Amazon and Google product pricing shenanigans

Online FraudHere we go, boys and girls. Another fun-filled excursion into the bowels of the internet’s world of ecommerce.

I started by searching Google for the phrase “mac mini.” The Mac Mini is a super-cool fully functional computer made by Apple that is about the size of an external hard drive and sits right on your desk. I already know that I can buy a new one direct from Apple for $699 with free shipping but I was checking to see what other deals might be out there.

On the Google results page, in the left column, I clicked the link for “Shopping” which takes you to results in “Google Product Search.”

There, in third position on the list of results, was a Mac Mini with slightly different specs than offered by the Apple Store, and priced at $599. It had the same amount of memory and operating system (Snow Leopard) but a slightly slower processor (2.26 GHz vs. 2.4) and half the hard disk space (160GB vs. 320). But the listed price was $100 less.

Unlike the listing below in fourth position, the product was not described as used. (Click here for screen shot.)

I went to take a look.

The Google Products page showed a picture of the Mac Mini and featured’s $599 as the “lowest price.” I clicked the link to drill down further.

This took me to the actual website where … what the fuck? There was nothing listed for sale at the promised price of $599. And I thought Google was supposed to like so-called “relevant” results?

As far as I could tell, nothing in new condition was offered for sale on this page. However, the site enticed me further with the promise of “3 used from $525.00.” Like a wiggly fish on a hook I clicked the link.

This showed me a page that stated there were zero available in new condition. But there were three units, with differing specs, priced at $525.00, $629.99, and $995.00, all offered with $7.99 shipping. All were offered from different sellers, none of whom were

What I want to know is, quite simply, how is this not bait and switch? The whole system seems rigged to entice me in with the promise of my desired product at a lower than normal price, which doesn’t even exist, then to try to get me to go for a used product from a third-party seller where, coincidentally enough, I believe collects 15 percent of the purchase price as a fee.

Why do they have to be this way?

The chef’s music selection for this post: Love for Sale

4 responses

  1. Tsk, tsk…
    With some guilt, I buy now & then from amazon but in fact, they’re buying up so many other ecomm businessesc I hardly know if I’m shopping elsewhere. Confusing world for this country mouse!


    1. I’ve found that Amazon generally has a good price and they do some things right like ship fast and provide tracking information.

      That doesn’t excuse deceptive snarkiness, though.

      By coincidence, I just happened to notice something new about yesterday.

      It’s a variant of the old “quantities are limited” gambit. It works like this:

      1. A product may have have more than one seller.
      2. Each seller has their own inventory.
      3. On the product page features only a single seller. It may not necessarily be the seller with the best price.
      4. The message “Only X left in stock–order soon” is displayed.
      5. The quantity indicated only applies to the currently featured seller.

      In other words, if Seller A has 3 units, and Seller B has 10 units, and Seller A happens to be featured, the message will read: “Only 3 left in stock–order soon. .” That is, of course, a flat out lie. There are actually 13 units left, but they won’t tell you that.


  2. Interesting post, thanks for sharing. Something to note, when submitting a feed with product names, prices, etc, it takes 24-48 hours for that data to process in Google’s shopping system and display live, so occasionally there may be pricing and data issues related to the processing lag.

    But, it could also be someone sending faulty data!



    1. Thanks, Andrew. And I agree completely. It could be the result of some kind of glitch or update lag. Or not. Either way, to me, the consumer, it still feels a bit snarky. I’m not so sure I entirely trust what is going on here.

      I’ll be by this evening to take a peek at your blog when I have more time. Thanks!


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