Both major retailers and Internet start-ups offer scheduled deliveries of everyday essentials or nice-to-have treats. But will you save any money this way?
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.