We love Amazon Prime Day deals as much as anyone. And Money.com will be covering all of the best sales — from Amazon, Walmart, Target, and others — before, during, and after the two days when Prime Day 2019 is actually taking place (July 15-16).
But there’s one major problem shoppers must contend with on Amazon Prime Day, and it’s the same frustration that comes up on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and every other big sales event: How can you tell when a “deal” is truly a deal?
After all, virtually every shopper knows that Prime Day and Black Friday feature “deals” ranging from awesome to mediocre, with the occasional ripoff tossed into the mix. Under the pressure of a limited-time sale (Amazon Lightning Deals even have a clock counting down!), and faced with an overwhelming number of deals that could sell out at any minute, it’s easy to get suckered into overpaying — for something you may not even want.
How can you tell if Amazon Prime Day deals are good values? The one quick and basic cue shoppers always use when hunting for deals is the percentage or flat dollar discount off of an item’s regular price. But there’s a problem with using the regular price — or perhaps the “original” price or “list” price — to assess a sale item’s value. So here’s one simple piece of advice you should take to heart when sifting through Amazon Prime Day deals:
Ignore the Amazon “List Price” — on Prime Day and Every Day
For each item available at Amazon, there could be three different prices on the product page. Every product has a main price, but that figure is crossed out when the item is being discounted for Prime Day, or just because it happens to be randomly marked down that day.
Some products also include a third dollar figure: a “List Price,” which is all but guaranteed to be crossed out right above the main price. It’s this Amazon List Price that you should ignore when hunting for deals on Prime Day or any other day of the year. Why? It’s a safe bet that the dollar figure is a crazily inflated price that no one ever really pays, and it’s useless for trying to figure out what’s a good price to pay.
For example, during the week before Amazon Prime Day 2019, one of the site’s Lightning Deals was a PicassoTiles 60-piece magnet building set. The toy’s regular price at Amazon was $33.99, and because of the Lightning Deal sale, it was marked down to $28.89. In other words, the item was discounted by $5.10, or a 15% savings.
But this product also had a List Price on Amazon — of a whopping $99.99. This inflated price, which was roughly three times the everyday price, enabled Amazon to state that the day’s Lightning Deal amounted to a savings of $71.10, or 71% off. Even after the Lightning Deal expired, when the regular price of $33.99 went back into effect, Amazon said that the toy was 66% off compared to the $99.99 List Price.
We checked this item’s pricing history using CamelCamelCamel, a tool that tracks Amazon prices, and it’s almost always been available on Amazon for $35 or less dating back to 2018. So where does that insane $99.99 List Price come from?
We asked Amazon for an explanation, or for any comment about how and where List Prices come from and what they mean. Amazon hasn’t responded. After some searching, we found a page in Amazon's Help & Customer Service section that says only that the “List Price” for an item “means the suggested retail price of a product as provided by a manufacturer, supplier or seller.”
So, basically, Amazon is saying that it is not responsible for List Prices on its site; if a List Price is an absurd inflated figure, the blame should go to a third-party, not Amazon. Even directly at the PicassoTiles.com, however, we saw that this 60-piece building set was listed at a full price of $79.99, or $20 less than the List Price at Amazon. And that $79.99 figure is misleading too: A link below the product highlights that you can “Buy it from Amazon,” and when you click that you wind up back at the spot where it is available for the regular price of $33.99.
If you’re shopping for deals on Amazon Prime Day, you’re bound to run into many similar pricing puzzles. The confusing pricing for the toy above is just one example of the way shoppers can be manipulated and misled, and it’s hardly an issue that’s exclusive to Amazon. Macy’s and Kohl’s have been sued for using allegedly fake, inflated pricing schemes. When we checked what Walmart was charging for the same 60-piece PicassoTiles building set, we saw it available at the exact same price as Amazon ($33.99) — and this amount was also right next to a mysterious crossed-out “List” price of $99.99 at Walmart.com.
Retailers have been using sketchy list prices for years as a strategy to trick customers into thinking they’re getting amazing deals. Known as “price anchoring,” the tactic deceptively “anchors” in an inflated semblance of value in the shopper’s mind — thereby making the discount seem bigger and impossible to pass up.
Amazon has a curious history of using questionable list prices. Back in 2016, mere days before the second-ever Amazon Prime Day, the New York Times reported that Amazon was quietly getting rid of list prices. Yet months later, a consumer watchdog group published a study saying that many Amazon list prices were “entirely bogus.”
List prices do seem to have disappeared quite a bit at Amazon lately. But obviously, heading into Amazon Prime Day 2019, there are still products on Amazon featuring list prices — and they can seem just as bogus as ever.
How to Find Truly Good Deals and Avoid Impulse Purchases
To evaluate Prime Day deals and avoid overpaying, our best advice is to pay no attention to an item’s list price at Amazon, if there is one. You may want to ignore the main price too, or at least take it with a grain of salt — because some items are “on sale” so often their regular prices are pretty inflated.
To figure out if a deal is truly a deal, plug the product into CamelCamelCamel.com to review the item’s pricing history, and do some quick price-comparisons for the same or similar items at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, or other major retailers. This way, you’ll get a better sense of how much products usually cost and whether the price on Amazon Prime Day is anything special.
Perhaps more importantly, instead of investigating if an item on sale is a good deal, you should pause and ask: Do I really want this thing? Or am I tempted to buy mainly because it just popped up on sale? If it’s something you genuinely want or need for your household, you probably would have purchased it already or you’ll be willing to buy it later, regardless of whether it’s $5 or $20 off.
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