When most people think of online shopping, they think of Amazon. From its humble roots as an online bookstore, Amazon has become the everything store, offering a plethora of items from 45 cent binder clips to $40,000 watches.
There are other sites like Amazon, though. Although Amazon is by far and away the most popular online store, is it the best? What are the Amazon alternatives, and how do they compare? Let’s find out.
First, we’ll do an in-depth look at Jet.com, one of Amazon’s biggest rivals. Then we’ll look at the Rakuten, another contender, before looking at the online stores of traditional retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart.
Amazon’s New Rival: Jet.com
Jet.com was launched with one goal—to beat Amazon at its own game. Like Amazon, it sells a wide variety of items online. Jet’s standout feature is that prices fall as you buy more. Prices will drop if you:
- Opt-out of free returns
- Pay with a debit card
- Buy more than one item
They also have a program called Jet Anywhere which earns you store credit—they call it Jet Cash—as you shop at other stores around the web. We’ll get to that soon.
Walmart acquired Jet.com in 2016 for $3.3 billion as a means of taking on Amazon at it’s own game and winning back market share. And it’s worked. Walmart has been posting record revenue figures over the last few years:
Total revenue of Walmart worldwide from fiscal year 2012 to 2020 (in billion U.S. dollars)
|Fiscal year||Revenue in billion U.S. dollars|
|Amazon Annual Revenue (Millions of US $)|
Amazon Vs. Jet.com: A Price Comparison
Since Amazon started as a bookseller, I decided to compare the price of one of the classics: Dune, the best-selling science fiction book of all time. At the time of this writing, both Jet.com and Amazon sell the 40th Anniversary edition for $13.23. The difference is that Jet offers you ways to save even more.
As you can see, Jet has found a way to offer real savings over Amazon, depending on how many copies you buy. This might come in handy if you’re a teacher or leading a book club, perhaps, but depending on the item, you might not need more than one. Unless you have a large order, the savings from opting out of returns or paying by debit are pretty minor. The discount could be useful if you’re buying household goods or other bulk items, though.
Comparing the Perks
Buying in volume or waiving returns isn’t the only way Jet.com saves you money. The Jet Anywhere program earns you Jet Cash while you shop at other retailers across the web, and there are some interesting options. Currently, they have 20% cash back on Nike.com purchases, 14% cash back on Hotels.com purchases, and even 0.5% cash back on British Airways. I suppose if you’re already buying a $1,000 plane ticket, you might as well get $5 back.
If you’re canny, you can stack rewards. For example, Jet Anywhere offers 10% cash back off GILT CITY, which itself sells discounted high-fashion items and gift cards. You could buy a discounted item there, pocket those savings, then receive some JetCash.
All of this is great and is a true reason to shop at Jet, but there are other ways to get cash back online. Ebates offers similar deals and gives you the money back in cash, instead of shopping credit. Ironically, Ebates even offers cash back on some Amazon purchases. (Even more ironically, it is owned by Rakuten; another Amazon competitor reviewed below.)
Amazon doesn’t have a matching program, but it does have an array of credit cards which offer discounts. The Amazon store card offers 5% cash back for Prime members, while other credit cards such as the Discover It or Chase Freedom card have offered seasonal 5-10% Amazon cash back promotions. Once you factor in these credit card rewards, Jet’s discount system gets a bit less competitive. Going back to our earlier example, buying two copies of Dune on Jet saves you 5%, reducing the price to $12.57. With a 5% Amazon cash back credit card, you can get the same price by just buying one.
For Prime members, Amazon offers free 2-day shipping on 30 million items. If you’re not a member, you’ll have to spend $49 before you get free standard shipping. Jet offers free shipping on orders of $35 or above. Some household goods above that threshold get free 2-day shipping, while other items are stuck at standard shipping.
Jet Vs. Amazon: Which One is Better?
Both websites have their strengths and weaknesses. Jet, the underdog, has a great 15% off introductory offer for new users and Jet Anywhere looks like a great program if you do a lot of online shopping. However, Jet simply can’t match some of the benefits of Amazon Prime such as Prime Music and Prime Video–at least not for now. Amazon also has a superior search engine and truly useful product recommendations.
Personally, I’d stick with Amazon, but the beauty of being a consumer is that you don’t have to choose one over the other. You can check prices and buy from the site with the best deals. If you’re not happy with either Amazon or Jet, here are some other alternatives.
Another Amazon Alternative: Rakuten
Rakuten is another site like Amazon and an Amazon competitor. This site used to be called Buy.com before it was purchased by the Japanese online shopping giant in 2010 and rebranded to Rakuten. Like Amazon and Jet, it offers a huge selection of items, and like Amazon even has a co-branded credit card with rewards.
If Rakuten is another Amazon competitor, you might be wondering why I didn’t put it toe-to-toe with Jet and Amazon. The reason? It just isn’t at the same level.
Poor Search, Higher Prices
Take Dune, the book we compared earlier. On Amazon, if you simply type in “Dune,” the book is the first result. On Jet, if you search for Dune, an expensive perfume comes up first, but once you select “books” as your search category, it is the first result.
