Don’t assume discounts, special offers and sale prices are as good as they seem.
Something I hate as a bargain hunter is a fake deal. I see them all the time. I don’t mean fake as in the shop doesn’t exist, or the product advertised isn’t available. No, this is when a retailer tells you there’s a huge discount when that’s not quite the truth.
The headline says it’s 50% off. Or save £100. Maybe just a tenner. But look a little closer and the savings aren’t as they seem.
In reality, the price these discounts are based on is original RRP (recommended retail price). And this is usually far higher than what the item has actually been selling for.
But it’s not as simple as saying these promotions are lies – there will be legitimate deals advertised in this way. Or the saving might still be decent, just perhaps not as big as the promo says.
So how do you know when you’re being misled and when you’re getting a bargain? Here are few tools I use to make sure I’m getting a good price.
Bad deals masquerading as good deals
Here’s an example. A while back Boots was selling a top end Oral B toothbrush at half price. So you could pick it up for £150 rather than the staggering RRP of £300. A big discount on a big purchase.
But if you shopped around and looked at the real selling price, it became clear that this toothbrush is rarely sold at full price. In fact its usual selling price was actually around £150! So this isn’t a sale at all. It’s just how much it costs. In fact, it was possible earlier that year to buy it for £120 – at Boots!
So while if you did buy this toothbrush from Boots or elsewhere at £150 you aren’t necessarily overpaying, you certainly aren’t getting 50% off.
This trickery also applies to other promotion formats, such as a multibuy offer. It’s common to find that prices are higher during the promotion than they were a few days prior when they were in a different special offer.
Recently some posh pies in my local Waitrose cost £3.50 each, but you could get two for £6.50. So £3.25 a pie. But last month they were £3 each on a different offer!
The size of the saving encourages FOMO
I think the bigger the discount, the more likely it is to induce impulse spending. We’re worried if we don’t buy it now we’ll have to pay more another time. Fear Of Missing Out. FOMO.
Or, for some bargain hunters, those endorphins kick in – big discounts can really get the adrenalin flowing.This is something I’ve certainly been guilty of.
But it’s not just on expensive purchases – I’ve been known to get carried away with savings on smaller purchases too. Reduced food at the supermarket always catches me out!
For some reason the more affordable something is, the more tempting it is as a ‘bargain’. From supermarket deals to clothing and more, it’s very easy to get decide what to buy based on a supposed discount rather than whether it’s actually decent value.
Now if you buy something because of the discount but this discount isn’t in actually a fair reflection of the real selling price, is that fair? In my opinion, you’re getting ripped off.
So how do you know if the price you are paying is fair and represents good value?
Shopping around isn’t enough
Now an easy way to check if a discount seems reasonable is to compare the price at a few different shops. This is always worth doing, and you could save some cash. If you can afford it and feel it represents good value then that’s a win.
But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best price. For that you need to take a look at price history.
Why price history matters
To know if the current price is a good price, you need to know how much it was sold for. Last week, last month, maybe even last year.
This gives you all the information you need to not just make a call about whether the discount shown is accurate, but also how it compares to the lowest recent selling price.
Is the RRP a fair reflection of the real selling price? Or is the sale price, even with the discount, pretty much the average selling price?
And you can use price history for items which aren’t on offer too. Is it on sale for a lower price than it has been for a while? Or is it worth holding back and hoping the price dips back down to the cost it was not too long ago?
Using price history tools
Thankfully checking these old prices is really easy for most retailers thanks to a series of websites that track the pricing data.
I love the price history feature. It lets me get geeky with my bargain hunting – but it’s also a quick and easy option for a casual check.
When you search for a product you’ll see a graph showing the ups and downs of the prices. With the best sites you can also expand a table to see just how much different retailers have been selling it for over time.
And they’ll usually let you see the price history for as far as a year, if not more.
Watch me talk about finding the lowest ever price in my video from 2021
(NB MySupermarket which is mentioned in this video has been shut down)
The best price history trackers
Andy’s Top Three price history tools
- Camel Camel Camel
Here’s more on each of these.
Amazon – use Camel Camel Camel
This tool is only for Amazon, but whether you’re buying something on Amazon or not, Camel Camel Camel is a really useful indicator of a broader price history as other retailers tend to follow Amazon.
This means in most cases, even if the current price at Amazon isn’t the best price, there’s a good chance you’ll get a sense of how much you should be paying.
A quick short cut for Camel Camel Camel is to use the product code rather than typing in the product name. Doing this ensures you’re getting the exact product you’re after. You can find the code in the URL or in the product description.
Most other shops – use PriceSpy
For most other shops I use PriceSpy. Though it’s not my favourite comparison site, it does have the best price history function.
PriceSpy has a really good option where you can see the individual price changes at different shops. Click on the price history graph in the top corner of a product page and it’ll open up to show a bigger graph and a table with all the different retailers selling the item. Then click the arrow to expand and you’ll see all the price changes.
What to watch out for
As much as I love these tools, they aren’t perfect. With PriceSpy the graphs present the lowest selling price over the time displayed. That’s handy but you don’t know for sure where this was – or if it’s a legitimate seller.
You can also only generally see the prices at places that currently sell the item. This makes it harder to get an idea of a real price for older and clearance items.
It can be tough too to compare prices and price history when retailers have exclusive models. I’m also wary slightly with PriceSpy and Pricehistory that they might not show when items are out of stock. I’ve spotted occasions where a very low Black Friday price has been shown for a long period of time but the item was not actually available. This is pretty rare though.
And of course, these prices listed are the selling prices and often don’t take into account extras like discount codes or special member sales such as Prime Day – so it could be that the lowest price shown isn’t actually the lowest ever price.
Even with these slight negatives, I think using these tools is key to making sure you’re getting the best price possible – and not get caught out by fake deals.