What’s the Cheapest Way to Buy Condoms?

Our article “How Many Condoms Can You Wear At Once?” raised a simple question from many readers: where did you get so many condoms? We used over 600 in the experiment, and several hundred more were shredded in previous failed attempts. At $1 each, what people often pay for condoms, that would be $1,000 worth of devotion to science.

The Secret Is Volume
Though we may be mad scientists, we aren't crazy.  In reality, our condom experiment did not require any large government research grants or deep-pocketed private investors. The total cost for the materials involved was less than $150, and in fact it could have been even cheaper. Our secret to keeping the cost down? Buying in bulk. It's easy to do online and removes the obscene markups the condom companies enjoy in collusion with local retailers.

Break the Condom Cartel
Let’s compare the price differential for condoms sold in retail stores in small to large quantities. Condoms are most expensive when purchased at a retailer in a small quantity. At Walgreens, the price for a box of three lubricated Durex condoms is $3.99, or $1.33 per condom. The price for a box of 12 of the same type of condoms is $11.99, or about $0.99. A box of 24 Durex condoms, on the other hand, is $15.99, or $0.67 per condom. The difference between the price per unit on the box of three vs. the box of one dozen equals $0.34, for a 25.5% discount. When purchased in a package of two dozen, the price drops $0.67 from its high point – more than 50%.

The following chart illustrates the inversely proportional relationship between the quantity of condoms per package and the price of the product per unit. The prices are for two major brands of condoms of a comparable lubricated type.

 

Durex
3 pk

Durex
12 pk

Durex
24 pk

Trojan
3 pk

Trojan
12 pk

Trojan
36 pk

Walgreens

3.99/
1.33 ea.

11.99/
.99 ea.

15.99/
.67 ea

3.99/
1.33 ea.

11.99/
.99 ea.

22.99/
.64 ea.

Rite-Aid

3.99/
1.33 ea.

12.99/
1.08 ea.

18.99/
.79 ea.

3.99/
1.33 ea.

12.49/
1.08 ea.

22.99/
.64 ea.

Fred Meyer

 N/A

6.59/
.55 ea.

11.99/
.50 ea.

2.39/
.79 ea.

7.99/
.66 ea.

14.99/
.41 ea.

Safeway

3.69/
1.23 ea.

8.79/
.73 ea.

N/A

 N/A

9.49/
.79 ea.

 N/A

Plaid Pantry

2.99/
.99 ea.

 N/A

 N/A

N/A

 N/A

N/A

Drugstore.com

 N/A

9.99/
.83 ea.

15.39/
.64 ea.

 

9.10/
.75 ea.

20.22/
.56 ea.

CondomDepot.com

 N/A

 N/A

 N/A

N/A

6.00/
.50 ea.

14.99/
.41 ea.

 

Why Pay More for Less?
Why would consumers pay more than twice as much for a product, just to get a much smaller quantity?  We theorize that there are four main factors that explain why consumers would shortchange themselves in this situation:

  1. Failure to do the math. Consumers simply compare prices on the boxes, rather than prices and quantities. They see that the price on the larger boxes is three or four times that of the smallest box, not realizing that they would be getting more for their dollar (and four to eight times the amount of product respectively).
     
  2. Embarrassment. A box of three condoms is small enough to be concealed in the palm of your hand. It’s discreet, and some consumers may feel inhibited about picking out a large-sized box of condoms from a display. They may feel self-conscious about what they think purchasing a large number of condoms implies to other customers or store employees about their sexual habits.
     
  3. Convenience/poor planning. For the man who has failed to plan for a sexual encounter, buying a package of three condoms may be more convenient in the short run. Three condoms, with or without the box, can easily be slipped into a pants pocket after purchase. Also, if the purchase is made at a mini-market, a box of three may be the only alternative available.
     
  4. A mentality of sexual scarcity. Consumers are reluctant to buy a large quantity of a product if they think it will go to waste. Those individuals who are not sexually active on a regular basis may think that they will not have the opportunity to use more than a couple of condoms at a time, and so do not purchase them with future sexual encounters in mind. What they may not realize is that most condoms have a shelf life of 4 to 5 years, which should give most people plenty of time.

Condom manufacturers and retailers rely on these combined factors to get away with pricing small quantities of condoms at outrageously steep prices because consumers either do not notice, or are prevented by their inhibitions or ingrained buying habits from purchasing the product in a larger quantity.

Additionally, most consumers are unaware that they can buy condoms online in quantities greater than 24 or 36, the largest packages offered at retail outlets, and that even greater savings are available by purchasing condoms in bulk. As the following chart shows, the wholesale per unit prices of condoms available online in bulk are dramatically lower than the per-unit price of the same condoms purchased in retail stores. The potential price difference ($1.33 per condom vs. $0.15 per condom) is truly stunning.

