Free Shipping Downgrades Make Amazon Prime Less Enticing

Is it just me or has Amazon free shipping gotten significantly worse over the past year?  If it indeed has, you have to suspect that this could very well be on purpose.  They are really making a push to get as many people signed up for Prime, so is it a conspiracy theory or just common sense that they would try to drive people to Prime by weakening the free shipping option?

I’m here to tell you that, for me, making free shipping worse will have the opposite effect for me.

Let me start off with some of the changes I have seen:

  • Increased minimum threshold – Last year, Amazon quietly raised the threshold on orders which qualify for free shipping from $25 to $35.  At the time, this didn’t bother me so much.  After all, the $25 threshold was around for many years, and since the price of goods has gone up, it kind of makes sense that they would have to raise the threshold to keep it in line.
  • Pseudo-exclusion of items to reach the threshold – Have you ever seen an Amazon item listed as an ‘Add-On Item’ and wondered what that was all about?  I’m here to tell you.  Amazon will not count that item toward the $35 threshold when calculating whether you qualify for free shipping.  Before, if you were $4 short, you could find an item for $4 or $5 and throw it in to get you over the threshold.  Now, if it’s an add-on item, it won’t qualify.  Basically, all of the items NOT marked Add-on items have to total $35, after which even the add-on items will be shipped for free.
  • Strange carriers – For awhile, we received items from FedEx, UPS, or the USPS.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen, we started getting Amazon orders from very weird sources.  People in unmarked vans would come down the street, stop in front of our house, and come deliver our package.   Amazon evidently started using third party logistics companies to handle deliveries.  I’m not going to lie, it was kind of creepy.
  • Sort of closing the ‘Subscribe and Save’ loophole – For items that people by on a pretty regular basis, you can order them with Subscribe and Save.  This will get you free shipping, even below the $35 threshold, and you get put on a recurring cycle where Amazon will ship the item to you every so-many months.  They give you 5% on top of it.  A common strategy was to order the item, have it shipped, and immediately cancel.  Now, I’ve noticed that when you place an order, they won’t ship you the first one right away, as they used to do.  The two things I’ve ordered have taken three weeks to ship. And they tell you this up front.  I would think that this is meant to discourage people from the ‘sign up and cancel’ tactic by making them wait, and probably has some element of ‘maybe the customer will forget to cancel’.
  • Slower shipping times – As of the time I’m writing this, I have an order that I placed eight days ago which qualified for free shipping.  Amazon has not, so far as I can tell, done anything for this order.  It’s still there in ‘Not Yet Shipped’ status.  To be fair, they still haven’t charged my card, but I’ve noticed that it seems to take longer and longer for Amazon to send your orders.

Now, before we go any further, let me just say that for most of the items above, I am not angry or upset at the changes.  From a purely business model, I get it.  They are in business to make a profit, and I’m not calling for them to be reversed.  I’m not even calling them unreasonable.  For the most part, they are reasonable.  However, from my perspective, as a consumer who used to have a lower threshold, faster shipping, and carriers whose first impressions don’t scream ‘ex-con’, then reasonable or not, they are noticeable changes to me as a consumer.  I’m entitled to note the effect of the changes on me just as much as Amazon is entitled to make the changes.

But this can all be solved with Prime, from what Amazon promises.  You don’t have the minimum order threshold. You get your stuff in two days, which maybe takes creepy van guy out of the picture.

Oh, and Amazon will tell you each and every time that you also get access to their streaming videos and such.

Sounds like a fantastic deal, so I guess it begs the logical question, why would these incentives make me less likely to gravitate toward Prime?

Here goes:

  1. The changes above reflect on Amazon as a whole – Amazon can make changes in the ‘free shipping’ world and hope that it makes their ‘Prime’ world more attractive, but I see beyond that and look at the changes as an Amazon perspective.  Amazon ‘free shipping’ is still Amazon, and by tweaking and making it less attractive, it weakens the entire brand.  At least in my mind.  That makes me overall less inclined to buy from Amazon, including purchasing Prime.
  2. I’m stubborn – Having things ‘taken away’ doesn’t sit well with me.  If a company starts giving you less product for the same price, I’ll call attention to it and I’ll also see if I can adjust my usage habits so that my per-use charge doesn’t go up.  In other words, I don’t just ‘roll over’ and take it.  I’ll put up a fight as much as it makes sens.
  3. I want to keep temptation at arms length – I know many people who proclaim that Amazon Prime is amazing, but when you get deeper into their shopping habits, you start to learn that they spend more because it’s so convenient.  That’s exactly what Amazon wants.  It’s $79 and there are costs involved for them to provide you the streaming content, the increased shipping, and such, but you know that they’re making that up and then some by increased sales.
  4. What’s to say they won’t devalue Prime? – If Amazon is willing to take away satisfaction from a group of customers, what’s to say that they won’t test the waters with Prime members?  Cable companies do it all the time, but the difference is that they have a more captive audience and can get away with it.  Still, don’t think that a company like Amazon might not test the waters to see just what limits their customers will accept.

