What Not to Buy on Amazon
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30 Things You Should Never Buy on Amazon

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What Not to Buy on Amazon
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Not-So-Prime Buys

Ah, amazing Amazon: The world's largest online retailer has made it possible to get everything shipped to our 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 things that are cheaper offline to dubious drugs and brand-name knockoffs, here are some things you're better off getting elsewhere, including more-protective face masks amid the omicron-driven COVID-19 surge. 


Related: Insider Hacks and Secrets for Shopping on Amazon

Face surgical white mask FFP2 KN95 N95 disposable for adults on travertine background. Masks are used to fight and prevent Coronavirus Covid-19 disease
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KN95 Masks

KN95 masks, marketed as a consumer-friendly equivalent to ultra-effective N95s, are especially popular as omicron leads experts to recommend that people upgrade their cloth masks. Consumers should beware of purchasing these on Amazon, however. As The New York Times warns, many retailers on Amazon sell masks that have either flunked testing or claim false approval by federal regulators. For its part, Amazon has said it requires high-filtration masks to pass a rigorous review process that includes checking them against a Centers for Disease Control counterfeit list, but acknowledges that it does not independently test them.


Related: 14 Signs You're Getting Scammed While Shopping Online

Products With Suspicious Reviews
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Products With Suspicious Reviews

Unsure about a product? You may want to think twice before trusting reviews. Amazon even recently banned 600 Chinese brands, including high-profile names like Aukey, Mpow, and TaoTronics, from selling on the site largely for posting fake or paid-for feedback. 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 unreliable, as are reviews that regurgitate features without commenting on performance. Other red flags: weird syntax or tons of reviews posted in a short time. Use FakeSpot, which analyzes reviews for signs of fraud.


Related: Ways to Beat Bad Customer Service

Items That Make Dubious Medical Claims
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Items That Make Dubious Medical Claims

Whether you're looking to lose weight or fight a serious disease, one thing is for sure: If a product makes claims that sound too good to be true, they probably are. Amazon recently banned 1 million products that claimed without evidence to help cure or prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and Vox has documented plenty of shady dietary supplements, dubious "immune boosters," and other questionable items on Amazon. More recently, Amazon came under fire for directing shoppers to listings for ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug used mostly in animals that has been pushed as a treatment for COVID-19 — despite not being approved for such a use. "Never use medications intended for animals on yourself," the FDA said of the drug in a warning it issued in May.  


Related: Meaningless Nutritional Claims by Some of Your Favorite Foods

Items With Dubious Discounts
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Items With Dubious Discounts

Many items on Amazon are perpetually on sale — or so Amazon wants you to think, with its crossed-out list prices. Before being suckered in by what seems like a fat discount, check out an item's price history using a tracker such as Camelcamelcamel. Because prices fluctuate on Amazon often, sometimes by significant amounts, what appears to be a good sale may not be anything approaching a real deal.


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Competitors' Devices
Amazon

Competitors' Devices

The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot have become inescapable. So have their chief competitors, Google Home and Google Home Mini, but if you think you'll score a deal on those on Amazon, think again. Amazon is ruthless about pushing its own tech for cheap, but look elsewhere for bottom-dollar deals from rivals Google and Apple. For instance, our deal scouts found an Apple Watch for $129 at Walmart on a recent Black Friday; the lowest the price ever got on Amazon was $170.


Related: Smart Home Products That Are Worth the Money

pet food
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Pet Food

It's annoying to lug that heavy bag of pet food home from the store. All the same, Amazon probably isn't your best bet for keeping Fido full. According to an analysis by Consumers' Checkbook, the best place to shop online for pet food is Chewy.com, which undercut Amazon by 18%. (Cheaper still, for in-store shoppers: Sam's Club, BJ's, and Walmart.)


Related: 20 Easy Dog Treat Recipes That Will Save You Money

Toilet Paper
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Toilet Paper and Other Household Staples

Paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, dish soap, detergent — these are the 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, Cheapism has found that the online retailer still can't compete with Costco. Savings at the warehouse club on household staples averaged more than 25%. If trekking to Costco sounds like a pain, using Amazon's Subscribe and Save program can bring down prices. Just be aware that subscribing doesn't lock prices in, which can be risky.


Related: Things You Never Knew About Toilet Paper

Birkenstock
Amazon
Nike
Amazon
Phone Charger
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No-Name Phone Chargers

You can cheap out on a phone case or a smartwatch band, but a phone charger is one accessory where you want to stick to tried-and-true retailers. A knockoff charger may not protect your smartphone from power surges that could fry its very expensive insides — probably not worth the few bucks you might save. As Vice notes, the cheaper these are, the less likely they are to be safe. Look for chargers that are certified by your phone manufacturer (or, to be even safer, made by the manufacturer itself).


