Thoughts On Amazon Prime

We joined Amazon Prime last fall when they offered a $32 discount on their normal $99 price as a one-day promotion for new customers.  Since we’d never paid for Amazon Prime, but had debated on it, we decided to take advantage of the pricing.

Now that we’ve had it for just over three months, I figured it would be a good opportunity to check and see how things are shaping up.

2-Day Shipping / Convenience

Having access to two-day shipping definitely opens worlds of opportunities.  I took a look at my account as well as mb-2016-01-boxesmy wife’s account, and between October 1, 2015 and January 11, 2016 (when I started writing this article) we placed 23 orders from Amazon.  In the same period one year earlier, we placed 6 orders.  That’s nearly a 400% increase in the number of orders.  We definitely increased our cardboard recycling output!

Not all of these are directly attributed to having the two-day shipping, but I can tell you that quite a few of them definitely are.

In fact, it’s easy to get complacent as I recently learned.  The very first car seat that we ever purchased recently celebrated its six year birthday.  Six years was noted as the useful life of the seat, as the manufacturer noted that key components could start losing integrity.  Essentially, it was time to trash the seat.

We still like having seats for both kids in both cars, but now that our son is old enough for a booster seat, we needed one of those rather than a full fledged seat.  I whipped out my phone and looked up booster seats.  I settled on one that we liked that was around $24.  My wife pointed out that I should look it up on Target.com.  I did and it was $20.  Plus, with our Target card, we save an extra 5%, which brought it to $19.  Plus, it was available for pick-up at our local store!

It just goes to show that Amazon makes it very convenient, to the point where you need to remind yourself to shop around.  Since then, I’ve made it a point to better pay attention before simply clicking the Purchase option at Amazon.

Movies and TV

With Prime membership, we get access to their video library.  We can rent or purchase movies, often at a discount, and they also have a rotating library of streaming content that is available at no charge.

My wife has been using the streaming option for awhile, having found a few things that she likes.  I just recently set it up on our Roku so that I could watch it on TV.  The only thing that I’ve gotten through actually watching is the 8th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Outside of that, I’ve only browsed.  The content seems rather limited compared to Netflix, but the price is right, I suppose.

Bottom line, I wouldn’t sign up for Prime solely for their free watchable content, but as a side perk, it’s nice to have.

Music

Last year, I had a free three month subscription to Google’s streaming music service, and I fell in love with it.  However, the $10 per month charge was pretty steep, so I sadly let it expire.  They had a great selection of music that I could pull up and listen to, and the app was really easy to use on my mobile phone.

When I found that Amazon Prime included access to streaming music, I was pretty excited.  I downloaded and installed the app, and started using it pretty regularly.  My thought is along the same lines as the Movies and TV element, in that it’s nice to have as a free add-on, but it wouldn’t be worth paying for on its own.  In fact, it doesn’t really even compare to Google Music in terms of my experience so far.  Let me explain:

  • App Navigation – I really don’t care for the navigation of the app.  They create some separation between music you’ve purchased and streaming video, so you have to switch over to ‘Prime Music’ every time you want to search.
  • Basic Info – When I search for an artist, and I get the list of albums that Amazon offers, one of the things I would love to see is when the album was released.  Amazon doesn’t show that or sort it that way.  Even when you click the album from the list to get more details, that basic release date is missing.  It’s a small thing, but I always sort music based on when it released, so this is extremely annoying to me.
  • It’s Not Shared – I told my wife about having access to the streaming music feature.  She downloaded the app and attempted to configure it, only to be told that she doesn’t have access.  Turns out that although many elements of Prime are shared across the household, streaming music is not.  You can only register the service to one account, any more than that and you have to pay.  I guess I understand the economics that drive this, but it would have been nice to know this up front.

Books

To be honest, I haven’t set up the Kindle app or even tried to see if I can use any type of e-reading benefits from being a Prime member.  I don’t have an actual Kindle, so I suspect that some of the benefits are limited or non-existent.

Storage

You get a few GB of cloud storage plus unlimited storage of photos, but we haven’t yet set this up.

Would We Pay Full Price?

At this point, we definitely enjoy the convenience.  As we get more used to using some of the features on the streaming music and video side, I think we’ll capture even more benefit.  It’s hard to say what we’ll do in the fall when our membership comes due, but I would lean toward us renewing the Prime membership if we had to decide today.

Readers, are you Prime members? What are your experiences with any of the items I’ve noted above or anything that I might not have mentioned?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Costco Is Shoving Organic Foods Down Our Throats

I’ve always been a pretty big fan of Costco, and I enjoy the value that we get with our membership, but I am really starting to get annoyed by their push to organic product offerings.

First, let me start off by saying that I have no problem with organic, but where I have the problem is that I like to have a choice on whether or not I purchase a product, and Costco is often taking ‘choice’ out of the matter.

