Nov 15

Don’t fall for the Amazon discount trap

In these days of pre-black Friday discounts and deals (farewell black Monday!), savvy online shoppers should beware of deals that seem too good to be true. As a father and uncle, I’ve regularly looked for discounted Lego toy sets on Amazon.com, with searches such as this one: Toys & Games : 50% Off or More :”lego”. In the past this has yielded a number of good Christmas presents.

No more. A large share of Amazon’s revenue and profit comes from Amazon sellers, who sell their inventory on Amazon.com for a fee. Today, my search for discounted Lego sets came up with a tempting hit: A 71% discount on the Star Wars set 75037, offered at $21.95 with free shipping by an Amazon seller, discounted from $75. Another fifty-nine different Amazon sellers offer this product for a higher price. Seems like a good deal? Not so fast.

If you search Amazon.com for Lego set 75037, three items are shown: in second place, the discounted set I originally found. In first place, however, Amazon itself ofsearchfers the set for only $12.19, with free shipping – a much better deal! Another 97 sellers offer it for a higher price. As a reference, the MSRP for this set was $14.99, but it is sold out on Lego.com

What happened? When listing an item to sell, Amazon sellers are trusted to create their own listings if they cannot find a similar item in Amazon’s catalog. In this case, an enterprising Amazon seller “overlooked” the original item listing, created a duplicate, and another fifty-nine sellers jumped on the bandwagon. These sellers are not competing with Amazon on price – they’re competing to catch discount-seeking customers.

infoHow successful is this tactic? Based on the product reviews, at least 14 customers fell for the trap of the higher-priced set, and gave it an average three-star rating, realizing too late how they were tricked. Just a few days ago, Barbara F. left this comment: “Disappointed. This was never a 75.00 item. This is the first time I felt deceived by Amazon. Please note this is a very small set. There is no sale or special pricing on this item.”

Without access to Amazon’s tools, it is difficult to gauge how pervasive this “duplicate, inflate & discount” is across all product lines. But a quick scan yielded at least a few suspicious duplicate Lego sets: 42020, 75035, 31036, 41026. Lego conveniently numbers its sets, which makes finding duplicates easier.

The bottom line: until Amazon finds a way to quickly and simply prevent duplicate listings, buyers beware: when you find a good deal, always cross-check that you truly got the best price – across both the Web and Amazon.com. And read the reviews.

Note: pricing and inventory on Amazon is dynamic, and the prices and items referenced in this article may no longer be available when you read this. A special wishful thinking award goes to the Japanese seller who is offering the 75037 Star Wars set for $77 under the third listing!