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Amazon Shopping Guide

Amazon.com was one of the few big successes of the Web 1.0/ Dot Com Boom of the late 90′s and early 2000′s. As you are probably aware, there was quite a bit of an economic slow down at the early part of the decade because of the crash of all these first wave internet companies. Amazon.com took a beating but came out smelling like roses. In addition to Yahoo! and eBay, it is one of the few first-wave internet mega companies that survived the crash and went on to thrive and become an even bigger player. While Amazon has greatly expanded its reach from merely being an online e-commerce destination to a designer and distributor of Kindle e-book readers and also cloud-based computing services (Amazon web services), it is still best known for its online shopping offerings. Read this guide to get more value from your Amazon shopping experience.

There are ways to get better deals and also to boost your chances of complete satisfaction with your order. Unlike eBay where you have to deal with sellers that might possibly misrepresent the actual state of the products or services that they are selling, Amazon is a straightforward commerce platform where a product is advertised and you purchase the product. However simple that may sound, there are still some complexities in the transaction process. There are still quite a number of areas where an informed decision making can go a long way in making sure that you are satisfied with the items that you purchased. Follow these tips to maximize your Amazon shopping experience.

1. Always start out at the bargain bins

There is a link at the top of most Amazon’s pages called “Today’s Deals.” Check out this spot and see if the featured deals have anything to do with what you are currently shopping for. The great thing about these deals is that the discount is great enough that even if you are not actively shopping for something but may possibly need it in the future, this would be a great opportunity to buy. While as attractive as that may sound and as useful as it may be, it can still work to your disadvantage.

Always have a Priority Shopping List ready when doing bargain hunting

Everyone knows that we are going through some tough economic times globally. Household budgets the world over are getting tighter and people are being more selective when they shop. There is simply less discretionary income to go around. To avoid buying unnecessarily because you just happened to spot a great deal on a particular product, make a list of your priority shopping items before you browse Amazon. It does not have to be a list of specific products, although that would be best as the more specific you are, the tighter your purse strings should be and the less prone you are to making unneeded or unwise impulse buys. You can list out your priority shopping list items in terms of categories. If you are looking for particular accessories, list them by categories. If you are looking for a particular how-to book or programming book, you can list them in a larger category.

The more specific you are, the more money you’ll save

Another key thing you have to keep in mind is develop the habit of shopping for specific things. Do not shop in terms of fuzzy concepts of what you are looking for. You could easily become that proverbial shopper that enters a grocery store looking for gum and walks out with a shopping cart full of groceries. It may feel good indulging that shopping impulse, but it surely would hurt your bank balance if you use a debit card or your credit balance at the end of the month if you use a credit card. Be as specific as you can. Exercise some self-discipline when navigating for the best deals. If the item is not on your list, don’t feel compelled to buy it!

Benefits must always outweigh costs

The third advice we can give you regarding the bargain bins and discount pages is always employ a cost-benefit analysis. Would the cost of the product be greatly outweighed by the benefit? Do you really need it? Are you sure you would need it in the future? Does it really add value to your home, to your lifestyle or to your work? Regardless of the specific needs that you have, always apply a cost-benefit analysis. Given these hard economic times, every red cent counts. Just because a product is discounted very steeply does not mean that your need for it dramatically increase. Make certain that you would actually use it.

One good gauge of measuring the value that you get from a particular product is the amount of times you use that product. If you see something discounted and you already have something related or similar at home that you bought previously, before you click that buy button, keep in mind how much you actually use the related or similar product. If you seldom use it, back away from buying the discounted item. Just because they lowered the price does not mean your need for it has increased.

2. Amazon is a great place to start, but not necessarily a great place to end your shopping

Amazon is a great place to start shopping for a product so you can get a general idea regarding the price for that product online. Amazon also offers a lot of information regarding what other users of that product think. Take a good hard look at the reviews and see if the issues raised pertained to your particular situation. Once you have gathered all the information at Amazon regarding the product that you want to buy, resist your impulse to click the buy button and purchase it from Amazon. There might still be better deals available at other websites. You can start your product research and shopping research at Amazon, but it does not necessarily mean that you have to end with Amazon.

