AMAZON PRIME DAY is arguably one of the most confusing shopping holidays in existence. The members-only event actually spans 48 hours, with early deals arriving ahead of the actual sale. Amazon promises “millions of deals,” but oftentimes the displayed discounts are misleading—or outright false. Add in the frenzy of limited-time Lightning Deals and the low inventory from ongoing global supply chain issues, and you’ve got a recipe perfect for spending too much money.
Fear not! We’re here to help. WIRED’s Gear team is familiar with common shopping pitfalls, and I’ve been a deals writer for nearly a decade. What time do sales start and end? How do you tell if a deal is actually a deal? We pooled our collective knowledge to get you prepared for Amazon Prime Day (and beyond).
This year, Prime Day falls on July 12 and 13. This is similar to the summertime schedule we’ve seen in the past, with the only outlier being a fall sale during 2020 due to the pandemic.
Early deals have started already, but Amazon’s big event officially begins at 3 am Eastern time on July 12. The sale runs for 48 hours. WIRED will cover the very best deals from both Amazon and retailers that have competing sales, such as Target and Walmart.
Officially, yes. You must be an Amazon Prime member to shop Amazon’s Prime Day deals. There is a free 30-day trial available for new accounts. (Prime membership comes with a lot of perks, and we’ve rounded up all of them here.) The trial will let you get in on the sale—just remember to cancel your membership to avoid any subsequent renewal charges.
There are some discounts available if you’re not a subscriber (those deals might not be that great). But other major retailers like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy usually hold concurrent sales during the Prime Day event. Their prices are often very close to what Amazon is offering on the same products, and sometimes they match the price. This is a good way to take part in Prime Day if you don’t want to support Amazon.
Here are the sales pages from Amazon and major retailers holding competing sales:
It all depends. For some items, Prime Day prices tend to be some of the lowest we see all year. That’s especially true for Amazon hardware, like Kindles, Fire Tablets, and Echo devices, but there are other factors to consider. Prices fluctuate throughout the year, and some products are discounted quite often. Even if a price is good, a deal on a product that goes on sale all the time diminishes the overall quality of that deal.
The sheer volume of deals promoted by Amazon during Prime Day is a blessing and a curse. The truly good discounts can be difficult to pinpoint—there’s so much stuff on sale that the overall selection can feel overwhelming. But there’s a good chance that the item you want will be on sale. We’ve seen some fantastic discounts during Prime Day in the past, ranging from dirt-cheap Kindles to elusive discounts on the Nintendo Switch. The tricky part is to find the diamonds in the rough.
WIRED covers legitimately good deals all year long, including on Prime Day. Our tips below will help you find those great discounts on your own.
ABC: Always be checking (prices, that is). Researching an item’s price is the most important aspect of determining the quality of a discount. Don’t fall prey to deceptive marketing language and inflated MSRP prices—our tips only take a few moments. The easiest step is to take a second to Google the items you’re considering so you can see the price across multiple stores.
One tool we like to use is Camelcamelcamel, which tracks Amazon’s prices over time. Just paste the Amazon link or ASIN (found in the Product Information section on the Amazon product page) into Camelcamelcamel’s search bar and you’ll be able to see an item’s lowest recorded price, its average price, and how frequently the price fluctuates. Some deals, such as Lightning Deals, are excluded from the pricing history, but it’s still useful to see what an item has sold for in the past.
We also really like Keepa, which has an extension (available for multiple browsers) that shows the recent price history for products directly on the Amazon page so you never have to open a new tab. Other great tools are Honey, which can potentially save you money via promo codes but also tracks price history at various retailers across the web, and Octoshop, which can quickly show you the price of a product across multiple retailers.
Keep in mind that these services may not work all the time. But being able to see how much a product cost right before the sale started (and whether the MSRP happened to increase) can be very helpful. Putting these tools together can help you deduce whether a deal is worth your money.
WIRED always fact-checks deals to determine their quality. You can check out our ongoing deals coverage to find roundups of the best discounts available—during Prime Day and year-round.
Lightning Deals are limited-time deals that Amazon runs for only a few hours each. They’re not restricted to Prime Day, but they’re especially prevalent during big sale events. Once an item sells out, you may be able to join a waiting list, but not always.
Put bluntly, the Lightning Deals selection is often full of impulse buys, like makeup and skincare products or toys. Prime members can browse upcoming deals on Amazon’s website and in the mobile app. The app can also alert you before a Lightning Deal begins.
It’s always disappointing when an item on sale goes out of stock. If you know what time a deal begins, make sure to actively pay attention to the product page around the starting time. You may also be able to add an item to your cart before the sale begins, so you can refresh the page to snag it right away.
It’s smart to create an account at trusted retailers so you can save your credit card information and shipping details ahead of time. This will make the checkout process as fast as possible. It’s also a good idea to clear your web browser cache before you start shopping during sales events like Prime Day. Just be sure to log back in to those retailers afterward.
It’s easy to fall into a trap on Prime Day: You might see a really great deal on a product you don’t really need. Don’t do it. Make a list of items you’ve actually been wanting to buy ahead of the event, and save those links. When Prime Day starts, take a look around to see if they’re on sale, and use the aforementioned practices to make sure it truly is a good deal. Then buy it! Don’t buy a product just because it has a nice price.
If you want to make the most of Prime Day, you can make a list of gifts you might want to buy for friends and family. You can either buy them during Prime Day if the price is right or wait until Black Friday for similar if not better deals.
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