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May 04, 2006

Amazon Prime = Teh Crack

If there was ever an enabling device in online purchases, it would be Amazon Prime, the little deal that company has where you pay $70, and in return, everything you buy for the next year gets shipped two-day, for no additional cost (i.e., feels like free, since you're not coughing up after the first $70). Since two-day delivery is usually something like $4, if you buy 17 things (or so) off Amazon, you're in the black with delivery charges. One suspects that if one were to look at Amazon's analysis, one would find the average number of purchases off Amazon to be somewhat lower.

Not for this chump, however; a combination of poor impulse control and living in the middle of nowhere conspires to make me buy a lot of crap off of Amazon. Previously the shipping charges acted as something of a brake for my mindless acquisitions (because shipping rather significantly cuts into the price differential Amazon offers over bricks and mortar stores), but no longer. Last night I was having an e-mail conversation with someone about writer Barth Anderson's debut novel The Patron Saint of Plagues, which came out in late March. What? I said to myself. Why was I not informed? Off to Amazon, bang! It's on its way, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Two days ago, I had a hankering to understand the universe -- I mean, really understand it, man -- so off I went to Amazon, bang! And now I have Roger Penrose's The Road to Reality on my desk (quick verdict: very interesting, lots of math). Two days before that, I learned that my favorite writer from The Simpsons, John Swartzwelder, has two novels out, The Time Machine Did It and Double Happiness. Bang! Amazon (quick review: funny books, not much story, though, and expensive for what are really novellas, not novels).

It's an addiction, man. What keeps me from bankruptcy is the simple fact that I have not enabled "One-Click Purchase," which I consider the most enabling enabler in all of enabledom. I fear the one-click purchase. It calls to me, like a siren. But the pummelling I would receive from the budget-minded wife when the Amex bill came in would be both fearsome and richly deserved. One has to know one's limits. That would be mine.

And anyway, I'm already wrecking the Amazon Prime business model as it is. Hopefully some other schmoes are out there taking up the slack for me and not buying things with their Amazon Prime accounts, thus supporting my "ship those babies to me now" ways. I can only assume there are. Suckers.

Posted by john at May 4, 2006 12:09 PM

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Comments

Gabe | May 4, 2006 12:46 PM

Yeah, the Prime is something I can't do for the same reason you can't do the one click purchasing. I would use it faaaar in excess of common sense.

Lisa | May 4, 2006 12:52 PM

1-click was made for you and me.

Since I don't drive, internet shopping is my friend. It is like the entire mall, grocery store, and quiant little neighborhood shops are in that little box in my office. My deterrent was that I would never, ever autofill or save my credit card info and never memorize it. I'd have to physically get up, go find my bag, get it out, and type all those numbers in. But, lo and behold, over time I've started to memorize it. And now it is JUST SO EASY to hit the number pad and punch those numbers in anywhere, anytime.

I don't buy that much off amazon to warrant prime, but I'm glad to know that someone who uses it does actually come out ahead. I was wondering about that.

John Scalzi | May 4, 2006 01:05 PM

I've memorized my AMEX number, which turns out to be very useful. The AMEX folks are always trying to get me to upgrade my card, and I keep telling them no, because then I would have to memorize a new number, and I don't want to bother.

Regan | May 4, 2006 01:22 PM

I wondered who signed up for Amazon Prime. Now that I've read your entry, John, I wonder if it'd actually SAVE me money in the long run, seeing as how I often aim for the $25 mark by doing the, "Oh, and I'll add this other thing to my cart" that ends up being just about worth the price of the now free shipping. Going to have to whip out Excel tonight and look over my last year's purchases and see whether it makes financial sense to be able to order willy-nilly without Free Shipper's Remorse.

John Scalzi | May 4, 2006 01:24 PM

Remember that their $25 free shipping thing also takes longer to arrive; the Prime thing is two-day shipping. So you can get your fix faster, you see.

