Study Shows Online Prices Generally Not Lower

Researchers at Anthem Marketing Solutions compared prices online and in-store on a wide assortment of typical household products. In 75 percent of their observations, they found no difference in price online or in stores for a given item. Anthem said it controlled for brand and package size, and only assessed items that were available in at least three brick-and-mortar stores and at three online outlets.

Stephanie McAndrew, senior project manager at Anthem, said that since the team began conducting this semi-annual study back in 2010, it has consistently seen a move toward more uniformity between online and in-store prices. Researchers surmise the uniformity could be a result of onmi-channel research and purchasing by consumers and retailers desires to develop a more holistic view of their inventory.

Anthem also parsed the data to look at whether there were different savings patterns for small-ticket and big-ticket goods.  It broke items into five categories: Under $5, $6 to $20, $21 to $60, $61 to $80, and over $100. There wasn’t a major amount of variation in the findings, with each price tier seeing that prices were consistent across in-store and online in at least 72 percent of observations. In instances where there was price variation, the cheaper price was online at all price points.

McAndrew said this finding marks a distinct change from earlier editions of the research.

“When we started these reports, when there was a price difference, if it was under $50, you were more likely to find it cheaper in store,” McAndrew said. “Then, two years later, [it was] $20.”

And now, even on tiny items such as Chapstick, McAndrew said the in-store advantage is slipping away.

Overall, Anthem’s findings suggest that value-conscious shoppers probably don’t need to agonize over whether they might have gotten a better deal by shopping in a different channel. In the clear majority of cases, the prices are the same, and there’s reason to believe that prices will only get even more closely matched over time.

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