Amazon's ability to continually adjust prices daily to undercut competitors has been touted as a competitive advantage. But a number of rogue price tracking websites have arrived to help consumers capitalize on those price swings.
One of the leaders is camelcamelcamel.com, which enables users to view the price history of over 18 million Amazon products. The user can see the exact day an item hit its highest price, its lowest price and its average price over a time frame. Price records of most items go back months or years.
Users can also set up Amazon price watches and get alerts via e-mail or Twitter when prices drop to a specified point. Prefab RSS feeds show the "biggest Amazon price drops" as well as "most recent price drops" and "most popular products."
An article on Bloomberg BusinessWeek profiling Camel and other price trackers noted that Amazon offers discounts of more than 30 percent that last only a few days, which lead to hump-shaped graphs — the inspiration for Camel's name. Prices are said to spike during the holidays but also are continually adjusted to demand.
What's surprising is that camelcamelcamel.com, as an Amazon Affiliate, receives price information directly. The website earns 8.5 percent of sales from customers the tracker refers. Other Amazon price tracker websites, including Keepa.com, Thetracktor.com, mypricetrack.com and Unimerc.com, appear to work on the same principle.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Judith Chevalier, a professor of finance and economics at Yale University, speculated that Amazon so far lets a small group of hyper deal seekers use tracking websites to allow some pricing transparency. In 2000, a public outcry ensued after it was learned that Amazon was using dynamic pricing to charge different prices to different customers based on their purchase history, their location and other factors. Ms. Chevalier said, "There's an optimal level of inconvenience, and it turns out that that's to have other people provide the service."
Camel suspects Amazon may cut them off one day, especially since Newegg, the online electronics store, kicked Camel out of its affiliates program for running a Newegg tracker program. It also operates a Best Buy tracker program.
How likely is it that Amazon.com will kick camelcamelcamel.com out of its Affiliates program?