SAN FRANCISCO – As with all sales, the trick during Amazon’s Prime Day is knowing what’s really a deal and what’s just hype. One market research firm found that only half the items it tracked during the week of the sale were cheaper.
Ahead of Amazon’s fourth Prime Day on July 16, USA TODAY reviewed pricing analyses from at least four market-tracking firms to determine whether criticism of the 36-hour sales event — that some sellers use it to clear out undesirable stock before the holidays — was valid. Or whether shoppers could find deals on items they really wanted.
“As with any large promotional day, you’re going to get a combination of legitimate doorbusters designed to draw in shoppers and some deals that are more about clearing out inventory,” said Andrew Lipsman, retail analyst with market research firm eMarketer Inc.
More than one million items across the entire Amazon site, both those sold by Amazon and by third-party sellers, will be discounted over the course of the sale, by greater and lesser amounts. But the analytics companies focused on certain categories that in previous years offered some of the most reliable deals.
EMarketer, Market Track, Profitero and Gartner L2 found the items most likely to be deeply discounted on Prime Day are those ordered on Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant via Echo or other smart speakers. Amazon’s own electronics such as its Kindle tablets, Echo smart speakers and Amazon private label clothing and other items also show substantial discounts.
Food and beverages were less likely to be deeply discounted.
The absolute best bests will be Alexa-only deals, says Market Track, an ad and pricing analysis firm. During last year’s Prime Day sale, items available only via Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa were on average 33 percent off their everyday price, said Ryne Misso, Market Track’s marketing director.
These mostly weren’t high-end products. Two-thirds of the sale items offered only on Alexa were for consumer packaged goods such as toiletries and cleaning products, Market Track found.
“This may have been a push by Amazon to get more consumers used to buying their household goods — toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, etc. — through their Alexa devices,” Misso said.
This seems to be in response to a conundrum Amazon is facing. Despite the surprising popularity of its digital assistant Alexa and its Echo-family of smart speakers, relatively few customers are actually using them to buy things.
Get your Kindles, Echos and Fire tablets
Next on the list of most-discounted items was Amazon-branded electronics. Last year’s top sellers included Amazon’s Echo Dot smart speaker, which tended to feature sizable discounts of 20 to 30 percent or more, said Lipsman.
Given the overall popularity of consumer electronics as a category that draws in consumers, look for good deals on Amazon’s recently introduced Fire TV Cube as well as some of its recently acquired smart home brands such as Blink and Ring, he suggests.
Private labels, excellent prices
Also look for good deals on items from Amazon’s burgeoning list of private label items, a trend that began last year and which Cooper Smith, director of research at business intelligence firm Gartner L2 expects to “explode” this Prime Day.
Private labels are goods manufactured by one company but offered under another company’s brand. In Amazon’s case, it has at least 79 such lines which include everything from clothing to bedding to patio furniture, including its 365 Everyday Value line of groceries and personal care products and its Rivet line of furniture, though the majority are for clothing. Twenty-eight percent of the private labels appeared since last year’s Prime Day, according to Gartner L2.
“Amazon is able to discount its own brands more,” said Smith. “I think Amazon’s going to more heavily promote its fashion offering.”
Don’t imagine fur coats and couture dresses. People go to Amazon to restock their sock and underwear drawers and they use these promotional type sales to do that stocking, said Smith.
The key will be knowing which items are really marked down. As with Black Friday, only a selection are truly discounted.
A study by Market Track that tracked pricing for over 800 randomly selected listings across a variety of categories from TVs to toys and games to wearable technology found that, on average, Prime Day prices were only 0.8 percent lower than the preceding 50-day average, and were actually 0.3 percent higher than the following 50-day average, said Misso.
A study done last Prime Day by London-based e-commerce analytics firm Profitero found that about half of the items that it looked at were cheaper the week of Prime Day than they were in June.
“Which means about half were not cheaper,” said Keith Anderson, the company’s vice president of strategy.
Amazon counters that on this year’s Prime Day, even more items will be discounted. They’re touting more than one million deals, up from 100,000 two years ago.
“We are focused on breadth and depth of deals,” said Cem Sibay, vice president for Amazon Prime.
“Breadth meaning, Prime Day deals will include everything from electronics and toys to everyday essentials and back to school supplies. And depth meaning both depth of discount as well as depth of inventory,” he said.
To get the most out of the sale, Profitero’s Anderson suggests making a list of things you want to buy and checking their prices now on Amazon and from other vendors. He also suggests using a price comparison site such as Camelcamelcamel, which tracks the price of items for sale on Amazon.
Though in the end, for many consumers the allure of Amazon is not just good prices but also convenience.
“There are always going to be people for whom it’s not that its 30 percent cheaper than it’s ever been, but that it’s 5 percent cheaper and it’s going to be here in two days,” said Anderson.