Oh man, I have been doing some major recon to bring you this post, ladies 'n gents. Well...if I'm being honest...this project was totally selfish. I just wanted to know what retailer really had the best prices on the dog supplies I buy the most.
THIS WAS A MUCH BIGGER PAIN IN THE ASS THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE.
But I've saved the lot of you the trouble, and now you get to benefit from my hard labor. Enjoy!
So this all started about a month after I adopted Chance, and I realized that:
He eats an unholy amount of food.
Dog food (especially the really good ones) can be very expensive.
He requires the really good dog food.
I launched a comparison-shopping offensive, during which I unintentionally created a large spreadsheet to compare the price of ONE dog food (a 28 lb.-bag of Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Diet Lamb & Brown Rice kibble) at various online vendors. There are a surprising number of variables to take into account--namely shipping, taxes, and discounts.
When the dust settled, a clear winner was revealed--Chewy.com, an online vendor that charges neither tax NOR shipping. While the sticker price for the bag was not always the lowest, when you added in shipping/taxes, Chewy delivered the best price (AND the bag right to my doorstep).
But as I became aware of brick-and-mortar pet stores in Los Angeles that weren't Petco or PetSmart, I started to wonder if maybe I could get similarly good prices locally. I mean, I was getting email specials from Rusty's Discount Pet Center that certainly sounded like they had some good deals going on. $5 off a bag of Stella & Chewy's freeze-dried patties? Please and thank you.
After a few months of trying to randomly price-compare on my phone while I was in various stores, I finally decided to do it right.
I picked 20 products (some in two different sizes) that I either purchase regularly or have purchased in the past and thought would be good representative items. Then, I picked 6 retailers to compare--two online vendors and four brick-and-mortar stores (sorry, they're all basically in the San Fernando Valley). And today, I (intentionally) created a spreadsheet to compare my findings.
LET'S MEET THE CONTENDERS:
- Rusty's Discount Pet Center
In Studio City on Ventura Blvd. And it's got "discount" in the name! They also offer a buy x get 1 free program on food (deal varies by brand)--I'll explain how this comes into play towards the end of this post.
- Centinela Feed (15 locations in Southern California!)
Prices are from the store on Olive Ave. in Burbank. Family-owned chain that offers a combination of coupons and discount program.
- C&C Pet Food (3 locations in the valley)
Prices are from the store on Verdugo in Burbank. I think they have some sort of a club program.
- Henco Pet-Vet Distributors
In Sun Valley. It's really hard to find, and it basically looks like a warehouse. Was recommended by a boarding facility because of their great prices.
- I'm assuming you, like me, order online in batches so you qualify for free shipping--it's not hard to get free shipping from either Chewy (orders over $49) or Amazon (free with Prime), so I haven't factored in shipping costs. Other online vendors are not included because they usually charge shipping.
- Depending on which Amazon vendor is supplying the product, tax may or may not be charged, so I've included 2 columns for Amazon--one with the listed price, one that includes 9% sales tax. Also bear in mind that Amazon prices fluctuate WILDLY. This gives you a good idea overall of Amazon's prices, but from item to item prices may vary on different days.
- Rusty's offers a variety of discounts that are not always available. The first Rusty's column is the item price plus 9% sales tax; the second column is assuming discounts are applied.
- Centinela does offer coupons as well, but they have a standing discount program in place--if you join their CF Insider program, you receive 10% off all non-sale items, no minimum purchase. You also receive a gift card if you spend a certain amount, starting with $5 if you spend more than $75. It's a little more complicated than that, so check out the program here. In the spreadsheet below, I've included a column for regular prices plus tax, and another column for 10% off plus tax.
- UPDATE: So I'm actually RIGHT THIS SECOND doing a Chewy order, and I'm realizing that, like Amazon, Chewy's prices fluctuate a bit. Not crazy, but the Busy Buddy Dental rings were $6.21 yesterday when I put them in my cart; now they're $7.49. But when I made the chart below, they were as low as $5.90. Still, the highest Chewy price is cheaper than the only other place I could find them (Amazon). Do with that information what you will!
So who came out on top? LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!
Ok either you just really perused the hell out of that spreadsheet, or you jumped down here hoping I'd just tell you the winner.
The winner is...
You'll see that every store has REALLY GOOD prices on certain items, but then gouges the hell outta you on others. Not surprising--I'm pretty sure that's the whole retail game in a nutshell. But across the board, Chewy is consistently cheaper than any of the other stores. Sure, it's only a couple of dollars here and there, but over time, that REALLY adds up.
The only item, shockingly, that Chewy does NOT have the best price on is the kibble I feed Chance--Natural Balance LID Lamb & Brown Rice. The best price is actually at C&C, which is how this store made it into this project anyway. I happened to stop by one day because I was going to a store nearby, casually decided to check their price on kibble, and was BLOWN AWAY at how cheap it was. This prompted me to check out the other comparison items--but the steep savings didn't extend to anything else. In fact, the rest of the items that were on my list that they had in the store were MUCH more expensive than elsewhere! So it's just this one-item anomaly (which is how they getcha). And besides, spending the extra $4.58 to order from Chewy saves me a wrestling match with a 28-lb. bag of kibble--and I live on an upper floor in a building with no elevator.
What about Rusty's buy x, get 1 free program? For Natural Balance, they offer buy 10 get 1 free on kibble. If I ONLY purchased when a coupon was available, after purchasing 10 bags and getting 1 free, the cost of each bag comes down to $39.05 with tax--by far the best price for this particular bag of food. However, after 11 bags--11 BAGS, LIKE MORE THAN A YEAR OF DOG FOOD--my cumulative savings would only be $33.44, and I would have had to carry 308 POUNDS OF DOG FOOD UP MY STAIRS. And before 11 bags, I'm still only saving $3 over ordering from Chewy when that Rusty's discount comes into play, and I am DEFINITELY willing to spend $3 to have someone else drive the bag to my house and carry it up the stairs.
If I needed just a couple things and didn't want to wait to order them online, which store I would go to is kind of a toss-up. Henco really does have consistently good prices, but if I'm only buying a couple of items I'm not sure it's always worth the drive up to Sun Valley. Centinela's prices aren't bad with the 10% discount, but they're still not GREAT. For me, Rusty's is the place I would stop for an emergency bag of Stella & Chewy's Chicken Mixers, or a new Nylabone.
So what do you do if you don't live near the valley and Rusty's just isn't convenient?
View or print out this version of the spreadsheet, and take it to YOUR favorite or most convenient pet store and do a little comparison shopping yourself. Even if you're not looking for any of the items on my list, it's a safe bet that if a store is overcharging on many of the items on MY list, they're overcharging on the items on YOUR list, too. You'll discover pretty quickly whether your favorite store is more like Rusty's (good prices overall), or C&C (maybe a great price here and there, but overall pretty overpriced).
A final note on medications: I did NOT compare medications specifically because that's a different ballgame. Chewy doesn't sell medications, so I just end up doing an online price comparison every time I need to stock up. I would recommend NOT purchasing medications (except emergency meds) at your veterinarian or a brick-and-mortar pet store before you check online--the mark-up can be SUPER steep.
Items I Researched: