Skip to main content



Get smart about shopping online and save money

Shopping online can give you access to a wider range of products and save you money. However, there is a huge temptation to make impulse purchases and prices may not be as good as they look

Get smart about shopping online and save money
Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

Shopping online can give you access to a wider range of products and save you money.

However, there is a huge temptation to make impulse purchases and prices may not be as good as they look. Buying wisely when you shop online can cut your costs.

As you start your online shopping journey, it is important to realise that expectations that prices are lower online are not always accurate.

Consumers do expect better deals online. While research here is scarce, a study led by Associate Professor Shao-Kang Lo of Chinese Culture University in Taiwan showed that consumers believe online retailers’ overhead costs are lower than store-based retailers’ costs and may then assume that prices are lower for items they buy online. 

The reality is that offline and online price levels are identical about 72 per cent of the time. The figure is based on a study by Harvard Business School’s Associate Professor Alberto Cavallo, whose research covered 24,000 products in 10 countries, including Australia, China and Japan.

Drugstores and office-product retailers have the lowest share of identical prices, while electronics and clothing stores have the most.  


An even bigger issue for consumers is that they tend to spend more online.

Research led by Mr Jeremy Sporn, partner at management consultancy Oliver Wyman, showed that consumers’ online shopping baskets are 25 per cent larger than when they shop in a physical store.

When they visit a physical store first and then make a purchase online, baskets are a whopping 64 per cent bigger.

The reasons, Mr Sporn suggests, are that consumers make more impulse purchases online, buy more to reach the threshold for free shipping and have a greater product range available so they tend to buy extra items.

Here in Singapore, 54 per cent of consumers similarly said in a survey by marketing firm Criteo that having the option to shop on their mobile device caused them to spend more than ever before.

Moreover, 80 per cent admitted to buying on impulse when they were online.


Since prices may not be much better than offline and there is a huge temptation to buy more online, it is essential to shop wisely.

Five steps are especially important.

1. Make a list of what you need to buy and stick with it. This is even if the retailer uses marketing tactics to promote supposedly special prices. Writing a list of items that you are looking to buy beforehand will help you control your spending, financial expert Dave Ramsey suggests, and avoid the temptation of adding items to your cart that you do not need. 

2. Make it harder to buy things online. Even if you shop regularly at a retailer’s website, for example, don’t create an account and save your billing or card information. While having an online account makes shopping simpler, it also makes impulse purchases easier and you’re likely to spend more. The more time you take to think about a purchase, the more likely you are to make a better decision. 

3. Take advantage of discount coupons, credit cards and cash-back offers. Before you even start your online shopping, look for offers that can save you money. Also, take advantage of credit cards that reward you for your purchase or sites such as ShopBack that give you a rebate. If the retailer has a free loyalty or rewards programme, you can sign up for that as well and get even better discounts.

4. Compare prices across various websites before making a purchase. Rather than always using the same website for groceries or other items, for example, check out alternatives regularly. You may also use sites such as price comparison portal PricePanda to help find lower prices. 

5. Prevent online stores from knowing too much about you. Use your browser's incognito mode when e-shopping, since some merchants use your online shopping searches or history against you and change their prices based on what they think you are willing to pay. 

You may also consider abandoning your shopping cart temporarily while you’re shopping, since merchants may send a discount coupon after an hour or two if they think you got close to making a purchase and stopped.


Once you get ready to shop online, check sites such as CupoNation and Picodi for promotions before you make any purchase, to look for coupon codes and promotions.

Sites such as Fave also offer discounts on a wide range of products. 

If you want to save more and are willing to buy pre-owned items, you may look for items at lower prices on sites such as Carousell.

When you make your purchase, try using Shopback or Fuzzie to get cash back on what you buy.

You can also get 10 per cent cash back by using your CIMB Visa card and 6 per cent with OCBC Frank, or similar rebates with other cards.

While prices online may not be much different than in physical stores, there are still plenty of ways to save money by shopping online.

Shopping smart can help you make sure you take advantage of deals and avoid impulse buys, so that you can cut your costs significantly.

Related topics

money online shopping deals cost savings

Read more of the latest in



Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.