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a month ago6 min read.

Amazon Shoppers Overpaid For School Supplies — Here’s Proof

As parents prepare to stock their kids’ backpacks with school supplies, they need to know — buying on Amazon could mean they’re paying too much.

Studies have shown that Amazon keeps prices down on top-selling products so people get the impression that their prices are always the lowest. A ProPublica analysis concluded that Amazon’s pricing algorithm hides the best deals from customers.

Our May 2017 study of online school supplies prices found that Amazon’s prices changed hour-by-hour, state-by-state, and shopper-by-shopper.

Our findings showed that a parent who searched Amazon for a box of Crayola crayons at 7am in Arizona was very likely to see a different price than a parent searching for the same product later that day in New Hampshire.

For many products, consumers could have found a better deal elsewhere. Based on our study, Amazon customers were overpaying.

Our Study Showed That Amazon’s School Supply Prices Were 15% Higher On Average

We developed lists of the most common school supplies for five grade levels. Each list was 10–20 items long — the older kids get, the more supplies schools recommend for them.

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Our analysis showed that, during May 2017, Amazon shoppers overpaid for the basic back-to-school supplies every kid needs.

Wikibuy is a Chrome extension that allows consumers to see other, better prices for many products they see on Amazon. Here’s how it works:

1. Someone with the extension visits a product page on Amazon.

2. Wikibuy checks other online retailers like Jet, eBay, Walmart, and others, to see if there’s a better deal.

3. Within seconds, the extension shows possible matches with total prices, including tax, shipping, and any coupons that apply.

Every time someone with the Wikibuy extension checks an Amazon price, we record the Amazon price they see and the lowest price they can get.

Using this data, which comes from hundreds of thousands of Wikibuyers using the extension, we analyzed the prices of more than 200 common back-to-school products over 30 days to determine whether Amazon is truly offering the lowest price.

Parents of ninth graders spend the most on supplies. They should be wary of relying on Amazon for the lowest price. During our study period, they could have saved nearly $50, on average, by buying from other retailers.

For example, during our analysis, the average price Amazon showed for a 12-pack of BIC Velocity ballpoint pens was $8.02. The average price that Wikibuyers found was $6.31. (You can see the price continues to change.)

Our Study Showed That Early Birds Overpaid Amazon The Most

Amazon’s variable pricing may punish parents who try to get a jumpstart on their to-d0 list. During our study period, prices for back-to-school items were highest in the morning.

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Our Study Showed That Amazon Shoppers Paid Much More In Certain States

Amazon’s prices can vary from state to state. To illustrate, we checked prices for the TI-84 Plus Graphing Calculator, a common requirement for high school math classes. In some states, Amazon’s price was $30 more than the lowest-available online price.

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Our analysis showed that parents in Rhode Island saw the highest prices for the TI-84. Texas and California parents could expect to pay $20 more for the TI-84 if they bought it on Amazon during our study period.

Our Study Showed That Parents Of College Freshmen Overpay On Amazon Too

Parents sending their kids off to college — along with the recommended haul of linens, electronics, and cleaning supplies — may pay more if they buy those items from Amazon. In every college freshman supply category we studied, Amazon’s prices were higher than those found on other sites by Wikibuy.

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During May 2017, parents could have saved $30 if they outfit their college freshman from another online retailer.

And depending on the products they bought, parents could have accumulated even more savings. For example, during our analysis, the average price Amazon showed for the popular Hamilton Beach two-slice toaster was $32.28. The average price that Wikibuyers found was $20.05.

The Big Picture: Families With 5th Graders Could Overpay By $119 Million

Amazon would love every parent to use their site to buy school supplies. If that happened, the overpaying could be immense.

We estimated the number of US 5th graders at 4,134,000, based on US Census data. We then multiplied that by the average savings found for a typical 5th grade shopping list during our study period.

Our analysis shows that if every parent of a 5th grader bought their kid’s supplies on Amazon during our study period, US families would shell out $119 million more than if they had bought the same products for the lowest available online price.

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For example, during our analysis, the average price Amazon showed for the popular Wildkin Green Camo Lunchbox was $21.26. The average price that Wikibuyers found was $14.85.

Where Do The Savings Come From?

Our study showed that Amazon shoppers overpaid the most for these products. Here are the average savings families could have gotten through Wikibuy.

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Methodology

School Supply Prices By Grade

We started by identifying Kindergarten, 3rd grade, 5th grade, 7th grade, and 9th grade school supply lists from the websites of Chicago Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District, and the New York City Department of Education. We then created a representative list for each grade level that contained the most common items from each list, and identified three top-selling Amazon products for each item.

Using Wikibuy’s database of prices, we found Amazon’s average price for each item during the period 5/1/2017–5/31/2017, as well as the average price found by Wikibuy during the same time period. We then averaged the price of the three top-selling products to create an average product price, and totaled them together to create the full list price for each grade.

School Supply Prices By Time Of Day

We identified the average price of each item in our K-12 list for each hour of the day, during May 2017. We added those together to get the full price of school supplies during each hour of the day.

How Much Amazon Customers Overpay For The TI-84 Graphing Calculator By State

Using Wikibuy’s database of prices, we found Amazon’s average price for the TI-84 graphing calculator, by state, during the period 4/1/2017–5/31/2017, as well as the average price found by Wikibuy, by state, during the same time period.

College Freshman Dorm Supplies Prices

We started by identifying incoming freshman supply lists from Knox College, the University of Wisconsin, and St. Louis University. We then created a representative list that contains the most common items from each list, and identified three top-selling Amazon products for each item.

Using Wikibuy’s database of prices, we found Amazon’s average price for each item during the period 5/1/2017–5/31/2017, as well as the average price found by Wikibuy during the same time period. We then averaged the price of the three top-selling products to create an average product price, and totaled them together to create the full list price for each grade.

US Parents Of 5th Graders Overall Savings

Using Wikibuy’s database of prices, we found Amazon’s average price for each item on the 5th grade list during the period 5/1/2017–5/31/2017, as well as the average price found by Wikibuy during the same time period. We then averaged the price of the three top-selling products to create an average product price, and totaled them together to create the full list price.

We estimated the number of US 5th graders at 4,134,000, based on US Census data (Single Grade of Enrollment and High School Graduation Status for People 3 Years and Over, October 2015). We then multiplied the average prices of the 5th grade list by that number, both for the average Amazon price and the average price found by Wikibuy.

Best Savings On School Supplies

This is the average savings for each product category, based on an average of the prices we found for three top-selling products in that category.