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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| November 22, 2019
One-day shipping is going to be the tactic of choice in the holiday shopping game this year, and there's no retailer better equipped at its efficiencies than the world's biggest online retailer, Amazon. But as you're doing your comparison shopping for all those gifts you have to buy, remember this comes at a price: $119 a year for Prime membership.
So let's do the factoring. Sure, we'll get some great gifts at great prices and in double-quick time with Amazon Prime. What other Prime perks make it worth the cost of membership for the 100 million or so Primers worldwide? We found a few.
Santa's had the whole "one-day shipping" thing tucked into one night since days of Christmas yore. But you're no Santa, so you might have to turn to your Amazon Claus, er, Amazon.com and Prime perks to get that gift, stat. Today's Amazon Prime is all about getting more stuff to members at an ever-faster pace (above Amazon's recent efforts to speed up free two-day delivery to free one-day delivery; I've recently started getting several Amazon-shipped items in one day, free; the order defaults to one-day at checkout).
Now this: Free same-day delivery doesn't apply everywhere, mind you, but more than 10,000 eligible cities and towns and counting is a fairly wide swath. If your ZIP code, which you can check out right here, offers same-day service, when you order before noon and choose the same-day shipping option at checkout, Amazon says the package will be delivered by 9 p.m. that night (Sundays included, and don't be surprised to see the U.S. Postal Service delivering, though I'm seeing more and more Amazon-branded delivery vans). If you order past noon, an option is next-day delivery. Two caveats: The same-day order must total $35 or more, and not every product Amazon stocks is eligible (but more than 3 million are marked with the Free Same-Day logo, so there). If your same-day-delivery swag is under $35, Amazon will dock you a surcharge of six bucks, so you might want to slow your roll. Oh, and if you don't have a Prime membership and want that certain something-something delivered the same day, you can do so, but you'll be clipped $9.98.
If you're practicing patience this holiday season, you could shrug off that same-day delivery antsy-pants bother and wait a day to get your package. And why not? As we mentioned, it's quickly becoming the Amazon shipping standard (though Amazon's signature two-day delivery is still around). Free one-day is available coast-to-coast and the good part? There's no minimum purchase and there are more than 10 million eligible items (you can filter by the term "get it tomorrow" to see if the gift is available for one-day delivery). The promise is you'll get it by 9 p.m. the next day, but cutoff dates for that vary by ZIP code. You and Amazon will seal the deal at checkout.
Good things come to those who wait, and in this instance, not being in an all-fire hurry means you get a little somethin'-somethin' for yourself (that's part of the joy of holiday gift-giving, no?). In this case, if you check no-rush shipping at checkout, Amazon will reward you with free promotional swag, such as rewards toward buying eBooks, movies on Amazon Video, or Prime Pantry items (groceries and daily essentials). Typical givebacks include a $5 credit toward purchases on Prime Now or Prime Pantry each time you choose no-rush shipping. Amazon promises your delivery will arrive within 6 business days but in my experience, it's far less than that.
Whoville being your front porch, where packages are often left. That's the same locale they're sometimes stolen from by porch pirates. There's a response to that hidden in your Prime perks: Using Amazon Key or Amazon Locker, have your holiday packages delivered to the inside of your garage, front door, or in your car, wherever it's parked, or a storage locker at a Whole Foods or other retailer. Two of these methods of (non-porch) delivery, of course, demand a little more trust on your part and smart-entry systems for your home.
Amazon In-Garage delivery plays nice with certain garage door openers, and with an optional Amazon Key cloud cam you can monitor the delivery. You'll be notified when the driver is ready to enter with your package and when the door is re-closed. With the camera, of course, you can watch in real time or later, in a clip. See if this will work with your system.
Amazon Key for Home works in much the same way. You'll grant the delivery driver access to your smart lock (it also works with Ring products as well as Alexa) and they will place the package just inside the door. Since it's a full-time keyless smart lock, you can also grant access to friends, family, bearers of other holiday gifts, and anyone else you deem necessary to allow into your abode. See if this works for you.
Amazon Key In-Car Delivery allows Amazon drivers access to your vehicle to safely stow your holiday gift orders. Your vehicle must be one of the eligible models (but those ranks are growing), in a publicly accessible area and parked at street level. Check if your vehicle is eligible. (Alas, mine is not; my Honda is a 2009, and the cutoff date is the 2010 and newer model year).