On Rakuten, even if you search for Dune in the book category, the top results are an obscure $86 book about Buddhism, a Barron’s test prep guide, and a book about Auschwitz–none of which have even a remotely similar title. Once you scroll down, the book is there, but it’s $17.36. Not only was it harder to find what I wanted to purchase, it was also significantly more expensive! Given that Dune has sold over 20 million copies, there’s also no way these other books are bigger sellers, which suggests a fundamental problem with the Rakuten search engine.
In fairness to Rakuten, Jet sometimes gets it wrong, too. A search for the fantastic Bose QC35 headphones is embarrassing on both Jet and Rakuten. While Amazon offers them for the standard $349 price, Rakuten offers the outdated QC 15 model for $426, while Jet offers a totally unrelated Bose headphone for a similarly inflated price. It’s one thing not to stock an item–it’s quite another to offer old products at ludicrous prices.
But Rakuten isn’t always worse in search or pricing. A search for Playstation 4 yields a similar $249 price across Amazon, Rakuten, and Jet, although Jet pushes down the price to $246 if you pay by debit and waive free returns. And Rakuten sometimes offers products that Amazon doesn’t. Indeed I once used Rakuten to get a good deal on these obscure socks for road cycling. I was going to link to these as an example of how Rakuten sometimes beats Amazon, but they don’t offer them anymore. So, I don’t know what to say. Sometimes Rakuten is better, but most of the time it’s objectively not.
Rakuten Super Points
Rakuten has their own rewards program called Super Points. It’s actually a pretty good program. Essentially, every purchase you make on Rakuten earns you 1% cash back in the form of Super Points which are basically just Rakuten store credit. Given that you could stack this with, say, a Chase Freedom Unlimited card which earns 1.5% cash back on every purchase, it’s actually a good way to stack savings. Some items earn more points, and purchases made with the Rakuten Mastercard earn 3% cash back in the form of Super Points. The only problem is you’re shopping at Rakuten which is clunkier and generally more expensive than Amazon.
The Coolest Thing About Rakuten
Rakuten isn’t a great Amazon competitor, but what’s actually totally cool is Rakuten Global Market which allows you to buy candy, skincare, and other items directly from their Japanese website. The prices are more than what you’d spend in Japan, but if you want to get something special from Japan, this is a decent way to do it. Helpfully they also have recommendations for snacks and other popular items.
A Missed Opportunity
Rakuten does all the big things right. It has a large selection, a good rewards program, a useful co-branded credit card, and a truly global reach. But it gets the details all wrong. Even searching for popular products brings up useless results. The selection is lacking compared to Amazon, and what’s the point of a great rewards program if the prices are often not competitive? Rakuten as a concept would be my favorite online store. A great rewards program plus cool stuff from Japan? Sign me up. Sadly, the poor execution gives me little to no reason to switch from Amazon.
Big Box Stores Strike Back
Traditional big box stores are facing stiff competition from Amazon (and Jet), but they’ve begun to fight back, offering their own loyalty programs and free shipping deals. And they have a unique advantage; thousands of stores with free same-day pickup. Although Target, Walmart, and Best Buy all say they match Amazon prices, some customers have reported trouble getting the match in practice, making them a questionable Amazon alternative.
As one of the largest retail chains in the States, Target needs no introduction. Anecdotally, I’ve found their prices on books to be surprisingly competitive. Once, I saved over 30% compared to Amazon. Crucially, holders of the Target RedCard get 5% cash back on all purchases, plus free shipping. Target is also offering free shipping on all orders for the holidays. Usually, you need to spend $25 for this. Helpfully, they also allow you to return Target.com purchases to any Target store.
For years, Walmart dominated shopping in America, but their online store never came close to being a true Amazon alternative. How did they fix the problem? By buying Jet. Yep, that’s right. Jet is owned by Walmart, but the businesses are run separately, so, WalMart.com is still a thing. Mostly, it’s good for in-store pickup purchases, and for the fact you can return online orders in store. You’ll need to spend $50 for free shipping.
3. Best Buy
The well-known technology retailer has a vigorous online presence. Like Target and Walmart, they’ve turned their legacy stores into a strategic advantage, allowing same day pickup for certain items. Like Target, Best Buy is offering free shipping for the holidays, instead of the usual $35 minimum.
There have never been more online shopping options than there are today. Amazon, Jet, Rakuten, and even traditional retailers like Target have their individual strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I almost always shop with Amazon, but it pays to look around for the best deal. Jet’s new Jet Anywhere program is compelling and offers an incentive to stick with the site. With their new ownership under Walmart, expect Jet to continue to unveil new promotions to fight Amazon.
Consumers are the big winners here. With tons of great alternatives, online shopping has never been so easy—or so rewarding. But no matter where you usually shop online, be sure to check the prices of competing websites. You just might be surprised who is offering the lowest prices.
Project CRediT sources data from Wealthy Genius including net worth, earnings, and various wealth statistics.