When we need books, soap, diapers, electronics — pretty much anything — many of us head to Amazon.com to do our shopping. And when Amazon Prime Day comes around — the day every year when the retail giant marks down many of its most popular items — the deals can be hard to resist. (Really, really hard!) And although the deals might be enticing, for some things, you may be better off shopping elsewhere.
“Partly because of the fear of missing out, consumers risk making compulsive, financially counterproductive purchases as the buzz over Prime becomes a roar,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. Clicking the “buy now” button can provide that rush, but “longer-lasting regrets can follow upon realizing the item wasn’t necessary and personal financial goals are one casualty.”
We all know that rush, right? Even while writing this story, I’m trying to resist buying an electronic door lock that’s on sale today! The button is just so tempting, and that lock can be to me in just two days!
But as Hamrick says, “Only seriously consider purchasing if you have already done homework with price comparisons, both online and at brick-and-mortar destinations, and only click ‘add to cart’ or ‘buy now’ if it’s an item that you really need and can afford and otherwise planned to buy.”
Sigh. Looks like I’ll be unlocking my door the old-fashioned way for now.
But one thing is crystal clear: We customers are dropping a load of cash on Amazon all the time. In just the first quarter of 2019, we spent $60 billion on the site.
In many cases, it isn’t a bad idea to shop on Amazon. Savings.com examined the prices of roughly 1,500 new products priced $10 or more, and found that about half of the time, Amazon did, in fact, have the best price (which is pretty good, considering that it compared Amazon’s prices to those of 5,000 other retailers). In particular, Amazon tended to have the best prices on digital downloads like books, inexpensive items (things under $10, which were excluded from the survey) and on items you buy in bulk, says Meghan Heffernan, former spokesperson for Savings.com — which is a lot of what we buy on the site.
There’s also the issue of shipping. For $119 a year, Amazon gives its standard Prime members free two-day shipping.
But sometimes, Amazon’s prices aren’t the best, according to the analysis by Savings.com. Here are a few of those items.
Items over $100
“For more expensive, bigger ticket items, you have a better chance of finding a better deal off Amazon,” explained Seth Barnes, former director of marketing for Savings.com. The analysis found that on these items, you had a 70 percent chance of finding the item for less at another online store. Items that the Savings.com analysis found for significantly less than Amazon’s listed price included some home-improvement items like power tools and kitchen purchases such as a microwave and blender.
Another category where Amazon often had less-than-stellar prices was in electronics like televisions and laptops, the Savings.com data revealed; showing that you could get a better price elsewhere on electronics 58 percent of the time. Sometimes, this is because electronics retailers (relatively) often have get-them-in-the-door/site teaser rates for big-ticket items that are great deals — with the hope that this will get you to buy the item from them, along with some higher margin purchases as well.
“Photography stands out (as not being as low-priced on Amazon), especially as you get into more expensive cameras and equipment,” says Heffernan. Indeed, the deepest discounts compared to Amazon were found in this category, the data revealed. Heffernan says this is largely due to the fact that speciality photography retailers — facing stiff competition in today’s camera phone world — are “making a big effort to be competitive.”
There are surely deals found on these kinds of items on Amazon. Plus, this study only looked at just a single day of Amazon pricing, and since the retailer frequently changes its pricing, it may be worth it for consumers to check prices even on expensive things like electronics and photography supplies there.
Amazon is often just what it claims to be: low-priced. Throw in an existing Prime membership, and that may be particularly true for some.
Still, we can’t assume it always has the lowest prices, particularly on items over $10. Use a browser plug-in if you don’t feel like comparison shopping. Be sure to consider shipping costs as well (look for coupons on FreeShipping.org) and factor in whether a Prime membership might be worth it to you.
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This story was updated on July 15, 2019.