Personal Finance

Some of those Prime Day deals might be duds

Key Points
  • The Wirecutter found that less than 1 percent of Amazon Prime Day deals in 2016 were "uncommonly good prices."
  • More than 85 million members pay for Prime membership and spend about $1,300 per year on average, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.
  • Seventy-six percent of Amazon Prime members comparison-shop at other sites before making a purchase on Prime Day, according to research firm Bazaarvoice.

Amazon Prime members who flock to the giant e-retailer on Tuesday in search of great bargains might have to look harder than they think.

A website that tracks the deals offered as part of Prime Day found that less than 1 percent of last year's deals for the shopping event were "uncommonly good prices," said Adam Burakowski, deals editor at The Wirecutter.

Amazon said the company aims to offer a range of deals that appeal to a broad audience.

"We know that not every deal is for everyone but we hope that everyone finds a deal on something they are into on Prime Day," said Julie Law, an Amazon spokesperson. "Keep in mind that a deal may be weird to one person and wonderful to someone else."

Prime Day began at 9 p.m. ET Monday and runs for 30 hours through 3 a.m. ET on Wednesday. While an assessment of this year's offerings won't finish until Prime Day wraps up, The Wirecutter team found that just 64 items out of nearly 8,000 evaluated in last year's event met its criteria for qualifying as a good deal. They looked at a range of product categories, including tech gadgets, home goods and personal items.

An employee lifts a box from a conveyor at the company's fulfillment center in Tracy, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Burakowski said making that determination involves looking at more than just current competitor prices.

"Some [retailers] will put these products on sale at different times of the year," he said. "So some products that seem low today might be available even lower at another time from someone else."

The deals offered on Prime Day, now in its third year, are available to those who already are paying Prime members or who sign up for the service on Prime Day. For either a monthly fee ($10.99) or yearly fee ($99), consumers get benefits that include two-day shipping on many items, streaming media and cloud storage.

Discounted membership fees are available to low-income households and college students.

Amazon Prime now boasts more than 85 million members who spend about $1,300 per year on average, according to a recent analysis by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. That's a 35 percent jump from the estimated 63 million a year ago. The data also show that about 63 percent of Amazon's U.S. customers are Prime members.

Some products that seem low today might be available even lower at another time from someone else.
Adam Burakowski
deals editor at The Wirecutter

More than 100,000 deals are expected to be offered on Amazon's site either as all-day-long deals or so-called lightning deals (which don't last long). New deals could pop up as often as every five minutes, Amazon said.

Some of the specials being promoted by Amazon include discounts on its own technology lineup (for example, the Echo, Fire 7, Kindle Paperwhite, etc.), but the full rundown of available deals ranges from discounts on diamond stud earrings and golf gadgets to video consoles and standup paddle boards.

Burakowski said the best way to know whether you're getting a good deal is to do your homework in advance.

"Be selective about what you want to buy and do a bit of research to see what the average price of the product has been," he said. "If you go into it not knowing the comparison price, you could make a decision you regret."

Amazon Prime Day sales could push billion-dollar mark
Amazon Prime Day sales could push billion-dollar mark

It appears that Prime Day shoppers are at least checking other sites for some information, if not for prices. A survey by consumer research firm Bazaarvoice shows that 76 percent of Prime Day shoppers visit other sites before making a Prime Day purchase to read product ratings and reviews. The top places to visit included Walmart (46 percent), consumer electronics websites (45 percent), Target (40 percent), home improvement websites (39 percent) and brand websites (also 39 percent.)

Also keep in mind that if you live in a state with a sales tax and didn't have to pony up that charge during Prime Day in the past, those days are gone. As of April 1, Amazon is collecting taxes on transactions made in all states except those that levy no sales tax.

Burakowski also recommends that if you try to take advantage of a lightning deal but are too late, add yourself to a waiting list if one is available.

"If someone doesn't complete their checkout, the item becomes available again to people on the list," Burakowski said.

WATCH:  These are the best Prime Day deals, so far

These are the best Prime Day deals, so far
These are the best Prime Day deals, so far