When we need books, soap, diapers, electronics — pretty much anything — many of us head right to Amazon.com, assuming it has the lowest prices. But for some things, you may be better off shopping elsewhere.
Last week, Amazon released its quarterly earnings, making one thing crystal clear: Customers are dropping a load of cash on the site. For the 52nd straight quarter, Amazon’s sales grew double-digits with revenue increasing to more than $19 billion, up 23% from a year earlier.
In many cases, it isn’t a bad idea to shop on Amazon. Savings.com, which just launched the PriceJump browser plug-in and app that compares Amazon prices with prices around the Web, examined the prices of roughly 1,500 new products priced $10 or more on a day in May.
It 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 tends 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, a spokesperson for Savings.com — which is a lot of what we buy on the site. “The cheap stuff on Amazon is cheap,” says Matthew Ong, a senior retail analyst at NerdWallet.com.
There’s also the issue of shipping. For $99 a year, Amazon gives its Prime members free two-day shipping. If you order multiple items a month and would otherwise pay for two-day shipping, a Prime membership may save you a pile of loot, says James Crompton, an analyst with IBISWorld — and that’s particularly true if you buy multiple, inexpensive items or bulk items, which Amazon tends to have cheaper, the Savings.com data revealed. This analysis will help you determine if Prime makes sense for you. Furthermore, some consumers use Amazon’s Subscribe & Save feature to save up to 15% off items when they get automatic delivery on some of their frequent purchases (just be careful that this doesn’t make you stock up on items that you don’t need at that time).
But sometimes, Amazon’s prices aren’t the best, according to the analysis by Savings.com. Here are a few of those items. Amazon has not yet responded to request for comment.
Items over $100
“For more expensive, bigger ticket items, you have a better chance of finding a better deal off Amazon,” explains Seth Barnes, the director of marketing for Savings.com. The analysis found that on these items, you had a 70% 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% 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.
NerdWallet.com’s Ong noted that Amazon changes its prices on items “much more frequently than other retailers” (research firm Profitero says they make more than 2.5 million price changes every day) though he adds that the price changes were typically only minimally changed from their previous list price.
Amazon is often just what it claims to be: low-priced. Plus, “it’s a convenient and a trusted retailer,” says Crompton. “If you’re only going to save a few bucks elsewhere, it might not be worth it.” Throw in an existing Prime membership, and that may be particularly true for some.
Still, consumers cannot just assume it always has the lowest prices, particularly on items over $10. Use a browser plug-in like PriceGrabber.com or Savings.com’s PriceJump or an app like RedLaser if you don’t feel like comparison shopping. (PriceGrabber and PriceJump will alert you with a message on your computer screen when you look at an item that is priced lower elsewhere, and with RedLaser you scan a barcode of an item in a store and it will compare prices for you — both of which take much of the legwork out of 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.
Catey Hill covers personal finance and travel for MarketWatch in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CateyHill.
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