MONEY online shopping

Believe it or Not, Amazon Isn’t the King of Cheap Holiday Prices

mouse on top of present
Junos—Getty Images

Amazon is losing its edge as the lowest-cost retailer.

This is shaping up to be the year all the rules of shopping were broken. First came the bombshell revelation from NerdWallet showing that Black Friday goods may not be quite the deals retailers claim, as many were selling year-old items at the same prices as last year’s Black Friday. And if the newest report from ShopSavvy is correct, the decade-long maxim that Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.3848% has the lowest prices could be wrong as well.

For those unaware of the company, ShopSavvy’s purpose is to help would-be shoppers find the best deal on products by providing retailer information through its website and its barcode-scanning mobile app on Android and iOS. And if its recent ShopSavvy Showdown (say that three times fast) is correct, both Amazon and Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 2.6955% offer higher prices on overlapping items than the undisputed King of Retail: Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT 2.0302% .

The survey says …

This survey is not the first showing that Amazon is losing its edge as the lowest-cost retailer. Earlier this year, a report from Wells Fargo and online price-tracking company 360pi found Amazon had higher prices overall when compared to Wal-Mart and Target in four critical areas: shoes, electronics, housewares, and health products. However, the report found that Amazon typically offered the lowest prices when it came to “like-to-like” items. Essentially, when a specific item was on both sites Amazon still had the lowest price.

However, this newest data finds the exact opposite. The survey, based only on the same products for sale at Walmart, Amazon, and Best Buy, finds that “Wal-Mart has the cheaper option on over 50% more products than Amazon and Best Buy across the categories analyzed.” In addition, the survey notes Wal-Mart’s online price match policy, in which the company specifically agrees to match prices from Amazon and Best Buy.

The survey results were rather shocking when compared with Amazon. In the heavily trafficked categories of electronics and TVs (the survey distinguishes between the two), Wal-Mart was cheaper on 66% and 85% of total products, respectively. The average percentage difference of price was 28% and 23%, again, respectively. Essentially, this survey finds that shopping at Wal-Mart, and not Amazon, for TVs and electronics will save you nearly a quarter of your money.

So I should go to Wal-Mart right now, right?

If these results are correct, you should go directly to Wal-Mart and not worry about shopping around online, right? Well, not so fast. As the survey clearly shows, Wal-Mart didn’t always have the lowest price, although it was a good bet they did. In addition, the survey didn’t go into a lot of detail about the product selection. Without that critical piece of information, it’s hard to know whether these goods are representative of a true head-to-head comparison or whether these items are merely a good selection for Wal-Mart.

In addition, the data presentation concerns me. Although there were three retailers chosen for the survey, the data was only presented as Wal-Mart versus Amazon and Wal-Mart versus Best Buy. Without the third head-to-head comparison, Amazon versus Best Buy, the survey can come across as less of an unbiased comparison and more of a pro-Wal-Mart piece.

Finally, competition between megaretailers is rather intense. In many cases, retailers consider prices of 3%-5% lower as being worthy of running commercials specifically outlining these differences. The closest ShopSavvy comparison between Wal-Mart and the other retailers was in the TV category, with Wal-Mart being “only” 15% cheaper than Best Buy on average. When matched up against Amazon in the Kids category, ShopSavvy reports that Wal-Mart is a massive 45% cheaper on average.

Overall, this doesn’t mean that ShopSavvy’s data is wrong, but this should be considered only one data point in your holiday deal-hunting comparison. One shopping rule that will never be broken is to continue to shop around for the best deal; you’ll be thankful you do.

MONEY deals

Black Friday Is Already Here

A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014.
A "Black Friday" advertisement for Walmart is seen on an iPad in Annapolis, Maryland November 16, 2014. "Black Friday" is coming early this year to retailers. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

Based on the big discounts already in effect at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Gap, Staples, and plenty of other retailers, it looks like Black Friday sales are well underway.

Many people are upset that dozens of national retailers have decided to launch Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving, thereby ruining the holiday for workers who can’t spend the day with their families—and also ruining the day for families whose shopping-crazed relatives will ditch them for the chance to score cheap tablets, TVs, and fast fashion at the mall. (According to surveys, millennials are particularly likely to go shopping on Thanksgiving rather than continue hanging out at home once dinner is done.)