Related: Electronics and Accessories That Are a Complete Waste of Money

Mattresses
Luisa Leal Photography/shutterstock

Mattresses

To be clear, you can get a great deal buying a mattress on Amazon. But buying a mattress is, at best, an imprecise science, and savvy buyers will want as long a trial period as possible before they're locked into their purchase. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, you get only a 30-day window when buying on Amazon to decide whether your mattress is a match. Since longer 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. 


Related: Things You Should Absolutely Never Buy on Craigslist or eBay

Customers Like Feedback
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Products With Reviews for Other Items

Ever found a product with a ton of positive reviews, only to look at them and realize the majority of the kudos are for a completely different product? That's because an unscrupulous seller hijacked an existing product page and updated it to show a new product, piggybacking on the good reviews the old product amassed. The seller is counting on the fact that most customers will see a high star rating and not wade very far into the reviews themselves. While this is clearly against the rules, BuzzFeed reports that it's still a widespread problem on Amazon.


Related: The Most Preposterous Product Reviews Online

School Supplies
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School Supplies

Price comparisons across the web show Amazon has become more competitive with its big-box brethren in this category, but there's still a reason to consider shopping bricks-and-mortar retailers instead: price stability. A price check by ValuePenguin shows that what you pay on Amazon can vary dramatically depending on when you shop. And if Amazon has a better deal than your local store, you may be able to ask the store to price match.


Related: Vintage School Supplies That Take Us Back to Childhood

'New' Books from Third-Party Sellers
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'New' Books From Third-Party Sellers

If you buy a book directly from Amazon, you can be reasonably assured it's actually new. But if you buy that same "new" book from a third-party seller who may be offering it at a suspiciously cheap price — perhaps cheaper than Amazon itself — you may be getting a used book passed off as new. Although you still get a readable book that looks just fine, it raises some icky ethical questions, as the book's author and publisher likely won't see any money from that sale, The New York Times reports.


Related: 20 of the Coolest Bookstores in America

Large Appliances
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Large Appliances

Amazon's selection of large appliances is subpar compared with what you'll find at Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy, and local appliance shops. What is available on Amazon often is hawked by a third party, usually for more than you'd pay locally (especially during major sales). Buying at the store can also help ensure you get the features you want, the size you need, and hassle-free delivery. Bonus: In person, you can haggle.


Related: The Best Time to Buy Almost Anything

Gift Cards
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Gift Cards

Yup, you can buy all sorts of gift cards on Amazon that are good at plenty of 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 such as Gift Card Granny. You can also earn rewards or bonuses when you buy offline. For instance, buy gift cards at grocery stores such as Kroger that give you fuel points with gift-card purchases. And take advantage of holiday deals that give you bonus cash at restaurants or stores with a gift-card purchase.


Strategic Store Layouts
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Ikea Products

If you're one of the unfortunate souls who doesn't live near an Ikea, you've probably noticed that Ikea's shipping costs can be astronomical. While Ikea did try to sell select products directly on Amazon, the program flopped and the company ended the effort. You can still find Ikea stuff from third-party sellers, but it's usually listed for much more than what you'd pay in store — sometimes twice as much.


Related: Secrets and Hacks for Shopping at Ikea

Trader Joe's PB Cups
Amazon
Kirkland Signature Almond Butter
Costco

Costco Kirkland Signature Products

Costco's store brand, Kirkland Signature, draws raves for delivering surprising quality for less. One more surprise: Amazon actually outsells Costco when it comes to Kirkland. Tempting as it may be to get Kirkland items on Amazon, you're better off ponying up for a Costco membership and heading to the store. That's because prices are inflated on Amazon, and Costco offers a way better deal on items that you can justify buying in bulk.


Related: Costco Brand Products That Shoppers Love

Baby formula
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Food From Third-Party Sellers

While Amazon can be a convenient place to stock up on groceries, it may be a good idea to steer clear of third-party sellers whenever possible. CNBC has documented expired food regularly being shipped to buyers, largely from third-party sellers who snap up questionable items at cut-rate prices during closeouts and liquidations. Although sellers are supposed to prove that items have at least a 90-day shelf life, it appears many ignore the rule, counting on lax enforcement.


Related: How to Tell When Canned Foods Are Still Safe to Eat

Cheap Rechargeable Batteries
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Cheap Rechargeable Batteries

Rechargeable batteries power all the important devices in our lives, from laptops and smartphones to cordless vacuums. And there are plenty of cheapies on Amazon that promise to power devices just as well as the big names for less. It's probably not worth the risk, though — How-To Geek warns that these cheapies can "catch fire, explode, and even burn down your house or physically injure you." A less extreme, and much more likely, scenario: The cheap battery won't hold a charge as well as one that comes from your device's original manufacturer.


