Why that air fryer isn’t really a bargain at all
A coffee machine on the site, meanwhile, has oscillated between £1,000 and £500 four times in the last six months. Argos maintained that its discounts were within guidelines set out by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, a trade body.
On Amazon, meanwhile, a Fitbit Sense 2 smartwatch has moved between £269 and £179, changing 24 times since September last year. A spokesman said this was due to Amazon “constantly” changing prices to match competitors.
Prices can fluctuate between high and low values – sometimes within the space of a week. But unless shoppers keep an eye on historic data through such third-party sites, items will almost always seem to be discounted, and consumer experts argue this makes it hard to pinpoint when a product is at its cheapest.
Consumer expert Martyn James said the effect of yo-yo pricing meant the “whole concept of what a sale is has gone out the window” and called for greater regulation in the sector.
He said: “Ultimately, yo-yo pricing undermines the confidence people have in retailers, which often means the actions of a few major brands tar the reputations of smaller businesses which already have to compete in unfair trading conditions.”
The CTSI has pricing and promotions guidelines that state most shoppers are unlikely to keep track of price fluctuations “to determine for themselves whether the claimed price reduction is genuine”.
The guidelines also advise retailers against providing a “series of price claims made against a reference price, where each subsequent claim does not offer a greater discount”.
Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, of PriceSpy, said the practice of introducing products at a higher recommended retail price (RRP) “before moving to a more permanent price reduction once they’ve assessed shopper behaviour” was common among retailers.
She said: “Patterns can be spotted when it comes to pricing trends of popular consumer goods and shoppers should be aware of these to get the best price. Take mobile phones, for instance. We know that Samsung Galaxy phones significantly drop in price around seven weeks after launch.”
An Argos spokesman said: “We’re committed to offering our customers a wide range of products at great prices throughout the year.”
A spokesman for Amazon said: “We seek to offer our customers great value thanks to low prices all year round as well as a number of fantastic seasonal deals events, which at the end of last year included our Prime Early Access and Black Friday sales.”