I’m not saying that I will refuse to ever join Amazon Prime.  One day, you may read on this very blog that I’ve joined.  However, if that happens, it will not be because of the changes that they make to their free shipping policies.  It would be in spite of them.

Agree? Disagree? Experiences with Amazon Prime? Please share in the comments or social media options below.

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13 thoughts on “Free Shipping Downgrades Make Amazon Prime Less Enticing

  1. I wonder if the change in delivery has something to do with the Amazon delivery lockers. One popped up in front of a local 7-11 in my area. I’ve heard that they’re trying to predict what people in my area commonly order and stock the lockers with those items. On top of them saving money overall in deliveries, if they can get frequent users to sign up with Prime, then it becomes a win-win situation for them.

  2. I have some friends that had Prime…..and then cancelled it because they found they just don’t order enough stuff from Amazon to make it worth it. I fall under that same category…I order stuff online very infrequently. Mostly during the Christmas season when you can get free shipping almost effortlessly anyway.

  3. I have Amazon Prime – had it for a few years now. We’ve always gotten our money’s worth. We (or should I say my hubby, who is the consummate deal finder) compare prices, deals, cash back, shipping costs, etc. between all possible sources. If we’re not in a time crunch and another site after all cash back/coupons plus shipping is cheaper than Amazon, then we’ll order from them. If all else is equal or Amazon is cheaper, we’ll utilize the prime just to get the item in a nice, timely manner.

    We also use it because being an Amazon Prime member and Amazon Mom member, we can get 20% off many subscribe and save items. I’m have a Kindle Fire and utilize many of the Amazon Prime benefits that go along with that – streaming movies/tv shows (free), discount on the Kindle FreeTime unlimited subscription, borrowing a free book each month from the Lending Library, etc. So, we definitely get our annual fee’s worth. Not to say if we found the the costs (including a potential reduction of services/quality) outweigh the the benefits, we’d have no issue not-renewing our Prime service.

    • I’ve always wondered how easy or difficult it is to price compare an item if you’re on Amazon and you want to see if a nearby store would have it cheaper. I know there are apps that supposedly do that but it seems like most show the regular price, not displaying the price if the item seems to be on sale. So while $5 on Amazon might come up as a better deal than $6 at the store, if it happens to be $4 that week, you could be missing out.

  4. I’ve had Amazon Prime for 7 years now and will probably have it another 7 even if they raise the price 20 or 40 bucks. I want my stuff here when I want it here. What takes the sting out of Prime is sharing it with 4 other households – strangers to me, but we share Prime. So that makes it close to $17 a year and totally worth it. Find 4 friends and ask if they want to share Prime – all you need is their amazon email address and a birthdate to add them to your Prime account. They can pay you their share with paypal. Me and my buddies love it. If one drops out, there are a bunch of other people who would love to share.

    • That’s interesting, though I think the streaming video portion only can be used by one account holder, and they’ll track the origin of your streaming and cut you off if they detect you’re streaming across various different households.

  5. I have noticed the Add-On issue you raised, and am definitely affected by the raise to $35 to get free shipping. At $79 Prime doesn’t make financial sense for me, and based on a news report I heard recently, Amazon is considering whether to raise the price from $79 to either $99/year or $119/year – which is ridiculous for me to even contemplate.

    • Yeah, I have heard that too. I heard that they might have tiered pricing, where there would still be a $79 tier, but that the upper tiers would have even faster shipping and maybe additional streaming content and access to more Kindle books. I’ll be interested to see how it plays out.

  6. I spend hundreds with Amazon a year, have been a Prime Member for nearly a decade, and have been noticing some of this stuff too. The Add-On item threshold is annoying even for Prime Members. The strange delivery services are weird to see too. I haven’t stopped shopping with Amazon, but I am sure I have a line that I’ll reach if they keep slipping…

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