Jeff Bezos unveiled the long-awaited Amazon Fire Phone on Wednesday, and the reaction in tech and consumer circles has been near universal: The phone has some very cool features, but at a price point starting at $199, with a two-year AT&T contract required, it simply costs too much to make a big impact on the smartphone market.
The "uninspired price tag is a surprising disappointment," wrote the New York Times' influential Farhad Manjoo, pronouncing the Amazon Fire phone a "missed opportunity." It's "Just Too Expensive," a tech column Huffington Post headline declares bluntly.
Sure, the Amazon phone hasn't even been released for sale yet, but that doesn't mean it's too early to start thinking about when it will be discounted. As anyone who follows the consumer electronics world in general—and smartphones and Amazon in particular—might guess, the Fire Phone is not likely to remain in the "too expensive" category forever. It's not a matter of if but when the discounts and deals appear.
According to Louis Ramirez, senior editor at the deal-tracking site dealnews.com, the typical Android phone experiences a 50% price drop after two months on the market, and what "with better and cheaper Android phones being released every other month," the pace of markdowns is on the rise. "The Galaxy 5S, for instance, saw multiple 50% discounts just one month after its release."
Because this is Amazon's first phone, and because AT&T is the exclusive provider, it's not likely the phone will be discounted that aggressively in the near future, but experts foresee bundled deals and/or short-term promotional price drops fairly soon. "I think around the holidays is definitely a safe bet," Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, a leading analyst in e-commerce for Forrester Research said via e-mail. (A note "Sent from my iPhone," btw.)
Ramirez says that Amazon regularly hosts a "Penny Pincher" smartphone sale around Black Friday, when popular Android phones are sold for 1¢ when signing a two-year contract. "Now that they have their own phone," Ramirez says of Amazon, "it's very likely that phone will join their Black Friday sale. They may not cut it down to a penny, but you can expect it to see steep discounts come November."
Forrester's Mulpuru-Kodali agrees with the consensus take that the current Amazon Fire Phone price point is too high. But she stressed there was solid reasoning for why it wasn't set cheaper. "That's so they have room to bring the price down if units don't move," she said.
By putting an initial price on the Fire phone of $199 (with a two-year AT&T service plan) or $649 (with no contract), Amazon is also locking in the idea that this is how much the device is truly worth. The concept is called "price anchoring," and it allows the seller to create the perception of an amazing, can't-pass-up deal when the price is suddenly marked down. The J.C. Penneys and Kohl's of the world make a regular habit of utilizing the tactic, in order to make their "sales" seem all the more impressive.
Smart consumers know to tune out these never-ending sales and just assume it's unnecessary to buy anything at "full price." Amazon generally doesn't discount its devices left and right in this manner. On the other hand, Amazon doesn't go the full Apple route either by offering discounts only on older gadgets—and only when a newer version is about to hit the market or has already been released. What Amazon tends to do instead is roll out deals here and there, somewhat randomly but regularly, so that consumers don't think of the full price as a total joke, and so the discounts seem truly special.
The folks at dealnews noted that the recently released Amazon Fire TV streaming device is likely to remain priced at $99 for quite some time, but that Amazon has already discounted it by including it in bundles packaged with an HDX tablet. They also say it's all but guaranteed that the streaming device will be marked down during one or more holiday season promotions.
Complicating matters for Amazon is the fact that, as the (Jeff Bezos-owned) Washington Post pointed out, this is an especially difficult time to jump into the smartphone market. Pretty much everyone who wants a smartphone already has one—likely one that they're pretty happy with too, after switching and upgrading a few times. While many of the Amazon Fire phone's features are indeed cool, it's unclear how many people will summarily dump their Apple or Samsung phones for a device from Amazon, a company that has had some glitches when launching new products, as Bezos mentioned during Wednesday's unveiling. "I'm a little skeptical that what they're bringing to the table is enough to make people put down their current phone and change to a new device," Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen told the Washington Post.
Of course, one way to encourage people to switch phones is a substantial discount on the purchase price. Such a discount won't bother AT&T, which makes its money via monthly subscriber bills. And it may not be anathema to Amazon, which in the long run makes its money not by selling devices but by getting consumers to do more and more of their shopping on its site. That's the purpose of services like Amazon Prime, of course.
It's no coincidence that Prime is included for a year at no charge with Amazon Fire Phone purchases. "Think of the Amazon Fire as a Prime subscription-selling machine that also happens to make phone calls and send text messages," New York magazine observed. The phone's Firefly feature, which allows the owner to scan almost anything imaginable and soon be able to purchase it via Amazon, was also obviously created with the idea of boosting Amazon sales into the next stratosphere.
If the tradeoff for such sales increases is that Amazon has to sell its phone at cost or take a loss during promotional sales, that's a trade Amazon can probably live with. Anyway, for consumers, the moral is: If you like shopping at Amazon and like Amazon's new phone but think it's too expensive, don't preorder it, and don't pull the trigger within the first couple weeks it's officially for sale. Wait a bit, and you're sure to be rewarded with a better deal.