But based on the proliferation of broad, often substantial discounts that invoke the phrase “Black Friday” days or even a full week before the actual day arrives, it appears as if Black Friday sales are in effect right now. Deal-tracking sites such as TheBlackFriday.com have rounded up long lists of retailers that have already tried to grab shoppers’ attention by launching big holiday sales under names like “Pre-Black Friday Deals,” “Black Friday All Week Long Sale,” and “Cyber Monday Now.”

One week before Black Friday, Amazon kicked off its Black Friday Deals Week, throughout the course of which the world’s largest e-retailer is adding new deals as often as every 10 minutes. Likewise, Walmart launched a “Pre-Black Friday Event” on Friday, November 21, with lots of prices that seem on par with Black Friday’s best bargains: LED TVs for under $150, tablets starting at $40, two-packs of women’s fleece pants for $8, and so on. Similarly, Staples is trying to woo shoppers early with 50% off select merchandise and an array of quirky coupons (a flat $100 off many tablets, laptops, and desk-tops), and Target, Lowes, Sears, and many others are advertising some variation of “Pre-Black Friday” or “Black Friday Now” deals.

Some across-the-board online discounts—the kind normally offered on Cyber Monday—have also surfaced this week, such as 30% off everything at Lands’ End, on top of another 40% off shoes and slippers. On Monday, Gap introduced a sale on denim and cords for $25 and under (normally priced up to $70), on the heels of a 50% off all online purchases (for Gap card members) on Sunday.

The early sales shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the overarching trend of retailers attempting to expand the holiday shopping season and grab consumers’ limited gift-purchasing dollars before their competitors can. Kmart launched its first holiday ad in September, and many studies show that the best deals aren’t on Black Friday necessarily, but can appear weeks before or after Thanksgiving weekend, thanks to retailers’ strategic efforts to boost sales during lulls.

An Adweek story quotes several retail experts of the opinion that “Black Friday” basically occupies all of November nowadays, or at least that Black Friday-type sales appear on the scene earlier and earlier each year:

“We definitely see retailers pushing Black Friday earlier than ever,” said Sara Al-Tukhaim, director of retail insights for Kantar Retail. “This concept of Black Friday is just getting stretched out more” and becoming “more blurry.”

Bear in mind that not all of these early deals are worth getting excited about. The Disney Store rolled out what it’s calling its Black Magical Friday Sale on Friday, November 21, with discounts “up to 40% off,” but most of the deals—16″ dolls for $20 (originally $24.95), play sets from Star Wars, Monsters University, and Toy Story for $10 (originally $12.95)—seem like run-of-the-mill sales, not can’t-pass-up bargains. What’s more, some of the best early Black Friday deals seem all but impossible to buy. For example, Walmart advertised the Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit for Wii U over the weekend priced at $37 (full price around $75), but it has been out of stock for online orders and isn’t available at most stores either.

To sum up, right now many stores have some genuinely terrific, Black Friday-esque bargains. But many of the advertised deals aren’t all that impressive, and the biggest discounts generally apply only to select merchandise and may not actually be available for purchase. In other words, retailers are already using amazing discounts and other tricks to get shoppers into stores—where the hope is that they’ll buy plenty of lightly-discounted or full-price items while they’re browsing. This is the gist of how and why retailers use Black Friday as a sales-boosting tactic in the first place, and it’s a strategy that is indeed well underway.

MONEY Tech

Best Buy Is Finally Making a Comeback

Best Buy employee with box
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The company appears to have found an in-store strategy.

On Thursday, Best Buy BEST BUY BBY 2.6955% delighted fans and investors by reporting a blowout fiscal third quarter. The results, reported before the bell, were non-GAAP diluted EPS at $0.32 per share versus analyst expectations of $0.25 per share. And while total revenue growth was still sluggish at 0.6% over last year’s quarter, that figure also beat analyst expectations by coming in at $9.38 billion versus $9.11 billion.

More importantly, the company appears to have found an in-store strategy. Domestic comparable sales increased 2.4% ex reclassifications, signaling it’s finding a way to use its stores as an advantage against online retailers. And speaking of online retailers, Best Buy increased its domestic online revenue an outstanding 21.6% over the same quarter a year ago. Although online is still a small portion of the total revenue haul, it is encouraging to see Best Buy growing this segment instead of conceding this channel to other retailers.

Great quarter, but is it sustainable?

