A few months ago I decided to sign up for Amazon Prime, the $79/year membership which brings free 2 day shipping and free streaming access to Amazon's media archive and Kindle library. I had a large number of orders that I needed within a few days, so I figured I'd take the plunge with their one-month free trial offer. I could always cancel after my large order and in the meantime I'd get free two-day shipping, which was the immediate need. Here's my observations three months later...
Signing up was easy, but it turns out actually getting to use the free two-day shipping was a little harder than anticipated. While Amazon touts "FREE two-day shipping on millions of items" as a perk of membership, they sell quite a lot more millions of items that aren't eligible, largely through their Marketplace and certain partners.
The direct impact for me, of course, was having to pay for shipping costs when I was expecting free shipping. Adding two-day shipping for all of my products to arrive in time added even more cost on top of the already disappointing paid shipping. As hurtful to the wallet as the extra shipping costs were, the biggest difficulty/annoyance was the difficulty of price comparison. While you can sort by pricing, it doesn't take into account shipping costs on products ineligible for Prime free two-day or even Super Saver free ground shipping.
I had to thoroughly compare pricing with and without shipping from multiple Amazon vendors, as well as test for shipping price adjustments on grouped items from the same vendors. This was not fun, and for all the effort I probably saved quite a bit of money at the expense of quite a bit of time, which isn't a very effective use of anyone's time.
After my initial order, I've had chance to try other features of Amazon Prime as well, as compare and consider its value. Here are my further thoughts!
After your free one-month trial there's a $79 membership fee to become part of Amazon Prime. It's not a totally unreasonable fee if you order a lot from Amazon and want things to arrive quickly. Consider, though, if you were to just pay for two-day shipping yourself, you'd need to still order quite a bit to get to the $79 point of the program paying for itself. A full account does allow you to share your shipping benefits with up to 4 additional family members or coworkers.
Amazon also offers Student and Mom programs to go along with their standard Amazon Prime offering. As a student the price drops to a quite reasonable $39 and you're eligible for additional student discounts where available. Amazon Mom ups the free membership to 3 months and does not include Prime Instant Videos, but does come with 20% off diapers and wipes subscriptions!
One neat little secret is that Amazon often offers you credits to your account during checkout if you opt out of free two-day shipping for a slower, more cost-effective option. The amounts are small but if you don't need specific items in a hurry, it's a good way to slowly earn back your membership fee. Very slowly.
No New Taxes
It might not be for much longer (or at all in certain states) but we can enjoy the cost savings of no taxes for online orders for a little bit longer.
Free Two-Day Shipping
The best thing about free two-day shipping is that it no longer makes you worry about making single large orders of items grouped together to minimize shipping costs. Before you had to ensure you hit the $25 minimum for free Super Saver shipping, not to mention it took a week before anything arrived. If free shipping wasn't available you'd want to buy multiple things from a single vendor to get the best shipping prices.
Now with Amazon Prime you can generally just order any single item, no matter how big or small, anytime you want without consideration for other factors such as shipping. You want it? Just order it, and two days later it's there. It's convenience and impulse buying in your pocket with a smartphone. You think or hear of something and bam, you've ordered it already. Plus two-days is almost fast enough to always consider online ordering versus going to the store for instant gratification
One of the benefits of Amazon Prime is access to the Instant Video library. Instant Video is like Apple TV, where you pay for access to streaming television and movie content online. Amazon Prime Instant Video provides partial access to a selection of Instant Video Content. I had tried Instant Video in the past and it was a fairly decent experience if you consider watching a movie at your desk at the office (shh, don't tell anyone) a good time (well, compared to working it sure is). I had received a free credit from Amazon and it was a smooth and enjoyable experience watching a fairly recently released movie in high quality.
I was particularly excited about Prime Instant Video after picking up a Roku 2 XS this past Black Friday shopping weekend (when did a single day spill out over a week/weekend?), and was immediately disappointed at the available selection. Sure, there were some big name movies like The Avengers and Iron Man 2, but their top movies section looked like an 80's or 90's Blockbuster aisle. The selection of free content quite frankly sucks. I could still pay for and stream newer/better content, but the point being it was supposed to be included with my paid Amazon Prime membership. What a let down.
Free Kindle Library
Amazon Prime has additional features to help justify its price tag. Members can borrow a Kindle Book every month with no due dates. Avid readers might be itching for more with only a single book per month, but for casual readers that's actually a fun perk.
At $79, you would have to order quite a lot and always select two-day shipping to make up for the cost of entry into Amazon Prime. At the student rate it's quite reasonable to join the program. If the Prime Instant Video selection were larger I'd say Amazon Prime would be a slam dunk, providing free two-day shipping with a Netflix-like streaming video experience, but alas, the library isn't great. Not everything is eligible for free shipping, much less 2-day as well.
It's a fun idea though, and if I can manage to switch my full $79 account to my wife's $39 student option then I'll stick with it for sure. We'll see how I feel after a year, but so far it's really just pre-paying for two-day shipping. Maybe if I force myself to watch some more old movies and start borrowing Kindle books I'll feel a little better about what really boils down to the $79 price of entry probably being a *tad too high.
(Images: Flickr members drewgstephens licensed for use under Creative Commons)