Amazon is excellent at capitalism. The ubiquitous online retailer uses every psychological trick imaginable (and some we probably can’t imagine) to maximize its profits, and one of the most powerful tools in the company’s arsenal is controlling the price of products during sales like Prime Day.
In a broad sense, the entire operation is based on convincing consumers to buy things that they don’t need, and one of the specific methods they use is manipulating prices over time to make you think you’re saving more money than you actually are. (Check out this deeper diver into Amazon’s tactics for more.)
A lot goes into how Amazon determines its prices, of course—inflation, supply and demand, and so on—but “making you think you’re getting an amazing deal” is an obvious motivation during promotions like Prime Day.
How to see through Amazon Prime Day’s illusory discounts
In the chart above (made with Keepa, an extension that compares Amazon prices over time) you can see the volatility of the price of Amazon’s 4th Gen Echo Dot over the last few months. While the current “Lightning Deal” price of $19.99 seems low, Amazon can say it’s “60% off” because the non-sale price was raised to $49.99 from the $27.99 price they were charging in the middle of June. So it’s really more like 28% off—still a bargain, but not the “I must buy this even though I don’t want it”-sized bargain it might seem.
The same principle applies to non-Amazon-made products. Consider the Bissell, 2747A PowerFresh Vac & Steam All-in-One Vacuum that’s currently listed on Amazon for the early Prime Day price of $129.99. That’s 30% off the list price of $185.39. A great deal, until you look a little closer.
If you had purchased this vac back in April, it would have cost you $153.39, so you’re “really” saving a little over 15% by buying it on Prime Day, not 30%.
How to check a product’s price history before you buy a product on Amazon
Because Prime Day deals aren’t posted until their specific time window, you can’t tell in advance how much of a discount you’ll get on a specific product. But if you’re buying something on Prime Day, you can check the price history instantly before you purchase.
I’m sure Amazon would rather keep the history of its prices secret, but since they’re public, people have made sites, apps, and extensions that collect pricing history and allow you to comparison shop over time. I use the Keepa extension for Chrome, but that’s not the only simple-to-use, free Amazon-specific price history tracking option. Others like Camelcamelcamel and Earny do basically the same thing with slightly different bells and whistles. If you don’t already, you should use one before believing the hype of Amazon’s advertised discounts.
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