No doubt you've heard about the fierce price wars between Amazon.com
over best-selling books, and perhaps you took advantage of them to snag your copy of "Going Rogue" for just $9. But promotional stunts aside, who offers the best prices and selections among the online retail giants? I decided to find out by pitting Amazon, eBay
and Wal-Mart against one another in a fast-paced, online shopping competition—the Common Sense holiday challenge.
Of course, the nature of online shopping makes pinpointing the best deal a lot like hitting a moving target. The prices listed here represent a survey of the landscape when we last checked on Tuesday.
Round one: Toys.
Lego's Knights Kingdom Royal Castle building set. Amazon offered a huge selection of the Lego Knights line; the featured item was available for $165.91 in a sale that qualified for free shipping, and third-party vendors listed the item for as low as $149.98. EBay also offered a wide selection, and many slightly used offerings up for bid. The cheapest Knights Kingdom set offered on the "buy it now" option was $136.95.
Wal-Mart didn't have the Knights Kingdom, but it did offer the Trolls' Dark Fortress, which appears to be identical to the Trolls' Mountain Fortress on Amazon and eBay. Wal-Mart's price was $94.88, although it was out of stock online. At Amazon it was $99.90, with offerings as low as $91.49; on eBay it was $99.99. Score: 10 points each for Amazon and eBay, none for Wal-Mart.
Round two: Home appliances.
Breville Ikon 610-watt blender. Some cooks swear by the looks and performance of Australia's Breville appliances. Amazon offered this model for $149.99; on eBay it was $149.95, with reconditioned models from the manufacturer as low as $82.99. I came up empty-handed at Wal-Mart, which had no Breville offerings, though I did stumble on a Blendtec Connoisseur model at the eye-popping price of $649.95. I found the same model on eBay for $649.50 and on Amazon for $616.15. Score: 10 points for Amazon, 10 for eBay and none for Wal-Mart.
Round three: Movies and TV.
"Mad Men," DVDs, all three seasons. OK, the Emmy-winning TV series is the gift I want for myself. On Amazon, the complete three-season set was $76.47 (that's $26.49 for season one, $17.99 for two and $31.99 for the recently completed season three on pre-order). Seasons one and two together were $44.48. On eBay, seasons one and two together were offered at $54.01, and there were plenty of used DVDs at lower prices. At Wal-Mart, season one was $26.32 and season two $17.86, and a set of both was $44.18, all with free shipping. Score: Amazon 7, eBay 5, Wal-Mart 8.
Amazon, with a total score of 28. EBay was close behind at 25, and Wal-Mart lagged far behind at 8. Amazon won through a combination of price and availability. When it was undercut on price, it was usually by a negligible amount. But eBay fared surprisingly well. It offered slightly used or reconditioned models at steep discounts, as well as many bidding opportunities. The site offers a viable alternative to Amazon on most new items. If my experiment is indicative, Wal-Mart needs a lot more than cheap bestsellers to challenge Amazon.