Comparison shopping can be a waste of money

2007-02-13 Nikon Coolpix 7600

In January, 2006, I bought a small-ish digital camera. I wanted one that I could geekishly attach to my belt and carry everywhere. In case you haven't guess, I gave up on being "cool" decades ago.

I scoured the product review sites, read all the reviews on Amazon, shopped around for the best deal, and in the end bought a Nikon Coolpix 7600. I paid about $240 for the camera. I am happy with it.

But was the process worth it?

In the March 2008 issue of Money, Jean Chatzky talks about the perils of comparison shopping. When you consider how much time it takes to read all the reviews and find the best deal, does it make sense? How much is your time worth?

Unfortunately, Chatzky's article is not online, but she suggest figuring how much you time is worth, keeping a log of how much time you spend shopping, deciding whether you enjoy the process, and finally determining if there is something else you would rather do with your time.

I probably spent about 8-10 hours looking at cameras. After all, it was a significant purchase. But is all that time really worth it though? If I chose a slightly different camera would it really have made that much difference?

Maybe with my due diligence I saved $20 or $30. I can easily blow that eating out or shopping for CDs at a retail store. In fact, I don't even think about it.

So all those hours shopping for the perfect camera at the best price just get frittered away in other random spending over a weekend.

I guess the question then is did I enjoy the process? Maybe, but not so much to justify that much time.

So the lesson is to be careful about comparison shopping. I may be able to find a lower price and a better product, but it may not be the best deal.

Have you ever spent way too much time shopping for something, just to get "the best deal?"


Anonymous said...

Interesting point, but that won't make me stop comparison shopping. It's not just about saving $20 here and $30 there, it's about finding the best product quality to suit your needs within your price range and then finding the best deal. Sure, my time is worth something but if I enjoy spending some of my time this way, why not? Not comparison shopping can result in a poor purchasing decision of an item with lower quality and/or a bad warranty policy. It's not just saving $20 on a camera today, it's a strategy at preventing having to buy another $240 camera in a year. Also, those who do comparison shopping on some things and save those $20 or $30 can later afford those restaurant or CD purchase splurges.

AVCr8teur said...

I read that same article on Money magazine, but I still think it is prudent on my part to get the best bang for the buck and read up on the reviews. I hate spending lots of money without doing any research first.

Testuser said...

I spend about half the time researching which model as well as price. Don't think it's ever really a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

I agree,it took me even longer to take the step.I spent 6 months and found a Kodak 8mpi for $150.Sometimes it pays to look around.

Min-tea said...

I did the same thing when I wanted to get my Canon Powershot. I went from mall to mall and ended up buying at the last stop even though it wasn't that good of a deal since I was too tired to go back to the the first stop I went to.

rupankar said...


To me the camera market is like groceries. May even worse.So many models on offer. Despite the negatives one has to take recourse to these sites for some sort of evaluation. In fact that is the only pre-buying tool available.

Anyway, you have a nice blog.

Anonymous said...

Doing comparison shopping just for saving a few buck is certainly not worth the time. But when I do it I do it to find the product I will be happy with for the next years to come. So you have to ask if comparing for a few hours (or even days) is worth it to be happy with the chosen product for the next years.

Brian Kunath said...

It cost me $75 to read this post!

Cromely said...

Thanks for all your thoughts. I think it comes down to a question of scale -- how much saving justifies a huge time commitment?

There's also the question of finding just the right product and being satisfied with it. There's value in that, but I often I feel the perfect has become the enemy of the good. I'm not advocating settling for less that is needed. At the same time, how much time is wasted on looking for the perfect solution as opposed the appropriate solution? Are there better / more enjoyable things that could be done with that time?