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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Bob Niedt, Online Editor
| March 18, 2019
If the frugal you is busy comparing household budgets from 2018 to 2019, one prime thing may jump out at you. Yes, you're paying $20 more a year for your Amazon Prime subscription than you did at the start of 2018. The retail (and more) giant increased its membership fee for Amazon Prime to $119 in June. There are no similar increases on deck for 2019, but that 20% rate hike may make you pause. I know it did for me.
The big reason back in the day to hook up with Amazon was the free two-day shipping, the very roots of Amazon Prime. But since my Amazon shopping addiction has waned, I thought I'd explore what other perks an Amazon Prime membership gets me, among the more than 100 million Prime subscribers worldwide. You may be surprised by some of today's best Amazon Prime benefits -- free two-day shipping aside.
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 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, 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, currently in 66 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 -- and you can app-track delivery in real time.
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 (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. They'll take care of the rest.
Did you know you could shop, buy and give to your favorite registered charitable organization through Amazon Prime? Neither did I. It's called AmazonSmile. Simply pick a charity and do all of your shopping on your personal AmazonSmile page. It has the exact same products and prices as your regular Amazon.com page, and you can switch between your regular Prime account and AmazonSmile (Amazon will gently nudge you to AmazonSmile if you forget). There are more than a million eligible 501(c)(3) public charitable organizations to choose from, and the one you pick will receive 0.5% of the value of your eligible purchases. Amazon says charities have netted nearly $100 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.
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 (Dash buttons are Wi-Fi connected after a simple setup.)
I tested two Dash Buttons: one for Tide detergent and another for Unique Splits pretzels. 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 product-specific 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 Unique Splits 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 (and since then, Amazon has put in place a default system that will only ship one order at a time).
Amazon is expanding its private-label offerings -- an area that holds huge business potential, as we pointed out in our story about Costco's Kirkland Signature brands. Amazon Elements products, for example, are already available only to Prime members, and the company is rolling out other exclusive private-label brands (as of December, Amazon had 119 private labels and 223 brand partners in the Amazon Exclusives program, according to the brand-research firm Gartner L2). 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. 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 $10 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.
And you don't have to pay $4.99 a month on top of your Amazon Prime fee to shop Prime Pantry. It's just that the free shipping threshold is higher. You have to spend over $35 for the free shipping.
Amazon Prime members get unlimited photo storage. Yes, unlimited. Plus, you can add up to five others, as in family and friends, connected in the Family Vault. 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, document, and other files just for you, not the crew from the Vault.
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; maybe not going to class, but taking it). The one-time-only free trial includes free two-day Prime shipping (ramen noodles 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 2 million songs and more than a thousand playlists and stations programmed by Amazon's music experts at no additional cost. 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 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 more than 50 million songs including new releases (there you are, OneRepublic), 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. Prime Reading allows you or your household to borrow up to 10 titles at a time and from a selection of Kindle books, magazines, short works, books with Audible narration, comics, and more. The available content is updated periodically, says Amazon, and titles are added and removed. I clicked on The New Yorker magazine 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 "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" (an Amazon original series) or the exceptional "Eighth Grade" ... 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 the movies. 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. 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.
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 20% off a Ring Alarm home security system to 20% off a GreatCircleUSA 7-horse power heavy duty 212cc gas powered 3:1 capable multi-function wood chipper shredder.
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.
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, natch, 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. She does, however, tell some pretty corny jokes, and will sing "Happy Birthday" upon request.
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, and other items on Amazon.com. Amazon recently started rolling out free two-hour delivery of groceries from Whole Foods to Prime members in select cities.
Amazon gives Prime members an extra 10% off on sale items at Whole Foods stores (look for the yellow signs). To receive the discount, in-store shoppers must download the Whole Foods Market app to their phone, log in with their Prime account and have the code scanned on their phones at checkout. The Whole Foods Market app will also alert Amazon Prime shoppers to exclusive in-store deals; virtual coupons, don't you know?.
More, you can also have your online Amazon orders shipped to Whole Foods stores that have Amazon Lockers (you can also make returns there). That's perfect if porch pirates are prevalent in your neighborhood.
Courtesy Elliott Brown via Flickr/CC 2.0
Amazon has wheels: A fleet of 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 24 major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Tampa, 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 (or sign up for text notifications) to see what the day's deals are on your local Treasure Truck (or in the city you're visiting), 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 forward to the coming Sekiro Shadows Die Twice video game for Playstation 4, releasing on March 22, the August release of Daemon X Machina for Nintendo Switch, Metroid Prime 4 for Nintendo Switch releasing Dec. 31, 2022 (yes, 2022), or A Love Letter Life: Pursue Creatively. Date Intentionally. Love Faithfully, a soon-to-be released self-help book by Jeremy Roloff and Audrey Roloff. 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.
Amazon.com launched its Black-Friday-in-July Prime Day back in 2015, ostensibly to celebrate its 20th anniversary. In reality, Prime Day is a way for Amazon to juice sales in mid-summer, when consumers tend to spend more time on vacation and less time in stores and online. Amazon tries to grab the attention (and dollars) of its 100-million Prime members worldwide by offering them exclusive deals on Prime Day itself, as well as in the days leading up to the big event.
Prime Day 2019, if Amazon stays true to form, will actually be a day and a half, in mid-July. Prime members can expect red-hot deals on a smorgasbord of gadgets and geegaws, especially on Amazon's proprietary products including Alexa-activated devices. You have to be a Prime member to buy, but news flash: You can sign up for a 30-day free trial. Some shoppers cancel after Prime Day and before the 30 days are up to dodge the $119-a-year Prime membership fee. Just sayin'.
Sometimes, you just forget. You forget where you purchased the water filter for your fridge, and when it's time to get it replaced. Or you forget where (and when) you bought those fading off-brand, discount (but excellent) replacement ink cartridges for your printer. Or you just want to do price comparisons on those items between Amazon and the manufacturer's online store. Prime has you covered.
Click on the Orders button at the top of your Amazon.com home page (near the cart). It will take you to Your Orders page and will default to show you our purchases from the last six months. You can also go back to the very first order you made, mine being Oct. 24, 2007, a schizophrenic cart containing an electric toothbrush, a 24-pack of canned salsa, a book (In the Shadow of No Towers) and a pack of replacement heads for the new toothbrush. No judgments, please.
It's a European thing, now available in the states: If you own a certain make and model car, Amazon will deliver your Prime packages to your car instead of your front porch, the better to deter porch thieves. Starting off in 37 cities, the service is only available for 2015 or later Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles that have active OnStar accounts or Volvos with active Volvo on Call accounts.
If you have an eligible vehicle, you'll need to download the Amazon Key app, which will give the delivery driver access to your ride. Amazon said the car must be parked in an “open, street-level, and publicly accessible area.” Depending on the type of vehicle it is and how much space is available, the package will be stowed in the trunk or the cabin.
The rest is done by voodoo. You'll get a four-hour window notification of delivery, you'll be notified when the driver arrives, the driver will notify Amazon, your car will be unlocked, package inserted, car locked and your notified.
Car deliveries when you're not there are way cheaper than home deliveries when you're not home. But the latter's a thing, too. You just have to fork over a couple of hundred bucks to outfit your home with a special Amazon kit that includes a smart lock and an in-home camera to eyeball the delivery. Again with the Amazon Key, you'll be notified when the delivery is about to be made, and remotely unlock your door. The package is placed just inside your door and you notice this because you're watching, remotely, through that camera via your mobile device. You'll spend about $220 (plus installation fees if you're not comfortable installing the smart lock) for this one-time setup.
Whether receiving or returning, Amazon Locker is a nice perk for Prime shoppers who live in porch-delivered, package-theft-prone areas. Amazon-owned Whole Foods stores and other retailers are getting the lockers installed. The mall near where I live in Northern Virginia just installed one. They're free to use for picking up items or returning them.
Here's the drill: Sign into your Amazon account and find the closest Amazon Locker to you. Put that address in your address book and choose it as the default delivery site for your goods when you check out and pay for your order. When the package is delivered, you'll receive a code to unlock the locker. Follow the instructions on the screen.
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 shipping). Add their address to your Amazon address book, shop, and when you're paying for your cart, choose their address as the default shipping destination. Just remember to change the default address back to your home when shopping for yourself.
Here's a new discovery: You can shop at women-owned businesses to give smaller entrepreneurs a boost. The service is available on Amazon Storefronts, and offerings include everything from clothing and spa goods to books and party supplies.