Amazon's second big sale for Prime members kicked off on Tuesday.
A new study warns that Amazon deals might be price hikes in disguise.
Amazon says its prices are "clear and accurate."
Researchers analyzed Amazon listings from 2016-2017 and found that sellers often raise prices while displaying a previously unadvertised "list price." The gap between the list price and lower asking price can give the false impression of a deal, when in fact the price might be the same or higher than it was just days prior, they found.
"When you see this list-price comparison, you naturally assume you are getting a discount. It's not just that you didn't get a discount. You actually paid a higher price than before the seller displayed the discount claim," Jinhong Xie, a professor in the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, said in a statement.
When you consider vacuum cleaners, for example, the addition of a list price was accompanied by a price hike 22% of the time. Seventy-five percent of price hikes were followed by a price cut within days.
In the real world, it might play out something like this: A Dyson vacuum is listed for $250. One day, a "List Price" of $300 pops up on the page with a slash through it. Simultaneously, the seller bumps the asking price to $275. In the end, buyers think they're getting a deal when the opposite is true.
Researchers observed the same price increases 3% of the time for books and more than 13% of the time for digital cameras, blenders, and drones. Although the study focuses on the 2016-2017 period, the researchers told Insider they have found evidence of similar price hikes more recently.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company "provides clear and accurate pricing information on our product pages," and that the study "doesn't accurately represent the shopping experience today." List prices are based on amounts Amazon customers recently paid and other retailers recently charged, Amazon said.
Still, the study's authors warned that consumers shouldn't always take Amazon deals at face value. While list prices may be accurate, their timing can be misleading.
"Shoppers can avoid this trap by checking prices more thoroughly before they buy. For instance, they can review the price history of a product using online price checkers such as camelcamelcamel.com and keepa.com," Xie told Insider.
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