Why Amazon isn’t always the cheapest option

If you’re like me, Amazon is a lifesaver when the holiday season rolls around each year. It helps you avoid the malls, the crowds and lets you get all your shopping done quickly, from the convenience of your home, in your pajamas. Aside from the holidays, I do a lot of our shopping on Amazon as it’s just too convenient.

Having nearly $90 billion in sales in 2014, I know I’m not alone, as many people like to shop on Amazon. It is no doubt that Amazon has great pricing, but is it always the best, and cheapest, option? As you gear up for the holiday shopping season, consider some of the following ideas before you put items in your Amazon shopping cart.

Perception is not always reality:

Part of the Amazon appeal is the low prices. If you’re frugal like me, this drives us to continue to use Amazon for our shopping needs. The branding win for Amazon, however, can cost us in the long run as the reality is Amazon is not always the cheapest option.

In some instances, Amazon can be significantly more expensive than competitors. A recent MarketWatch survey reveals there are quite a number of items that are typically more expensive on Amazon, such as items that cost over $100, electronics, photography supplies, clothing and shoes.

The MarketWatch report indicates that Amazon isn’t always the more expensive option in these categories, though it is the majority of the time. You must also consider the role of shipping in the equation. If you’re an Amazon Prime member or spend more than $35, then you will likely have the option of free shipping. This can potentially make the total cost cheaper. The important point to remember, especially during the holiday shopping season, is to compare prices to find the best deal.

Watch the common everyday items:

Amazon does a great job of knowing what is being charged for items. They use competitor analysis to help them determine where to price items. This approach is especially the case during seasonal shopping periods like the holidays.

A Boomerang Commerce study reveals this technique often occurs with items like big screen TVs. Amazon will study its competitors’ prices to undercut them. This is a win if you want to buy the big screen TV, but Amazon makes up for it in another area, such as accessories you might need to go with that new television, like HD cables. The Boomerang Commerce study shows Amazon charges significantly more for those items.

It doesn’t stop with add-on items like the HD cable. I’ve personally seen items like toiletries, groceries and other common items come in significantly higher in price versus other retailers. Convenience aside, it likely doesn’t make much sense to spend three to four times as much on an item, regardless of whether or not it’s something you use every day.

Tools to use to keep you in the know:

Part of what Amazon counts on is a lack of comparison shopping. We have the perception that Amazon is always cheaper and thus simply find the best price on their site and buy the item. That can be a mistake.

There are actually a number of websites that can help you compare prices against Amazon to see if you’re really getting a deal. Some of those sites are PriceJump, CamelCamelCamel and Pronto.

PriceJump can help you save money on Amazon in a number of ways. It offers a browser extension that will alert you if a specific item can be found for a lower price elsewhere. What if you don’t want to install the browser extension? PriceJump allows you to copy the url or keyword of a given Amazon item. They will then go to work to see if the item can be found cheaper elsewhere.

CamelCamelCamel is an odd name, but it can save you big money on Amazon. Like PriceJump, it offers a browser extension, but also price drop alerts and an Amazon price history. If you’re not in a hurry for an item this can be a great way to save money shopping on Amazon.

Pronto is a bit basic, but still allows you to compare prices found on Amazon to other retailers and a browser extension similar to the two other tools listed.

Regardless of the tool you use, it’s important to remember the role of comparison shopping. It may be very likely you’ll find a better price on Amazon. That’s great, but you want to do a little homework to make sure you’re not spending more of your hard earned money than you have to.

Amazon makes shopping incredibly convenient. There is no doubt to that. Remember when you find what seems to be a deal to check it against other retailers to verify that you’re getting the best price.

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Why Amazon Isn’t Always the Cheapest Option originally appeared on usnews.com

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