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Are You Really Seeing the Best Price on Amazon?

Shoppers trust that the price they see on a product page in Amazon is the best option, but it turns out there's more bias than you might think.
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Shoppers frequent Amazon every day, trusting the site's algorithms to show the best deals. But a recent Pro Publica report suggests that Amazon is becoming more biased, with its own products and "Fulfilled by Amazon" offerings being prioritized over those from other vendors — even if the other vendors have the cheapest price.

Amazon Prioritizes Itself and Paid Vendors on Product Pages

When buying an item on Amazon, most shoppers will purchase from the seller that's prioritized on the product page, rather than clicking to see what other vendors are charging. That means that shoppers are trusting Amazon to highlight the best price first.

But Pro Publica's report says that 94% of the time, Amazon prioritizes itself or vendors that pay for its services — and 75% of the time there were cheaper options available for other vendors. Shoppers who trust that the price in the buy box is the best price could be spending up to 20% more on their purchases than if they opted for the truly best price.

However, something to keep in mind with this study: The report factored in shipping costs for all items. Prime members and shoppers who reach the $49 minimum purchase generally don't pay shipping costs with Amazon items. If you're a Prime member then, it's unclear how often the top result is actually a more expensive option.

Refine Your Rankings and Factor in Shipping Costs

To avoid falling for the first, higher price, always click on the link to view additional vendors and prices. (You'll find the link in a box labeled "Other Sellers on Amazon" that appears below the "Add to Cart" box.) Then, rank the vendors by "price + shipping."

However, while this is Amazon's least biased way of ranking, it still gives preference to Amazon's own products and vendors. That's because Amazon products, and the companies that qualify as "Fulfilled by Amazon," are ranked by base price only; shipping costs are not factored in when comparing to the other vendors.

That's fine if you're a Prime shopper or expect to meet the minimum required to receive free shipping. But if you're not a Prime shopper, and you're nowhere near the $49 minimum, then this missing information can make it tedious to find the cheapest option. In that case, a shopper should take the Amazon option through checkout to find the delivery costs, and compare that to what other vendors offered.

Readers, have you found Amazon prioritizes its own items over those of third-party sellers? Let us know in the comments below!


Staff Writer

As a college student, Julie wrote for the college newspaper and freelanced for the website College Candy. Since then she has worked as freelancer through Textbroker and has written press releases, feature pages, and other miscellaneous pieces for a software company. She enjoys writing both as a hobby and a career, and is always working on some kind of story.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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26 comments
AlexDernst
Dear Amazon,

The odassity you must possess to try to run a successful business and not promote your competitor's services over your own.
I mean, seriously, who do you think you are by only allowing other companies the opportunity to take away from your possible earnings, by making us have to move our finger to click a button.
I hope the thousands of folks you've created employment for, the thousands of small business owners that you've helped pursue their dreams and the countless people you've helped save money in turn allowing said people to put that money back into the economy, can sleep at night with such an uncommon approach of ethical business standards.
georgelaw
Amazon gets buyer hooked or addicted with all their perks for free or nearly free then slowly but surely charge for each and every one of them.
BlueOak
Lol - of course Amazon highlights its and its partners prices! Why expect anything else?

However, for the stuff we buy, the Amazon or fulfilled by Amazon prices tend to be the lowest for a Prime customer.

If it is a more expensive item we simply google the model number and review the results.

TIP: fulfilled by Amazon is a way to avoid the sales tax that Amazon charges!
Allyson
Chiming in again & I'm extremely tired so this may or may not have any bearing on this convo:

