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Prices that are all over the shop: Which? reveals the wild variations in product prices throughout the year

A Which? investigation has revealed the huge variations in price of some of the most popular products for sale in the past year, with some items being almost twice the price at certain points.

During a year-long investigation, Which? tracked the prices of 32 of the most popular makes and models of home and tech appliances across five of the biggest retailers: Amazon, AO.com, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis. The study found considerable variations in almost all products we looked at over the 12-month period.

Price reductions at sales times are to be expected, but Which? found several examples of products that had considerable price fluctuations in non-sales periods. The study found a vacuum cleaner (Vax Blade 32v) at AO.com that jumped by 54%, costing £299 at its highest point but coming down to £139 at its cheapest. There was also a fridge-freezer (Samsung RB29FWRNDBC) at John Lewis and a printer (Brother MFC-J5335DW) at Amazon that 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 interest in.

On the other hand, the investigation found that there are some products that maintain a more steady price. A notable example was the Apple AirPod headphones, which maintained a consistent price of £159 at all the retailers we looked at, except for a short period around Black Friday where they dropped in price before returning soon afterwards.

Amazon offered the lowest prices more often than the other retailers in our investigation, with the lowest price almost as often as all of the other four retailers put together. Amazon had the absolute lowest price for 11 products – but in some instances not for long – and also had the lowest average price across the year for 15 products.

In contrast, we found that Currys PC World had the highest number of most expensive prices although only just, and sometimes for a very short time. It was cheapest for two products in the investigation.

AO.com, Currys PC World and John Lewis all offer price-matching schemes, although these all have slightly different rules about what is included.

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.”

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 that you change your mind about.
  • 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.

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