Why I Don’t Shop (Often) at Amazon

For the past several years, I have been encouraged by friends and family to get an Amazon Prime account. Everyone speaks to how great it is to buy and have items shipped to you immediately for the low cost of $99 per year. Plus, they give you free media like movies or books or other digital content. Is it really free, though?

I’ve never liked the idea of paying a fee for a service that otherwise is free through other retailers. Unless I shop there on a regular basis and the cost benefit is worth the hefty price, I typically pass. This speaks to my hesitation to join Costco last year, and my eventual decision with that coming in another post.

Last year, I tried Amazon Prime as a part of their free trial right around the holidays. While I thought I’d definitely take advantage of their great prices and fast shipping, looking back I made only one order in that time. And it was an order that I didn’t even need that quickly.

I purchased a whopping two food diaries which I have yet to completely fill and a blow-up globe for my kids for the holidays. Since that free trial ended, I’ve only bought some gluten free flour components last spring, a bunch of party items for Monkey’s birthday, and a few parts for oil changes on my car. In total, the past two years I’ve made a whopping 10 orders, most of which were pretty forgettable stuff.

What I learned in that time and reflecting back is that I had no need or use for a $99 Amazon Prime membership in my life. The cost benefit was zero, as these items I could’ve bought locally and probably at a better price if I made the effort (or skipped buying them altogether). And we get our media from a variety of other places, namely the library for books and other digital content from different companies.

More recently, Amazon has become a very frustrating place to shop.

Price Changes by the Minute

For one, their prices are ever changing depending on the sites you visit before and after shopping their site. Sometimes, you can grab a great deal, while other times I’ve found their prices to be ridiculously high for an item I could drive to the store and get at half the cost. I understand it’s market desires that drive prices, but what happened to a price is a price is a (maybe sale) price for the same item across stores? This is the new normal.

After listening to the Buy Low, Sell Prime on NPR’s Planet Money Podcast I became even more skeptical of my use of Amazon. I highly encourage you to listen to the story of one man who buys items cheaply at say a Toys R Us and turns around to sell them on Amazon for a double or triple the price. My next career might be following in his footsteps, it seems too easy.

Prime Only – Keep Out

Secondly, most items I’ve bought before or have had on a wish list have become “Prime Only” purchase options. For example, those gluten-free flours I use to make my flour mixture have always been saved so the next time I need to buy them in bulk I could purchase them effortlessly. Amazon sold them for less than or close to the price at my local Wegmans food store, so I bought them on Amazon for the ease of delivery.

This past week I went to Amazon and one of the key ingredients I needed became a “Prime Only” item. So, in order to be able to purchase this item that might save me a few dollars total in making a huge batch of gluten-free flour, I’d have to spend $99 to get it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t skip the ingredient in making the flour mixture.

That pushed me to start looking elsewhere. Namely, I went to the brand’s website and found they sell not only what I wanted, but a variety of other products I’ve never been able to find or get at a local store. I compared prices to Amazon, and they were on par or cheaper, it was only within a few cents. The ticket to using the brand’s site is that I could get a bigger bulk order AND they offered a snazzy 20% off coupon.

Combining the different size option of the flours I needed, plus the 20% coupon, I am saving almost half of what I would’ve paid through Amazon (sans Prime). The total it cost me for the flours on Amazon was $50. At the brand’s website, I was able to snag the same amount of flours for $35, just by buying directly through them with a promotion. I also found the company offers two coupons per month to use at the local store, which is savings I never would’ve come across before.

No Prime? You Must Wait

Lastly, Amazon seems to penalize their customers if they are not Prime Members.

If you don’t have a membership, then you are limited in what options you can purchase, to begin with. Secondly, I have found when I did go to buy a few items that added up to over their $50 free shipping quota, they took over two weeks before they even considered shipping the items.

Recently, after a week and a half of waiting for items to ship, luckily for me, and not them, I decided I no longer needed those items and canceled the entire order altogether. That saved me a chunk of change, and I never went to a store to buy any of those items either.

Without a Prime Membership you take a back seat to any member’s order it appears. There was a time when I would get items quickly or quicker without a membership, but it seems now they are on to making people wait to get them to buy in.

Not Worth it for Us

While I don’t think this post will discourage you from using Amazon or Amazon Prime, my hope is that maybe you’ll be more aware of your purchase habits. Consider looking to order directly from the brands you trust, or other retailers that aren’t running such a large operation that you matter little in the scheme of things.

Do you even if you need that item in the first place? It’s always fun to click “submit” on a new order and have a package arrive in a few days, but can you remember the last 5 orders you made on Amazon? Were they so important or memorable you couldn’t live without them? What would you have done with that money otherwise? Pay down debt? Invest in your future?

For us, the $99 price isn’t worth it. We don’t need the 2-day shipping, and we definitely like taking our time to think about purchases. As for the other options they offer, we don’t seem to miss out on those either.

I’m tempted to try a year without Amazon and see if we’re impacted at all by avoiding them. With the frustration, I’ve had with my most recent, now canceled order, and their limiting options to Prime members I venture to guess I just won’t be using them regardless.