Last Updated Sep 7, 2011 1:17 PM EDT
This article is part of a package on consumers and Amazon.com. Read the other article, on what not to buy on Amazon.com.
Remember when all you bought on Amazon.com was books? We don't, either. Amazon has been America's largest Internet retailer for years, with worldwide sales in 2010 of $34.2 billion, triple that of its nearest competitor. And while it's a great place to buy electronics and to fill your Android phone or iPad with MP3s, Amazon can also save you money, time, and headaches in plenty of other product categories. Recently, the company revealed it's been testing a redesign of its site to make it cleaner and easier to navigate.
Amazon now offers everything from Bloody Mary mix to steering wheels. And there are still plenty of books — more than 950,000 titles for Amazon's Kindle e-reader. You can get just about anything you want on the site, but what are the standouts you may not have thought of? We spoke to analysts, retailers, and shoppers themselves to discover some surprising categories.
1. Auto Parts
Easily searchable by make, model, and year, Amazon's Auto Store offers more than 4 million car, truck, and other vehicle parts to DIYers, enthusiasts, and professionals. "Many of the products offered by Amazon are fulfilled and shipped by brick-and-mortar automotive parts stores and warehouses," says Richard White, senior vice president of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association."That is how they are able to offer such a vast assortment of product." There are 3,800 parts for the 1968 Pontiac Firebird alone, for example, and nearly 2,000 for a 1990 VW Cabriolet.
Members of Amazon Mom, a free program aimed at parents and caregivers, get 30 percent off selected diapers and wipes when they use Amazon's Subscribe and Save purchase option. "That can make Amazon's price-per-diaper pretty hard to beat," says Angie Wynne, who tracks the best deals at BabyCheapSkate.com. Signing up for Subscribe and Save means you'll receive regular delivery of an item — every one, two, three, or six months — but you can cancel a shipment at any time. A 192-count package of Huggies Snug 'n' Dry for Size 1-2 recently cost $30.65 at Wal-Mart.com, but the Amazon Mom Subscribe and Save price was $20.90, with free shipping. Assuming you purchased about a dozen packages a year for a typical 1-year-old, you'd pay about $250 at Amazon Mom versus $367 at Wal-Mart over the course of a year.
3. Computer Peripherals and Accessories
Cables, thumb drives, external hard drives, and other computer accessories aren't routinely evaluated by computer magazines. But they are amply and (sometimes) succinctly "reviewed" by thousands of Amazon.com shoppers. That critical mass of opinion saves you the time and the energy of doing the research yourself. "If there are 150 four-star reviews, that's big information you can go with," says Scott Stein, senior editor at CNET.com. And that same review crew flushes out subpar products and vetoes them just as concisely. Plus, Amazon's prices on these items are typically 10 to 20 percent lower than competitors. A recent study by Internet analyst Mark Miller of William Blair found that Amazon and Best Buy's retail stores have a merchandise overlap of nearly 70 percent, and 87 percent of those items sell for less on Amazon.
4. Gluten-Free Foods
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The demand for gluten-free foods is growing rapidly as an increasing number of people are diagnosed with celiac disease, and told to avoid eating the protein. (Tennis star Novak Djokovic even attributes his standout performance this year to eliminating gluten from his diet.) The gluten-free section at Amazon Grocery offers thousands of such products, including breakfast items, baking goods, baby food, and boxed meals. Amazon began offering the goods in 2004 and has seen sales triple in the past two years, according to Anya Waring, a spokesperson for Amazon.
"While more and more stores are carrying gluten-free products, there are still places in the country where there isn't a Whole Foods or a grocery store that has embraced them," says Kendall Egan, director of marketing for "Gluten-Free Living" magazine. "You can also find products on Amazon that you usually can't find on store shelves, like Food Tek microwave cakes."
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