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More shoppers than ever now spend their Black Fridays at home on their computers or smartphones rather than at stores in endless lines or crowded aisles.
That can save a lot of public headache, but it can also make it harder to tell how much money is being saved. Sites can adjust their prices in the moment based on location, time, and customer attributes. Algorithms, rather than store displays, typically determine what products you see.
In that environment, price-tracking firms like Wikibuy and Camelcamelcamel aim to offer more perspective. They compare discount deals with data on how much a given product has sold for on the same site in past months and how that stacks up against competitors.
“It’s a matter of prioritization: there are lots of great deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and there are lots of average prices masquerading as great deals,” said Wikibuy director of growth Matt Gratt.
“There are lots of average prices masquerading as great deals.”
Take, for instance, a Hoover carpet-washing vacuum, which Amazon billed as one of its hottest Black Friday deals of the day on Tuesday. The list price on that product—the number from which all savings are derived—is $220. Amazon therefore claims you’re saving 55 percent when you buy it at the discount price of $99.
But pricing data on Camelcamelcamel shows that Amazon hasn’t sold the vacuum for as high as the list price in nearly half a decade. The appliance has sold at an average price of $147 in the past five years, meaning the sales tag now is still a bargain but not nearly to the extent Amazon is advertising.
“I need a new television, and in shopping for one it has been amazing how most of the Black Friday deals aren’t any better than the prices I find everyday on Wikibuy,” said Walt Roloson, Wikibuy’s vp of growth and revenue.
Amazon’s list prices have been a point of controversy for years. The company has faced a number of lawsuits claiming that it prices were misrepresentative or inaccurate. The U.S. federal government opened its latest probe into the practice this summer, and Canadian regulators slapped Amazon with a $1 million fine for deception earlier this year.
This practice is not restricted to Amazon. Many physical retailers have landed in hot water for how they portray prices. But with a majority of consumers now consulting smartphones as they shop in stores, those list prices are less significant, and online retailers, Amazon in particular, tend to set the overall standard.
In any case, most of the Black Friday deals we reviewed on Amazon did represent a substantial drop from the average price at which the given product had been selling in recent months or years, according to price-tracking data.
But prices aren’t guaranteed to stay consistent throughout the entire sales period. Amazon claims it doesn’t charge surge prices tied to the amount of demand at a given moment. But it does use a complex pricing algorithm that adjusts how much it charges based on a number of factors.
This system can sometimes result in misleading sales. A study from price-tracking firm Boomerang Commerce found Amazon will often lure customers with one good deal while simultaneously raising prices slightly for another item commonly bought with the discounted product—say, a television and an HDMI cord.
Price-tracking browser extensions can help cut through these tactics.
Wikibuy is using its data and input from its online community of cost-cutting enthusiasts to pinpoint some of the best deals online. The company launched a real-time tracking index on Wednesday that will monitor prices on these dozens of items throughout the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Some of the top promotions the company chose include a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush, a pressure cooker that was a top seller on Amazon Prime Day, a Playstation 4, and an Xbox One. Each of those items are now on sale at a far lower price than the average in the past four months.
A report from Google this week found that along with doing more of their shopping online, consumers are also doing more Black Friday research than ever. Mobile searches for the “best” product have more than doubled in the past two years, and queries including phrases like “where to buy” have jumped 85 percent in the same period, the search giant said.
While a number of consumers still default to the prices they see on Amazon, a growing number are taking the extra time to seek out the best bargains in a field that’s more crowded than ever.