Loyalty cards, points, and miles all exist for a single purpose: to get you as a customer to return over and over again. From coffee shops to bookstores, grocery stores to pharmacies, it seems like everyone is trying to get in on the loyalty program trend. Wallets and key chains bulge with little loyalty cards, usually obtained simply by making a purchase and providing a little bit of personal information.
Traditional loyalty programs work by giving customers rewards based on the purchases they make. Amazon, however, has been able to successfully market a program called Amazon Prime, where customers actually pay a fee to enjoy the benefits.
It’s not a cheap venture, and it is definitely important to weigh the benefits against your own needs before paying the price. Here’s what I’ve learned in my year of using the Amazon Prime service.
What Is Amazon Prime?
Amazon Prime is a subscription service offered by online giant, Amazon.com. Its primary benefit is the reduction or elimination of shipping costs on all purchases that are fulfilled directly by them.
While it’s true that Amazon already ships orders over $35 for free, they do so using a low priority shipping service that takes 7-10 days to deliver. Customers who subscribe to the Prime service get two-day shipping for free, and overnight shipping for a mere $3.99 per order.
As an added bonus, Amazon recently announced that they will also include free media streaming of movies and television shows to all paid Amazon subscribers.
So now that you know a little bit more about what you’ll be paying for, you’re probably wondering how much Amazon charges for this service.
How Much Does It Cost?
An Amazon Prime subscription costs $99 and is good for one year. If this sounds a little too steep, there are a few other options for obtaining the Prime service, minus the media streaming, for free:
- Provide a University E-mail Address. The first method is to take advantage of the Amazon Student offer. To qualify, you need to have a .edu email address. Since most schools offer this to both current students and alumni, few college graduates should have difficulty qualifying. There are also companies that will provide you with a free .edu address should you choose to go that route.
- Provide Family Information. Amazon has a program called Amazon Mom, which provides free two-day shipping Amazon Prime benefits to parents and caregivers (i.e. you don’t have to be “mom”). You’ll also receive 30% off diapers and wipes and personalized email discounts and offers in exchange for the information you provide.
- Share an Account. This second choice relies on the generosity of friends or family. Amazon allows Prime members to share their service with up to four other people. You may be able to find someone who’s willing to share the benefits of their account with you either for free, or at the very least, a fraction of the full price.
Any of these options is great if you’re looking to try the service at little to no cost. However, if you do have to pay full price, is it worth it? Consider these pros and cons before making the investment.
Amazon allows you shop from home in ways that I hadn’t previously anticipated. In the past, I only made online purchases when I couldn’t find a product at a reasonable price locally in-store. As time went by however, I learned to question my actions every time I was about to drive to a store. Online deals have become more and more competitive, especially with the arrival of programs like Amazon Prime. Below are just a few of the ways I’ve saved time and money by using the service:
1. No Additional Costs
Amazon’s prices are competitive, but when you factor in no tax in many states and no shipping charges, they almost always beat out my local brick and mortar retailers.
2. No Minimum Order Amount
What’s great about this service is that there is no minimum order to qualify. As I type this, my palms are resting on a $3, gel-filled pad that I had shipped to my house for free in 2 days.
3. Timing Is Everything
Another neat feature with Amazon is that they tell you what time of day your order must be placed to ensure it is shipped that day. If you place an order at the last minute, the results can be overnight delivery in far less than 24 hours, and two-day shipping in under 48. Few other online shopping portals can match this. In the end, I found myself spending less time and money driving to stores to pick up merchandise.
On the whole, my experience with Amazon Prime has been good. However, I have run into a few things that could be improved upon. Below are a few of the issues I’ve had while using the service:
1. No Coverage for Affiliate Stores
I found that many of the items Amazon sells are provided by affiliates and do not qualify for Prime shipping. Amazon allows you to search only for Prime eligible products, but these items sometimes cost more than the same ones sold by an affiliate. This occasionally reduces the actual value of the shipping discount.
2. No Media Streaming for Free Members
I was surprised that student members like myself were not entitled to use the media streaming service. I currently have the ability to stream Amazon content to my home media network, but I still have to pay for it. They really should make a greater effort to distinguish between the benefits of paid Prime members and those granted to us freeloaders.
3. Delayed Shipments
I had been under the mistaken impression that two-day shipping meant my products were being shipped by air. Seriously, how else could you send products across the country in a mere two days? In reality, many of my shipments were shipped via UPS Ground.
Amazon figures that shipments that originate from warehouses within my region will arrive in just two days, so they try not to pay extra for air service. They are usually correct, but many of my packages were delayed this winter due to weather conditions. In some cases, I tracked my packages spending days on the ground when I should have already received them.
In these circumstances, Amazon was quick to credit my account for up to $15, which was sometimes more than the price of my purchase. Eventually, I found that I could quickly receive compensation by requesting it via a live customer service chat. I used this service frequently and had enough delays that the credits I received might have even paid for the service. Regardless, if you absolutely need to have something overnight or in two days, you really can’t count on Amazon.
As a city dweller, I know that most of the goods I buy on Amazon are pretty readily available to me locally. Nevertheless, the convenience of finding the best deals in the comfort of my own home is incredibly appealing. Add free shipping and I will happily choose online shopping over driving all over town any day.
I can only imagine how incredible this service would be to someone living in a more rural area. The savings on gas alone would be worth it. That being said, both their overnight and two-day service was far from guaranteed, especially during winter snow storms. Beware of the possibility of delays if there’s any urgency to a purchase.
By throwing in media streaming to paid subscribers, Amazon has strengthened what was already a valuable service. Even if Amazon eventually ends its student program, I will probably spring for the paid membership. After a year with Amazon Prime, I can’t go back to paying for shipping or spending my free time driving to stores and wandering through the aisles every time I need to buy something.
Have you used Amazon Prime? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks you’ve experienced? Share your thoughts in the comments below!