We're a nation addicted to our smartphones and tablets, and buy everything from holidays and clothing to cheap energy deals and books online. There are statistics to prove it: recent retail sales figures from the Office for National Statistics showed people in England and Wales spent £615 million a week online on average in September, an uptick of 19.1% year-on-year.
But while having your weekly shop delivered straight to your door sounds like an ideal solution, it can sometimes end up costing you more than it would have done in store. So what's more economical - shopping online, or on the good old high street?
The first place to start is a comparison website, which compares multiple online retailers simultaneously. We're all familiar with finance comparison tools such as Moneywise.co.uk/compare, but maybe less so with websites and smartphone apps that can save you money on your everyday items. Apps such as Google Shopping, PriceRunner and Kelkoo allow you to search hundreds of online retailers and filter by price and relevance to find the cheapest item.
The boom in coupon websites means you can get a good deal both online and on the high street. Sites such as Vouchercodes.co.uk and Hotukdeals.co.uk list thousands of vouchers that can be used in a wide range of shops and restaurants. A good habit to get into is running a quick search on these sites before buying anything to check whether there is a promotional code you can apply.
Another handy tool in the run-up to Christmas is MySupermarket.co.uk, which claims to save you £17 each time you use the site. It compares a basket of groceries from a range of big supermarkets – you add items much like you do with your online shopping, and the site ranks the baskets by price. For example, a basket of bread, eggs, butter and milk weighs in at £3.68 from Aldi, but could cost up to £6.27 from Waitrose.
Don't ignore the high street
Shopping online for groceries might allow you to compare different supermarkets easily and get it delivered at your convenience, but don't ignore offers on the high street.
Many supermarkets will reduce items that are about to go off late in the day, and some food markets and local supermarkets will often give bulk-buying discounts - something that isn't available online. But beware of special offers you find in every aisle. Three for two might sound like a great idea at the time, but make sure you'll actually eat the food rather than letting it fester at the back of the fridge.
While there are plenty of tools to help you find a cheap deal online, there are still hidden charges such as delivery fees or returns costs that you should be aware of. As an example, Tesco charges between £2 to £6 depending on the delivery slot – Monday to Thursday are usually the cheapest periods.
Some supermarkets offer free delivery for a flat fee, or free if you spend a certain amount. Tesco does this for £60 for six months, while Ocado's Smart Pass starts from £34.99 for six months. At Ocado, certain slots are also free if you spend more than £75, while Waitrose offers free delivery if you spend more than £50. It's often worth keeping an eye on online discounts, as sometimes using a voucher code can give free delivery.
A clutch of large brands, such as John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, offer a ‘click and collect' service, which means items ordered online can be picked up in store. However, free delivery is still eluding some big retailers. In July, Amazon, introduced a delivery charge on items outside of books, music and games worth less than £10.
Many companies offer free returns for online purchases, although there are hidden costs. Large online retailers typically offer returns by post (although postage fees usually apply, even if the item is damaged or faulty), or by dropping the unwanted item off in store or at a Collect+ newsagent for free. Bear in mind the companies give 28 days to return items, including delivery time.
When it comes to electrical household items and technology, online is often the best place to look. International retailers such as Amazon don't have to pay to rent a high-street shop or for customer service assistants, which ultimately brings the cost down for the consumer. As an example, the iPad mini 16GB is £249 in Currys, but £230 from Amazon – although don't forget you will need to get it delivered, and if you miss the slot it could mean a long trek to the delivery centre.
However, Anita Naik, Vouchercodes.co.uk's consumer editor, believes you should look to the high street for Christmas tech gifts. "Many people assume it's cheaper to buy big technology items online, but do your research before you arrive and you'll find many retailers are now willing to negotiate on price, throwing in extra insurance or a free item in order to secure a sale," she says.
As this illustrates, the main benefit of shopping on the high street is customer service, especially with items that need to be fitted such as footwear. The lack of advice or ability to try before you buy online means the high street can often be the best option for these items, especially given the extra cost of returning an item bought online. But what is true across both online and in-store shopping is small retailers can often be the best place to find a bargain, whether it's an eBay retailer or charity shop.
"While the rise in online shopping continues unabated, there will always be people who prefer the in-store experience," Naik adds. "Retailers are taking the lessons learnt online and using smart technology to help shoppers get the best deal in store. Smart coupon apps mean that consumers can feel confident they're getting a good deal however they like to shop."
Where is best to buy your Christmas dinner?
Christmas requires a huge amount of preparation, not least when it comes to preparing a festive dinner. But where is the cheapest place to buy the ingredients? The first place to check is MySupermarket, which gives a good indication of the cheapest supermarkets. But don't forget about your local butcher and greengrocer, who will be able to offer bulk discounts.
Moneywise priced up a turkey both online and at the butcher's, and we found that an average family-sized turkey from a local butcher would cost between £40 to £50, while a turkey for four people from Ocado would set you back around £30.
Using MySupermarket, all the typical Christmas dinner ingredients (butter, milk, eggs, turkey, potatoes, bacon, sausages,Yorkshire puddings, Christmas pudding, cream, carrots and peas) are the cheapest from Asda, weighing in at £20.27.The most expensive Christmas basket is from Ocado, costing £24.26 - showing it does pay to compare.