Amazon’s “Prime Day” event is back for another year: another complex, multi-tentacled web of alleged discounts. But at its heart, it’s the same thing as any old sale or coupon—a way of getting you to spend more money while pointing out that technically, if you do the math a certain way, you can tell yourself you’re spending less.
After all, the only reason Amazon engineered this “event” at all is to get you to part with more of your money (some $11.2 billion of it last year), even if it’s a company that you only begrudgingly support. So let’s look into a few of the ways they work overtime to make this happen.
They stoke your FOMO
Any sale that is limited in time or limited in inventory is meant to make you afraid of missing out on a good deal. Prime Day is just two days! Much of the inventory will be limited! You may miss out if you don’t buy right away! Oh, and by the way, you need to shop at Amazon, specifically to get these deals.
The truth is a lot less anxiety-inducing: Prime Day deals have already started, inventory is only going to be as limited as Amazon wants it to be, and plenty of other retailers are offering competing sales. But even if the deals really are amazing and limited, you can still save money by simply…not buying the thing. Just saying.
They lock you in to their ecosystem
It’s called Prime Day because you need to be a member of Amazon Prime to get the good deals. Prime membership gets you “free” shipping throughout the year, so if you’re already a Prime member, you’ll probably end up shopping at Amazon when you want to buy something that could really come from anywhere. Do you know how many places on earth a person can buy an ab roller? Thousands, probably millions. Where did I buy mine from the other day? Amazon, because I’m a Prime member and a grade-A sucker.
Besides getting you to pay them for the privilege of shopping, Amazon seeks to draw you into their world in other ways. The best deals to be had are on Amazon’s own products, like Kindle tablets and Echo smart speakers. These in turn aim to put you into a mindset where if you want an ebook, you’ll buy a Kindle ebook. If you have an Echo, you’ll be sharing data with an Amazon-programmed robot on the daily.
They create a slippery slope with subscriptions
Some of the Prime Day deals are on subscriptions, like four free months of Amazon Music Unlimited. There’s a reason free trials ask for your credit card up front: They hope that you’ll forget to cancel before the billing date arrives. A longer trial period may seem generous, but it also increases the chances that the bill will slip your mind. If you go for one of these trial deals, take a tip from us and set a calendar reminder to cancel.
They construct a media frenzy
If there were no advance marketing and a bunch of items on an online store were quietly priced at slightly less than usual for a few days, you might be pleasantly surprised, but would you think that’s a major news event? Not likely.
But Amazon has managed to whip up a lot of excitement among news outlets and other websites. There are a few factors at work here. One is that outlets that cover finance or economics in some way consider what Amazon is doing to be newsworthy in itself, because it’s such a large and influential company. Another is that websites of all sorts want the clicks that come from talking about the big thing that everybody else is talking about.
And many websites get a cut when you click an Amazon affiliate link—which is the reason there are so many review sites and shopping roundups on the internet these days. Posting X number of the “best Prime Day deals” (or whatever) is a way that those websites can make money for themselves, but they only get the cut after you click through and give some money to Amazon.
You’re not hearing about Prime Day everywhere because the deals are so amazing as to be truly newsworthy; you’re hearing about it because everybody involved is doing their part to sustain an ecosystem that is, ultimately, fueled by money. Yours.
The deals aren’t really deals
I spent a good chunk of my morning running the “best” Prime Day deals through camelcamelcamel, which tracks Amazon prices over time. And guess what: Almost none of the items are at their best-ever price on Prime Day. Amazon gets you excited about the idea of a rare deal while charging the item’s usual price.
For example, there’s an Apple Watch at $329, which is supposed to be a savings of $70. But that watch first hit $329 in April of this year, and has remained at that price for most of the time since. There have been a few temporary price hikes, but it’s been at the current price for over a month now.
Or take the Bowflex Selectech 840 kettlebell (which I feel compelled to point out is not the good type of adjustable kettlebell, but I also acknowledge that I am a snob about these things). You’re not saving $80 on this adjustable kettlebell when it’s priced at $119—which it has been for most of the past month, anyway. It’s never been over $150 in the last 10 months, and it’s gone down to $99.99 several times.
For an example of something that is at its lowest price, look at the Kindle Kids, which will be on sale for $49, down from $109. Its price history shows that it has been $109 for quite a while, with frequent sales that bring it down to the $60-70 range roughly once a month. So yes, this one is a genuine deal, but is it good enough (and rare enough) to pounce on? I would only go for it if I were already planning to buy one and were just waiting for a good price, which is the only way to actually save money on Prime Day.
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