InvisibleHand Review: Effortless Savings

By Kate Lister on 22 September 2010 3 comments
Photo: InvisibleHand

Economist and philosopher Adam Smith believed that free markets, when people pursue their self-interest, are guided by an "invisible hand" to produce the right amount and variety of goods.

In other words, when you shop for and buy at the lowest price you help keep prices low. In that way, you help others who want the same thing and contribute to the good of society.

And that's exactly what you can do using an aptly-named browser plug-in called InvisibleHand. Currently in beta-test, what it does is simple: It helps you find the lowest price when you shop online.

How? Invisible until you begin shopping on one of the 55 major U.S. shopping websites, the plug-in notifies you if the product you're looking at is available more cheaply from another retailer. Click a button and you're taken directly to the relevant product page on the competing retailer's website.

I just Googled for some AA batteries, for example, and the first result in the Google Product listing was Wal-Mart's 4-pack of Energizer Max batteries for $4.88. But InvisibleHand added a discreet menubar band at the top of my browser that showed I could save $3.14, a 64% savings, by buying the very same product on (22 other retailers that offered lesser discounts were also available from a pull-down menu.)

I clicked on the link and was taken to the Amazon product page where I used their convenient OneClick order button and my free* Amazon Prime two-day shipping. Click, click, click. I saved the price of a latté, and I'll have the batteries the day after tomorrow.

If you're already looking at the lowest price product or if InvisibleHand doesn't yet cover the product or retailer, you may not see any suggestions.

If you worry that InvisibleHand is just a way to collect information on your shopping habits, don't. They promise they don't pass any information to retailers except the link to the product so you can find what you're looking for, and so the retailer can pay them a small commission.

Most of the major online retailers, including Amazon, Wal-mart, BestBuy, Sears, and Borders, are currently included and more are being added. The products they cover include books, beauty products, electronics and computers (but not mobile phones), pharmaceuticals, toys, and others.

Shop, save money and make the world a better place with this slick Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, or Internet Explore add-on. Adam Smith would approve.

*Amazon Prime isn't exactly free; there is an annual $79 fee. But if you shop on Amazon often you'll recover the fee long before it's time to send those why-do-I-always-wait-to-the-last-minute Christmas gifts. Seems kinda silly to pay more for last-minute shipping than what the product costs, especially when you can ship for free (or only $3.99 overnight) and enjoy the same fast service all year.

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Guest's picture

Does this plugin take shipping costs and tax into account when telling you there's a cheaper product elsewhere, like Google Shopping does? I'd rather not be alerted to a website that's selling the product $0.20 cheaper but is charging $4 more for shipping.

Guest's picture

Amazon now has Prime for free if you're a student or a mom. I'm enrolled in two classes at a community college, and I qualified. Free two day shipping for a year! All you need is and edu email address.

Carrie Kirby's picture

If you sign up for Amazon Mom you'll get 3 months of free Prime; you can extend it by a month every time you spend $25 in a single order in the baby store.