The lure of "bulk"

As a general rule, buying bulk is a good way to save money. But one has to be careful. Take for example my recent toilet paper shopping for my business. We have a regular catalog for a business supplies, so I first looked there. We could buy TP by the case, getting a case of 96 rolls for about $50. Sounds good.

But then I compared it with our household brand. We get that stuff in packs of 24 rolls for about $4.80. That’s about 20 cents compared to about 50 cents in the bulk case. Not so great. But then I remembered that there are different sizes of rolls. I quickly checked the stuff we use at home, and it worked out to 88 square feet per roll. Armed with that information I checked the bulk stuff again. They didn’t give any figures on square footage.

Comparing apples and oranges–the bane of bargain shopping.

Fortunately they did list sheets per roll, and so did our household brand. It turns out the bulk stuff has about 500 sheets per roll, whereas the household stuff only has about 175. Simple math reveals that with the bulk stuff you’re paying about .112 cents per sheet, where the household TP comes in at .114 cents per sheet. Woo. Big difference. You’re not really saving much going bulk in this case.

Now the supply catalog gives even bigger discounts the more cases you buy, but we’re a small business. It’ll probably take us a year to use up the entire case. It’s worth it to always have some on hand–we can’t exactly close the shop while we run to the store for more TP–but really, it’s not that much of a savings.

Far too often that’s how it is buying bulk. Rather than really providing savings, they will mask information to make it only look like you’re getting more for your money. They make it as hard to compare with the “regular” quantities as they can. You may save some money, but you have to buy a lot before you really start to see any significant savings.

Do your homework and your math. There are real deals out there. But now that bulk is big business, it’s still very much “Let the buyer beware.”

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