  High Price per Condom
(Durex)
Low Price per Condom
(Durex)
Walgreens 3.99/3 pk
1.33 ea.
15.99/36 pk
.67 ea
Rite-Aid 3.99/3 pk
1.33 ea.
18.99/36 pk
.79 ea.
Fred Meyer 6.59/12 pk
.55 ea.
11.99/36 pk
.50 ea.
Safeway 3.69/3 pk
1.23 ea.
8.79/12 pk
.73 ea.
Drugstore.com 9.99/12 pk
.83 ea.
15.39/36 pk
.64 ea.
Costco (Trojans) N/A $9.69/40 pk
.24 ea.
RipNRoll.com

 

9.90/12 pk
.82 ea.
160.00/1000 pk
.16 ea.
CondomDepot.com

 

6.00/12 pk
.50 ea.
 
149.00/1000 pk
.15 ea.
 

Starting a Condom Co-Op - 100 condoms for $15
Of course, even for the most amorous individual consumers, 1000 condoms may seem impractical. (Although with an average shelf life of four years, that would work out to 250 condoms per year – not out of the question for someone with an active sex life.) We also would note that 1000 condoms would not present a problem as far as storage space; the bulk condoms we received were delivered in a box roughly 2’x2’x3’, or 12 cubic feet – small enough to fit in most closets.

To take advantage of the bulk deals available online and achieve the greatest savings, we suggest consumers use the purchasing strategy of cooperative buying – like-minded individuals pooling their resources to buy a large quantity of a product at a low price, which they then divide among themselves. Such a strategy could be particularly effective for clubs, sports teams, and collective households (such as fraternities). A ten-member collective contributing $10 or less per person could easily buy a quantity of 500 condoms online ($95 at CondomDepot.com), including shipping. For less than the price of a box of a dozen condoms purchased at a drugstore, each member will have 50 condoms, bought at the price of $0.19 a piece (versus $0.99 each or more). That’s a total savings of about $40 per person.

In addition to making sense from an economic standpoint, having a large stock of condoms on hand also makes sense from the perspective of convenience, hopefully eliminating the necessity of buying small packages of condoms at inflated prices when caught short. For this reason, and because condom prices online are so much cheaper than buying “over the counter,” the individual consumer would still be better off estimating the average amount of condoms he or she expects to use in up to a four year period, and purchase that amount in bulk. (Note: Although some condom manufacturers, such as Trojan, do not offer product for sale loose in bulk, some online retailers still offer discounts for “smaller” quantities, like 100.) In the event that some of the condoms expire before use, chances are that the loss will still be offset by the overall savings.

Findings and Conclusions
Before undertaking our price comparison of condoms available through various retail outlets, we assumed that small convenience markets (e.g., 7-11, Plaid Pantry, and mom and pop corner stores) would be the greatest offenders when it came to product mark-up. We were surprised to find that the chain drugstores (Rite-Aid and Walgreens) were bigger culprits when it came to average price for a three pack of condoms ($3.99 vs. $2.99 at the convenience stores). Another surprise was that the supermarkets (Fred Meyer and Safeway) we surveyed offered few if any three-pack options, but did give a significant price break on 12, 24, and 36 packs compared to chain drugstores. The Drugstore.com site, while touting savings on its condoms, in reality offers little significant price reduction (which would be offset anyway by shipping costs) and was outpriced in many cases by supermarkets.

The most significant savings on condoms are offered by online retailers who sell in bulk quantities, or at membership warehouse stores. In theorizing about the pricing strategies of condom manufacturers and traditional retail outlets, we identified four possible factors contributing to the continuation of excessively high prices for very small quantities of product: failure of consumers to calculate price per unit value; embarrassment or social inhibition; convenience/lack of planning; and pessimism regarding future sexual opportunities. In our opinion, purchasing bulk condoms online circumvents all of these obstacles. The savings by buying bulk is both apparent and dramatically significant. Thanks to the relative anonymity of the internet, buying online reduces any social embarrassment or inhibition a consumer might have (bulk condoms are plainly boxed and shipped in discreet packaging). Buying in bulk eliminates or greatly reduces the problem of not having a condom on hand when you need one. And finally, buying condoms in bulk requires that consumers realistically assess their potential number of sexual encounters and perhaps think more optimistically; having a huge box of condoms available may even inspire some individuals to put them to use by being more sexually active.

For those who use condoms on a regular basis, buying in bulk, using a cooperative purchasing strategy if necessary, is clearly and by far the best economic alternative.


Other experiments:

How Many Condoms Can You Wear at Once?
The Cheney Shotgun Experiment
What is the Ultimate Jello-Shot?
How to Light a Jell-O Shot on Fire
How To Keep Beer Cold

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