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.

Copyright 2014 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.

Can You Get An Adjustment From Amazon If The Price Goes Down?

mb-201311policyWe had an interesting situation pop up last week that I thought I would share in relations to Amazon’s price change policy.  In 2008, Amazon stopped issuing adjustments if the price of an item went down after you had purchased it.  From Consumerist:

Only orders placed before September 1, 2008 are eligible for a price difference refund under the Post-Order Price Guarantee policy. As of September 1, 2008 we are no longer offering discounts if prices change on our website after you make a purchase.

It’s been quite a few years, but I do recall requesting a refund and getting one if the price went down within a few days of placing an order.

When they changed the policy, I sort of understood why.  Amazon changes prices all the time based on demand for an item, as well as supply that they have available, and I would imagine that competitor pricing is also taken into account. As technology has advanced, all of these variables can be tracked and likely adjusted by computers.  Responding to price adjustment requests requires a human to review and issue the refund, which sort of defeats the purpose of maximizing their use of technology, which is one reason Amazon has been able to grow to the levels that they have.

Plus, I look at it this way.  Customers only went to Amazon if the price went down.  What if the price went up?  Did Amazon send people knocking on doors to try to collect the difference?  Of course not!

So, if that policy is five years plus, why am I writing about it?

Simple.  Because we were able to get an adjustment.

Well, sort of.

The Purchase

My wife has a DSLR camera that I got her for Christmas last year.  She’s gotten really good at using it, but along with getting better, she knows the limitations of the lens that came as part of the kit.  She did some research and narrowed it down between two lenses.  The price of the one she didn’t get doesn’t matter, since she didn’t get it, so I’ll stick to the one that she did get.

While she was doing her research the price was $101.  After figuring out which one she wanted to get, she went to place the order, and it had gone up to $110.

Ugh.

I use a Firefox plugin called Camelizer that shows you the price history of an item.  From the looks of it, the ‘standard’ price was $110, as it was probably at that level for 60-70% of the time over the last 12 months.  It was as low as $95 and as high as $125.

We figured that even though she missed out on the better price, that she was paying the standard price was OK.  So, she went ahead and placed the order.

After a couple of days, she went on and the price was back to $101.

We laughed and shook our heads and sad, well what can you do?  After all they no longer adjusted prices.  In most cases, the story ends there.

But, in our case, we were lucky enough that it didn’t.

Why? Simple. Because the product hadn’t shipped yet.

I went to our ‘Orders’ page and had the option to cancel the order.  So, this meant that we could cancel the existing order and place another order at the lower price.  When we clicked ‘Cancel’, it did pop up a note saying that they could ‘attempt’ to cancel the order, but if it was far enough along in the picking and shipping process, it may not be possible.

I did a quick Google search and the advice was that if you got this message, you could do an online chat with a Customer Service Rep and confirm that they could do the cancellation.

So, I opened up a window, and started chatting with someone right away.  I didn’t frame it that I wanted to cancel the order, but instead said something along the lines of “The price on order xyz-abcd went down by $9.  Could you assist me in either canceling the order since it hasn’t shipped yet, so that I can place an order, or providing me a credit?”

The rep took a look.  Having read between the lines that one way or another we wanted to get this at the current $101 price, they did not move forward with canceling the order.  But, they didn’t give us a ‘refund’.

Instead, they issued a $9 promo code to us for use on another order.

Which is totally fine by me.  After all, we do a lot of holiday shopping at Amazon, so while it wasn’t a direct refund on this order, it all comes out in the end, and it will probably be used within a few days now that the holidays are ramping up.

I was thrilled with Amazon’s response on this one, but I also realized that it pays off to look at the entire set of circumstances.  Had the order already shipped, my guess is they would have said no.  But, because it hadn’t, because we looked at the price, and because we looked at our order status, we were able to wiggle through the cracks of their policy.

Readers, do you remember the good old days of Amazon’s price adjustment policy?

Copyright 2014 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.

Use Your Network To Get The Best Deals

The other day, I was running our periodic file backup on our home computers.  What I do is back up all personal files (pictures, documents, etc.) from each PC onto an external USB hard drive.  I then back up each of the drives onto a consolidated drive.  I need to get a system in place where I keep the central drive offsite, in the event that something happens to our house, but for now, it does keep the data intact, and gives at least two levels of failure in the event of a computer or hard drive crash.

While running the backup, I noticed that we were starting to run low on space on the consolidated drive as well as the drive used to back up the laptop that my wife uses.  This makes sense because she’s recently started using a higher end camera, taking more photos, and storing them, all which are going to mean increased demand for storage capacity.

Knowing that my dad has a good eye for deals, especially on electronics, I asked that he keep an eye out for a good deal on a bigger drive.

Not more than 12 hours later, I got an e-mail from my dad with a deal on a 750GB drive for $39.99, marked down from $99.99.  I’d been estimating paying around $75 for that kind of space, so I instantly jumped on the deal.

Now, when that drive comes in, my plan will to use that as our consolidated drive, and use the current consolidated drive as the one to back up the laptop, and essentially cascade the lowest capacity drive out of the mix.

The point is that by asking my dad, I was able to accomplish two things:

  • Found a better deal than I had anticipated
  • Found the deal in a much faster time frame than I would have likely done on my own.

In other words, by using my ‘network’, I saved both time and money.  These, of course, are two valuable things to be able to save.

Here are some tips to building and maintaining an effective ‘deal’ network:

  • Know who the experts are – As mentioned, I knew that my dad had a good eye on tracking electronics deals, simply because he and I have talked at great length about this in the past
  • Ask when the thought crosses your mind – I have been watching the storage capacity shrink for the last couple of times I backed up the files and had thought about asking my dad, but then never thought of it.  This time, it worked because I happened to be talking to him while I was backing up the files.
  • Use your manners – If you’re asking someone to do a favor for you, make sure to (as we remind our two kids) use your polite words.  That will go a long way.
  • Follow up if necessary…once – I got lucky in that my dad spotted a great deal so quickly, but there will be times when you don’t hear back.  And that’s OK.  Use your judgement on whether to drop it in a conversation at some point down the line.  But only mention it one time before you drop it.
  • Set your expectations accordingly – I always treat networking in this capacity as ‘nice to have’.  Meaning that if I ask someone for a favor, and nothing comes of it, there’s no hurt feelings.  This seems simple, but I’ve run into situations where someone asks for a seemingly casual favor, it doesn’t get followed up on which doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it turns into hurt feelings down the line.  Don’t let this turn into that.
  • Return the favor – If you’re doing all the asking for deal searching, then you’re probably doing it wrong.  It should be give and take.  You should be a resource for others if you’re asking others to be a resource for you.

So, with that said, we’ll soon be the happy owners of some additional drive space, all because of a little networking.

Readers, do you ‘network’ for deals?  Share your experiences.

Copyright 2014 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.

How Hard Should I Press To Get Last Month’s Discount?

Last month, I wrote about how I am considering a gym membership.  I’m happy to report that I have made progress.

mb-201309treadmillI did some checking around, and pretty much narrowed it down to one gym that I want to attend.  I looked at all the gyms in a five mile radius, and eliminated the super-expensive gyms (Lifetime, LA Fitness), and started with the gym that was closest to my house, as location is a huge thing when it comes to me actually getting my butt out the door and into the gym.

As it turns out, the one that was closest is also the one with the best pricing.   Sort of.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  First, let me touch on some of the other things I’ve found.

Location

The location of the gym could not be better situated.  My plan is to work out in the morning before work.  I had planned on leaving the house, working out, then showering and getting ready at the gym, and going to work.  When I looked at the logistics of the gym I’m considering, it got even better.  I can get up twenty minutes earlier than I used to, drive four minutes to the gym, work out, go back home to get showered and dressed, and leave for work.  I would be getting to work about fifteen minutes than I used to, but I generally get there over 30 minutes earlier than my ‘unofficial’ start time, so I’m still perfectly fine as far as that goes.

No other gym would allow me to pull this off with this level of timing.

The Workout Experience

I’ve been a member of gyms before, so I know what I’m looking for and I know what to expect.  The gym I’m looking at has everything I’m looking for.  All I want are cardio machines and weight machines.  This gym has them and they’re in very good condition.  My general workout routine will likely be cardio on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and some circuit training / light weight lifting on Tuesday and Thursday.  I’m not looking to get ripped, just to get in shape.  This has everything I need.

Staff

So far, the staff has been very friendly.  On a whim, I stopped in one evening (OK, on the way back from getting Dairy Queen, a treat that my wife and I occasionally indulge and is our favorite.  So, yes I stopped at the gym with ice cream in the car.  Don’t judge).  I asked for a look around and they showed me everything and were very friendly.  When I asked if I could come work out once or twice, they did better, and gave me a 10-day trial membership pass.  I started the next morning!

Pricing

OK, so here’s where I am having a bit of an issue.  Actually two.  But I think it might just be me.  And I don’t think it will be a dealbreaker either way.  But here it is.

They don’t really do much advertising.  They’re no frills.  They keep things simple.  The way they advertise their ‘deals’ is with a signboard on the side of the road in front of the shopping center.  Last month, when I drove by, I saw that they were advertising 4 months for $75.  Which was a pretty good deal considering that they don’t do sign-up fees or anything like that.  You pay the price and that’s it.  Which is something I love as I hate ‘gimmick’ pricing.

However, that price apparently ended last month.  Now, the four month deal is $90.  When I mentioned this to the guy that gave me the trial membership pass, he just sort of looked at me and said, “Yep, that was last month’s price.  Now it’s $90.”  He wasn’t rude about it, and I didn’t press it (since I hadn’t yet worked out there) but I’m wondering if I should try to push for last month’s pricing, or just let it go.

So, first question is should I press to get last month’s deal? If so, how hard do I press?

One other thing they mentioned that I’m kind of ‘meh’ about is that the pricing isn’t locked in.  At the end of the four months, I’d have to sign up again.  Now, you can lock in your price if you do the ‘automatic deduction’ plan, but that’s $30 per month.  No thanks.

So, I run the risk of having higher pricing available in four months.  Though, four months would put me in the middle of January, and if I was a betting man, I’d guess that they might have some really good pricing around that time to try to reign in all the ‘New Years Resolutons’ sign-ups that they probably get.  So, maybe this could work out to my advantage?

Question number two, should I even try to ask if my rate can be locked in or is this something I should just let go?

It is worth mentioning that two other gyms I might consider (though they’re both further away…ugh) are $15 and $25 per month.  However, both have $49 ‘activation’ fees so if I were to spread that out over a year (which is fair), the price would really be around $19 or $29 respectively.  Meaning, if I could get the $75 for four months, this would be right at the bottom, but even the $90 plan would average $22.50, which is OK.

I guess I’m just curious if and how I should approach both ‘last months pricing’ and ‘my next signup’ as potential issues.  Should I just ask and accept if they say no, or should I bluff and let them think I might walk?  Is that crossing the line from frugal to cheap?

Readers, what do you think?

Copyright 2014 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.

7 Times To Look At The Calendar To Get The Best Deal

I’m sure you know that there are many items that you can get cheaper if you wait to buy until the right time.  What  you may not know is how to time those items.  Here are a few tips on when to buy, tips that range from a particular day of the week to an exact month of the year.  Simple understanding of these tips can save you big time.

  1. Gas prices – Particularly during warmer weather, people travel long distances on weekends.  Gas station owners know this and will plan accordingly.  They’ll usually catch the wave up by raising prices mid-week, and starting to lower them again on by the end of the weekend.  If you frequent a particular gas station, keep an eye on their prices throughout the week, and you’ll start to notice a pattern.  We have a Speedway station near us that is nearly like clockwork, and they’ll raise prices by 10% almost every Wednesday or Thursday, so we plan our fill-ups accordingly.
  2. Coupon inserts and online coupons – If you regularly buy the Sunday paper, did you know that there’s typically a pattern to coupons that get shoved in the ads?  The first Sunday of the month will usually yield the highest volume of coupons.  They’ll typically have a ‘normal amount’ for two other weekends, and there is often one weekend where there is a very limited amount of coupons, or sometime none at all.  This also translates to the online coupon sites.
  3. mb-201309groceryGrocery sale items – There is often a predictable pattern to grocery store items on sale.  Aldi always has produce on sale, but they typically rotate between fruits one week and vegetables the next week.  Seasonal items will tend to go on sale every 3 weeks during the time it’s ‘in season’.  Most other items are around 6 weeks when it comes to a cycle.  So, if you see an item on sale and you missed it, you can plan on getting it again, and can determine if you can wait that long.  If you frequent one particular store, keep an eye out and you’ll quickly spot patterns in sale pricing.
  4. Staples – Along the same lines, there are months of the year where it’s guaranteed that grocery stores will put particular items on sale.  If you love homemade chocolate chip cookies throughout the entire year, don’t pay full price for the chips in July, but stock up around the holidays when baking items are at rock bottom prices.
  5. Clothing – Stores always put items out way in advance of the actual season.  Now that back to school shopping is all but wrapped up, now’s the time where you’ll see winter clothes hit the shelves.  Depending on the store, you can get sale prices when they first put items out, as they look to clear out any inventory they may have kept from last year, or at the end of the selling season, but if you wait until winter to buy winter clothes, you’re likely going to have a very limited selection!
  6. Garden items – You know that outdoor section at Home Depot or Lowes?  If you live in a cold weather climate, they’re going to shut that down and clear every last item out of there before padlocking it for the season.  That means you can get incredible deals on various landscaping items for next spring.  You can often find lawn fertilizer or bug treatment items at 75% off as they look to clear inventory.  The thing you also have to know is that these sales often go unadvertised, so if you’re looking to hit a deal, plan on stopping into your local stores every now and then.
  7. Cars – Every commercial on TV for cars now features the 2014 models.  Dealers still have some of last years models on the lot, and they are usually pretty willing to get rid of them at a cheaper price than most other times through the year. You’ll have to be flexiblein terms of features or colors, but if a new car is in your sights, waiting until late summer or early fall is the best time to score a deal.

Readers, what other items tie to a particular time of the year or a regular pattern so that you can get the best price?  Share your stories in the comments!

Copyright 2014 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.

Coupon Policies Are Not Always Enforced

Have you ever looked at store coupons and seen rules and stipulations a mile long, and said “Forget it” to the whole thing?

Not so fast!

At least if you’re shopping at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

We’ve had a couple instances of very good luck using coupons that, according to the rules on various coupons, shouldn’t have worked.

Two Bikes

Last year, my wife was in the market for a new bike.  I think this was prompted by the fact that my sister-in-law had just got a new bike, and while usable, the aqua green 10-speed from the 1990′s just wasn’t alluring.  We do quite a bit of bike riding during camping trips, so she used birthday money to get her bike.

My sister-in-law actually came up with the suggestion to try to use our Entertainment Book coupon, where Dick’s has a few entries.  I looked at the coupon and it had some brand exclusions, one of which was the bike my wife wanted.  I asked my sister-in-law and she said that they took hers without a problem, even though she bought a bike from the same manufacturer.

Sure enough, when I went to the store to pick up the bike, they took it without so much as a second glance.

We saved $15!

Two Canopies

Last year when we had my daughter’s first birthday party, we borrowed a couple of 10×10 canopies from my aunt and uncle.  They worked great.  So much that we thought it would be a good investment to buy a couple for ourselves.  We knew we’d have parties and gatherings at various points, plus we also figured it’d be good to take one on camping trips, as it could be good to add covered space in addition to the awning on the camper.

They typically retail for $100, but we saw one for $80 and were thinking about getting at least one.

Then, my wife hit the jackpot.  There was a coupon in the Sunday insert that allowed you to buy one for $50.  That’s half off!  We asked my parents for their coupon, and went in with the age old strategy of deciding to buy one each, since the coupon clearly stated ‘One per customer’.

Then, I remembered what store I was working with.  I looked in this year’s Entertainment Book and saw that they had two coupons that we might be able to work with.  One was $10 off $50 and the other was $20 off $100.

I looked at the coupon and it also said ‘Cannot be combined with other offers’ but what harm did it hurt to try, right?

We took all the coupons with us, and walked up to the register.  Our first option was to use the $20 off $100 coupon, so I asked if we could put both on the same order and use two coupons.

“Let me check,” the cashier said.  She scanned both items in, scanned one of the coupons…and both of the items immediately went to $50.  So, they don’t even program their computers to match the written policy.

We then asked if we could use the coupon from the Entertainment book.  She looked at it, scanned it, entered the value, and we got an extra $20 off.

All told, with tax, we paid slightly over $84 for two canopies.

Earlier in the week, we had been prepared to go get one for a sale price of $80.

So, even with what we were prepared to pay, we got two for the price of one!

Just goes to show that the fine print which is written on coupon policies might not always be enforced, so next time you think about tossing that coupon, think about giving it a shot.  You might be surprised.

Readers, have you ever had luck using coupons that you didn’t think you would be able to?  What deals did you score?

Copyright 2014 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.