Amazon Is Quietly Eliminating List Prices:
http://www.nytimes.com/...ng-list-prices.html?_r=0
pottsgw
@khiddy : Your diligence is NOT being rewarded. For many items "Fulfilled" listings and Amazon listings are considered a common pool of stock. They will ship from whatever warehouse is closest. There is no guarantee that what you bought "from Amazon" was not sourced by a shady vendor.
rsg123
For more expensive purchases, I will usually compare prices on other sites before purchasing on Amazon, especially after they lost their large advantage by starting to charge tax to California shipments a few years ago.
I almost always check the different purchasing options and about 95% of the time Amazon is already giving me the lowest price. They do not factor in tax though. Out-of-state 3rd party sellers do not charge any tax, so this could mean a 9% savings on items you don't need urgently.
Conversely, as someone has already stated here, the service if you need to make a return is well worth the extra 9% to buy "Sold by and Shipped from Amazon".
omalansky
Based on my own experience over a period of many years, I would say the the claim made in this article (that 75% of Amazon's featured product listings can be purchased at a lower price from other sellers) is simply not true. I often compare the featured price of an item with other purchasing option, and rarely find a lower price when the total prices (product cost plus shipping) are compared.
Wolfman
Amazon keeps eliminating ways to easily compare prices. Originally, the best "starting from" price was displayed below any item saved in your shopping cart. They got rid of it. Then, the best price was still available for each item in your browsing history. They got rid of that. So, clearly Amazon doesn't want you to be able to compare prices without exerting some effort item by item.
nematoda
@HowardaC "Something you should all be aware of. Amazon partners have to adhere to the same return policy as amazon."

No, no, no. That's simply not true. I had a problem with an "Amazon partner." The product sent to me was defective out of the box. When I submitted my return request, I was told I had to pay return shipping. The seller refused to budge. I contacted Amazon CR, which said it couldn't do anything. I kept complaining, and Amazon finally refunded my money, but still it was clear that Amazon sellers can and do have different return policies.
eviltimmy
I like The Camelizer browser extension (Chr/FF/Saf) and camelcamelcamel.com for their price tracking, and being able to, with a single click, see a chart that shows me how much of a deal the current sale I'm looking at really is. Plenty of sales that look great based on MSRP discount are only pocket change off of their regular everyday price, but it's also a way to catch truly good sales or the occasional pricing slip-up in your favor.
vwallen
I have found that the free shiping is not necessarily free. The prime price might be 29.00 with free shipping while others are selling for 26 + 3 shipping.
danmc9
Most people use Amazon for convenience, that being said its the responsibility of the buyer to know seller options...my recent story : i was on ebay and found this Dyson attachment and instead of checking @ Amazon I purchased from Ebay...one day later an Amazon package arrived and it was the Dyson attachment...the seller sent me an Amazon gift..haha jokes on me, I payed someone to shop on Amazon for me and I lost a couple of bucks,,,shame on me
Xpalido
Although that might be true in my opinion Amazon does it correctly by prioritizing itself and paid vendors as those items are often backed by a good money back guarantee if something goes wrong and they carry a warranty. Many manufacturers will not accept warranties from 3rd party sellers so saving a few bucks on the price may not turn out as good in the long run.
jimmycobbs
I'm and old geezer and my knees don't want to cooperate. It's a areal drag to get dressed, fire up the car and go shopping. So I figure that since Amazon delivers to my door, hasslefree, I'm paying an OK price even if seems a bit of what I could get at Target, Sears, etc. So far they have delivered exactly what I order and in a fairly reasonable time.
HowardaC
petraholden:

They act like their return policy is different, but if they get enough complaints their partnership status is revoked, so they WILL accept returns, you just sometimes need to be persistent with the more annoying storefronts.