Over the last five years, Best Buy has had a tough time. The company found itself a victim of the macroeconomic environment and suffered during the recession. However, unlike other retailers, the company never recovered post-recession. The chart below will give you proper context of Best Buy’s struggles versus the greater S&P 500.

1ff8df8a4fc27e17a11ac44fe57ee35a

Two issues for Best Buy

The company faces two problems: aggressive pricing competition and the discretionary nature of their products. Due to Best Buy’s large store footprint (read: costs), the company would find itself losing a pricing war to online retailers — mostly Amazon.com. The trend of shoppers coming into Best Buy stores to test products then buy them from online retailers was so prevalent it inspired its own name: showrooming. CEO Hubert Joly has instituted price-matching strategies and improvements to counteract this trend and it appears to be paying off.

The second issue is the discretionary nature of Best Buy’s products. Unlike a grocer or a discount retailer like Target, consumers generally can postpone electronics purchases until they are more comfortable about the overall economy and their personal finance situation. And although the recession is over, wage growth is still harder to come by. Many were left scarred by the recession and have closed their pocketbooks. In addition, the recession has been tough for technology savvy millennials that are a natural fit for Best Buy’s brand.

Are better times ahead?

However, more recently, price drops in oil and slowing healthcare inflation have given many Americans a stealth pay increase. The consumer confidence index is sharply up and generally portends more discretionary spending, which is good news for Best Buy going into its seasonally heavy fourth fiscal quarter.

There’s been a host of positive economic news — GDP grew at a 3.5%-plus annualized rate the past two quarters, there have been nine straight months of 200,000 jobs created, and an unemployment rate below 6% — that will eventually lead to more discretionary spending. And when that happens, a leaner, better-ran Best Buy will be in a position to benefit from it.

MONEY online shopping

Believe it or Not, Amazon Is Not the King of Cheap Online Prices

Amazon logo
Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

A new report suggests that Amazon’s edge is not as strong as people think.

As far as conventional wisdom goes, Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.3848% is the king of low-cost goods bought online; the Wal-Mart WAL-MART STORES INC. WMT 2.0302% of the Internet, so to speak.

And that’s largely true.

In its rise from a humble online peddler of books into the most feared, and dominant, name in online commerce, Amazon has used its willingness to undercut the competition to send more companies than I can fit in this space the way of the dodo (RIP Borders, et al). However, a recently released report suggests that Amazon’s supposed edge when it comes to low prices might not be as strong as some believe.

Inside the battle for e-commerce

Earlier this month, Wells Fargo and online sales tracking firm 360pi unveiled their findings from a full-year analysis of the various online pricing habits of the world’s largest e-commerce companies across over 100 commonly offered stock-keeping units. And as you’ve hopefully gleaned by now, the findings came with their fair share of surprises.

Perhaps the biggest single bombshell was that Amazon.com has lost a sales edge in four important categories to the likes of Wal-Mart and Target TARGET CORP. TGT 1.4544% . According to the report, both big-box retailers generally offered lower prices online than Amazon in the clothing and shoes, electronics, housewares, and health and cosmetics categories. However, the report also notes that Amazon typically offered the lowest prices when it came to “like-to-like” specifics goods.

This comes as a surprise for longtime followers of Amazon and implies that online pricing software used by Wal-Mart and Target, which scans competitors’ prices and adjusts accordingly, has grown sophisticated enough to compete against Amazon’s own pricing bots. Specifically, the reports says Wal-Mart’s pricing in the four categories sat an astounding 10% lower than Amazon’s as of August and that Target enjoyed a 5% pricing advantage as well. The report acknowledges that the pricing survey didn’t account for the cost of shipping and taxes, areas where Amazon enjoys advantages with its Prime shipping service and its notorious state tax policies.

Either way, this new report certainly calls into question the conventional wisdom that it’s simply Amazon and then everyone else in the online retail space these days.

The bigger e-commerce picture

Still, I think this report misses the point to a large extent by painting Amazon in a negative light on pricing without discussing the overall profit opportunity online.

As Amazon.com and its online peers have been around for a generation now, it’s easy to fall into the trap of categorizing e-commerce as a whole as a somewhat mature business. In fact, the opposite is true. When viewed in the broader context of the entire U.S. economy, online retail sales represent a veritable drop in the bucket. See for yourself.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

With online sales in the U.S. consistently setting fresh all-time highs, it’s also important to understand just how paltry a percentage of total retail transactions they really represent: just 6.2% in the first quarter of the year. And this only reflects the new record figure in a technologically advanced market. Viewed globally, this figure is almost assuredly smaller and it represents a large opportunity for all e-commerce retailers.

