Why the Run-Up to Prime Day is the Worst Time To Shop on Amazon

As product experts, a large part of our job here at WIRED is to help you get the best products at the best prices. That includes helping you find great deals during massive sales events like Black Friday and, of course, Amazon Prime Day. If you’re looking to get the best price on that gadget that’s been sitting on your cart for months, it’s important to know when to pull the trigger—and when not to. Other than a handful of good early Prime Day deals, now is almost certainly the time to hold your fire.

Amazon, Walmart, and other major retailers tend to jack up pricing on all sorts of products that have long since sunk below their manufacturer’s suggested retail price ahead of a major sale. That way once you see it on the big day it looks like a really great deal—even when it would have been impossible to buy the product at the inflated price displayed even if you had tried. This isn’t a new phenomenon, and it’s not limited to online sellers. A Harvard business professor wrote a paper about the phenomenon in 2018. There have been unsuccessful class action suits against classic brick-and-mortar retailers like Kohl’s and JCPenney over the practice.

We do our best to guide you through this sale-price chicanery with our daily coverage and Prime Day posts, but we can’t do it all alone. There are plenty of ways you can prepare as a savvy buyer to get the best gear and still keep your budget intact, from timing your moves to grabbing last year’s best. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to follow now, and throughout the year, to save some serious dough.

Price Tracking Tools

If you’re focused on prices and shopping on Amazon you should be using a price tracker to keep a close eye on product price drops (and jumps). The best options are Keepa (the one I use most often) and CamelCamelCamel. Both trackers are free and work across all the top browsers. (You can read our in-depth guide for more tips to find the best Amazon deals.)

While it’s true these tools are primarily for Amazon shopping, where Amazon goes many other retailers tend to follow, often including manufacturer sites. If you’re shopping outside the Amazon universe, there are some other good price tracking tools worth checking out, including deals sites like SlickDeals, Honey, and Pricerunner.com.

While none of these tools or specialty sites is perfect, they can all be helpful in keeping you aware of what is a good deal and what isn’t.

Pick Your Moment

While price tracking is key, it’s important to know the best times of year to shop. As mentioned above, you’ll generally want to hold back on buying big-ticket items, especially tech gear, just before a major sales event like Amazon Prime Day, which this year is scheduled for July 16 and 17.

The same is generally true for other big-store events like Wayfair Day, as well as general sales based around holidays like Labor Day and Presidents Day. Not only is the product you’re after often being sold at a higher price than it would be during the big sale, it may well be jacked up to its highest price of the year.

On the other hand, Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) sales tend to work the opposite way, becoming more of a monthlong free-for-all than a one- or two-day event. We often see prices dropping across product categories for weeks before Black Friday as retailers court folks aiming to get their holiday shopping done early.

If you’re looking for TVs, soundbars, and home theater deals, you may also see a lot of sale fanfare ahead of the all-important “big game,” aka the Super Bowl. Brands and retailers figure you’ll want a solid big screen and good sound not only for the game itself but also for the halftime show, the puppy bowl, and those gazillion-dollar commercials. That said, with the Super Bowl following a slew of big shopping events, and right after new TV models are announced, these deals aren’t always what they seem.

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