I've really only had to return one thing to a partner in all of these years and it seems like it was damaged during shipping. They tried to wrangle out of allowing a return, but after a couple of emails we got it straightened out.
Rawmeat
I buy a lot on Amazon using Prime but usually also consider Amazon partners or Warehouse Deals (usually just the original boxes are damaged but sometimes I buy used items). Still, I might spend time checking a few other of my "go-to" sites like Walmart, eBay, Target. I use Priceblink on my browsers, which automatically searches for other sites selling the same items trying to find it cheaper, and it's sometimes successfulI. If I know an item could be damaged in transit, I'll be more apt to use Amazon Prime because of the great customer service and easy returns.
petraholden
I am a prolific Amazon shopper, and I will say I have had VERY different experiences returning products to Amazon vs. a third party seller on their site. Returning through Amazon is not the same thing -- third party vendors can and do have different return policies posted on their Amazon storefront pages. Because of my personal, negative experiences in this area, I usually decide in favor of the slightly higher priced item with the Amazon-backed guarantee.
HowardaC
Something you should all be aware of. Amazon partners have to adhere to the same return policy as amazon. There is zero reason to buy anything other than the cheapest deal on the site. Also be aware that amazon is rarely the cheapest vendor... eBay is. Buying new stuff directly from eBay is way cheaper than amazon. This is because of a tax loophole I believe. There is a reason stores like Walmart and BestBuy also have their own eBay storefronts.
dealnewsgrub
Only one thing to say (applies to any exchange of your hard-earned currency for goods): caveat emptor!
HisSon
In the past, there was an option to share a Prime account with the holder of that account. For a few bucks the owner could spread out the cost of his/her account by adding other users. All of Amazon's listed advantages make it a desirable option but I hardly ever need something in two days. That would usually be a want rather than a need. Before that happened though I almost always went with Amazon.

Since the above Prime option has been done away with, I am always looking to see if there is a better deal elsewhere. Ebay is one of the choices I like to check with but there are others.

The warning about being able to return defective products is very excellent advice. I have pretty much gotten my choices narrowed down and can't remember the last time I have had a problem even if it was a first time using that seller.
glpiroll
First, each Amazon listing clearly states that the item may be purchased elsewhere at a cheaper price, and Amazon lists all those vendors anong with with price, sales tax, plus shipping costs.
BUT....Price isn't everything......try returning something from one of Amazons "partners". . Amazon has one of the best return policies in the world. Don't like the item ?....press a button, get the return label , ship it back and you get credited from the moment you ship it...not when it's received. On the other hand, each "partner" has it's own return policy, and....watch out ,they're almost always not as generous as Amazon's.
CinciShopper
I have noticed the lightning deal thing too where they jack up the price and then lower it. I noticed this just yesterday when an item that I had purchased previously was more expensive as a lightning deal than it was when I bought it. I searched Amazons website and sure enough it was still available for $2 cheaper than the lightning deal as a regular item.
khiddy
I'm wary of "Fulfilled By Amazon" items, as there have been too many reports of knock-offs and outright fraudulent items delivered via this channel. I stick to buying either from Amazon itself, or from the vendor. I buy a few items from non-Amazon sources that I discover here via Dealnews, but usually Amazon is dropping something off at my door at least once a week.
Allyson
Depends on what I'm shopping for. Yes, Amazon is good with their shipping as long as you're willing to pay for Prime.

Customer service is okay. I had purchased a gift for a friend who was leaving out of town and I paid extra to make sure it arrived before they were to leave. Amazon failed me there.

As far as the lowest price, definitely not. But again, it depends on what you want/need & how soon you want/need it. I was debating on purchasing an item; it wasn't anything desperately needed and was going to be a Christmas gift. I am so thankful I decided not to buy the item. Amazon had listed the item in its Lightning Deals and had offered it at "a discount". They're "discount" was to jack up the price and then "lower" it to the price they normally sell it for on their site.

After that incident, I'm willing to shop around for whatever I want/need before turning to Amazon. I'm not one of those people who wants/needs to have their items sent to them the same day or the day before.
dansdeals
I completely agree with Bill. It's just not worth it to buy from other vendors when Amazon is so reliable and customer friendly. The few times I have used other vendors, I have often regretted it when it came to returns or other problems. For me, it's Amazon 1st, unless there is a HUGE discount with another vendor. Second choice is Prime from a 3rd party. Last choice is straight up non-Amazon, 3rd party, and I always do so with some trepidation.
billstewartiii
Thanks for this article. Very Informative. I, however, will often choose to pay a bit more for products sold by or fulfilled by Amazon versus other vendors.
First, I know and trust Amazon to make things right if something goes wrong (they have always treated me right) or if I need to return an item.
Second, I have less concerns about the potential for fraudsters and counterfeit products when purchasing directly from Amazon.
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