Adding Organic, Taking Away Non-Organic

See, what Costco has done over and over again is introduce an organic variety of product, but when doing so, they take away the non-organic option.  Here are just a few examples that we’ve noticed recently:

  • Sun Maid Raisins – We buy raisins in bulk as they’re in high demand at our house.  The kids love them in snacks, and I use them to make homemade, healthy ‘raisin bran’.  They’ve switched from a non-organic type to organic on several occasions.  At no point can you buy both.
  • Canned mushrooms – We put canned mushrooms in a variety of meals, such as homemade pasta or spinach lasagna.  Around a year ago, they removed the variety we’ve been purchasing for years, and replaced it with a 12-pack of organic variety.
  • Extra virgin olive oil – They sold a big bottle of this and we always purchased it.  Last time we went, the equivilent size is now organic.  With this product, you can still buy a non-organic variety, but you have to buy two giant bottles instead, which is impractical for most households.
  • Kirkland spaghetti sauce – We love buying their jarred sauce, except they recently changed over to organic sauce and the non-organic variety, you guessed it, is nowhere to be found.
  • Pita chips – Looking for a nice little snack.  Great!  Look in the snack aisle and now they’re organic….whether you want them or not!
  • Croutons – Seriously, their croutons are now ‘organic’ variety.

I’m sure that there are more, but these are only the ones that I can remember off the top of my head.

So why do I have a problem with this strategy.  There are two things in play.

I Want Choice In Whether Or Not To Purchase Organic

First, I want to have a choice in whether we buy organic or not.  I think there are some products that warrant consideration.  Things like croutons and olive oil just don’t fall in my spectrum on things that I feel will provide any health benefits.  In fact, most of the items on the list just don’t make sense to me.

Quite honestly, we look for organic options in more fresh items.  Packaged items just don’t interest us for the most part, yet that seems to hit every item on the list, and it’s disappointing that there is not a choice when Costco decides to expand their offering.

It Seems Like A  Money Grab

The second reason I have a problem is that it seems like it is a sneakly way for Costco to increase their profits. mb-2015-12-wallet Costco generally has a very small mark-up on their products, I believe around 10%.  So, a case of mushrooms sold at $8 might give them an $0.80 profit between what they purchased it for and what they sell it for, but a $12 case of organic mushrooms increases that profit to $1.20.

Hmmm, seems to make sense on why they don’t give you a choice between the two.  Which is great if you’re Costco or a shareholder, but bad for someone who isn’t interested in paying 50% more for the ‘same’ product.

And, there’s the rub.  In the case of each and every item listed above, the price has increased significantly with the switch to organic variety.

The Case For Quitting Costco

Now, many might say, just shop elsewhere for those products.  Which we do.  We now buy canned mushrooms at Aldi.  We look for croutons and pasta sauce on sale elsewhere.  Pita chips are often on sale at the grocery store.

What this could ultimately mean is that Costco may not offer value.  See, in order for Costco to add value, you have to save at least $55 to cover your annual membership fees.  This is easy for us to do, but if they continue to strip away products that we then look elsewhere to buy, then we may find that the benefit is no longer in play.

Are we anywhere near the point where we’d consider quitting Costco?  No.  Our savings are still too robust.  However, if that list above continues to grow, I would imagine that we might consider it.  If they continue to turn into the Whole Foods of warehouse clubs, then they will price themselves away from our budget, and I expect many other families across America.

I know Costco is a very strong company, with many smart people having led them, and a very precise execution strategy.  I just feel that this strategy could alienate many customers as it could be a very big drop in perceived value should this ‘replacement’ continue.

Readers, what do you think about organic variety?  Do you favor organic products or shy away from them?  Have you noticed the gradual shift toward organic offerings at Costco, and does the lack of choice impact your shopping decisions?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Do You Tell People When Their Prices Are Too High?

I had a situation pop up recently where I found that a price was way higher than it should have been and thought I would share and see what others thought.

Our gutters in the back of the house are clogged with leaves.  I never had them cleaned out last year, and there’s one in particular that, when the runoff overflows because the hole to the downspout is plugged with leaves, will ice up the entire 20′ down the side of the house.  It happened last winter, and I figured with the damage done, I’d address it this fall.

There’s a guy that does our window cleaning that also will clean gutters, and I know that he has the right ladders and skills for the job.  We ended up calling him, but I always like to look at alternatives.

I don’t have a long enough ladder, and I’m not a big fan of climbing ladders anyway, so I wanted to see if there were any tools I could find that would allow a clean out from the ground.

The first place I looked, as is usually a starting point for any ‘new’ item type was Amazon.

A few items came up, many of which would involve lifting a hose up and having it spray water to loosen the leaves and somehow get them down.  Those sounded wet, messy, and cold, so I skipped through to see if there was anything else.

One that caught my eye was a product called Gutter Sense.  To describe it, the product sounds like a pair of salad tongs.  You screw it onto the end of a long pole, adjust the height and the angle, and via a rope that opens and closes the tongs, you basically ‘salad scoop’ the leaves out of the gutters and drop them.

mb-2015-11-guttersThe reviews were mostly positive, though many people say that it is time consuming, it can be frustrating to get the knack of it, and you do get messy as release the leaves and they inevitably fall on you.

