During a year long investigation, the independent consumer body Which? tracked the prices of 32 of the most popular makes and models of home and technology appliances at five of the UK’s biggest retailers: Amazon, AO.com, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis.
The investigation took place from June 2017 to May 2018 and the figures, released in late October, revealed huge variations in the price of some popular products. Although we all expect prices to be reduced during the retailers “sales”, Which? found several examples of products that had considerable price fluctuations in non-sales periods, with considerable variations in almost all products looked at over the 12-month period.
The study found that the Vax Blade 32v at AO.com jumped by 54%, costing £299 at its highest point and coming down to £139 at its cheapest. The Samsung RB29FWRNDBC fridge-freezer at John Lewis and a Brother MFC-J5335DW printer at Amazon both varied in price by 43%. The random pricing policy from retailers makes it much harder for consumers to plan when to buy the products that they’re interested in.
On the plus side, the investigation found that some products maintain a more consistent price. A notable example was the Apple Air Pods headphones, which maintained a steady price of £159 at all the retailers Which? looked at, except for a short period around Black Friday where the price was reduced, returning to the original price soon afterwards.
Which? found that Amazon offered the lowest prices more often than the other retailers and that they had the absolute lowest price for 11 products – albeit not for a long period of time in some cases – and had the lowest average price for 15 products.
In contrast, the investigation found that Currys PC World had the highest number of the most expensive prices (although only just), and sometimes just for a very short time. It was cheapest for two products in the investigation.
Biggest price variations
- Vacuum cleaner: Vax Blade 32v at AO.com had a 54% price difference (min. £139, max £299)
- Television: LG 43UJ630V at Currys PC World had a 48% difference (min. £328, max. £629)
- Fridge-freezer: Samsung RB29FWRNDBC at John Lewis had a 43% difference (min. £374.99, max. £659).
- Printer: Brother MFC-J5335DW at Amazon had a 43% price difference (min. £114, max. £199.98).
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:
‘Whilst we expect price variation across the year, our research shows that shoppers are often faced with wildly fluctuating prices and not necessarily during traditional sales periods.
‘This can make it difficult for people to assess when a bargain is really a bargain, so we advise taking retailer hype with a pinch of salt, not feeling pressured by time-limited sales and doing your research before buying.’
Amazon and AO.com didn’t comment in response to the investigation’s findings. Argos said: ‘We run regular promotions and price competitively to offer our customers the best possible choice and value.’ Currys PC World said: ‘As the Which? report shows, we offer our customers great value on products throughout the year. While our prices – like all retailers – can fluctuate throughout the year, we’re proud to offer our Price Promise across our entire range. We also offer our customers pricing transparency by stating in all our channels exactly when a product was available for a higher price, unlike most retailers.’
John Lewis explained: ‘We’re not surprised by these findings as our commitment to our Never Knowingly Undersold policy means that when our competitors run promotions we lower our prices to match.’
Which? Advice for shopping in the sales
Look at the price instead of the advertised “saving”. Big discounts can sometimes be exaggerated to make the deal look better than it really is.
Check the retailer’s returns policy before buying. Don’t assume you can return a sale item if you change your mind.
Shop at retailers with price promises, which may ensure you can get a part-refund if your item drops in value in the weeks following your purchase.
So, when doing your Christmas shopping this year, make sure you shop around and keep an eye on the ebb and flow of price fluctuations.