Price Comparison can save you a ton of money

There might be better deals out there. Enter the product name at Google and search for other sites that may carry that product and see their pricing. Be very cautious though. Be aware that differing sites offer differing shipping rates. Just because it looks very discounted at another site, the actual final price might be the same or even higher than Amazon because they have differing shipping and handling rates. Pay careful attention to the small details that might greatly impact the value proposition of the product that you are buying at another site.

Similarly, make certain that you are comparing apples to apples. There are many times consumers think that they are shopping for the same time at another site when in reality the product that they are comparing it against at Amazon is actually a discontinued product or a slightly upgraded product or in some way materially different from the product that they are comparing at Amazon.

In this situation, you may be overpaying or you may be underpaying. Either way, it would lead to some sort of disappointment. Be very careful and make sure that you are comparing two exact products. Keep the model number strictly in mind. If the model numbers do not match, those are two completely different products. Certain product numbers change because of the color or size. Keep that in mind as well. Do not be scared off if the serial numbers are completely different. Read the product description closely and see why the product numbers are different.

Once you are certain that you are comparing the exact same products, you can do a price comparison and a service comparison. By service comparison, you are comparing the turnaround time of the competing website compared to Amazon. You are also comparing their customer support infrastructure compared to Amazon. Most of the time, there are better deals out there. What Amazon brings to the table is that it has a huge collection of products that, in terms of convenience and just sheer selection, many people just stay at Amazon. However, if you are looking for the best value, it pays to do your homework and start at Amazon but necessarily end there. At the end of the day, you are looking for the best value and that might not necessarily be offered by Amazon.

3. Research the product’s real suggested retail price

Many websites, and Amazon can sometimes fall into this camp, would use suggested retail prices purportedly by manufacturers that may or may not be higher than the real suggested retail price. The reason for this is purely psychological. People love deals and that is the main reason you are shopping online instead of your local retailer. People love the comfort and the convenience of shopping online, but they are also strongly motivated by the possibility of saving quite a few dollars shopping online. For the most part, they are correct in that assumption and hope because many online retailers do not have the overhead that Brick and Mortar national chains have. They can pass on the savings as a discount to the consumer.

Also many online retailers buy in huge bulk from manufacturers so that they get cut-rate factory direct prices and again they pass the savings on to the consumer. With all that said, however, research the suggested retail price that is posted on the site and see if it matches other online retailer’s suggested retail price for that product. If not, then you are looking at a range of prices and you should come up with an average. Based on that average amount, look at the price it is being offered for at Amazon and see if you are actually getting a good deal. Just because something is offered at a lesser discount from the suggested retail price at Amazon does not mean it is a bad deal.

Beware of lower priced competitors who provide bad service

You have to keep in mind that Amazon is one of the most established retailers on the planet. It is battle tested, it has been through a lot and it is trusted by millions of people. Those factors alone make it worthwhile to spend a little extra on Amazon. That little extra you are paying, while you can theoretically get it much, much cheaper somewhere else, is really for peace of mind.

There are many horror stories of smaller specialized boutique online retailers that do not care if customers complain about misplaced orders, mishandled orders or just outright rip-offs. They just take the money and run. Amazon is not in that business. It is not going to waste billions of dollars in terms of shareholder equity, established history and brand equity and goodwill just for your $29.95 order. You can rest on that fact. If the difference between rival retailer and Amazon is quite small, then you should look at the factors listed above and if you agree, lean towards buying the item in question from Amazon.

4. Be aware that prices may fall in the future

One of the greatest enemies of an online shopper is impulse buying. You have a need for a product, you see the product, the description is there, the price looks right and you just click a button and buy. Impulse buying drives the online economy and it is the fuel that drives the e-commerce economic engine.

However, on a purely personal and individual level, it can mean the difference between having a manageable credit card billing statement and a really heavy debt load that feels like a ball and chain. Resist the impulse buying mentality by clicking “buy later.” You can fight the urge to buy by installing the “buy later” Firefox extension. There is also a Chrome and Safari version of this extension. What this truly helpful device add-on does is it adds a “buy this later” button to whatever Amazon product page you are looking at. Consider it your e-commerce bookmark and that way, your psychological impulse to buy is somewhat counteracted because you actually made a physical action in terms of addressing the impulse to buy.

