Amazon

Some price comparisons on Amazon are 'crazy'

Feb. 28, 2012 at 10:01 AM ET

Shop the Grocery & Gourmet Food section of Amazon.com and you’ll see amazing discounts. Some items are being sold at 90 percent or more off the list prices. Sounds a bit much, but that’s the power of Amazon. Or is it?

Check the list prices on some of these items, as consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky did recently, and you’ll find that some of these prices are way out of line.

Dworsky found Amazon selling 24 boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Cars Shapes for $32.99. That was advertised as a 96 percent savings from the list price of $791.76. Dworsky went to his local grocery store in Massachusetts and found 24 boxes would cost him only $38.

A 20-ounce squeeze bottle of Heinz Ketchup was $2.69, but the list price was shown as $47.49. A box of Barilla thin spaghetti was $1.85. The supposed list price was $55.10.

“It’s just crazy,” Dworsky says. “These list prices were literally plucked from thin air and then multiplied by a hundred.”

These are not isolated examples. Dworsky says he found hundreds of products that had “grossly exaggerated regular prices.” (Dworsky lists some of these “questionable discounts” in the Mouse Print section of his website, ConsumerWorld.org.)

I went on Amazon this weekend and had no trouble finding the same “crazy” list prices.  I then went price shopping at my local supermarket to get the ballpark idea of the real selling price.

Splenda with Fiber

  • Amazon’s price: $4.39
  • Amazon’s list price: $553  
  • Supermarket price: $5.49

Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oats (pack of six 18-ounce packages)

  • Amazon’s price: $20.58
  • Amazon’s list price: $211.74
  • Supermarket price: $19.74

 Rice A Roni Beef (6.8-ounce box)

  • Amazon’s price: $1.48 
  • Amazon’s list price: $141.75 
  • Supermarket price: $1.25 (on sale)

“Obviously no consumer would believe such ridiculous list prices," Dworsky says. "But why would you have these comparisons on the website in the first place if they’re not truthful?”

Good question -- one I put to Amazon. In a short email, someone in the public relations department wrote:

“We are working to rectify this situation to ensure accurate savings are listed on all product pages.”

I’d like to know more. Why is this happening? Why has this been going on for so long? Dworsky reported on the same problem about a year ago.  I sent a follow-up email and am waiting for a response.  

My two cents

I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s not right. In many cases, the grocery items listed on the site are not sold directly by Amazon. So it might be that Amazon is not policing the prices that other companies post on its site. If that’s the case, then Amazon needs to do a better job of monitoring this.

Whatever the reason, consumer protection laws say “suggested retail” or “list prices” must be realistic and not some made-up figure. Otherwise, the savings are unsubstantiated and the advertising is considered to be deceptive.

If this is happening on Amazon.com with groceries, it makes me wonder about the ‘list prices’ on other items being sold on the site.

My advice: Forget about savings claims from supposed “list prices.” Always compare the price of an item at one store (or website) with the actual selling price of other retailers. 

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