Chris Byrne | May 4, 2006 01:41 PM

I know that before I got prime, I ordered from amazon a couple times a year. Since I decided to go prime last christmas, I've spent a couple thousand dollars there.

Before I would wait until there was at least $100 worth of stuff I wanted to buy, now I jsut one click and not worry about it.

I dont really think it's increased my total spedning though; really it's just shifted away from Borders and Barnes and Noble.

Dave | May 4, 2006 02:28 PM


Warning: the following may seem weird, sad, or perhaps even pathological, but it works for me.

I love Amazon.

I ordered Prime within three minutes of hearing about it. I have had one-click enabled since it was released. I've got the Amazon-branded Chase card, so that's 3% off on all Amazon purchases. My wishlist has about 300 items on it, more for my future purchasing consideration rather than gifting. Every couple of weeks I drill-down through my first two hundred or so recommendations, looking for interesting new stuff Amazon's mighty data-mining engines think I might like. I always check out the related items on every purchase I make. I've probably got about fifty content providers (including you, John), that I'm automatically notified about their releases, and if Amazon would allow me to select authors for auto-preorder I probably would consider it.

Add all that up, and it really does change the way you shop. It requires a good amount of self-awareness, but the end result is being very well-connected with pretty much anything I might actually want to consume, at pretty much the lowest possible cost in both time and money. The two-day shipping delay is perfect, preventing the immediate neurotransmitter rush that makes impulse shopping so dangerous, but isn't so long that I get impatient waiting for my purchases.

What I really want is to build a barcode scanner into a web-enabled PDA, hooked up to Amazon's web service. Walk into a bricks-and-mortar store, see something you might like, scan it, get all the info, either one-click and have it in two days or wish-list it for later purchase, walk out of bricks-and-mortar store, watch bricks-and-mortar store close down.

Dave | May 4, 2006 02:40 PM


By the way, you needn't fear that you are breaking Amazon's business model by buying a lot of stuff via Prime. Amazon fully expects to lose money on shipping to Prime customers. In fact, they are hoping to lose a whole lot of money on Prime shipping. It's folded into their revenue models. Prime is a marketing expense, not at revenue source. Where they expect to make it up is in increased purchases from Prime customers.

That Neil Guy | May 4, 2006 02:43 PM

I know this thread is mostly about Amazon Prime, but when I checked out Swartzwelder's books, it made me think of this: why do you think he's gone with some tiny publisher? It at least appears to be some little outfit, though I didn't bother to google them or anything. I'd think that as the (arguably) best Simpsons writer he could get a deal with a big timey outfit who could then stamp FROM THE WRITER OF THE SIMPSONS!!!! all over it and probably get some nice shelf space that way.

Any thoughts?

John Scalzi | May 4, 2006 03:01 PM

I suspect they're self-published, because "Kennydale Books" doesn't have any other books or authors as far as I can tell. I guess he didn't want to bother.

Jennifer | May 4, 2006 04:19 PM

My last Super Saver Shipping order (a week or two ago) came three days after I ordered it. For now I'm sticking with Saver, though I was offered a three-month free trial of Prime when I placed that order...

Karen | May 4, 2006 05:02 PM

I signed up for Prime last November and made up the shipping costs in Christmas gifts alone. Now it only serves to tempt me... and as my credit card statement shows, I have no willpower when it comes to books. Now that I live in Portland, though, I'm spending more at Powells than at Amazon (the shopping cart feature for locals is amazing!).

Dan | May 4, 2006 07:13 PM

I was like this when I was going through a raging film obsession and discovered Deep Discount DVD. I'd order cheap DVDs by the pound. It got so bad that eventually I had to stop and think... "did I already order that movie?"

Fortunately, my hysterical consumption leveled off when I'd mostly filled out my collection to my satisfaction. Now I only get one little box a month rather than two or three big ones.

Clearmoon | May 4, 2006 09:54 PM

I feel your pain with the Wife, Amazon, and the dreaded Amex bill!!

