards, sometimes even the premium wheels.) I'm sure the same things are available elsewhere cheaper.

If your area doesn't have a good discount tire place (like Discount Tire), tires can be bought and shipped to the installer of your choice at a pretty good discount from tirerack.
posted by gjc at 7:42 AM on November 28, 2010

Home pregnancy tests and ovulation predictor sticks are ridiculously overpriced in pharmacies. I usually buy them on eBay for less than a dollar apiece, and the quality is comparable or better.

This AskMe suggested that you can very reliable tests on the cheap at the dollar store, sometimes 2 for a dollar (don't mean to hijack my own thread, just thought it was useful to know).
posted by Deathalicious at 8:21 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Vanilla beans. You can get 10, 20x the amount of vanilla beans from sellers on eBay than you can in most stores for the same price. I've seen stores try and sell two beans for $10-12. For that same price on eBay you can get 1/4 pound or so. (And they are usually much better than the beans you find in stores as well!)
posted by Fortran at 8:23 AM on November 28, 2010

Spices and dried herbs in general. As with vanilla beans, they are way cheaper and far better quality online. I like this place, but I'm sure there are others.
posted by jeoc at 9:08 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Beads are marked up ridiculously in craft stores. You can get fantastic beads on eBay and Etsy for a fraction of what you'd pay at Michael's.
posted by corey flood at 9:46 AM on November 28, 2010

Seconding car/bike parts: particularly fasteners - nuts, bolts, etc. Specialty bits even more so - like Dzus fasteners, for example.
posted by Thistledown at 10:19 AM on November 28, 2010

LED Lights

Computer RAM

SD cards (I assume other digital media cards too)
posted by FlamingBore at 10:31 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Padded envelopes or mailers. Spices. Greenies and bully sticks for dogs (by a factor of at least 3-5x, and they're way better quality). Pieces of felt for sewing and crafts. USB thumb drives and camera memory cards.
posted by barnone at 10:37 AM on November 28, 2010

And which online stores are best for these products.

Anything electronic, or containing parts that are electronic, and my first visit is to The Egg. If NewEgg doesn't have it, then I'll start digging. But 9 times out of 10, anything electronic can be had cheapest at NewEgg. This includes digital cameras, lenses for digital cameras, televisions, rice cookers, washing machines… you name it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:51 AM on November 28, 2010

Most of those nice scented soaps, herbal toothpaste and other "natural health and beauty" products that you see for $$$ at the health food store can be had lots cheaper from Vitacost. They also have some packaged grocery items for pretty cheap. Just don't make my mistake, and order delicious crackers at the same time that you order sandalwood soap. Not delicious.
posted by Corvid at 11:09 AM on November 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

I bought the Zenni optical glasses once, and they were horseshit. Very terribly made.

Might have just been that particular pair. I've now owned nine pair of Zenni glasses, my husband owns three, and I have a friend who owns a pair she's been wearing for over a year. None of them would I describe as being terribly made.

A pair of wire frames my husband recently got seem like they might be rather delicate, but then again he got a similar pair from the optometrist a couple of years ago that the wire rim around the lens broke within a month. This pair may be prone to suffer the same fate (hopefully not, they look really nice on him) but if they do, we're only out something like $15. The brick-and-mortar store glasses cost over $200 (though admittedly they did replace the broken ones... I'm not sure what Zenni's return policy would be for something like that.)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:26 AM on November 28, 2010

Cabinet knobs and pulls (name brand, even) are a fraction of the price at the eBay stores compared to home improvement stores. And there's a better selection online.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:47 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Chinese tea. Even in China the kinds of tea shops a monolingual Westerner finds are tourist traps. I seem to recall finding a bunch of different stores online, but thefragrantleaf.com is where I settled. They probably had the kind I wanted at the time.
posted by cmoj at 12:00 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Re: purchasing eyeglasses online: There are certainly great online retailers for glasses, but make sure you thoroughly check out the retailer before you buy so you don't end up with knockoffs or worse. An article in the Business section of the New York Times today discusses a particularly troublesome online eyeglasses retailer...
posted by prior at 1:04 PM on November 28, 2010

Depending on the type of printer you own, ink cartridges. It's about $3 per cartridge online versus $40 at staples for my printer.

