Keeping Baby Dry: We Buy Bulk Diapers
Ordering Online
Can Save Money
But Hassles Remain

By EILEEN GUNN
SPECIAL TO THE WSJ
October 4, 2007;  Page D2

There are more options than ever out there for diapering your baby with disposable diapers. But whether you choose traditional throwaways like Pampers, environmentally friendly options like chlorine-free Seventh Generation or even flushable products like G-Diaper, the one thing you can count on is that your baby will go through a lot of them.


One seemingly good way to save some money is to buy them in bulk -- 200 or so at a time. And doing so online can save you the time and hassle of having to cart big boxes, along with your squirming baby, home from the store.


We set out to learn how easy it would be to buy bulk diapers online. How good would our options be, especially for the newer eco-friendly brands, how much money would be saved, and would delivery be as reliable as our baby's changing schedule.


We tried to buy size 1s of the classic Pampers Swaddlers and newer Seventh Generation diapers -- the only one of the eco-brands that was widely available -- from several different Web sites. The Pampers weren't as ubiquitously available as we anticipated, but we managed to find them on four mainstream Web sites: Amazon.com, Babies "R" Us, Drugstore.com and Diapers.com. The Seventh Generation brand was available at three of those places. We also found them at specialty eco-shopping and health-oriented Web sites, like BabyOrganic, where the markups were often much higher.


At our local grocery store, Pampers cost $9.49 for a pack of 40 (or 24 cents apiece), and at a nearby specialty grocery store, the Seventh Generation brand was $11.99 for 56 (or 21 cents apiece) -- both excluding New York city and state sales tax. Most -- but not all -- of our online sources were cheaper. We found we needed to shop carefully because the additional delivery charges and tax (at Babiesrus.com) sometimes made them less of a bargain than they initially seemed. We were pleased that the greener option didn't cost that much more than the Pampers. Sometimes it even cost less. Unfortunately, not every Web site was able to fill our order as reliably and swiftly as we would have liked.


Amazon.com and its affiliates gave us the most frustrating experiences. We bought a 216-count box of Pampers from BBHealthy.com, one of the independent merchants that sell via Amazon. The initial price of $38.99 seemed like a good deal. But a steep shipping fee ($14.90) brought the total cost to 25 cents a diaper -- the second most expensive in our test. Moreover, while this was by far the biggest delivery fee we paid, the diapers took a week to arrive on our doorstep and didn't even leave the warehouse until after all the other diapers had been delivered.


A spokesperson for BBHealthy.com said, "We aren't big enough at this time to offer free shipping to our customers, but we hope to be one day." A spokesman for Amazon said that the company works with its third-party merchants to ensure a good shopping experience, but that their delivery fees and standards are ultimately not under Amazon's control.


That isn't the end of the story. Amazon itself was able to sell us a 224-count box of Seventh Generation for the equivalent of 19 cents a diaper, pretty good. But we opted for the one-click check-out option, which doesn't show you your final tally. It took us several additional clicks to get into the part of our account where we could look at a receipt. When we got there, we discovered that while the item qualified for free shipping, they chose standard shipping for us, which would cost nearly $15 and take longer than the free option. We were able to change the order, but it turned out to be a moot point. Six days after we made our purchase Amazon emailed us to let us know that instead of one week, it would take up to three weeks from the original order date for the product to arrive.


An Amazon spokesman said he couldn't comment on our experience but did say the company "tries very hard to ensure a good shopping experience for our customers."


Getting an online discount doesn't matter much if you have to pinch-hit with pricier nappies from the grocery store while you wait for your order to arrive. We couldn't cancel the order online, but with some amount of hassle we were able to do it over the phone.


At the other end of the spectrum, Diapers.com is the Web site we are most likely to order from again. Prices amounted to 17 cents a diaper for Pampers and 19 cents for Seventh Generation -- the lowest prices we found. Shipping was free. And an order placed late Thursday night arrived Monday afternoon. It doesn't get much more straightforward than that.

Babies "R" Us, owned by Toys "R" Us Inc., was another disappointment. They didn't carry the Seventh Generation brand and the Pampers were 21 cents a diaper -- not bad -- including tax and $8 for shipping. We got a confirmation within half an hour of placing our order, but four days later, a follow-up email informed us that the store was canceling it because the diapers were out of stock. We appreciate that they didn't make us cancel the order the way Amazon did. But a store that specializes in baby goods shouldn't run out of diapers.


To our surprise, Drugstore.com had the highest prices and actually charged more than our local grocery stores. The online drugstore didn't have the Pampers in the large bulk package. The best we could do was an 88-count economy size for $24.69 or 28 cents a diaper. The Seventh Generation 224-count was $49.99 or 22 cents apiece. But service was efficient and delivery was fast and free. The items arrived four days after we placed the order.


Among the specialty stores that carry Seventh Generation, we found a relatively good deal at BabyOrganic. The company's price on a bulk order amounted to 22 cents a diaper -- a penny more than we found locally. We were able to link to the product on BabyOrganic's Web site directly from Seventh Generation's Web site, which made the diapers easy to find. Delivery took five days -- also pretty good -- and this was the only company to send us a UPS number for tracking, which was a nice added service.

 

COMPANY PRODUCT AND PRICE SHOPPING AND DELIVERY COMMENT
Amazon.com Pampers: $53.89 for 216 including shipping fee (25 cents/apiece); Seventh Generation: $41.99 with free shipping for 224 (19 cents apiece) The order was split between Amazon and a third-party merchant. We canceled the first part of the order after Amazon told us delivery would take three weeks. The third party charged a steep fee for delivery that took a week. Good prices weren't enough to make up for steep additional fees and unreliable delivery.
BabyOrganic Seventh Generation: $49.95 for 224 with free shipping (22 cents apiece) Shopping was easy and delivery was pretty fast. We liked getting a UPS tracking number. Good customer service helps to compensate for prices that aren't the best.
Babies 'R' Us Pampers: $44.66 including shipping fee and sales tax (21 cents apiece) The store didn't carry the Seventh Generation brand and it canceled our Pampers orders when it didn't have the item in stock. A small selection and an OK price and delivery were too middle of the road for a store that specializes in baby goods.
Diapers.com Pampers: $35.99 for 216 with free shipping (17 cents apiece); Seventh Generation: $41.99 for 224 with free shipping (19 cents apiece) As should be the case with a specialty store, selection was good, prices were the best we found and delivery was fast. This is the Web site we will shop at again.
Drugstore.com Pampers: $24.69 for 88 with free shipping (28 cents apiece); Seventh Generation: $49.99 with free shipping (22 cents apiece) We wish they'd had a bigger box of Pampers. Delivery was fast and free. Service is reliable, but prices were too high for us to go back again.