Weekend tech blog: Amazon tests the online-bargain-hunting market

The tech giant offers deals through LivingSocial, joining Groupon and others in a crowded field. Also: Does that tablet in your future really need its own cellular data plan?

The tech giant offers deals through LivingSocial, joining Groupon and others in a crowded field. Also: Does that tablet in your future really need its own cellular data plan?

Suddenly, everybody’s got a deal for you.

Fifty percent off this, 75 percent off that … There’s nothing new about bargain hunting, but the rise of the bargain-hunting sites, the near-universality of email, and the ability of virtually any business to localize the availability of bargains in your neighborhood — supermarkets, clothing stores, doctors, house painters — is making it possible for you to purchase a wide variety of consumer products and services for a song.

Check that — even songs are available.

This soliloquy was prompted by a small tech news item that Amazon.com may be testing the waters in Boise for its own labeled bargain-hunters site. According to BusinessInsider.com, a Boise ice cream store is offering 50 percent off on ice cream and shakes. For $6 you can get $13 worth of sweet cold stuff: such a deal.

The bigger picture, however, appears to be that Amazon is using the resources of LivingSocial, a bargain-hunting website in which Amazon is an investor, to offer this bargain. In other words, Amazon might be testing the concept of republishing local daily deals from multiple bargain hunters through its uber-ubiquitous email lists. Call it one-stop shopping for local deals.

The market is already crowded with major companies and their localized offspring. There are the major bargain firms like Groupon and LivingSocial. Then there’s BuyWithMe, DealFind, SocialBuy, DealRadar, Seattle Deal Sites and PriceBunch. And of course there's always Craig's List. (All sites listed have Seattle-specific web addresses wherever possible.)

What impact Amazon might make in this crowded field has yet to be determined, but it shows how deeply bargain-hunting sites have become entrenched in our culture and are in themselves big business. If you need more proof, look no further than the long-anticipated IPO for Groupon, generally considered the biggest bargain site, which was filed this week for $750 million. (CNN published a Mashable report last March, which noted that Groupon was reportedly looking at a $25 million IPO, and earlier rejected a $6 billion acquisition from Google. LivingSocial, in return, was reported to attempt funding in the neighborhood of a half-billion dollars.)

It does raise the question of whether buyers will get so used to shopping this way that the model of what we consider to be "retail" will become obsolete. But the train has left the station.

For fellow tech heads, here’s my personal list of daily tech bargain faves: The Cheapskate, SearchAllDeals, DealNews, GiveAwayOfTheDay, Just Deals, Daily Steals, TechBargains and Woot.

On the domestic level, I’ve found the local bargains offered via Angie’s List to be high quality. The deals been excellent — I recently picked up an interior house paint job from a Snohomish County local contractor and saved overall about 30 percent over other bids — and I had the Angie’s List customer reviews and customer ratings to support my choice. If you need any domestic services, in my opinion, Angie’s List is well worth subscribing to (subscriptions start at $4.25 a month).

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Do tablet computers have to “talk” to your cellular network? Is it really worth the higher price, plus a monthly fee, to have that tablet as jam-packed with communications capabilities as your smartphone?

The thought came to mind this week with the announcement that Samsung is releasing its new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet (see review) with and without cell data service. According to press releases from the company, the tablet will offer a 10.1-inch screen, a 1280x800 resolution HD screen, front and back cameras (one for shooting pictures, the other for video conferencing), and a dual-core 1 Ghz processor. It will come in 16- and 32-gigabyte sizes.

For the iPad-obsessed among you, the Tab is virtually identical to the iPad 2 in size and weight: about 1.3 pounds and .34 inches deep.

You can buy the 4G LTE cell data-enabled version — Verizon is the carrier — for $529.99 for the 16-gigabyte model and $629.99 for the 32-gig model. With WiFi-only, costs are $499.99 and $599.99, respectively. Units will be available on or about June 17 in the Seattle area from Best Buy and Fry’s and through online stores including Amazon.com, Newegg and Tiger Direct.

The big difference here, of course, is the data plan. If you buy the cell data version, you’re locked into a two-year contract and a monthly pricing plan that delivers a pretty weak data package: 1 gigabyte for $20, 3 gig for $35, or 5 gig for $50. If you were planning a campout to Rainier National Park, and thinking about watching Netflix for hours in the moonlight, think again. It would cost you a small fortune in data overruns.

If you don’t care about the added expense — $240 to $600 a year for your plan, plus a one-time $40 equipment cost and a two-year commitment that doubles those prices — then by all means go for the data plan. But I think of a tablet as a more intimate “inside” gadget, where WiFi handles my Internet needs. What if I need that kind of everywhere-I-am-I’m-connected capability? That’s why I have a smartphone. 

If I’m out and want to hook up my tablet to the Internet, I can fire up the WiFi hot spot service on my Motorola Droid X phone which allows me to connect my tablet to the Internet. The service turns my phone into a portable WiFi modem. The plan can be a monthly $20 add-on charge, or I can use it on an as-needed basis by calling the phone company when I start and stop the service. AT&T and Verizon offer this service on some phones.

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This final item deserves a minimum of two cliché statements: 1) Do not try this at home; and, 2) Dear God, what is this world coming to? Other clichés certainly apply: Feel free to use your own.  

Here’s the story: “Boy Sells Kidney to Buy iPad

Yeah, I know …


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