Pictured: Amazon Go checkout-free concept store in Seattle, Washington.
In 1995, John Wainwright, principal software architect of ScriptX and MaxScript (scripting languages for multimedia purposes and Autodesk 3ds Max), made a purchase which signified the beginning of a new era for the retail industry. It was from a small bookselling website by the name of Amazon.com, and looked something like this:
23 years later, Amazon has become a household name, in more ways than one. The bookstore turned-online shopping monolith has made its way from Washington to dozens of countries, dozens of home porches, and even inside the homes of almost 22 million people through their Echo smart speakers. It is this diversity which has allowed Amazon to continue market dominance. Their logo representing “every product from A to Z” becomes truer by the year, and is set to continue to do so with recent developments like their grocery delivery service, video streaming service, “just walk out” convenience stores and more.
Major staples of the Amazon diet include sales, such as Prime Day, constantly touted as the “biggest” on their advertising. It’s “greater than Black Friday”, and seemingly has more bargains than traditional retail sale days. The mounds of reductions shown on their website back this up, offering up to 75% off a wide range of goods such as those shown below:
This is all well and good, and consumers will be happy to know they are getting a great deal on their purchases, but are Amazon being entirely truthful when they entice customers with items at up to 75% off?
Case Study: Amazon Early Easter Sale 2018
To investigate these deals, I decided to choose 3 products with varying reductions, and compare them with CamelCamelCamel, a price history checker, to find out whether what you see is what you get when it comes to reductions from RRP.
Product 1: Philips Lumea Prestige IPL Hair Removal Device
Claimed RRP: £575.00 | Sale Price: £299.99 | Claimed Reduction: 48% Off
As seen from the graph, this item has previously been on sale for £575.00, but only for a less than 2 month period. The average price of this product since March 5th 2017 is £355.60, with the price hovering between £300 and £400 during a 20 day period before the sale.
Concluding that the RRP listed was not anything close to Amazon’s normal price, I took to some UK retailers and some eBay new listings to find out whether they offered this product at £575. My results are outlined below:
John Lewis: £399.99
Amazon provides a competitive price for this product, but the RRP is deceptive, as only one retailer still offers the product at the high price it was introduced at.
Actual Reduction: 25% off
Product 2: Breville VDF122 Halo+ Duraceramic Health Fryer
Claimed RRP: £219.99 | Sale Price: £69.99 | Claimed Reduction: 68% off
This product has been hovering around the £100 mark for 4 months after a large price drop from around £165 in October 2017. The average price of this product is £125.57, and the highest price Amazon has ever sold this product for is £175.38, despite the £219.99 RRP they state.
My retail RRP check resulted in these prices:
John Lewis: £99.00
Amazon offers this product at a lower price than most retailers, but I wasn’t able to find a single instance of this product close to £219 (the most expensive was £169.99 on The Hut).
Actual Reduction: 44% off
Product 3: Philips Sonicare HX9111/21 FlexCare Platinum Electric Toothbrush
Claimed RRP: £240.00 | Sale Price: £59.99 | Claimed Reduction: 75%
This is an interesting one. As you can see, the toothbrush has been rapidly changing price over the past few months, even over the past 11 days there have been 5 changes:
That being said, there have been extended periods of an £80 price and occasionally a price tag of £120 in there. Keep in mind, however, that this price history shows prices for almost 3 years that the product has been on sale for. This product has an overall average price of £110.39.
Checking for the retail price of this product leads to these results:
Argos: No longer sold
John Lewis: No longer sold
Yes, this is an ex-catalog product, an outdated product and reduced to clear by Amazon. However, it genuinely seems that while the reduction is not true when comparing the price to Amazon’s previous prices, it gives 75% off of the price you would expect to pay on high street retailers.
Actual reduction: 75% off (see above)
It is clear through research that Amazon takes advantage of the RRP/List Price on their product listings to enhance the appearance of their price reductions. This is further evident during sales, when Amazon states the RRP as the non-sale price instead of the usual price they sell the item for. However it is important to emphasise that while Amazon does not really provide the reduction they state, they do still offer an attractive price compared to the item’s usual cost.
In future, I would hope that Amazon can become more transparent about pricing, ensuring customers aren’t roped into purchases based on the fact it’s on sale, rather than at a good price to begin with. That probably won’t happen as the company has no reason to do so, and they’re technically not lying about their prices. Regardless, consumers are ranting and raving about their bargains from Black Friday, Prime Day and the many other sales Amazon hold throughout the year.
What can I do?
Take these 3 steps every time you see a bargain price on Amazon to make sure you aren’t caught out:
- Use CamelCamelCamel to check price history, and see if the reduction is as good as it says it is.
- Don’t buy products just because they are on sale, make sure you actually need the product and that the item is worth the price you pay.
- Evaluate whether you would buy the product if the sale price was the normal price (would it still be “too expensive” to you?)
Footnote: All Amazon links in this article are affiliate links.