Deferred buying produces savings now and in the future

You have deferred it as opposed to buying the product. While in terms of psychological weight, this is not as satisfying as actually buying the product, but your pocketbook’s health would definitely improve if you use this button more frequently. What this button will do is it would send you an E-mail when the price changes for that product you are looking for. If you think a product’s price will fall later, this is a great strategy in dealing with buying impulses and also saving money down the road. Keep in mind that many products’ prices fall because a newer product has arrived at the market. If you are okay with using an older model, this can significantly help you save quite a bit of money. Retailers steep discount of older product versions quite a bit when there is a new version entering the market. One great example of this are iPad and iPhone.

The price drops quite a bit when the latest version has been announced and shipping date has been released. This strategy, however, is more relevant to certain types of products than to others. Other products never go through an update cycle, so you are pretty much stuck with that price unless there is really a good competitor that enter the market and because of competitive measures the particular manufacturer you are looking has dropped their price. Other than that, if the nature of the product is quite static, do not expect the price to drop unless, of course, there is a special deal held by Amazon regarding that product.

5. Be aware of who the actual seller is

Amazon has greatly expanded their offerings by partnering with many merchants. The actual shipper of the product and the actual seller of the product is not Amazon. Amazon just “lease the store’s space” to them, but it is actually a boutique seller. This is not a bad thing as it expanded Amazon’s product offerings by partnering with many merchants because there are many, many merchants the world over and they have tons of sub-niches of products that Amazon cannot physically fulfill. Amazon already handles a lot of products, but if it is going to be tasked with handling many sub-niches with very small markets, then its opportunity cost would rise and it would not make good business sense for them to do that directly. That is why they partnered with many niche retailers and sellers to handle these niche markets and so far, it is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The smaller retailer gets a huge selling platform by having a space at Amazon and Amazon retains its traffic because instead of losing out on niche product inquiries, it can actually sell them. In addition, it saves a lot of money not having to fulfill that particular order because it does not make sound business sense to do so. The consumer also wins because they can buy the product under the auspices of Amazon, which is one of the most trusted names in the internet.

Scrutinize Amazon sub-merchants carefully

While, for the most part this is a win-win-win situation, there can still be downsides. Look at the actual shipper of the product and do a little research on them to see if they are trustworthy. Amazon recruits and eliminates retailers all the time. Just because a retailer is affiliated right now with Amazon and has a space in Amazon, it does not necessarily mean that they are in really good standing and would be there for the long haul. Although most are probably there for the long haul, there are always shady operators or flaky operators. A little bit of research for the direct shipper can go a long way in dealing with headaches down the road.

6. Be aware of super saver shipping value

The super saver shipping feature is an excellent way of saving quite a bit of money through saving on the shipping amount for your purchase. It can truly save you quite an amount of money; however, it only works if the total value of what you are buying is $25 or over. If not and if you are just shy of that amount, super saver does not apply and with the cost of shipping, the actual price you are paying for the product can be greater than if you would bought the product at a specialty retailer or at your local store. Super saver is your friend, but it only applies in certain situations. If you are looking to qualify your total purchase for super saver, keep in mind the categories of particular add-on items you would want to buy. These obviously are not strictly crucial or 100% necessary, but should be necessary enough or worthwhile enough for you to buy so that you can qualify for the super saver discount.

The Bottom Line

Amazon.com is one of the most trusted names in the internet for a reason. When it comes to reliability, customer support and security, Amazon.com beats its competition hands down. With that said, there is always room for improvement and a diligent buyer can optimize the value that he or she gets from Amazon by heeding the tips listed above. Amazon is a terrific place to start and a lot of the times it is a great place to end, but use the tips above to make sure that you are getting the best deal you can from this e-commerce giant.

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  • Fred Jacobs

    I just want to add that Amazon has a feature to help prevent future price drops. They don’t advertise it much, understandably, but they will refund you the difference if the price on an item you purchase goes down within a certain time frame of your purchase. I believe it is within 30 days but you’ll want to double-check on that. All you do is let customer service know.

  • Clint200

    I didn’t know Amazon provided this incentive, Fred Jacobs. I’ll look out for it. I found out recently that I could list china, books and other collectibles on Amazon for sale. I listed some new, discontinued, first-quality china on Amazon and couldn’t believe how easy it was compared to eBay. I didn’t even have to photograph my china or books. Their interface allowed me to key in ISBN numbers and product numbers. In most cases, their stock photos turned up. Listing was so easy. I’ve had about $100. in sales. The funds are en route to my checking account now.