Does It Pay to Have Diapers, Toilet Paper, Dog Food Delivered to Your Door?

By on

Target recently began offering regularly scheduled deliveries of about 1,600 products ranging from pet supplies to beauty items. Customers who subscribe get a 5 percent discount, plus another 5 percent off if they pay with a Target-branded card.

According to USA Today, the country’s second-largest discount retailer is doing this in order to compete with Amazon.com’s Subscribe and Save service, “hoping to win back hard-pressed customers who want convenience as much as they want savings.”

Subscription services like those at Target, Amazon, Drugstore.com, Wag.com, Diapers.com and Soap.com were set up to save money and/or time. If you keep making 10 p.m. trips to a convenience store because you’ve run out of diapers or pet food, then subscribing could be the right move.

A few other good reasons exist, too. Physical limitations or increasing age make it hard to get those 25-pound boxes of cat litter into the house. If you don’t own a car (hi there, New Yorkers!) it can be hard to shop for bulky items, even if they don’t weigh much.

Perhaps time equals money and so you outsource as much as possible: dog walker, personal shopper, a cleaning service. Or possibly you prefer to spend your dwindling spare time with your family rather than counting how many rolls of toilet paper are left in the linen closet.

Cost-effective or not?

Will such a service save you money? Probably.

You’ll get discounts of up to 15 percent for regularly scheduled deliveries. A devoted coupon hound could probably beat a lot of those prices. However, most consumers aren’t extreme couponers; it’s smarter to get a pretty good price all the time than a super coupon deal every once in a while.

Live in a town with only one or two shopping options? You can likely beat the price of certain staples this way. If that area is rural, you’ll also save the cost of gas and the wear and tear on your car when it comes to those “whoops, we’re out of coffee/allergy meds/laundry soap” moments.

(In an ideal world you’d plan ahead. In the real world, things like fatigue, work schedules and illness happen.)

It’s important to factor in the cost of delivery, if any. The Target Subscriptions program doesn’t charge for shipping. Neither does Amazon’s Subscribe and Save. Drugstore.com’s Auto-Reorder offers free delivery for orders of more than $35. For Wag.com, Soap.Com and Diapers.com, it’s free for $49 and up (even heavy items like litter and kibble).

Do the math, then decide if the service would be worthwhile.

Single-product subscription services

“Subscription box” services abound online, offering a wide variety of products such as adult and children’s fashions, crafts, makeup, shaving equipment, jewelry, gourmet food items and even marijuana-smoking paraphernalia.

Can such companies save you money? Maybe, if you routinely spend a lot on certain items. But you’ll have to kick the habit of buying those products at the store and instead wait for that month’s box.

Although you’re asked about preferences, there’s no guarantee you’ll like the items sent to you each month. In addition, the products may or may not be top quality, e.g., they might be brands still in the testing phase.

Carrie Rocha, who blogs at Pocket Your Dollars, suggests that consumers do their homework vs. subscribing on a whim.

“You need to understand what you are buying. You need to determine whether it’s worth the price,” Rocha says.

Some subscriptions can’t be canceled because they’re prepaid for a certain term, i.e., you can’t get your money back. According to The Washington Post, however, a subscription company’s real profit comes from “the inertia” – the fact that some consumers are too preoccupied to promptly cancel a service even if they no longer find value in it.

Finally: The Post also notes that the companies selling these boxes mine an awful lot of personal data from those sign-up forms. You can bet that they’re not keeping your age, address and various personal preferences to themselves. If you don’t want that kind of information floating around out there, take a pass.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,407 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Paula Smith

    I would LOVE to find a service that ships kitty litter & cat food, as I spend several hundred dollars per month taking care of my cats and a feral colony. Does anyone know of such a service that has prices comparable to Walmart’s?

    • pennyhammack

      I get my special cat food delivered monthly by Amazon and will probably start cat litter with them too. Amazon is a little less expensive than Walmart on most things and the delivery service is super. I also buy a number of personal items, vitamins & supplements and items like toilet paper from Amazon. To get the best discount (15%) you need to have at least 5 items delivered each month, but can space items out by having some delivered every two or three months, just as long as you have 5 items each month. And no, I’m not a shill for Amazon, but am handicapped and really like their service.

  • http://actionecon.com John C @ Actionecon.com

    We use the Amazon Mom program and get our diapers delivered. The prices are a bit cheaper than Walmart for the Luvs diapers, and it is convenient to get them delivered to the door instead of having to buy the large boxes at the store. It will be interesting to see if Amazon can get the cost of goods in the new Pantry program down a bit more to be more competitive.