I noted that there was a single seller listing the product, and that it was a third-party seller.  It was not Prime eligible.  The listed cost of the product on the listing was $59.99.  Shipping was included.

I put the idea aside, and came back to it.  I decided to look beyond Amazon, specifically if I could find any YouTube videos that demonstrated the product.  Turns out there were.  One of them was by the actual creator and company that makes the product, and there was a link back to their website, where you could purchase the product.

Their price: $24.95 plus $6.50 shipping.

The private seller price on Amazon was nearly twice as much as the price elsewhere!

I looked to see if it was for sale beyond Amazon and the product store, and it was found in a couple more places, right around the same $31 price as I found.  (One place I didn’t check was eBay, but read on for why).

I decided not to purchase the product this year.  It wasn’t so much the price, but more for the fact that I simply don’t envision having the time to dedicate to learning the product, especially with the fact that our trip to Disney World is coming up, meaning that I need to spend some time getting ready, plus we’ll be gone for a chunk of time as well.  I can see myself using this product moving forward, but this wasn’t the year.

I also figured that it would be wise to get a full cleanout done this year, seeing as it hasn’t been done in a while and there’s probably a lot of buildup.  This would, in theory, make next years cleanup a little less cumbersome, which would probably be more practical timing.

Still, the price tag bugged me.  A lot.

So, I actually went to the product, found the store front for the third party contact, and found the link where you can fill out a form that emails them.

I was nice about it, but I made the following points:

  • Amazon was the first place that I looked
  • Amazon is my online store of choice
  • Since they were the only store on Amazon, had I decided to purchase there, they would have had a 100% shot at the business
  • The product was available outside of Amazon for substantially cheaper
  • But, they blew it because of their choice of price

Predictably, I never heard back.

But, I hope maybe it gave the seller a bit of insight.  My guess (and just speculating) is that when they saw they were the only seller, they decided that they could increase their profits by increasing their margins.  Maybe this is true, but I wanted to let them know that savvy shoppers might actually make this go the other way. In my mind, when you become the only seller, on Amazon anyway, you could increase your profits by increasing volume, which is more likely with a more competitive price point.

Just my opinion, though.

Readers, what do you think, both of the seller’s strategy on pricing, as well as my decision to drop them a note letting them know that they lost what might have been an otherwise easy sale?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Does Your Total At The Cash Register Surprise You?

I don’t make it to the grocery store or to Costco that often, as my wife has taken on most of these trips, but on the occasion that I do go, I like to play a little game with myself, where I guess what the total will be once we get to the register.

Most of the time, I’m pretty close, within 5-10%.  And, yes, I usually come closer than my wife.

Keep A Running Total

For me, there’s no magic or trick.  I simply keep a running total in my head as we shop.  I’ll usually round up or down to get to a near dollar amount, because I can keep that math in my head, but if you start throwing in all the cents involved, I’ll quickly lose track and the whole estimation gets shot.

So, if we get ten items, priced: $3.59, $4.79, $1.00, $4.29, $5.89, $11.40, $4.99, $3.29, $7.09, and $4.25, I’ll keep a running total of $4, $9, $10, $14, $20, $31, $36, $39, $46, and finally $50.

When we get to the register I’ll have my total in my head, and will make some quick adjustments.  For example, are the items taxable.  If so, with Michigan sales tax at 6%, I’d add an extra $3 ‘for the governor’.

In my example, say it’s at the grocery store and all of the items are for food, which is not taxable.  My estimation was $50 and the actual total would be $50.58.

That’s just 1% off the total!mb-201102register

Now, I’m usually not that close, because there are times when you’re talking and you might miss an item or realize that you didn’t catch the price so you try to make it up, but all it requires is that you pay attention and remember your math.

If you have a shopping list, you can even jot down a total every now and then, that way if you do lose track, you at least have a reference point.

Avoiding Sticker Shock

The whole point is that it doesn’t have to be an exact science, but it should get you close.   The last thing you want is to get to the register and get surprised at how much you spent.  And, it’s always higher than you would have guessed, never lower!

The worst case scenario that you want to also avoid is making sure that you don’t come up short!  I’ve never had it happen or witnessed it, but have heard stories where people get to the register and can’t pay their full amount because they can only pay in cash, and their total is more than they have.

Keeping track of your spending as you walk through the store could help avoid this awful situation as well.

Start Off Slow

If you start this practice, start slow and don’t be alarmed if you end up forgetting all about it halfway through the trip or if your estimates are way off.  After a few trips, you’ll start to do this automatically and you’ll get the knack of keeping track.  Eventually, you can even make a little game of it with yourself to see how close you can get.

Readers, do you ever get sticker shock when you’re at the register or do you have a way to keep a tally of your purchases so that you know what you are spending when you’re buying a lot of items?

Copyright 2015 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.