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Tales Of A Smug Shopper

Why I love point-and-click purchases: happy tales of online shopping

Before 7:30 a.m. last Sunday, I'd bought the month's office supplies. The whole deal took less than 10 minutes. What about you?

Don't be embarrassed. It probably takes you an hour, once drive time is added in, and you handle the chore during normal shopping hours.

My secret? I shop online, and nowadays all three of the big office supply chains offer online shopping--OfficeMax (http://www.officemax.com), Office Depot (http://www.officedepot.com) and Staples (http://www.staples.com). Naturally, that makes price comparisons simple--just log on to the three sites and, after a brief survey, you'll see where the best deals are.

But in my mind, that's not the main draw. Mainly I just use OfficeMax (the others are as good; I happened to start with OfficeMax and have stuck with them), and I rarely check competitors' prices, mainly because I know margins have been squeezed tight in this retail segment and whatever I'm paying is a good deal.

So, what are the other benefits of online office-supply shopping? Well, price for starters, and I'm not contradicting myself. Log on to any of the stores' front pages and the week's specials jump out at you. This morning I saved 15 percent on HP inkjet cartridges and also got a free box of paper. Yes, the same specials usually are available in the regular stores, but in the blizzard of signage I often walk right by them. They're harder to miss online.

But there are more pluses. Shop online and you'll enjoy convenience--do it whenever you like--plus there's free delivery with a $50 order, and that includes heavy items like bookcases and desks. Speedy shopping can be speedier still because the stores' sites allow you to save a "regularly purchased" list of supplies (the stuff you buy every month). A mouse click can put it in your shopping basket. Do it that way and you'll be in and out in less than five minutes.

Is there a drawback? Not for me, but there is for OfficeMax. Used to be as I roamed the aisles, I'd inevitably pick up a pen here, a new mouse pad there, maybe some air purifier filters, and before I checked out I'd added another $50 to the basket. Not anymore. Now I shop by SKU and never toss impulse buys into the basket. So not only do I save time but also money.

Check it out for yourself. But here's a tip: Before logging on to your favorite chain's site, make a list of SKUs of products you need, or pick up a copy of the store's printed catalog (available in the retail outlets) and note the item numbers. "Hunting" through aisles can be done online, but it's tedious work as you eye dozens of envelopes trying to remember which ones you use. Go online knowing what you're buying--and soon you'll be the one with a smug smile and an extra hour each month.

Robert McGarvey started exploring the online world over a decade ago with Genie, and has been writing on--and complaining about--the Net ever since. He writes about the Web for Entrepreneur, BizTravel.com and Upside.

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