Don’t Have Prime But Shop at Amazon? Read Those Prices Carefully

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ProPublica has a new article Amazon Says It Puts Customers First. But Its Pricing Algorithm Doesn’t, which outlines how Amazon does not always list the lowest price including shipping as the first available option. Here’s an example they provide of how this works on some pruning shears if you don’t have Amazon Prime or reach the $49 Super Saver Shipping tier:


Amazon really, really wants everyone to buy Amazon Prime. They do all kinds of little nudges to get you to join. For example, their Super Saver Shipping option went from a few days to oftentimes weeks to get to me. Another way they promote Amazon Prime is by promoting merchants that join their Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) program, because that means customers can buy more stuff with Prime. ProPublica points out that Amazon used to be more blunt about it with this former language:

Because most FBA listings are ranked without a shipping cost, you get an edge when competing!

Bottom line: If you don’t have Prime and don’t qualify for Super Saver Shipping, the default buying option will often not be the cheapest. By using the term “algorithm”, that suggests to me some sort of complicated scheme. What Amazon does is simple but perhaps deceptive: They assume that their Prime-eligible items will ship to you free, whether you have Prime or not. If you don’t have Prime and don’t reach the $49 tier for Super Saver Shipping, you should remember this rule across the entire site. Don’t click on the “Add to Cart” button without closer inspection. Amazon is simply adding yet another inconvenience for non-Prime shoppers. (I can’t wait for the new Top Gear, er… Grand Tour to start though!)

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  1. I do! I realised that a long time ago. I’m always even more cautious when shopping online. I try to remember that I have to factor in shipping and taxes. I know lots of people get caught like that.

  2. I find its worth cross shopping Amazon with (with free in store pick up) or Ebay. I never used to do this. Often times I now find that both Walmart and Ebay have a better total price for the same item because there is no shipping charges involved. And in cases, which are most now, where you have to pay sales tax on Amazon, that further flattens the playing field.

  3. There is a plug in for your browser called “honey”. It will tell you if there is a cheaper price on Amazon then what you put in your cart (takes into account tax and shipping). Also, it tries various coupon codes on your order on many shopping sites. I highly recommend it in light of this article!

  4. It wasn’t even the best deal with prime!

  5. As a 3rd party Seller on Amazon, its all about “winning the buy box”, the first and only offer on the product page. It’s an extra click to see and sort the extra seller/shipping options which many ignore. Amazon gives priority to its own stock then 3rd party sellers who store goods in Amazon’s warehouses (“fulfilled by amazon (FBA))” with many significant recurring fees on top of the normal commission). The panic to win the buy box is also what drives Sellers to cut & re-cut prices to the point to losing money. All good news for Amazon being the house.

  6. I think it’s safe to assume that merchants will always try to get more money out of you. To think that any particular company is here with your best interest is in mind is foolish. Any purchase, better yet, all online purchases should be scrutinized… check local and internet merchants for the best price. Never assume that one company is always giving you the best deal, as they never are. Companies count on consumers not having the time to shop around.

  7. I find myself buying from Amazon often enough that I joined Prime, to save on shipping. Any more than one item per month, and you’re coming out ahead. The free movies on my Roku is a pure bonus!

  8. I used to buy almost everything at Amazon without even thinking. Not any more. First they started charging tax, then the free shipping minimum went way up. Finally, the pricing games they play often make me mad when the price drops right after I purchase, and they won’t let me cancel my order or give me a price adjustment while I wait days for it to ship.

    These days, I can almost always find a cheaper alternative elsewhere. Prime is a huge scam to lock people into buying everything at Amazon at higher prices. For many, the convenience is worth the higher price. Not me.

  9. If you use Prime for shipping, AND you’re looking to pull the plug, it can be a powerful tool. However, you should still:

    1. Compare the prices whenever you buy, and make sure the Prime price is cheaper than reliable alternatives.
    2. Actually consume the content if you plan to pull the plug (there’s a TON of great programming available).
    3. Take advantage of Prime Day or Cyber Monday to get things you need…while not getting suckered into buying stuff because it’s on sale.

  10. I use PrimeMusic and Amazon movie site which almost justifies the cost. I find the connivence of shopping on Amazon extremely easy and consistent. Sure I glance at the prices but going to multiple sites to look for a cheaper price is just not worth it. (unless its a huge difference)

  11. We’ve resisted getting Prime for years. It’s usually easy enough for us to get a basket of $49 and just take advantage of the super shipper savings. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about Prime, you sure would have to watch a lot of videos to make up for the annual fee!

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