I was recently shopping online for a specific type of lotion (my skin seems to hate all other types). I am somewhat predisposed to avoid Amazon.com because its size and increasing dominance of online shopping concerns me as it moves closer and closer to "shopping" (in the sense that "searching" means Google to most people). However, my biggest reason for avoiding Amazon.com is simpler: it has become incredibly confusing to shop there. Searching for just about anything will yield thousands of results and it takes (me) a lot of effort to determine which one is appropriate. This can be a great thing in a lot of cases, but more often than not it feels more like navigating a minefield of deceitful listings than comparing competing products.
This lengthy post evaluates one example - Aveeno "Daily Moisturizing" lotion. As with most personal care products, when searching online I pull up a couple of websites to compare prices. In this case I pulled up Amazon.com last, searched for "Aveeno" and was impressed to see just what I was looking to compare (the 18 oz., non-SPF version) as the first result. I clicked through and, curious to figure out the price per ounce, looked to the "add to cart" area. What are are my options?
- Sizes select list with 37 sizes.
- Styles (??) select list with three styles.
- "Subscribe & Save" (pre-selected) and "One-time purchase" radio buttons.
- "Qty" select list.
- "Delivery every" select list (2 months pre-selected).
- "Subscribe now" button.
- "Add to List" button.
- Three "Add to Cart" buttons with different prices.
Well, this is going to be complicated...
Let's get straight to it - there are 37 different "sizes" of this lotion, here is a look at all of them, sorted by price per ounce.
|2 Pack 20 ounces each||$17.68||2||20||40||$0.4420|
|18 Fluid Ounce||$8.99||1||18||18||$0.4994|
|12 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 6)||$52.53||6||12||72||$0.7296|
|12 Fluid Ounce||$9.32||1||12||12||$0.7767|
|8 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 3)||$23.05||3||8||24||$0.9604|
|1 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 36)||$34.92||36||1||36||$0.9700|
|12 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 2)||$27.56||2||12||24||$1.1483|
|2.5 Ounce (Pack of 2)||$5.92||2||2.5||5||$1.1840|
|18 Ounce (Pack of 3)||$99.99||3||18||54||$1.8517|
|4Pack (18 Ounce)||$140.16||4||18||72||$1.9467|
|2Pack (18 Ounce)||$70.11||2||18||36||$1.9475|
|5Pack (18 Ounce)||$176.25||5||18||90||$1.9583|
|3Pack (18 Ounce)||$108.19||3||18||54||$2.0035|
|5 Pack (6 Count 12 oz bottles)||$731.35||30||12||360||$2.0315|
|4 Pack (6 Count 12 oz bottles)||$585.13||24||12||288||$2.0317|
|2 Pack (6 Count 12 oz bottles)||$292.58||12||12||144||$2.0318|
|4Pack 20 ounces||$176.25||4||20||80||$2.2031|
|10Pack 20 ounces||$450.21||10||20||200||$2.2511|
|8Pack 20 ounces||$360.23||8||20||160||$2.2514|
|6Pack 20 ounces||$270.18||6||20||120||$2.2515|
|3Pack (3 Count 8 oz bottles)||$171.63||9||8||72||$2.3838|
|5Pack (3 Count 8 oz bottles)||$292.62||15||8||120||$2.4385|
|4Pack (3 Count 8 oz bottles)||$234.16||12||8||96||$2.4392|
|2Pack (3 Count 8 oz bottles)||$117.19||6||8||48||$2.4415|
|2Pack (12 Ounce)||$65.53||2||12||24||$2.7304|
|4Pack (12 Ounce)||$131.18||4||12||48||$2.7329|
|5Pack (12 Ounce)||$165.00||5||12||60||$2.7500|
|3Pack (12 Ounce)||$101.28||3||12||36||$2.8133|
|5Pack (36 Count 1 oz bottles)||$675.12||180||1||180||$3.7507|
|4Pack (36 Count 1 oz bottles)||$540.10||144||1||144||$3.7507|
|3Pack (36 Count 1 oz bottles)||$405.12||108||1||108||$3.7511|
|2Pack (36 Count 1 oz bottles)||$270.09||72||1||72||$3.7513|
|4Pack (2 Count 2.5 oz bottles)||$131.16||8||2.5||20||$6.5580|
|2Pack (2 Count 2.5 oz bottles)||$65.69||4||2.5||10||$6.5690|
|5Pack (2 Count 2.5 oz bottles)||$164.89||10||2.5||25||$6.5956|
|3Pack (2 Count 2.5 oz bottles)||$101.39||6||2.5||15||$6.7593|
|2.5 Ounce (Pack of 4)||$99.99||4||2.5||10||$9.9990|
The cheapest option is not really surprising, a two pack of 20 oz. bottles comes out to $0.4420/oz. The default selection, one 18 oz. bottle, is only about five cents more at $0.4994/oz. The next entry jumps $0.23/oz. for, oddly, a six pack of 12 oz. bottles. Where is this cheapest item (the 18 oz. two pack) in the actual list? It's option #6 - the default is #30 (of course!), so it's only necessary to scan up the long list and (hopefully) click the right one. This option isn't sold from or shipped by Amazon.com, but is fulfilled by a third-party seller.
