Picks

Should I Buy This Big Thing If It’s a Prime Day Deal?

A truly great deal has to lie at the intersection of need, quality, and value.

big yellow box
Illustration: Sarah MacReading

During the frenzy of deal events like Prime Day, you can grab everything from mattresses to widescreen computer monitors at a discount. For instance, one former Wirecutter writer and fitness enthusiast found this treadmill, a model similar to our upgrade treadmill pick, the NordicTrack C 990, on sale during Prime Day 2017. Offering a large display and included assembly for $150 less than the model we recommended, the value was apparent for what this person wanted and needed.

And that’s the key to any discount. A truly great deal has to lie at the intersection of need, quality, and value—but need is the most important of the three.

A shopping holiday like Prime Day can often drive a big purchase in the improvident haze of the moment, but it’s important to pause, step back, and ask yourself a question or two before you take your brimming virtual cart to checkout.

You can reasonably expect that at least one or two of our mattress, TV, laptop, camera, projector, grill, or office chair picks will be discounted on Prime Day. But an impulse buy can often lead to regret about spending big on a dust-collecting reminder of a hasty decision. So before you buy, ask yourself a few questions.

Is it actually a deal?

We see a lot of good deals during big shopping holidays, but we see a lot of mediocre-to-bad deals too. Whether it’s raising the price just before Prime Day to inflate the discount percentage or just an average deal we see every two weeks, there are a lot of pitfalls, even for the wary shopper. Luckily for you, our Deals team carefully researches price trends and deal histories on all of our picks to save you time and effort. So if you see the item featured on our Deals page during our Prime Day coverage, we’ve already verified that it’s a deal worth spending money on.

If you’re evaluating a deal yourself, here are a couple things to keep in mind. Make sure to consider the percentage you can save when you’re looking at a deal. A $50 discount on a $100 item makes it a steal. But on a $1,000 item, $50 isn’t a huge markdown—and the sale might be worth skipping if you’d value the extra time to calmly think the purchase over.

But if it’s an item that rarely goes on sale or you’re willing to buy at full price, sometimes a relatively small drop in price can be worth jumping on—especially if we haven’t seen the price drop significantly lower (we’re looking at you, MacBooks and iPads).

Another important note is that an item’s street price (the price it sells for on most days) is almost always different from the list price (the price the manufacturer recommends). Although it can be difficult to determine the street price on some items, you can always check the price history on websites like CamelCamelCamel. Or you can drop us a question via @WirecutterDeals on Twitter.

Amazon displays both the percentage and the dollar amount you save when it shows sale prices—but it bases those figures on the list price, which doesn’t give you the full story about how good the deal is. Our Deals team always makes sure to tell you the percentage you save off the street price as well as the price something sells for every day, and tries to give context on how the deal compares to prices we see throughout the year and during other major holidays.

Will I use this?

If an impulse purchase is aspirational, it can feel especially satisfying in the moment, marrying the buzz of a big spend with the notion that you’re doing something good for yourself.

But you should make sure this big purchase is something you already had on your shopping list or something you would want even at full price. (There are worthwhile variants of many items that may merit consideration if discounted, a topic we’ll explore more below.)

When you see something tempting, first ask yourself whether that thing resolves a problem or satisfies a need. A treadmill won’t make you run a marathon, a grill won’t make friends come over more often, and an upholstered bed frame won’t make dates like you more. All of these things need to come from you.

“I add things to an Amazon wish list, and if they are still on the list in three or four months I consider buying them,” said Wirecutter senior staff writer Chris Heinonen, who covers TVs. If you add a 4K TV to your wish list now, you’ll have time by Black Friday to consider whether you really want to take the plunge (a better time to buy anyway in most cases, especially if you’re seeking a 2019 model).

Is this a variation of what I’ve been eyeing?

If you want a specific TV, consider other models in the same line or last year’s model of the same television. Be careful—although you can nab a variant that offers nearly all of the features of your preferred model for significantly less, the quality and features can vary greatly even within the same brand. A logo isn’t necessarily a bulletproof indicator that you’re getting everything you want. You can reach out to our experts via @WirecutterDeals or @Wirecutter to see if a variant is worthwhile or if last year’s model still presents a great value.

What’s my budget like?

It doesn’t matter if a nonessential item is half off if you can’t afford it. Credit card interest and regret can quickly sour the momentary joy of immediate savings.

Can I just fix my old thing?

If you’re buying to replace a broken or worn-out item you already own, first check to confirm whether your old thing is under warranty. Warranties from reputable companies can cover common fixes or even get you a replacement if something is beyond repair. For example, a foam mattress under five years old suffering from sagging or indentations may be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and although such replacements can present a short-term hassle, it’s well worth the thousand dollars you could save. While you’re thinking about any substantial purchase, looking up the warranty and return policy of the item you’re eyeing can help confirm that the big purchase you have in mind is the right buy for you.

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