Amazon Locker has your goods delivered to a secure locker at a retail location, most notably Whole Foods, which is owned by Amazon. When you're checking out online, choose your locker location as your delivery address. You'll get a pickup code to punch into the specific locker where your package is stowed. Here's how to find an Amazon Locker near your.
Holiday season is party season, and you want to look your very best for everything from office parties to parties with friends and family. But who has time to go to the mall? Enter Prime Wardrobe, which offers Prime members a chance to try before they buy. Because, well, when you go to a brick-and-mortar clothing store, you don't buy the clothes then try them on in the dressing room, do you? Because that's just weird. Amazon has you covered -- in clothes -- plus shoes, jewelry and accessories.
Prime Wardrobe is Prime's answer to the dressing room. Pick out clothing, shoes and accessories online at Amazon Wardrobe. Pick up to eight items (making sure they have the Prime Wardrobe logo) and they'll be shipped for free and at no charge to you. You have seven days to try them on and check out what you want to buy. It's free to return anything you don't want to purchase. Your Prime Wardrobe order comes in a resealable box with a prepaid return label. You just have to haul it over to a UPS outlet (or other Amazon pickup point, including Kohl's). They'll take care of the rest. But remember to practice proper decorum at your holiday office party; to that end, Amazon Wardrobe doesn't sell lampshades.
It's a giving time of year, and did you know you could shop, buy and give to your favorite registered charitable organization through Amazon Prime? Neither did I, until recently. It's called AmazonSmile. Simply pick a charity and do all of your shopping on the AmazonSmile website. AmazonSmile has the exact same products and prices as Amazon.com. There are more than a million nonprofits to choose from, and the one you pick will receive 0.5% of the value of your eligible purchases. I'm helping support Friends of Frying Pan Park Farm, a county park in Virginia that is a working farm interpreting farm life of the 1920s to the 1950s.
You can share your Amazon Prime membership with your household via Amazon Household, designed for Saint Nick, Mrs. Claus and all your household elves to utilize. Here's the catch: Your Prime benefits can be shared with one other adult in a household -- as long as you both agree to share your payment methods (you link your accounts via Amazon Household). That’s fine for, say, a spouse or significant other, but giving your roommate access to your credit or debit card might be a deal-breaker. Your partner in Prime has to have a separate Amazon account to be able to be added to your Prime membership. You'll then be able to share certain Prime perks including free two-day shipping. Teens and younger children can also be added (up to four) but they have parental-restricted access, praise be (younger children cannot buy anything on Amazon).
The kids are home for the holidays, the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are coming over. Who has time to shop at the crowded supermarket? Time to tap Prime Pantry, the Amazon Prime perk where members shop for non-bulk groceries and household products. Prime members receive free delivery on Prime Pantry orders of $35 or more. Any order under that $35 threshold Prime members pay a flat shipping fee of $5.99 per order. (Non-Prime members is some areas can also shop Prime Pantry, but there's a $5.99 shipping fee on every order.)
The advantage of Prime Pantry: It stocks items that aren't otherwise available on Amazon.com including everyday sizes on groceries and household goods, so shoppers aren't forced to buy in bulk. Good news: You no longer have to fill a box to capacity, which was a pain.
Note that Amazon used to offer a separate Prime Pantry membership for $4.99. It allowed members to get free delivery on Prime Pantry orders of $10 or more. That program is no longer open to new members, but it still works for existing members.
With the crew coming over for various holiday bashes at Casa de You, you need to pair that Amazon Prime account up with your local Whole Foods Market. Amazon purchased Whole Foods in the summer of 2017. Since then, shoppers have been able to order the upscale grocer's private-label products, including those from 365 Everyday Value, Whole Foods Market, Whole Paws and Whole Catch, on Amazon.com. Amazon has also slashed in-store prices at Whole Foods on certain organic (and non-organic) items including bananas, eggs and avocados. Amazon is growing two-hour delivery of groceries from Whole Foods to Prime members in select cities, a bonus when you get that party started and don't want to leave to replenish the appetizers. See if it's available in your 'hood.
Amazon Prime members will get alerts to discounts via the Whole Foods Market app. There are also signs throughout the store directing Prime members to special discounts. You'll want to have that app with the bar code handy for the cashier to scan at the checkout. Don't be that guy (me) fumbling for his phone while trying to check out in front of a long line.
