Prime Day: How to avoid the most common shopping mistakes

Black Friday used to only happen in November, but while we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that those sales would extend into October, retailers have also conditioned us to associate a third month with big deals: July.

This month there are deals planned from Amazon (Prime Day, anyone?), Target, Walmart, and other major retailers.

Related: “What to buy (and what to avoid) on Amazon Prime Day 2024”

“Consumers are being trained,” says Ayalla Ruvio, an assistant professor of marketing at Michigan State University. “At this point, it’s almost like a tradition. Once you train consumers, they already expect it. They’re preparing for it.”

But labeling a deal “Prime Day” or “Black Friday” doesn’t necessarily make it a bargain. Protect your wallet this month by avoiding these four shopping mistakes.

1. Letting urgent offers decide your expenses

The hallmark of these July sales is urgency. They don’t last forever and that might prompt you to make a transaction without thinking twice.

On the one hand, the pressure is real. Products such as clothing, shoes and cosmetics that were sold at deep discounts have sold out in previous years, says Ruvio.

“The most common mistake consumers may make is that they think a product is going to be available, because things sell out pretty quickly,” he says.

If you see a price drop on an item you’ve been wanting for a while, it’s a good idea to take advantage of it while you can.

On the other hand, if you find deals while browsing that you’ve never thought of buying, step away from your laptop, at least for a moment, to evaluate the purchase. Try removing items from your cart or saving them for later.

“It’s great to get a good deal,” says Adam Craig, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Kentucky. But sometimes that good feeling leads to impulse purchases that you may later regret.

2. Falling into prolonged expenses

The time factor adds to the confusion that arises when so many sales occur at different retailers. The problem? Not all sales occur at the same time.

This year, Amazon Prime Day falls on July 16-17. Target Circle Week runs earlier and longer (July 7-13). Walmart’s “Deals” event coincides with Target’s sales, which run July 8-11.

Why are retailers spreading out their deals? It’s a strategy, Craig says. If retailers get out the door early on Prime Day, they figure they can grab some of the Amazon shopping dollars. Have a budget in mind before you shop the first deal — one that covers the second and third, too.

But that’s not all. Retailers are also banking on keeping you a customer for longer than just these sales. “A lot of these events may not just be about generating revenue over the summer,” Craig says. “They may also be about hooking consumers into the retailer and making them part of their ecosystem.”

Access to Amazon’s big sales is limited to people who have an Amazon Prime membership, for example. Target’s Circle Week promises deep discounts and personalized bonuses for members of its free loyalty program.

“If there are promotions that lead me to log in and create those accounts, now that retailer has my data,” Craig says. “They can now target me more effectively and get me to shop with them more frequently.”

Prime Day will be on July 16 and 17, 2024

3. Getting distracted by the discount percentage

Products included in the July sale are likely to be discounted at other times of the year as well. Keep that in mind when deciding which deals are worth your time.

“Even if it looks like a good deal on Amazon or one of these other sites, I try to see if I can find anything about the price history,” Craig says. He uses price-tracking websites like camelcamelcamel and Keepa to see a product’s price patterns on Amazon over the past year or more.

“As you can see, this product is something that goes on sale every other month for 20% off,” Craig says. “Yes, it’s on sale now for 20% off and will be in a couple more months, so I don’t have to buy it now. If I see a product that’s on sale relative to its price history, I would be more tempted to buy it.”

4. Forgetting about Prime Day once it’s over

Once you’ve secured some serious savings, your work isn’t done. Don’t forget about Prime Day after you’ve had your last Amazon box delivered. While it’s important to track your spending throughout the year, take an even closer look at your spending after a higher-than-usual shopping month.

In August, look back and see how much you spent on Prime Day (and competing deals) compared to what you planned to spend. Then, adjust future budget allocations accordingly, says Chris Woods, founder of Silvis Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Let’s say your budget allows you to spend $50 a month on gifts. “Maybe you have to spend on gifts for the next three months in July,” Woods says. “If you know that, you tell yourself, ‘Okay, I’m not going to spend on gifts in the next few months because I’ve exhausted that budget in the month of July.’”

Woods also recommends reviewing credit card statements to see any generic “Amazon” charges. Since Amazon purchases can range from electronics to household essentials, break down charges in more detail in your personal budget to see spending in different categories.

If you follow a 50/30/20 budget, for example, 50% of your take-home pay goes toward needs, 30% toward wants, and 20% toward savings and paying off debts that exceed the minimums. Some of your July spending may come from your “needs” allowance, while other items may fall into the “wants” category.

Whether you shop, browse or skip the July sales altogether, perhaps the best advice is the simplest. This won’t be your last chance to save. “Remember, there’s always the next sale,” says Ruvio.