By Eric Dehm
As of Veterans Day, a new benefit is available to every honorably discharged vet. A benefit that may give a sense of déjà vu to those of us who spent countless hours perusing the items for sale at the exchange.
From here on out, qualifying vets who verify their status at VetVerify are now eligible to shop online at the AAFES, NEX, MCX and Coast Guard Exchange websites. Verifying is easy, and only takes a few minutes. Then you’ll need to create an account on each exchange website, also easy, and after a total of 10 minutes or so the world of online exchange shopping is yours for the taking!
At first glance, this is a good deal. Tax free shopping that comes with free shipping and provides you with the option of visiting four different websites with (slightly) different inventories that are only available to the select few who put it all on the line for our nation? How could you go wrong with that?
Still, in an age where Amazon seems to be in the process of taking over every industry, and has a dominant market share in online retail, you can’t just assume the exchange websites will e better. So we decided to do some window(s) shopping and see how the exchanges compare to the king of online stores.
We looked at 3 items and compared their prices on Amazon and the two biggest exchanges (AAFES & NEX). Here’s what we found:
Bose Quietcomfort 35 Wireless Headphones
AAFES: $299 regular. $249 on sale this week.
NEX: $299 regular. $249 on sale this week.
Amazon: $329 and up.
So here is an example where the Exchanges comes out on top. Currently on sale, these great noise-cancelling headphones are on sale this week but even at their regular price, the exchanges have the better price. You can find used versions for less on Amazon but for a brand new set, even before taxes are taken into account, the exchanges have the better deal.
Jordan Trainer 2 Flyknit
Amazon: $122 & up
This one is interesting, the NEX has an “exclusive” version of the shoe (in Navy blue, naturally) available for $99-$109, and a black/white version available for $125. AAFES has the same black/white shoe for $112 and Amazon has a much wider variety of designs than either store starting at $122. So if you don’t care what color they are, the NEX exclusive is a steal. If you want something other than those Navy blues, or the black/white option you need to go to Amazon who has a huge advantage on variety in this and every other case where it’s a factor.
Alienware 17″ Gaming Laptop
NEX: Not Available
Here, Amazon is the clear choice. This is Alienware’s top of the line gaming rig and it comes out cheaper on Amazon no matter how you slice it… unless you’re paying an absurd 20% tax rate. The NEX doesn’t have this model available, so that removes them from the conversation.
In the end, if you ask me whether this new online exchange benefit is worthwhile I’d give you a resounding “Kinda! Depends what you’re looking for.”
There are a couple of areas where Amazon is going to have the exchanges beat:
1. Variety: They’ll have 50 different color schemes for a pair of shoes that the exchanges are only going to have one or two options for.
2. What’s available: If you’re looking for something, and it’s legal, you’ll be able to find it on Amazon. The exchanges, while they have a number of products available, simply can’t match Amazon’s amount or diversity of inventory.
But as you see above (and will see for yourself if you register to use the online exchange privilege) on a case by case basis the exchanges might have a better deal. Of course, you’ll need to shop around and price check to find the best deal online, but you should be doing that already.
Don’t assume any one site has the best, or the same, price as the others as there are clearly some differences even between the price and inventory at the exchanges. Oh, and don’t forget to figure in any applicable taxes on any non-exchange website.
In the end, veterans now have some new options when doing our online shopping and having more options is a good thing, especially when we get them just in time for the holiday season.
*UPDATE* After several readers reached out with questions regarding price-matching, We reached out to AAFES and spoke to their President about that, and more issues. You can find that article and interview HERE