There’s no question that the stakes are extremely high in online retail. As I’ve mentioned before, the only free lunch you get in broad-based retail sales are economies of scale. As the global e-commerce boom progresses over the next generation, the companies that control the greatest share of the proverbial pie will have the strongest hand. And both Amazon and Wal-Mart excel in online retail.

Foolish thoughts

Historically, Amazon has always outflanked other online retail outlets. However, owing to the stakes and its well-documented tenacity, it was probably never realistic for the media or investing community to expect a company like Wal-Mart to go quietly into that good night. So while this storyline gives Amazon’s dominance in the growing battle for online sales supremacy, it’s by no means the end of the story, and that is certainly worth noting.

Andrew Tonner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Related links

TIME Gadgets

Report: Apple to Unveil 2 New iPhones and a Watch

Apple's New IPhone Poised for Record Debut as Sales Begin
A customer looks at an Apple Inc. iPhone 5c device during the launch at the company's new store in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Bloomberg/Getty Images

New report on rumors swirling about event on Sept. 9

Get ready, Apple fans: A new report appears to confirm the tech giant will not only unveil two new iPhones at an event on Sept. 9, but will also debut its long-awaited, long-rumored smartwatch.

Apple is still officially mum on what it’s announcing, but a New York Times report — citing unnamed Apple employees and others knowledgeable about the products — addresses a heap of iPhone and so-called iWatch rumors that have trickled out over the last few days, weeks and months.

Here’s the meat and potatoes:

iPhone (Likely “iPhone 6,” but name unconfirmed)

  • Two different sizes, 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches, a first for the company. Both are bigger than previous iPhones, and the 5.5-inch model will be more expensive than its smaller brethren.
  • The new, bigger iPhones will have a new one-handed typing feature to better accommodate the smaller-pawed among us.
  • Near-Field Communication (NFC) is coming to the new iPhones, along with a mobile payment system for which Apple is partnering with Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Some top Android phones have long had NFC, but the tech hasn’t really taken off just yet.

iWatch (Name also unconfirmed)

  • It’s geared towards fitness, with footstep and heart-rate monitors built in and a version of Apple’s HealthKit software.
  • It’s covered in “sapphire glass,” which is tougher than your average glass (and already used in parts of previous iPhones).
  • Wireless charging! That’ll make the smartwatch easier to recharge than most other smart fitness bands on the market. Interestingly, the Times says Apple experimented with solar charging, “but that experiment failed.”
  • It’ll work with Handoff, a new OS X/iOS feature that makes it super-simple to start working on a task on one Apple device and seamlessly switch to another.

Stay tuned for more Apple coverage this weekend and on the day of the event.

[NYT]

TIME Companies

Vizio Recalls 245,000 TVs at Risk of Tipping Over

Regulators say the unsturdy TV runs a "risk of impact injury to the consumer"

The U.S. consumer electronics company Vizio issued a recall for some 245,000 television sets that are at risk of tipping over and injuring someone, according to a federal regulator.

The recall applies to all VIZIO E-Series 39-inch and 42-inch TVs, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday. According to the announcement, the stand assembly can fail and lead the TV, which retails at between $370 to $450, to tip over, “posing a risk of impact injury to the consumer.”

Owners who use the stand should immediately detach the television from the stand, and owners who mount their televisions on the wall are still recommended to request a replacement stand because, the regulators say quite reasonably, they may decide to use the stand in the future.

 

TIME Tablets

These Are the 10 Best Android Tablets of 2014

Samsung

Here's how to choose the best tablet for you

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 9.42.33 AM

This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at Trusted Reviews.com.

By

Are you on the lookout for an Android tablet? The range is vast and varied so we understand it can be a nightmare finding the right one for your needs. So to help you in your search we’ve selected some of the best Android tablets for a number of different scenarios, whether you want the best for a specific budget or you want a tablet that is perfect for your kids or for work.

If you’d like even more advance on what to look for when buying for a new tablet, you should read our Tablet Buyer’s Guide which explains the strengths and weaknesses of each type of tablet and anything else you may need to consider.