Related: Tips to Make Technology Last Beyond the Warranty

Car Seats
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Car Seats Sold by Third-Party Sellers

Counterfeit or otherwise substandard car seats have become a particular concern on Amazon. But because Amazon doesn't require upfront proof from third-party sellers that the car seats they sell are up to snuff when it comes to federal regulations, there's a chance parents will get knockoffs or questionable brands that simply won't hold up in a crash. The Car Seat Lady offers advice on a few trusted third-party sellers, but recommends that parents stick mostly to seats sold directly by Amazon or bricks-and-mortar retailers.


Related: Say No to These Baby Hand-Me-Downs

Jewelry
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Fine Jewelry

Sure, Amazon has tons of jewelry for would-be buyers to browse, but will you be getting the same quality as after inspecting a potential purchase in person? Experts tell 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" were simply dropping prices 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.

Luxury Labels
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Designer Labels

Traditionally, luxury brands have shied away from Amazon, saying that selling through the giant online retailer would undermine the exclusivity that helps bolster their labels. While Amazon launched its own luxury platform last year, shoppers still need to be cautious, and know that most luxury items on Amazon are almost certainly from a reseller that may or may not be shipping the real thing.


Cheap Cosmetics
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Cheap Cosmetics

There's nothing better than scoring a great deal on notoriously pricey name-brand cosmetics or skin-care items, but if the price seems too good to be true, be cautious. Amazon has a documented problem with counterfeiters in this category. Even more concerning, fake cosmetics can contain hazardous ingredients (hello, arsenic) and may lead to rashes or infections, according to the FBI.

Produce and Perishable Food
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Produce and Perishable Food

Sure, you can get produce zipped to your door via AmazonFresh, but you may not get exactly what you want. What shows up could be perfect — or it may be underripe, overripe, rotting at the bottom, or somehow otherwise less than ideal. The service ranked last among online delivery services in a recent survey, with middling marks for quality and freshness, and poor marks for value. For instance, one DollarSprout reviewer reported paying more than double for a gallon of milk through AmazonFresh compared with the local grocery store. 


Related: Online Grocery Delivery Comparison: Is One of These Services Right for You?

Cameras and Photography Equipment
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Cameras and Photography Equipment

If you're more than just a casual shutterbug, it might pay to click around when you're considering whether to buy a camera or other photography equipment on Amazon. One analysis found that Amazon often didn't have the lowest price in this category, likely because specialty retailers have been making a big effort to stay competitive. We quickly found a couple of examples: A Walmart electronics seller undercut Amazon by about $40 on a Canon EOS 4000D bundle, and B&H offered a Sony mirrorless camera for the same price as Amazon while throwing in a free accessories kit.


Related: The Best Gifts for Photographers from Newbies to Pros

Furniture
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Furniture

Amazon has made a big push in this category with its own brands, Rivet and Stone & Beam. Reviews are mostly favorable, but the problem is more of selection — specialty sites such as Wayfair still have tons more to offer if you're shopping online, at a wider variety of price points. There's also the problem of buying furniture online in general: It can be hard to visualize pieces in your space without seeing them in person, you have to be very precise about measuring your space, and upholstery that looks comfy may be hard as a rock in reality. A recent Clark.com price analysis also found that while Amazon periodically often offers good furniture deals, Walmart did better in this category.


Related: Ikea Products to Buy — and to Skip

Party Supplies
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Party Supplies

There are plenty of party supplies to wade through on Amazon, but if you want the basics for absolute bottom dollar, check your local dollar store instead. Plates, table covers, balloons, and other disposable goods are almost always cheaper there. For instance, the cheapest blue paper plates we found on Amazon were $3 for a pack of 16, but you can snag 24 of them at Dollar Tree for just a bit over $1.


Related: Party Essentials You Should Always Buy at the Dollar Store

Small Items
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Smaller Items (Without Prime)

Sometimes you only need a single pot of lip balm or a pack of hair ties. But if you're not paying for Amazon Prime, you'll still need to throw in enough other items to meet the $25 threshold for free shipping (or pay a shipping charge that's probably more than the small item you wanted in the first place). If you're a Prime member, though, there's good news: Amazon has quietly pruned the add-on program that used to force shoppers to group small items with larger ones, meaning you're free to order little things with abandon.


Related: Bulk Buys That Are Cheaper at the Dollar Store Than Costco