You need to check the reviews of the distributor you buy from, but once you find a good source, it's easy to just keep reordering.
posted by newpotato at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dog toys, heartworm medication, monthly flea treatment, dog toys, and general pet supplies often are cheaper online. I am using KV Supply these days for heartworm medication. Amazon has good prices on some dog toys.
posted by easilyamused at 2:32 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

newspaper and magazine subscriptions. i got a year of wsj for $20 - a few times - on ebay and a year of bloomberg biz week for free.

in general: use amazon prime for shopping and get free 2-day shipping or overnight for $4- you can get it for free if you have an .edu email addresss or a month of prime for every $25 you spend on baby good. you can also buy a year of prime on ebay for cheap!
posted by seatofmypants at 3:38 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

nthing Serene Empress Dork's comments on Zenni. They have glasses as cheap as 8 USD but with the options I want and shipping I usually spend about 35 USD. They have been totally satisfactory (admittedly I have a very simple prescription).
posted by werkzeuger at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2010

These are great suggestions! For those of you who listed products but not particular websites, could you share those? What I love about monoprice is that they're not only inexpensive but also reliably good.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:49 PM on November 28, 2010

newspaper and magazine subscriptions. i got a year of wsj for $20 - a few times - on ebay and a year of bloomberg biz week for free.

Unfortunately, ebay no longer permits magazine subscriptions. Most sites online offer discounts but nowhere near the kind of discounts once available on ebay. Any idea where those discounts were coming from, and how to get access to those kinds of deals again?
posted by Deathalicious at 8:20 PM on November 28, 2010

Serene Empress Dork: Oh, and eyeglasses can be bought online for a fraction of the retail price you'd pay in stores.

Just don't buy glasses from this guy!

Seriously, always remember to check a new store/seller out with legitimate consumer feedback websites before you send your money into the intarwebs. Saving a few dollars off the MSRP isn't worth the hassle if you end up ripped off for the entire amount.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:12 PM on November 28, 2010

You could also buy checks online or Costco. It will much cheaper than what your bank will charge you. I bought one book of checks for $5 and it will last me at two years. It will be cheaper if you buy more.
posted by Carius at 5:43 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Amazon's subscribe and save program. I buy hand soap, dish soap, deodorant, and tea this way at a pretty nice discount.
posted by mumblingmynah at 10:27 AM on November 29, 2010

Actually, I just checked eBay and it looks like people are still selling subscritpions for the wsj (1 year, about $50, which is still ridiculously cheap).
posted by math at 10:38 AM on November 29, 2010

Wary about sharing this but hell, I learned it recently from AskMe anyway so...high-quality bras on eBay, new with tags. It's insane. Once I figured out the real bra size I should be wearing after all the to-do recently I was like "damn, it doesn't matter because there's no way I'm paying even $40 for one bra" and then ta-da, on eBay I don't have to. Without any crazy burrowing I found my size in Chantelle, Felina, Wacoal, Natori, Panache, Lunaire, Fantasie, Freya, Rigby & Peller, Le Mystere, Elle MacPherson, DKNY, Calvin Klein, etc. and the average price for a NWT bra for any of these was under $20 (this stuff retails at like $40-80!!).
posted by ifjuly at 10:47 AM on November 29, 2010 [13 favorites]

Oh, and whey protein powder. The stuff you can get online in bulk order (which is deceiving; it doesn't have to be in huge amounts...the first time I ordered some online I actually got way less than those enormous canisters you see at Target or GNC etc.) is purer, better quality, and much cheaper.
posted by ifjuly at 10:50 AM on November 29, 2010

I have been very happy buying picture frames online, from places like American Frame. Much cheaper than going to a frame shop.
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Amazon has magazine subscriptions for relatively cheap. I got my mom a year of Woman's Day or something like that last year for $5. I've also gotten Redbook, Cosmopolitan, etc. for about the same price.
posted by Night_owl at 11:55 AM on November 29, 2010

Saffron and vanilla beans. I've bought a pound each of the Madagascar and Tahitian beans at this place with good results. Put a several sliced beans in a cheap bottle of vodka and you have a liter of good vanilla.

As an aside, the super-cheap "vanilla" sold at Mexican border shops is not safe to use.
posted by benzenedream at 5:19 PM on November 29, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bedding is insanely expensive at department stores and I bought super soft sheets for less than a quarter of the cost on QVC of all places (Thanks, Mom!).
posted by Asherah at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2010

If you make jewelry, it is is much cheaper to buy your supplies online (also rio grande or beadfx if you're in Canada.)

Organza bags are ridiculously marked up in stores. I recently ordered from this site and they are a fraction of the cost and high quality.
posted by Pademelon at 6:19 PM on November 30, 2010

Even online vs online, you can find amazing deals.

I needed taper candles for a dinner party recently and discovered they were all pretty pricey in my hood. I went online and found:

You can pay $40 for a box of plain taper candles

or you can pay $6:50.

My candles just arrived and they are super high quality, each individually wrapped, dripless and smokeless, and I couldn't be happier.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:26 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mineral makeup can be had for much cheaper at TKB Trading. A small baggie goes a long way.
posted by divabat at 3:18 AM on December 12, 2010

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