If, on the other hand, you know that the iPad Air or a Windows tablet isn’t for you then here’s the place to be.

One of the golden rules when looking at Android tablets is that you should steer clear of cheap no-name models. There are countless of them and they’re almost never worth the money or the effort of using such inferior products.

As for the “best” Android tablet, well there isn’t really one at the moment. What you have is a number of great Android tablets that do some things better than others. What is best for you may be very different from what the person next to you might need.

Click the next arrow to go through and read a bit more about each tablet to find your perfect Android tablet partner.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4

Originally reviewed by 09 July 2014

Best Android Tablet Overall

Key features:

  • 8.4-inch Super AMOLED screen
  • 16GB storage
  • MicroSD slot

It’s taken some time, but we finally have a tablet to knock the Nexus 7 (2013 edition) off its lofty perch. The 2,560 x 1,600 display on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 is fantastic, making it a great place to watch Netflix or BBC iPlayer. The battery life is great and the slim design means it’ll slip nicely into your bag. As we’ve come to expect from Samsung tablets, it still has some not so great software quirks and the fingerprint scanner is not very useful. But if you are looking for an iPad Mini 2 alternative, then this is currently your best option.

Nexus 7 2013

Originally reviewed by 12 August 2013

Best 7-inch Android Tablet

Key features:

  • 7-inch, 1920 x 1200 IPS screen
  • Powered by a reasonably nippy Snapdragon S4Pro quad-core processor
  • Features a 5-megapixel rear camera
  • 16GB/32GB non-expandable

The successor to the brilliant Nexus 7, Google teamed up with Asus once again for the Nexus 7 2 and it’s still one of the best portable Android tablets to own. So, what’s new? Well, the screen resolution has been bumped up to 1,920 x 1,200, the Tegra 3 processor has been replaced with a Qualcomm snapdragon S4 Pro CPU and there’s now a 5-megapixel main camera. It’s more expensive than the original at £199 but it still looks great and offers a zippy performance. The new camera addition is no different from the average rear-facing snappers we’ve seen on other tablets, though.

TIME electronics

This Smart Cup Knows What’s Inside of It

A smart cup to help users achieve health and fitness goals

Vessyl, whose pre-sale began on Thursday, looks like most portable cups: plastic, handy and durable. But it’s far smarter than your average container.

Created by startup Mark One over seven years, Vessyl is sensor-equipped and immediately reports your drink’s nutrition facts, according to the product’s promotional video.

Once a liquid is poured into the Vessyl, a small digital display will tell you the caffeine, fat and calorie content, among other information. It also identifies the drink—it can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi, for example, by calculating differences in sugar content. It even works for alcoholic drinks and thicker fluids like milkshakes and yogurt.

Charged wirelessly, the Vessyl is linked via Bluetooth to your smartphone, where you can manually enter drinks you’ve consumed elsewhere on the Vessyl app. The app then collects data on your hydration level and chemical intake to facilitate a healthy lifestyle.

The Vessyl can be pre-ordered for $99 (it will retail for $199), and will be released by early 2015.

TIME electronics

Beats Rolls Out its First Wireless Earphones

Powerbeats2 Wireless Earphones Released by Beats
A pair of red Powerbeats2 Wireless earphones, which were released on Thursday. Courtesy of Beats Electronics.

No tangles in Beats' newest product

Beats Electronics released the Powerbeats 2 Wireless ear buds on Thursday. The company’s first wireless earphones, the Powerbeats 2 are designed to seamlessly add music to your workout.

An upgraded version of the original Powerbeats headset, Powerbeats 2 features a flat cable that runs between the two earbuds, and boasts redesigned ear hooks and a lighter feel, according to a press release. A Bluetooth connectivity feature will link the earphones to an iPhone or other music-playing device.

“To me this product represents the intersection of sports and music,” Beats president Luke Wood said in the press release. “But most importantly, the Powerbeats 2 Wireless are designed to serve as a tool for athletes at all fitness levels, whether you’re LeBron James in training or just out for a morning run.”

The rechargeable battery can power up to 6 hours of non-stop playback. If low on battery, a 15-minute quick charge will provide an extra hours’ worth of music.

Available online and in select stores, the product is sold in red, white and black—fewer colors than its predecessor—and retails for $200, while the original Powerbeats has been lowered to $150. The new device will be widely available next month.

Apple announced its intention to acquire Beats Electronics on May 28.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser