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All Contents © 2018The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| June 15, 2018
Many of us first signed up for Amazon Prime years ago to take advantage of free two-day shipping, and stayed with Amazon as the cost of a Prime membership rose from $79 to $99 -- and now to $119. Today, there are more than 100 million Prime members worldwide. But the latest $20 price hike, effective June 16 for everyone including renewing members, got me to thinking: Is Amazon Prime worth $119 a year?
Truth be told, my relationship with Prime had mellowed. I wasn't ordering as much from Jeff Bezos's baby, and I felt it might even be time to (gasp!) cancel my Amazon Prime membership. I was wrong. After logging on to Amazon.com and reviewing the perks, I realized the bounty I had let go fallow. Have a look at the best benefits of Amazon Prime.
Free two-day shipping is so 2005, the year Amazon launched Prime. Today's Amazon Prime is all about getting more stuff to members at an ever-faster pace. Free same-day delivery doesn't apply everywhere, mind you, but more than 8,000 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). 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 a million are, 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.
Talk about impulse shopping. Amazon's Prime Now service delivers the goods to Prime members for free within two hours, in more than 30 select markets (located near Amazon warehouses, naturally), including Atlanta, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego and Virginia Beach. Free two-hour delivery includes grocery orders from Whole Foods in select cities. Can't wait two hours? You can get the goods delivered for free in an hour in some areas. Is it under $35? There's an upcharge of, yes sir, six bucks. Prime Now specializes in delivering items ranging from food and pet supplies to electronics and beauty products. And, of course, Amazon-only products, including Kindles. The service will also deliver food from member restaurants in select cities to your door in an hour.
Hey, if you can have patience with some of your orders, it just may pay off. Choose no-rush shipping at checkout, and you can earn either a discount or a promotional award that can be used in the future. Your no-rush order will arrive within six business days, rather than the standard two days for Prime members (and I've found that "six days" was really three days a couple of times I've used no-rush). You can use your awards to snag movies on Amazon Instant Video, buy e-books and more. Awards are applied after your no-rush order ships. Typical givebacks include a $5 credit toward purchases on Prime Now or Prime Pantry each time you choose no-rush shipping. And no, you cannot get a discount and awards on the same product. "We will surface only one type of offer per order at checkout, either a reward or a discount," says Amazon.
You like to try on before you buy, yes? I mean, 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. Prime Wardrobe is Prime's answer to the dressing room. Pick out clothing, shoes and accessories online at Amazon Wardrobe. Pick three or more items 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. They'll take care of the rest.
One caveat: Prime Wardrobe is available only to select members who are invited. You can request an invitation here. I did.
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. It 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. Amazon says charities have netted $89 million via AmazonSmile to date. 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.
This was a new one to me: You can share your Amazon Prime membership with your household. 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. That’s fine for, say, a spouse, 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.
Photo by Bob Niedt
You can replenish scores of everyday products from Amazon at the touch of a button -- no computer required. The secret is the Dash Button, a freestanding plastic device about the size of a thumb drive that's tied to a specific product. Let's say you're running out of toilet paper. Simply push the Charmin Dash Button mounted in your bathroom, watch for the green light to flash, and in two days you'll get more rolls in the mail.
I tested two Dash Buttons: one for Tide detergent and another for Slim Jims (don't judge). Once the buttons arrived by mail, it was a snap to connect them to my home Wi-Fi network using the Amazon Shopping app on my smartphone. Each button costs $4.99, but the money is credited toward the first order. I placed the Tide button in the laundry room, of course, and the Slim Jim button near the beverage fridge. Make sure you inform significant others in your household about how the Dash Button works. I know someone's spouse who, curious about the new addition to the laundry room, pushed the button a half-dozen times or so and ordered lots of Tide detergent. Fortunately I, er, the holder of the Amazon Prime account, was alerted and curtailed the multiple purchase.
Amazon is expanding its private-label offerings -- an area that holds huge business potential, as we pointed out in our story about grocery chain Wegmans. Amazon Elements products, for example, are already available only to Prime members, and the company is rolling out other exclusive private-label brands. Also unique about Elements: Scan a special code on the product -- using your Amazon Shopping app -- and you will see where every ingredient in the product was sourced, down to the water in the baby wipes. The Amazon Elements line also includes vitamins and nutritional supplements.
You can do your weekly grocery shopping, or a good chunk of it, on Prime Pantry, an Amazon Prime perk where members shop for non-bulk groceries and household products. For a flat fee of $7.99 for shipping (plus the cost of the products), you fill up as many boxes as you need online and wait for delivery. Alternatively, Prime members can sign up for Prime Pantry and pay a separate monthly fee of $4.99, which includes free delivery on Prime Pantry orders of $40 or more. 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. New: You no longer have to fill a box to capacity, which was a pain.
Amazon Prime members (and five others, as in family and friends) get unlimited photo storage. Yes, unlimited. 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 photos, it may be time to trim some costs.
Oh, and no worries about tagging photos. Amazon's scary servers will automatically sort your photos. Want to free up storage on your phone? Use the Amazon app, upload them to Prime Photos and delete them from your phone. What could possibly go wrong?
Just right for sitting around the dorm room and streaming "Game of Thrones" during study breaks, here comes Amazon Prime Student. It's free for the first six months with a legit ".edu" school email address (along with proof you’re actually taking at least one class). The free trial includes free two-day Prime shipping (textbooks and Doritos don't buy themselves), free same-day pickup, unlimited movie streaming and more. After six months it costs $59 a year for Prime Student, and the paid upgrade comes with unlimited streaming of Prime Music. Oh, and you can buy textbooks for cheap. If textbooks are your thing.
Why pay for ad-free Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music when you're already making beautiful music with your Amazon Prime account? Included in Amazon Prime Music is 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 -- and it's true. (I couldn't access O.A.R. or OneRepublic songs on the Prime freebie.) But before you fork over an extra $9.99 a month for Apple Music or Spotify, download Amazon's music app and take it for a test run. It might be all you need. If not, an upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited, which features tens of millions of songs including new releases (there you are, O.A.R.), runs $7.99 a month for Prime members.
You don't need a public library to get a free loaner when you have Amazon Prime. That's because the cost of an Amazon Prime membership includes access to a fairly wide collection of thousands of books, magazines and audiobooks nestled in Prime Reading. I clicked on Soap Opera Digest magazine ("Big GH Shake-ups!") and the right price came up: $0. I didn't need a Kindle to get it. I could have it delivered to my iPhone or iPad.
As a bonus, Prime members also get free access to certain podcasts and other audiobooks and series through Audible Channels, a limited version of Audible. You need to download the Audible app and log in with your Prime account to start listening. Otherwise, a subscription to the full version of Audible, owned by Amazon, costs $14.95 a month.
Look at you, Amazon Prime member. Binge-watching at no charge "The Man in the High Castle" (an Amazon original series) or "The Florida Project" ... wait, that's me. 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.
You like your deals fast and hot. And you want to be at the front of the pack getting them. Amazon Prime members enjoy access to those one-off, deeply discounted Lightning Deals 30 minutes before the great unwashed. 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. Recent Lightning Deals ranged from a Tick Twister tick remover set with small and large Tick Twisters at 30% off to a PancakeBot 2.0 pancake printer for 34% off because who doesn't want to print pancakes?
The former Amazon Mom has morphed into Amazon Family, a Prime perk that includes up to 20% off diapers, baby food and more, free shipping and free returns, which we don’t want to think about when we’re talking diapers. Oh, and Amazon Family has lots of other nice perks, meaning discounts on kid-friendly items and unlimited streaming music plans for families of up to six. You or your shorty, with permission, can stream thousands of family friendly movies and TV programs from the likes of Nickelodeon, Disney and PBS.
If you own an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, your Prime membership allows you to place orders through Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant. For example, if you just ran out of batteries for your flashlight, 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, although I find her voiced descriptions a bit difficult to follow.
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 recently started rolling out free two-hour delivery of groceries from Whole Foods to Prime members in select cities.
In its latest move, Amazon is now giving Prime members an extra 10% off on sale items at Whole Foods stores. To receive the discount, in-store shoppers must download the Whole Foods Market app, log in with their Prime account and scan a code at checkout. The Whole Foods discount for Prime members is rolling out nationwide during the summer of 2018. The Whole Foods Market app will also alert Amazon Prime shoppers to exclusive in-store deals.
More, you can also have your online Amazon orders shipped to Whole Foods stores that have Amazon Lockers. That's perfect if porch pirates are prevalent in your neighborhood.
Prime members can get a free six-month digital subscription to the Washington Post (which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns), followed by a discounted rate of $3.99 a month -- a $6 savings -- to read the paper on your computer, phone or tablet via the Post app.
Amazon is getting busy with Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value store brand to, as other supermarket chains do, knock the national brands down a peg or two. Currently in its crosshairs: The flavored sparkling water giant LaCroix, a favorite of millennials. Twelve-packs of 365 Everyday Value flavored seltzer are selling for $3.99 apiece, and a San Francisco Whole Foods was reportedly offering a buy-one-get-one-free deal to Prime shoppers. By comparison, 12-packs of LaCroix sparkling water typically run between $5 and $6 each. Flavors in the 365 line include grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange and "pure." A ginger flavor rolls out in September.
"I've got to laugh when they do grapefruit," Barry Joseph, author of the forthcoming book, Seltzertopia, told the online news site Quartz. "LaCroix made grapefruit a standard flavor for seltzer. If someone's putting out seltzers that include grapefruit, they're clearly going after the market that LaCroix developed."
Courtesy Elliott Brown via Flickr/CC 2.0
Amazon has wheels: A fleet of 35 bubble-blowing, music-spewing panel trucks roaming the streets with hot deals on cool items. You buy them online with your Prime membership and hoof it over to the Amazon Treasure Truck to pick up your treasures.
First rolled out in 2016 in Seattle, Amazon's hometown, they're now popping up in 25 major U.S. cities (and 12 cities in the United Kingdom), getting all hip selling tech trends, outdoor essentials, fresh foods including giant porterhouse steaks, the latest Nintendo releases and more. You use the Amazon app to see what the day's deals are on your local Treasure Truck, and make your purchase with the app by clicking "I want this." You'll get a confirmation email that will also tell you where the Treasure Truck is parked (think "Whole Foods"). It's your job to go claim your purchase. Warning: You may see dancers and more at the tricked-out TT.
Are you waiting for that hot new video game, book (yes, we still love print) or movie, or the latest jam from your favorite band? Get it by 7 p.m. the day it's released, courtesy of Amazon Prime.
Maybe you're looking for something old school, like John Coltrane's Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album , the deluxe double-album on vinyl, the coming Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker video game for Nintendo Switch, the October-launching 13th edition of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, The Meltdown, or the July release of the Blu-Ray version of Isle of Dogs. Choose "release date delivery" when you make your purchase and, hello, Primer, you're among the first to be checking out something hot and fresh.
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