Tony Zbaraschuk | May 4, 2006 10:40 PM

I just exercise patience... always group my purchases in $25 amounts. I can usually wait a few extra days for my fix to show up in the mail.

(It's not like my TBR pile at home isn't already taller than the bed.)


Tony Zbaraschuk

codrus | May 5, 2006 12:10 AM

I was an early adopter of Amazon Prime....and I also found that it made one-click purchasing far more attractive. Unless I feel the need to own a book "today", I'll just one-click it and expect it two days later. :D

SFEley | May 5, 2006 01:04 AM

Am I the only one using Prime and not paying for it? I was offered a 60-day "test drive" of the service a couple weeks back. I took the deal with the conviction that I'd cancel it in June.

And now... Well, I'll still probably cancel it.

Anthony Cunnigham | May 5, 2006 06:30 AM

We do't get Prime here in the UK. We do get free shipping if you order over $27. So, rather than acting as a brake I find that free shipping causes me to buy more. Still at least working at an office means I can get the ordr shipped there and sneak it into the house at a later date. Once it's in the house it's easy to camoflage it in with the rest of the books.

You're dead right about One-Click though. That sucker is way too easy.

Brian Greenberg | May 5, 2006 09:32 AM

OK, sometimes I feel like the economist in this little group. A couple of things:

1) If you order more because of Amazon Prime, you will eventually go into the black with shipping, but into the red in terms of total dollars spent. Not that this is a bad thing (assuming you're buying stuff you really want), but please let's not be under the impression that Amazon Prime is saving you money.

2) I don't know how it is in Ohio, but in New Jersey, whenever I order standard shipping, my order arrives within 2 or 3 days (once in a while, it's even one day). To the point where I would never pay an extra dime for faster shipping. Now, maybe that's just because New Jersey has, you know, roads everywhere and stuff. In any case, the >$25 for free shipping thing is the marketing gimmick for me, not Amazon Prime...

_Jon | May 5, 2006 09:46 AM

I've had my credit card info memorized for a long time. I don't know my driver's license number though.

I tried Prime at Christmas but was pissed 'cause it only applies to items from Amazon proper. So I wrote an angry letter. As an apology for the mis-communication (which could easily - and accurate - have been blamed on me), they refunded half of the Prime cost. So I went and bought more stuff.

I use one click buying and their system doesn't always group things for shipping. So I've received three deliveries from Amazon the same day - each with one item. Funny to me. Pain to throw away boxes and filler.

I used to wait until what I wanted exceeded $25, then I would decide against some things and delay even more. So this "free shipping" has resulted in more purchases by me. Which is what I think they want.

John Scalzi | May 5, 2006 09:51 AM

Brian Greenberg:

"please let's not be under the impression that Amazon Prime is saving you money."

No worries on that score, Brian. The question is whether it causes me to buy more than I would have bought overall in my consumer purchases, which is of course difficult to say.

Anonymous | May 5, 2006 03:04 PM

I got a free trial of Prime right before the holidays. It was wonderful. I miss it, but not enough to shell out the extra dough for it, as I usually end up getting the super saver shipping, and I figure the slow shipping is a good way to teach me patience.

Bruce Arthurs | May 7, 2006 10:06 PM

And the secret is...

...Wish List.

I almost never buy anything from Amazon (or B&N, or anyone else), without adding it onto my wish list, leaving it there for a few days/weeks/months, then reviewing the initial impulse and deciding if I really need/want/can afford this particular item.

I probably actually buy less than 50% of the stuff I put on the wish lists.

jadi | September 21, 2006 08:40 PM

_Jon, and for all of you who find amazon makes it way too hard to filter searches by Prime eligible items only, I've found how to do it by messing with the URL: http://www.vuhn.com/2006/08/07/search-amazon-for-free-shipping-items-only/

vitasthefetus | October 23, 2006 08:01 PM

It is definately annoying to sift through all of the non-prime search results after you pay for the service. The URL trick mentioned above is good, but I think it's easier to use a Prime-only search engine, like iSearchBetter.com.

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