Is Amazon Always Cheapest? How Retailers Beat Amazon Prices


If you're like me, Amazon consumes your front doorstep, especially as the holidays near. In the month or so beforehand, I get a big brown box or two several times a week. As an Amazon Prime member, I have even ordered just a package of batteries or new socks for my toddler during the rest of the year simply because I will have it sooner than if I had to find time to stop for "just" that. And until now, I've always thought that shopping Amazon wasn't only more convenient, but that it was cheaper, too. Unfortunately, I was mistaken.

Lesson learned after I researched a variety of products, ranging from slow cookers to kids' tricycles. I found that, across departments, the sticker price on Amazon is often a few dollars lower than the retail store. But it is the lack of coupons and price matching at Amazon that makes this mega-retailer less the deal than we think it is. Sure, items are shipped right to our front doors, which saves time and possibly more money by foreclosing the possibility of impulse buys once in the store. But on the whole, Amazon isn't saving us much, if anything, on the items in our carts.

This is especially true when comparing Amazon prices against those of certain retailers that are notorious for an ongoing flood of coupons -- Bed, Bath and Beyond and Kohl's are prime examples. In fact, I have a pile of BB&B coupons on my desk right now because the chain is especially gracious about accepting expired coupons, and often more than one per transaction. I also know I can bank on at least one, if not more, new Kohl's coupons nearly every week, typically one to use now and one for later.

Kohl's cash, an occasional promotion that offers $10 store credit to spend the following week for every $50 you shell out, is another lucrative way to save big bucks over what you would pay at Amazon. By the time you combine the coupons, last week's Kohl's cash, and the store's already low prices, you wind up with some true steals. For example, my husband recently scored two pairs of leather boots for a fraction of the price he would have paid had he ordered them online at Amazon. The sale price at Kohl's was similar to the price of a comparable pair at the online competition, but with a coupon worth 30 percent off and another $5-off bonus coupon we received, he acquired two pairs for the price of one on Amazon. Granted, shoes and clothes are not necessarily Amazon's strong suit, but replace the example of the boots with toys, household items, or small appliances and the scenario is the same.

Other retailers, such as Target and Best Buy, compete with Amazon by offering a price match guarantee. In other words, if you see the item for less at Amazon, these vendors will match the lower price. This is a particularly good deal because you also avoid shipping fees.

Shipping costs factor significantly in the Amazon prices vs. retailers' prices equation. An Amazon Prime membership ($79 a year) includes free shipping on Prime items, which means you don't have to worry about the total amount in your shopping cart. However, if you are not a Prime member, your cart must total $35 (a $10 increase over the previous $25) to qualify for "super saver" shipping. If you only want something small or several low-cost items, shipping fees apply and boost the unit cost of each. Under this scenario, Amazon prices are more expensive than many big-box stores and others that aggressively discount with coupons and specials.

When you need something at a store that rarely offers coupons (e.g., Lowe's or Dick's Sporting Goods), however, Amazon could be your ticket. Prices are often comparable, and if the bottom line exceeds the $35 threshold (for non-Prime members), having the item shipped right to your front door is hands-down the better deal. It's hard to put a dollar value on convenience.

Amazon also holds the upper hand on products that make it to Today's Deals and Lightning Deals. These specials are Amazon's equivalent to a coupon system. The problem: You can't count on a certain item being discounted when you want or need to purchase it. When you do find a deal, though, the savings can be substantial. This, however, is the exception to the rule. Sigh.