Is online shopping REALLY cheaper?
Many of the unbelievable discounts you find online are make-believe. We've found that websites use numerous tricks to make their deals more attractive, most commonly by marking up original prices to exaggerate discounts
We’re used to seasonal, festive and holiday discounts—on cars in the monsoon and electronics during Diwali, for example. If sales dip, maybe we’ll have a couple of more sales, but no more. Online shopping websites can be much more generous. On a variety of products, especially electronics, there are discounts advertised throughout the year. Perhaps lower overheads or wider reach allows these websites to give you a small discount, but the discounts are often in the 20% to 30% range. Is this generosity or a fake discount? Here are three reasons to be suspicious of an online deal.
Exaggerated cost prices
You’ve probably noticed it yourself, if you’ve ever shopped at a physical store (Croma, Shoppers’ Stop, Vijay Sales) and later checked prices online. Online stores often exaggerate the cost of a product to either create a discount or make the discount seem larger than it actually is. On April 30, 2012, for example, Infibeam was selling the Nokia Lumia 920 at Rs35,950, claiming the original price to be Rs40,699. This despite the fact that the phone was even launched at a lower price of Rs38,199. Similarly, on eBay, we found that the Samsung S3 was available for Rs29,299, being advertised at a significant discount by advertising the launch price, which was north of Rs40,000, rather than the price of Rs30,950 recommended on the Samsung website on the same day.
|Product||Original price||Sale price||Official/Launch price|
|Nikon D5100||Rs37,449 on Naaptol||Rs31,999||Rs34,950|
|Nokia Lumia 920||Rs40,699 on InfiBeam||Rs35,950||Rs38,199|
|Samsung Galaxy S3||Rs46,650 on eBay||Rs29,299||Rs. 30,950|
Fakes as originals
Many online stores are simply middlemen. Merchants only use websites such as eBay as a platform to push their product. eBay doesn’t vouch for the authenticity of its merchants’ products. Product descriptions are entirely the work of the seller. You’ll usually find reasonable deals here, but, on certain products, the deals are unbelievable. They are available on handbags, watches, and perfumes from premium brands. It could well be that the seller is part of the grey market, but there is an equal chance that the products are knock-offs. What’s more is that this detail is usually hidden at the bottom of the seller’s disclaimer, if mentioned at all.
|Product||eBay.in price||Actual price||Reason for discount|
|Tag Heuer Grand Carrera Calibre||Rs9,999||Rs162,000||Fake|
|Rado Sintra Jubile||Rs7,999||Rs79,974||Fake|
On eBay, for example, a Tag Heuer Carrera Callibre 17 Chronograph is selling for Rs9,999. On the US site, ebay.com, the same watch is selling for Rs162,000 ($2999). The seller on ebay doesn’t tell you whether or not this watch is fake, not even that it is a first copy, an admission you’ll often find in the fine print. But nowhere is it claimed that the watch is original either. In fact, the description also says that the product is ‘complete with original Tag Heuer boxes, booklet and Tag Heuer warranty card.’ It was only on calling the number mentioned that we were told that the piece is fake. Similarly, you’ll find a 100-ml bottle of Calvin Klein Eternity for just Rs2900, whereas the MRP is Rs4,200. The seller, however, declares that the item will not be in a box and cannot be returned once used. We often hit the buy button without looking at the fine print. Now that you know what it could contain, would you trust it?
Occasionally, you’ll find products that come with freebies. Don’t treat these as free immediately, though. Always investigate the original price, preferably on the manufacturers’ website. For example, Naaptol is current selling two products – the Zync Cloud Z5 and Zync C18 – at a 30% discount. Along with it, you’ll get freebies worth Rs1347 (4GB SD card, a screen guard, a lycra pouch and a Big Flix subscription). It says the total cost of all these products is Rs13,389, so its price of Rs9299 is 70% of the original cost. But if you visit the official Zync website, you’ll find that the Z5 is available for Rs6990 and the C18 for Rs1390. Along with the ‘freebies’, which are apparently included in the price, the cost price appears to be Rs9727. So the actual discount is just 4.1%.
|Combo offer||Online original price||Online sale price||Official price|
|Zync Cloud Z5 and Zync C18||Rs13,389||Rs9299||Rs8380|
|Canon A810 + Tripod stand||Rs8498||Rs5000||Rs7495|
Another product, the Canon A810, is being sold at a 41% discount for Rs5,000, instead of a claimed Rs8,498. It has been bundled along with a bunch of items advertised as freebies. Three of the four ‘free’ items are what are supposed to be included in the box (the charger, carry case and batteries), while the price of the fourth freebie, a tripod stand, is claimed to be Rs2,500. Even if you include its price in the total price, though, the total price should’ve been Rs7,500. Instead, the website simply confuses the shopper by highlighting everything that’s free, even though much of it isn’t.
Three concerns while shopping online
The following three points won’t necessarily save you money, but do factor them into how much you’re saving on that online purchase.
How are you going to sell that old TV? A physical store will cut you a better deal if you’re willing to hand in the old electronic product you’re looking to replace. Online stores can’t do this.
Will it affect my schedule? Your online order will take two to four days to arrive. Offline, it may be delivered that very day. Plus, if you order it online, you need to make sure someone is home, especially if it’s a large product (else just give your work address).
What if it’s in bad condition? If the product is not up to scratch, some online stores have elaborate procedures to getting it replaced. It might not cost you any money, but you might have to write them a brief letter describing the problem with the product and pay for shipping it back to the retailer (nearly all online retailers).