A Wirecutter primer before Amazon Prime Day

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. This is a condensed version of several Wirecutter guides; you can find links to the full guides in the discussions below.

If you’re an online bargain hunter, chances are, you’ve marked your calendar for Amazon’s Prime Day, Tuesday, July 11. The site will have literally thousands of one-day-only deals, so how can you tell which are real deals and which are duds? That’s where we come in.

The truth is, most deals in general aren’t great values and don’t save shoppers money. Some products may actually be priced lower at other points in the year, or manufacturers are looking to offload last year’s models.

To ensure that you get the bargains you want, here are our Top 5 Tips for Prime Day.

Might be worth becoming a Prime member 

Prime Day requires you to be a Prime member, and while it typically costs nearly $100 per year, it gives you free two-day shipping on many items. If you place 15 to 20 orders on Amazon within a year and upgrade to that two-day shipping, the cost of the membership begins to balance out. It tips further in your favor if you use the add-on services, such as Amazon’s video and music streaming services, or their same-day delivery on some items for orders containing more than $35 of goods.

To check out Amazon Prime for Prime Day (and beyond), you can sign up for a 30-day trial and give it a spin before committing your $100. Other ways to get Prime include a six-month free trial plus 50 percent off for students with a .edu email address.

All-day deals v. lightning deals

Amazon offers two kinds of deals throughout Prime Day: traditional deals, which last all day, and lightning deals, which expire after a set amount of time—or when stock runs out. Lightning deals can offer deep discounts on a specific item for a set amount of time, usually a few hours. Once time or stock on that item runs out, the deal is done. If a lightning deal is sold out, join the waitlist if it isn’t already full, because you might get another shot at claiming that deal if another buyer’s claim times out.

Develop a game-day strategy and decide what you want ahead of time

Lightning deals can get scooped up within minutes (see above), but if you’ve decided you want a new TV, the best strategy is to decide which three models you’d be happy with and then check in with The Wirecutter or price trackers to grab the deal once it becomes available.

Discern which deals are deals

This seems straightforward, but it’s not. Although all Prime Day deals are technically discounts, there’s a big difference between saving $1 and saving $20 or more, so be sure you know which deals are worthwhile. Since less than 1 percent of the deals last year were good enough for The Wirecutter to alert its readers and followers, consider bookmarking its deals page to stay a step ahead.

Get in early

You can start taking advantage of Prime Day deals as early as July 10 at 9 p.m. Eastern, and should be able to see hours of upcoming deals in advance. However, Amazon will have lead-up deals in multiple categories beginning now, so you can get a head start.

We’ll be spending all of Prime Day sorting through the thousands of deals and posting only the best ones to our Deals page, our Twitter account, and our Daily Deals newsletter. Last year, our staff scanned nearly 8,000 deals and found only 64 worth posting.

The links in these guides contain affiliate codes (disclosure).
Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, they may earn affiliate commissions that support their work. Read their full post about Prime Day here.