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. Maybe it’s 50% off. Or save £100. Perhaps it’s just a few quid off.
These kinds of offers can be genuine, but more often than not you’re not seeing the full truth behind the discounts. Often the saving is based on the original RRP (recommended retail price), which is usually far higher than what the item has actually been selling for.
For example, this week Boots is selling an Oral B Genius X Electric Toothbrush at half price. So you can pick it up for £169.99 rather than the staggering RRP of £340. A big discount on a big purchase.
But when you shop around and look at the real selling price, it becomes clear that this toothbrush is rarely sold at full price. In fact it’s usual selling price is actually around £169! So this isn’t a sale at all. It’s just how much it costs. In fact, it was possible in the summer to buy it for £130.
So while if you do buy this toothbrush from Boots or elsewhere at £169 you aren’t necessarily overpaying, you certainly aren’t getting 50% off.
And making an impulse purchase due to the size of a discount is something I’ve certainly been guilty of. And we’re all more likely to do this with smaller purchases. How often do you buy something more affordable if it seems like a bargain? From supermarket deals to clothing and more, it’s very easy to get caught up by an offer.
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?
Watch me talk about finding the lowest ever price in my video
Shopping around isn’t enough
Now an easy way to check if a price seems reasonable is to compare it to a few different shops. This is always worth doing, and you could save some cash. And if spot something at a price you can afford and feel 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
The way to work out whether a price is a good price or not is to find out how much it’s been sold for previously.
It’s not uncommon for retailers to give misleading “was” prices to increase the size of a discount. Or if it’s a multibuy offer you might find the prices are higher during the promotion than they were a few days prior when they were in a different special offer.
But if you can look at the selling price at different retailers over the last few months or even years you’ll get a better sense of the “real” discount, and just how far off the lowest price it is.
Thankfully checking these old prices is really easy for most retailers thanks to a series of websites which track the pricing data.
My four top price history tools
Here are the four price history tools I use. When you search for a product you’ve got the option to click on a graph and see the ups and downs. With some you can also expand a table to see just how much shops have been selling it for.
They’ll usually let you see the price history for as far as a year, if not more.
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 price history as Amazon tends to have low prices. 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.
Supermarkets – use MySupermarket
MySupermarket is a comparison site for all the major supermarkets, as well as Boots and Superdrug. It’s great for finding the cheapest items, and even the best place to go for your weekly shop.
However the feature I use the most is the price history graph. It’s only available on the app. Scroll down and you’ll a box saying price today and the option to add a price alert. Tap the “view pricing history” text just below this and you’ll see a chart for the last year. You’ll see the lowest price at all the supermarkets, so it doesn’t necessarily mean your supermarket sold it at this price. But it’s a good indicator of how much you should be spending.
If you can’t be bothered with the app, the website does tell you how the current selling price compares to the average price, which is handy.
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 onto 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.
Argos – use Pricehistory.co.uk
This final site is just for Argos, but it’s still a handy one to bookmark even though Argos generally appears in the PriceSpy results so you might not need to use it.
What to watch out for
As much as I love these tools, they aren’t perfect. With MySupermarket and PriceSpy the graphs presented with 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 not actually available. This is pretty rare though.
And of course, these prices listed are the selling prices and 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.