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4 Things You Buy Online That Cost More Now

The pandemic has driven prices higher on many items ordered by internet shoppers

illustration of woman pushing shopping cart up a steep curved arrow, representing rising prices

DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images

En español | The internet has long been a reliable place to get low prices on nearly everything. In fact, relentlessly cutting prices has been a hallmark of Big Tech. “The consumer has gotten used to expecting about a 4 percent decrease in online prices each year since as long as we've been tracking, which is as far back as 2014,” says Vivek Pandya, senior digital insights manager at Adobe.

No longer. Thanks to the pandemic, supply-chain problems and worker shortages, those days have ended, at least temporarily. Internet prices have risen 2.3 percent over the 12 months that ended in June, Adobe says, and 0.6 percent in June alone.

Surging demand has been behind these rising prices as well. Internet sales grew 77 percent in the 12 months that ended in June, mainly because people were spending more time at home and less time in brick-and-mortar stores. “That's pretty sizable growth in the online ecosystem, and it sort of ripples into price inflation,” Pandya says.

It's a big world, and not everything has risen in price over the past 12 months. The cost of electronics, for example, has fallen 2.5 percent — but that's compared to a 9.1 percent average decrease from 2015 to 2019. Here are some of the biggest online price increases over the past 12 months.

1. Apparel (+16.2 percent)

This reliably cheap category saw an average price drop of 1.1 percent a year from 2015 to 2019. Why the price spike? For one thing, demand for new clothes swooned in June 2020. You probably didn't buy a lot of suits, ties or other office apparel then: The nation was deep in lockdown, and you can only have so many pairs of sweatpants. A year later, however, companies were making plans for employees to rejoin the workforce, and demand surged. At the same time, manufacturing and shipping costs rose, too.

2. Nonprescription drugs (+4.0 percent)

Some of the hallmarks of COVID-19 are fever, body aches, sore throat and headache — all of which can make you reach for aspirin or other over-the-counter pain relievers. The rush for ibuprofen, for example, has pushed up demand, while supply-chain problems have created shortages of raw materials from China and India.

3. Sporting goods (+3.5 percent)

As reality set in that the pandemic wasn't going away quickly, more people turned to the relative safety of outdoor activities and exercise — and that drove up demand for items like sneakers. Wolverine Worldwide, which makes Saucony running shoes, cited rising raw-materials prices for increased shoe prices. And Lauren Hobart, CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods, cited supply-chain problems as a constant concern.

4. Appliances (+2.3 percent)

One thing you may have noticed during the pandemic: Your washing machine, dryer and dishwasher are all getting above-average workouts these days. That, of course, is because you're home more. And that also means that those appliances are wearing out faster, and replacements are harder to find. Even when you shop online, you'll notice that it's harder to get the appliances you want. According to a February survey by the National Association of Homebuilders, 90 percent of respondents said they had a hard time getting the appliances they wanted. One reason — aside from demand — is that today's appliances are chock-full of computer chips, which are in short supply.

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The bottom line on delivery

The Adobe figures for internet price increases don't take delivery charges into account, but rising shipping costs are a factor in most prices. Shipping rates from Asia to the U.S. are six times higher now than a year ago, according to the Freightos Baltic Daily Index. And, on a more mundane level, prices to deliver goods to your door are rising, too. UPS announced a 4.9 percent increase in shipping rates in April, and FedEx also raised prices 4.9 percent in January.

And if you're a member of Amazon Prime and order grocery delivery from Whole Foods in Detroit; Boston; Chicago; Portland, Maine; Providence, Rhode Island; or Manchester, New Hampshire, you'll pay a $9.95 service fee starting on Aug. 30. Delivery from Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, to Prime members in other cities will remain free for orders over $35.

John Waggoner covers all things financial for AARP, from budgeting and taxes to retirement planning and Social Security. Previously he was a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance and USA Today and has written books on investing and the 2008 financial crisis. Waggoner's USA Today investing column ran in dozens of newspapers for 25 years.

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