Does online shopping save time?

This year, I’ve been trying to do most of my Christmas shopping online. The idea is that I can shop whenever, see lots of selection, compare prices, and not have to drag the kids around. Since I live in New York, there’s also a matter of physics. I don’t have a car, so I can’t park in a mall parking lot, load stuff in and drive home. I either have to carry the packages myself (which I did on one occasion, nearly toppling over Sam’s stroller in the process), or get them delivered, which is like ordering things online, only not as efficient.

I managed to succeed in completing my list (mostly). In theory, this online shopping should have saved me time. However, as I’m looking over what I’ve purchased, I’m not sure I came out as far ahead as I thought I would. Here’s why:

1. I used work time to shop. When I put on my coat and go to a store, I know I’m not working. But as I’m editing a column, it’s easy to pop over to Amazon and… next thing I know, I’ve lost a big chunk of a workday. Since I’m paying for babysitting during my work hours, this time doesn’t come cheap.

2. Abundant choice is excruciating. Often, you just want a nice present for a person. You don’t want to compare all products under the sun to find the absolute perfect thing (at least I don’t). In the past, I’ve sometimes just gone to Target and walked out with the smaller things I’m getting for everyone on my list. Online, I’ve been all over the place.

3. And then there are online screw-ups. I won’t name the particular retailer, as they did make amends and were very sweet about it. But I tried to order two of the same plant online for two people from a site that was offering 30% off on that particular day. I entered addresses and gift messages, only to have the system claim at check-out it had lost my information. So I went through and did it again. Same problem.

I called customer service, and a rep entered my addresses and gift messages, which was a bit excruciating to dictate over the phone. Unfortunately, as soon as she got them in, her computer had the same problem! So she had to put me on hold several times as she figured this out. Finally, she learned that we could go over to a sister site which had the same product to re-enter the information. But she couldn’t just cut and paste so I had to dictate everything again.

Then, as we were nearing the end, my phone (which I’d been on for 40 minutes by that time) died.

I wound up going to the sister site myself and putting the info in successfully, though their shipping charges were higher and they didn’t offer 30% off. The first retailer offered to give me a rebate for that. So I’m not out any money. I’m just out an hour of my life. That’s probably less time than it would have taken me to buy a present in a store and mail it at the post office, but we’re not talking an order of magnitude different.

What do other people think? Have you shopped online this year? Did it save you time or money?


4 thoughts on “Does online shopping save time?

  1. I did all my toy shopping online this year, and as I had to shop for 11 kids, it definitely saved me time. My friends and family try to email each other a list of things our kids would like. Often one store carries one thing, but not the other, so in the past I’ve done A LOT of running around. i also saved money b/c most things were cheaper at an online retailer than at an actual store. Free shipping is always a bonus, and I saved gas. (not being out in the cold was also a bonus)

    It also eliminated the dilemma of how to shop for my kids, when they are always with me and I hate to go out after they are in bed, unless it’s for something fun for me. Oddly, having a bunch of cardboard boxes delivered to my door also helps hide the gifts, as my attic is full of boxes and these don’t look as suspicious as gigantic Target and ToysRUs bags do. (my attic is a walk-up with a real staircase and the skeleton key for it is long-lost)

    When shopping for other items I have also found the choices to be daunting. I spent too much time reading reviews and overthinking everything. Since reading 168 Hours, I now allot myself a certain amount of time, or # of reviews, then force myself to make a fairly informed decision. It is less time than it would take me to drive to a store, park etc. and since I often have my preschooler it’s still easier. When he is in school I like to take the time to read, self-develop for returning to work and the like. I try not to do errands.

    Since I will be returning to work in the fall I will be ordering more online than ever. I just wish it were easy to order a new work wardrobe that way!

    1. @Denise: so true on the work wardrobe. It almost never works for me to order clothes online (unless it is from a store I know well). I have wasted a lot of money this way, buying clothes I think look nice in the catalog, but don’t when I get them.

  2. I am really torn about this issue b/c I too also have to use paid childcare to shop in peace, to go out to stores and I hate the idea of loosing work time to go out and say pick up diapers..I was just about to head over to to deal with this
    or anything really including thoughtful gifts.. but try to take a toddler who is giving up naptime out to a wal mart at 6 p.m. after you finish work — and watch the meltdowns .. i mean would you want to follow mommy into wal mart for your diapers – or her well thought out xmas shopping list- – two or three hours before bedtime… and you realize it might be worth it to do it on your lunch hour or whatever

    and as a working mom I just went into a Barnes & Noble where I took a work phone call and exchanged an all birthday gift my kid did not need and got a gift for a work event (so this is kind of work and even got myself a nice starbucks courtesy of that birthday gift I did not need)

    though I have an assistant I do not like to send her out with the work credit card — maybe there is a better way to deal with this issue —

    It is cheaper to go into a target or wal mart but sometimes the gas and the time and the stress make shopping online better.. what I do for most of my gifts is just give gift cards which I order online.. I know most folks find this impersonal but I really do give good gift cards.. I gave my neighbors teenage son four movie passes — i mean who does not like free movie passes — and I gave the daycare workers movie passes or restaurant gift cards.. seems better than candles or other teachery gifts to me…
    also I agree ordering clothes online is a no no.. for child or adult.. big no no.. it is a shame but there are some areas you cannot cut. I also do not attempt to take my toddler with me when picking out most clothes for her unless some othe radult goes with me.. too stressful to chase her around the store and you end up making mistakes… wrong size . etc. …
    I was thinking today that … when I had a salaried job that was 10 to 6 I often strolled in at 10:15 and took coffee breaks with colleagues and left at 6 and we always took lunch too I probably didn’t work more than 7 hours a day and I got a lot done.. so if you take an hour or so to go shopping or whatever during your work day and you are available on your cell phon e.. also if you try to think projects rather than time.. I am really really struggling with this and trying to work on it.. as my own boss I want to say hey this is hte project that was supposed to get done today and it did so really who cares if you were picking out diapers online.. but it is tricky b/c if you are not careful you have not worked a full day and the childcare alarm goes off… the rest of life needs to happen…

    1. @Cara- exactly. It seems easiest to do my shopping during my childcare hours, and yes it is fine on occasion, but when I have kept time logs I have sometimes noticed that my time is very disjointed because I am doing errands or online shopping.
      Then again, my husband comes home and tells me about various lurid headlines he’s read and I’m like when did you have time to read that? The answer is during calls, or when waiting for a meeting – so yes, people in offices take plenty of downtime too.

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