It's the most wonderful time of the year -- to stream music. You just have to get your Trans-Siberian Orchestra on. So why pay for ad-free Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music when you're already making beautiful music with your Amazon Prime account? Included in a Prime membership is Amazon Prime Music, which offers free access to more than two million songs. The drawback? Music fans argue that Amazon's free playlists and stations aren't as deep as those of competing streaming services. Could be. And it could be incentive to dig deeper in your pocket for an upgrade, to Amazon Music Unlimited, which features 50 million songs, including new releases, and runs $7.99 a month for Prime members (a $2 discount over non-Primers). Not ready to commit? Amazon will let you try out Amazon Music Unlimited for four months for just 99 cents.
Oh, snap: Holiday photos. Lots and lots of them. That's OK: Amazon Prime members get unlimited photo storage in Amazon Photos. Yes, unlimited. Plus, you can add up to five others, as in family and friends. Photos are accessible from any device anywhere you can tap into your Amazon Prime account. If you're like me, doubling down by having an Amazon Prime account and paying Apple every month for cloud storage for those precious pix, it may be time to trim some costs.
You also get 5 GB of storage for videos. Want more storage? You can buy it, starting at 100 GB.
Oh, and no worries about tagging photos. Amazon's scary servers will automatically sort your photos for faster search. Want to free up storage on your phone? Use the Amazon app, upload your pix to Prime Photos and delete them from your phone. What could possibly go wrong?
From Amazon-produced original series, such as the second season of "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" or "The Man in the High Castle," to holiday classics including "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Holiday Inn," you'll have plenty to binge on besides the holiday cookies.
Yes, I am increasingly taking advantage of watching free movies and TV series via Amazon's streaming service, Prime Video. If you have a newer TV, like me, the Prime Video app comes built in, so click on it and boom! I'm in Hollywood. Oh, and don't you worry. While you're watching Prime Video, Amazon is watching you. The "personal recommendations based on your viewing history" can be both creepy and convenient.
You can even download movies and TV shows to mobile devices for later viewing (and what you buy, you keep in Your Video Library at Amazon). Cable TV and satellite cord-cutters may be pleased to know they can binge on HBO, Showtime, Starz and many more streaming services via the Amazon Prime app. Additional fees for those channels run $4.99 to $14.99 a month for Prime members.
If you're not at all concerned about gift-wrapping gifts during the holidays (or on birthdays and anniversaries), you can fast-gift family and friends via Amazon Prime (and, of course, with free two-day-or-less shipping). I've done it, it works, and it's mad convenient. Just add their address to your Amazon address book, shop, and when you're paying for your cart, choose their address as the shipping destination. Just remember to change the address back to your home when shopping for yourself.
It's a holiday gift-shopping hazard: The product looks good online. But when you opened the package, it's a big no. Now, you don't have to box it up yourself and go to a UPS store. Amazon.com is partnering with Kohl's department stores to provide Amazon shoppers with another place to return their Amazon products -- and stir up some foot traffic for Kohl's.
That makes it a win-win for both retailers. Amazon shoppers have another place to drop off returns besides UPS stores, and Kohl's will gain some potential shoppers, who must drop off their Amazon returns at customer service. Why is it a win for Kohl's? In my experience, the customer service desks at Kohl's are deep inside the store (in my nearby Kohl's, it's in the back of the second level of the store). That's a whole lot of potential holiday gift merch to pass by as you drop off the Amazon package and leave the store.
You like your deals fast and hot. And you want to be at the front of the pack getting them, because it's the holiday shopping season and you want to buy unique gifts. Amazon Prime members enjoy access to those one-off, deeply discounted (and in short supply) Lightning Deals 30 minutes before everyone else. Lightning Deals are only good for a few hours (or as long as supplies last) so if you really want what's on sale the early access is an advantage. But even then, Amazon warns that some deals could sell out during the early access period, before opening up to the general public. A recent Lightning Deal as a potential holiday gift recently caught my eye: A $50 gift card to Build-a-Bear Workshop. The Lightning Deal was $40, a 20% discount.
Alexa is being a good little A.I. for the holidays, quietly listening to everything you do or say. I mean everything. She knows when you've been naughty or nice. So give that droid some honest work. If you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot or any of Amazon's voice-activated Alexa devices, your Prime membership allows you to place orders through Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant. For example, if you just forgot to buy batteries for one of those "batteries not included" holiday gifts, say "Alexa, order AA batteries" and a 20-pack of AmazonBasics will arrive on your doorstep two days later. Shipping is free for Prime members, naturally, and Alexa is already aware of your Prime status. Say "Alexa, what are your deals?" to learn about special Alexa-only discounts.
Or you can ask her to sing you a Christmas carol. She will.