For many of us, Amazon is our go-to retailer for a lot of our purchases. Once just an online bookstore, Amazon now dominates e-commerce and sells everything from health and beauty items to big-screen TVs and automotive parts. We don't just shop at the site because of its diverse product offering, though. One of the primary draws of Amazon is that its prices are tough to beat -- at least that's what many of us assume.
"Amazon benefits from a brand perception that it has the lowest prices, but our research has found this is not always the case," says Meghan Heffernan, consumer shopping expert for Savings.com. She and other shopping experts say that there are several things consumers should do before hitting the "buy" button on Amazon to make sure they actually are getting the best deal.
Check competitors' daily deals. Many big-box retailers have special prices on popular items for a limited time -- a week or sometimes just a day, says Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains. Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears and Staples are among the retailers that consistently beat Amazon's prices with their special deals. For example, a 46-inch Samsung HDTV recently featured in Best Buy's "Hottest Deals" list was $200 less than the Amazon price ($500 versus $698). Ben's Bargain's has a Cheaper Than Amazon feature that highlights the best deals each week.
Look for coupons from other retailers. Amazon makes it easy to research products with its in-depth reviews and ratings, Heffernan says. But once you've done your research on Amazon, she recommends checking coupon sites for discount codes to get a better price at another retailer. For example, Amazon may have the best base price on the North Face jacket you want, but it might also be available at Macy's, which frequently has coupons for 20% off that can bring the price down lower than Amazon's. You can find coupon codes at sites such as CouponCabin.com, RetailMeNot.com and Savings.com.
Know the best discount retailers. Many online retailers specialize in discounted merchandise and frequently beat Amazon's prices, Cook says. For clothing and shoes, 6pm.com often has better prices than Amazon - despite the fact that it's operated by Zappos, which is owned by Amazon. For outdoor apparel and gear, check Backcountry.com, REI Outlet and Sierra Trading Post. Newegg.com frequently has lower prices on computer hardware and accessories than Amazon, says Joe Warner, assistant managing editor of Ben's Bargains. These deals are offered to subscribers of its e-mail newsletter. Cowboom and TigerDirect.com also are good sources of tech deals. Oakley Vault (Oakley's outlet store) often has sunglasses available for much cheaper than at Amazon. For example, the same pair that was selling for $64.99 at Oakley Vault was $101 on Amazon.
Don't overlook eBay. Although this online auction site is known for its good deals on used items, many retail stores have an eBay storefront where they sell discounted items -- often with free shipping, Cook says. In particular, eBay is a great source of inexpensive electronics.
Stick to the supermarket or warehouse club for food items. Even with Amazon's subscribe and save program, which offers discounts of up to 15% on items you can schedule to be delivered to your home each month, the prices on many of the online retailer's food items don't beat regular warehouse club prices or sale prices at supermarkets. For example, a 48-pack of Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Cereal Bars sells for $20.98 on Amazon. You can get two pack of 36 bars (for a total of 72) for $19.96 at Sam's Club. Prices on most of Amazon's perishable items offered through its Amazon Fresh service in a few West Coast cities are a lot higher than at supermarkets, says Teri Gault, CEO of TheGroceryGame.com.
Check out other retailers' subscribe and save programs. As mentioned above, Amazon offers a discount if you schedule regular shipments of certain items. Its Amazon Mom program is known as a good way to get a 20% discount on diapers you subscribe to receive each month. But you have to have an Amazon Prime membership, which costs $99 a year. Target has its own subscription service that offers only a 5% discount but is free. If you have a Target REDcard -- a debit card that links to your bank account -- you get an additional 5% off all purchases. And Target's store-brand diapers are cheaper than the lowest-priced brand-name diapers sold on Amazon. So you can score significant savings.