Ah, amazing Amazon: The massive e-retailer has made it possible to get everything shipped to your door with blistering speed, often for less than the other guys. But just because you can order almost anything from Amazon doesn't necessarily mean you should. From items that are cheaper offline to products it's best to see in person, you might want to steer clear of these 15 things on Amazon.
Think Amazon isn't a great place to get groceries? You're not alone. In a 2017 Reuters/Ipsos survey of more than 9,000 people, only 2.6 percent said online retailers like Amazon have the most affordable prices. Local grocers also won by a large margin on selection, quality, and even convenience. While Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods signals a desire to compete long-term, for now, your wallet will thank you for continuing to shop for groceries offline.
'NEW' BOOKS FROM THIRD-PARTY SELLERS
If you buy a book directly from Amazon, you can be reasonably assured that it's actually new. But if you buy that same "new" book from a third-party seller offering a suspiciously cheap price — perhaps cheaper than Amazon itself — you may actually be getting a used book passed off as new. Although you still get a readable book that may look just fine, it raises some icky ethical questions, as the book's author and publisher likely won't see any money from that sale.
It's common to search for an electronic gadget on Amazon only to find that the best-sellers are brands you've never heard of. Sometimes the products are legit, The New York Times has found — they're made by manufacturers that have cut out the middleman and rely exclusively on Amazon to sell, then obsessively monitor feedback to refine their products. But others are low-quality knock-offs, as evidenced by Apple's 2016 lawsuit claiming that 90 percent of the iPhone chargers billed as "authentic" on Amazon were actually fakes and could catch on fire or even shock users. The best advice: Stick with name brands sold and shipped by Amazon.
It always feels good to score a great deal on normally pricey name-brand cosmetics or skin-care products, but if the price seems too good to be true, be cautious. Amazon has a documented problem with counterfeiters, and beauty products are among the most notorious categories for fakes. Even more concerning, fake cosmetics can contain hazardous ingredients (hello, arsenic) and may lead to rashes or infections, according to the FBI.
When you need only a single pot of lip balm or pack of hair ties, don't count on Amazon. You have to buy $25 worth of merchandise to throw in an "add-on item" (small products Amazon is willing to ship only with larger items to keep costs down). The same problem rears its head when it comes to smaller quantities of household goods or food. You have to be a Prime member to get access to these items through Prime Pantry. Even then, you have to pay a monthly charge for free Prime Pantry shipping, or a flat shipping fee of $8 an order.
PRODUCTS WITH SUSPICIOUS REVIEWS
Unsure about a product? Check its reviews, but be wary: Fake reviews are big business on Amazon, and you need to read them with a practiced eye. Overwhelmingly positive reviews that rely on meaningless superlatives ("great" or "awesome") are often unreliable, as are reviews that just regurgitate features without commenting on performance. Other red flags: awkward syntax and tons of reviews posted in a short time.
Amazon is relentlessly chipping away at the clothing market, but its hiccups have been well-documented: Luxury brands have shied away, knock-offs persist, and searching for pieces in a never-ending stream of garments can be frustrating for the average shopper. The kicker: You'll probably still pay more than you would at a local department store, where sales are common. But if you aren't committed to name brands, Amazon is making a big push with private labels. It has also launched Prime Wardrobe, which lets Prime members order clothing without being charged upfront, pay only for what they keep, and send the rest back.
You can buy all sorts of gift cards on Amazon that are good at places other than Amazon itself. But you probably won't be getting the best deal. It's possible to get gift cards for less than face value by buying on reputable resale sites like Gift Card Granny. And you can also earn rewards or bonuses when you buy offline. For instance, grocery stores like Kroger may give you fuel points with gift-card purchases. Holiday deals offer bonus cards at restaurants and stores.
To be clear, you can get a great deal on a mattress on Amazon. But buying a mattress is, at best, an imprecise science, and savvy online buyers will want as long a trial period as possible before they're locked into the purchase. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, you get only a 30-day window to decide whether a mattress is a match if you buy on Amazon. Since 100-night mattress trials aren't hard to find these days, consider looking elsewhere, or checking to see whether buying directly from the mattress maker will get you a longer trial period. For instance, you get a 30-day return window when you buy a Brentwood Home mattress on Amazon but 120 days on Brentwood Home's own website.
Although Amazon scored a deal to sell Sears' Kenmore appliances, the selection is subpar compared with what you'll find at Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy, and local appliance shops. What you will find is usually hawked by a third party, often for more than you'd pay locally (especially during major sales at the big-box retailers). Buying at the store can also help ensure you're getting the features you want, the size you need, and a hassle-free delivery. Bonus: You can haggle in person.
If you're one of the unfortunate souls who doesn't live near an Ikea, you've probably noticed that Ikea's shipping costs are astronomical. You've also probably noticed that there are plenty of Ikea products on Amazon. But think twice: Ikea products available on Amazon are invariably offered by third-party sellers for much more than the retail price — sometimes twice as much as you'd pay in store. Stay tuned: Ikea has said it wants to sell on Amazon, but so far plans are nebulous.
COSTCO KIRKLAND SIGNATURE PRODUCTS
Costco's store brand, Kirkland Signature, draws raves for delivering surprising quality for less. One more surprise: A 2016 study of online sales of Kirkland products showed that Amazon actually outsold Costco itself. Tempting as it may be to get Kirkland items on Amazon, you're probably better off ponying up for a Costco membership and heading to the store. That's because prices are usually inflated on Amazon, and Costco offers a way better deal.
Sure, Amazon has tons of jewelry for would-be buyers to browse, but do you get the same quality you'd find after inspecting a potential purchase in person? Experts have told Gizmodo that it's unlikely — for instance, you have to see a stone in person to make sure it really sparkles like it does in the photo. Even more concerning, some of Amazon's best "deals" are actually inflated prices dropped to fair market value. If you do take the plunge, one more thing to note: Make sure the item is returnable — Amazon says "some jewelry" doesn't make the cut.
Paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, dish soap, detergent — these are things a typical household goes through at a rapid clip. And while it's tempting to turn to Amazon to fill those needs without running to the store again, Cheapism has found that the e-retailer still can't compete with Costco. In a price comparison, savings on household staples at the warehouse club averaged about 25 percent. If trekking to Costco sounds like a pain, using Amazon's Subscribe & Save program can bring prices down as much as 15 percent, but subscribing doesn't lock in prices.
This is another product category where Amazon has trouble competing with entrenched players like Target, Walmart, Staples, and grocery stores. A number of price comparisons, including this one from ValuePenguin, have shown that Amazon lags behind some of its big-box brethren. Moreover, prices are much more stable at traditional retailers. In the rare case that Amazon has a better deal than a local store, you may be able to ask the store to price match.