Best Things to Buy (and Skip) on Amazon: A Nerdy List


It’s hard to believe Amazon.com started back in July 1995 as an online retailer that sold books only. Almost 30 years later, it’s likely the first place you look when you get the idea to buy anything.

Retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Target can be quite competitive with Amazon. Still, with the number of Amazon Prime members in the U.S. at 180 million, according to an estimate by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners in March, dependence on Amazon runs deep. If you shop there, lead with needs over wants to save money where it counts. Here’s a short list of the best things to buy (and a couple to skip) on Amazon.

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Buy: Personal care items you can put on autopilot

Product purchases new parents can knock out at Amazon include baby wipes and diapers. Items like these are competitively priced on Amazon, especially when using “Subscribe & Save,” said Kallie Branciforte, a blogger and YouTuber in Connecticut, in an email.

“I am always surprised by how many people don’t take advantage of ‘Subscribe & Save,’” she said. “It’s the easiest way to save on the stuff you use all the time.”

When you subscribe to a product, you can set a schedule that aligns with when you’ll run out. Branciforte, who reaches millions of viewers with her “That Practical Mom” YouTube channel, lets Amazon replenish vitamins, diaper cream, her kids’ body wash and more to make life easier, and often cheaper.

Try subscribing to unique essentials, like nasal strips that let you breathe freely at night, or electric toothbrush heads to make healthy living habitual. Buying items like these on Amazon is more about selection and convenience than price.

As an incentive, Amazon offers up to 15% off when you receive five or more eligible products in one automatic delivery to the same address. “It’s such a simple way to save on things you’re already buying, completely on autopilot,” said Branciforte.

Buy: Pet food and litter

Putting pet food on auto-order is another convenience play for Prime members. Nobody likes scanning 25 tiny cans of Fancy Feast at the grocery store self-checkout lane. You can save the hassle and try to beat the per-can price by ordering the 30-pack on Amazon.

You can save your back by getting big bags of dog food or a 38-pound box of cat litter delivered.

Skip: Clothes you want to fit well and feel comfortable

Clothing can be hard to get right on Amazon, says Trae Bodge, the shopping expert at truetrae.com.

Bodge bought a dress on Amazon last year and loves the look, but says it’s scratchy inside. She prefers a store like Target for affordable pieces she can feel first.

When it comes to jeans and sneakers, you might be able to do better by buying from the source. Joining the Levi’s rewards program, for example, gets you free shipping and returns on Levi.com. “What you’ll find is that the style selection is broader, the size selection is broader,” says Bodge.

Nike is another brand that incentivizes customers to shop on its site. Members get free shipping on orders $50 or more, and shoes and apparel at Nike.com regularly go on sale.

Buy: Batteries, cables and phone cases

Back to the essentials, the Amazon Basics brand of batteries is an exceptional deal. At $12.52 for an 8-pack of 9-volt batteries (at the time of writing), you can add it and a pack of AA and AAAs to your cart the next time you checkout. Compare that with the 8-pack of Duracell 9-volt batteries we spotted at the Home Depot for $29.05.

Make Amazon your first stop after you buy a new or used iPhone or Android too. Apple’s $49 silicone case is highway robbery when you compare it with cases on Amazon that look, feel and protect the same for under $15. Amazon is also the place for power adapters, cables and wireless charging pads at prices that are cheaper than at Apple.

Buy: Amazon bestsellers

A helpful hack Branciforte shares in one of her YouTube videos is to use Amazon’s “Best Sellers” lists to narrow down searches.

It’s a little out of the way, but you get there by navigating to the top left of the desktop site and clicking the three bars to open the menu. Select “Best Sellers,” and from there, you can dive down by department to find popular buys in specific product categories.

Let’s say, for example, you’re looking for a shower head with better water pressure than the one you have. Rather than roll the dice on something from Home Depot or Lowe’s, you can look up bestsellers in the bath section on Amazon. Scroll down to the first or second one, likely the AquaCare HighPressure 8-mode handheld shower head for around $25, then buy it. This paragraph isn’t sponsored, but this Nerdy writer can attest to the power of this particular model.

Skip: Large furniture pieces that can be painful to return

Bodge avoids buying larger items at Amazon that you have to assemble. The perceived burden of sending it back could compel you to keep something you don’t want. And even if you do like it, the cardboard and other packing material that comes with a coffee table can be a royal pain in the trash.

Now that it’s normal to frequent stores again, it can save you time and strife to pick something out and buy it in person. You can also save by buying used. Thrift stores, antique shops and Facebook Marketplace are great places to score cheap furniture pieces from yesteryear that are still in style (and probably better made).

Advice: Read reviews and check price history before buying

Whatever you buy from Amazon, it’s important to read the reviews and it’s better when there are plenty of them, said Branciforte. She tends to be leery of items with few ratings unless the category is very niche.

“I’d rather buy something with 4.3 stars and 1,000+ reviews than 4.8 stars and 15 reviews because I know the first has been on the site longer, making it more trustworthy and valid,” she said.

Given that other retailers are working hard to outprice Amazon, Bodge says it pays to check the price history and look around before buying. Shopping browser extensions like PayPal Honey and the Camelizer make light work of making sure you aren’t overpaying. And it’s easy to do a quick Google search for any product.

With Prime Day in July, better deals could be on the horizon. “I think it can be worthwhile to wait,” said Branciforte.

You can still shop, though. Just put it in your cart and select “save for later.”

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