So, one can work all this out for each option - it took me about half an hour with Firefox's developer tools, a text editor with regex search/replace, and a spreadsheet - or take a wild stab and pay up to 2,160% extra (at $9.99/oz.) than the cheapest (non-subscription) option.
The variation and style of the "size" descriptions also is quite confusing in itself. Is a "2Pack" two bottles of lotion? Well, it depends. In one case it is indeed two, but in others it is four, six, or... 72! Having so many options is not necessarily a bad thing - perhaps someone is hosting a skin care event and wants to hand out mini bottles to hundreds of attendees - but the inconsistency in how each size is described is silly.
Note: in the time since I began typing this post (an hour or so ago), the number of size options increased to 38.
There are only three style options (phew!). They are:
- Daily Moisturizing (the default)
- Daily Moisturizing, SPF 15 (ok, that fits)
- Lotion (what?)
Selecting Daily Moisturizing, SPF 15 redirects me to the 2Pack (12 Ounce) size for $65.53 ($2.7304/oz.). Is this the cheapest option for the style? Although it's not clear from the size names (surprise!), the list of options is in fact a mix of SPF and non-SPF. To Amazon.com's credit, the list does sort of indicate this with an "Available in (style)" note instead of price for relevant entries. Anyway, it appears that the 12 Fluid Ounce option is the cheapest at $9.32 ($0.7767/oz.) - 71% cheaper.
The Lotion style really simplifies things (in a way) - the default size is 2.5 Ounce (Pack of 4) for $99.99 ($9.99/oz. - aka the most expensive option in the list). If that seems a bit pricey, just pay the same amount for the only other size - 18 Ounce (Pack of 3) ($1.8517/oz.) - 440% cheaper, woo! Both of these "sizes" come, unsurprisingly, from the same third-party seller and begs the question - is this intentional deceit or a legitimate accident? Well, the seller has 99% positive feedback in the last 12 months on 5,938 ratings so... is that good? It sounds good!
Assuming no changes are made to the Size or Style options, that leaves nine other fields to consider to get this item in a cart. There are two primary options - "Subscribe & Save" or "One-time Purchase".
Subscribe & Save
The "Subscribe & Save" option is selected by default and can be used, in combination with the "Delivery every" select list further down, to set up a regular purchase of the item at intervals (1 - 6 months, default: 2) for an additional 5% off. This 5% discount would decrease the price to $8.54 ($0.4744/oz.), still not cheaper than the 2 Pack 20 ounces each size. However, if one subscribes to five or more Amazon.com products, the discount is bumped up to 15%! At that discount, this item would be $7.64 or $0.4245/oz. This price beats the otherwise lowest cost size by about two cents per ounce.
Two other items are available with the "Subscribe & Save" option (ignoring the other styles), but neither beats the new lowest price or even moves up much in the price order:
- 1 Fluid Ounce (Pack of 36) is $29.68 ($0.8245/oz.) at 15% off.
- 2.5 Ounce (Pack of 2) is $5.03 ($1.0064/oz.) at 15% off.
Selecting "One-time Purchase" simplifies things a bit, the "Subscribe now" button becomes an "Add to Cart" button and the default option is still the third best deal of all combinations.
Other Sellers on Amazon.com
It is worth noting that, if one does not select the "One-time Purchase" option, there are three "Add to Cart" buttons on the screen. For a frequent user of Amazon.com, it is probably clear enough what these options are (the same item from different third-party sellers). However, it doesn't seem much of a stretch to imagine a first-time shopper seeing and clicking the first available "Add to Cart" button. In this case, the first (and cheapest) option in that list is $13.09 ($0.7272/oz.). Hilariously, this is actually the third best price available (fourth if the "Subscribe & Save" option is considered). Not a bad deal for the confused shopper!
I do not believe that Amazon.com is trying to be deceitful with all this cruft. My best guess is that some third-party sellers try their best to game the system and others just have to try to keep up.
Amazon.com has the burden of policing this sort of activity and this is just one example of a very deep and serious problem - a massive amount of confusing options will drive people away.
Half way through typing this up, I realized why I took such a great interest in figuring out what the hell is going on with all the options. In a few months my wife will give birth to our first child and we will likely be going out of our minds (we already are a little bit!) trying to understand what we need to purchase and how to gauge quality and price. Amazon.com makes researching products very difficult and I will try my hardest to avoid using it when possible.
Anyone needing to buy Aveeno lotion without SPF now has all the details! Although, given the addition of a 38th size option in the past few hours, I imagine the value of this information won't last much more than a week or month at best. Ultimately, I purchased elsewhere at a price of $0.3718/oz., and I didn't have to subscribe to scheduled future purchases.