I recently visited a friend and he mentioned that he had Amazon Prime but hadn’t used it much. I’m not a big fan of subscription services, people often sign up then forget them, or don’t use them enough to see any value. I see all kinds of examples of this, fancy gold cards, Netflix, gym memberships, Costco, BJ’s, Sam’s, all kinds of web based music services, shopping clubs, cloud storage, home security, the list goes on. Don’t get me started on cable company add-ons, or any software that “requires” paid updates or monthly fees!
Yet, over the years, I’ve either considered or used every every type of service I’ve listed here. Every year I recommend making a hit list that includes every service or membership that charges a monthly or annual fee. Convert them all to annual totals so you can see how much you’re spending a year on the services, then sort them by the total. Take a close look at each service and how much you’ve really used it over the past year. Start a spreadsheet in Google Docs and each time you come across a monthly or annual fee drop it in there. There’ll be a few you forgot about. Example: Spotify $9.99 Month x12 = $119.88 yr.……
This is about the time of year that we get charged our $99 Amazon Prime renewal fee. With Amazon, it’s not only the annual fee I want to take a look at but also the money our family spends with them. Once you sign up for Amazon Prime, you can get hooked on some of the benefits like free two-day shipping on everything from paper products to textbooks to dog food. Amazon is also great for hard-to-find items like instant unsweetened steel cut oatmeal or other items you may want to purchase elsewhere but would have to pay shipping on.
If you have a home office, Amazon Prime will save you quite a few trips to office supply or big box stores. Who the hell wants to drive over to Staples and park the car anyway? Last year I ordered enough office supplies alone to justify the $99 renewal fee as a business expense. I know this because Amazon will let you run detailed order history reports by item. So, even if you don’t have Amazon Prime, you can see what you spent last year with Amazon including shipping.
Skip the 1-click
One recommendation I have for Amazon Prime users is to turn off 1-Click ordering. This is important if you’re a shopaholic or you’re using different methods of payment for household expenses versus business expenses. Stick with the two-click ordering. This gives you a few moments to think about that useless doodad you may be ordering and whether you really need it. Many times I’ve gotten to that page and just added an item to a wish list. Or if it’s a business book or office supplies I can quickly switch my method of payment.
Anytime you’re using Amazon Prime to purchase an item for the first time, quickly copy the name of the item including the package size and paste it into Google, then select Google shopper view. This will quickly show you whether you’re paying the lowest, or at least a competitive, price. This is important as some items on Amazon Prime appear to be priced higher to cover the shipping. I found this to be the case with some items like household cleaners and pet food but not with paper products. After you use Prime for a bit you’ll get a better feel for what’s a great deal and what’s not. The good news is once you purchase something it’s saved in your order history so you can see what you paid last time and even get an additional 5% if you sign up for monthly or quarterly deliveries of things like paper towels.
So, in our case, the free two day shipping and very competitive pricing justify the $99 annual membership fee. Paper towels, office supplies, man, this stuff is boring, let’s move on to some of the real benefits of Amazon Prime. In order of use: Books, Music, Movies,TV, Photography, Amazon crushes it in these categories.
- Over 500,000 free e-books in the Kindle lending library, I also get a monthly email with a list of 6 free early release Kindle first books. For Kindle owners, this is a great benefit. Between this and a free overdrive account from your local library you’ll have access to more digital books than you’ll ever need. You also don’t have to feel bad about not finishing a crappy book because you paid for it.
- Unlimited free movies and TV shows with Prime Instant Video. If you’re looking to cut ties with the cable company or you like to curate your home entertainment, Prime instant video combined with Netflix and a high-speed internet account will get you there. Amazon, like Netflix, has even started producing their own shows. This combined with access to HBO, Showtime and network classics from just one or two seasons ago is a deal. If you’re like me and haven’t even gotten to the first season of Walking Dead yet then this is for you.
- Free photo storage on Amazon Cloud Drive. Do you store years of personal photos on a laptop or some backup drive in your home? All hard drives eventually crash, it’s nice to have unlimited photo backup. As a photographer who shoots raw files, I’ve currently have about 230 gigabytes of photos privately archived with Amazon cloud storage. This would cost over $100 a year with comparable storage services from Apple iCloud or dropbox. If you end up not going with Amazon, Flickr.com is a great alternative for free photo storage now that they have a privacy option.
- Prime Music. Well over 1 million songs including tons of classic rock, jazz, progressive. they’ve also added Amazon music stations curated by genre. Apple and Spotify may have better libraries but they charge $9.99 a month for access. Prime music is a solid alternative at no extra charge. They also have a cool desktop app that lets you add thousands of albums to create your own playlists.
- Membership sharing. So yeah, it took us a year to figure this out but two adults living in the same household can share an account. Great for the wife and kids. I’m not sure I’d let your cheesy roommate on there though.
- Amazon Mom. Additional discounts are available to moms on staples like wipes diapers and other household items. I thought what about Dads? They let me sign up as a Mom so no big deal.
- Free returns on many items This is big for us. For returns, you can just print out a UPS sticker and they’ll pick up the return or exchange from your doorstep no charge. On other items you’ll get a free return shipping printout but you’ll need to drop your return off at the nearest UPS location.
Amazon is regularly adding features to Prime including free same-day delivery on some items. I can’t really wrap my head around how they pull that off but I’ve used it and it works. Amazon also offers the option to choose free no rush shipping to earn a one dollar credit toward future music purchases and movie rentals.
So, my final verdict is that Amazon Prime is an all around great value, especially when you add in the time we save as a family not having to make an extra stop to pick these items up. However, if you use Amazon less than once a month, or belong to another near by discount club like Costco you may reconsider whether it’s worth it. Amazon Prime has a 30 day free trial and based on my experience with them they would probably refund you the membership fee even after 90 days if you’re not satisfied.