Is Amazon Prime's Free Trial Worth It? (A Review of Amazon's Subscription Service)
What is Amazon Prime?
Amazon is a major player in online shopping. It operates in numerous countries and has built a reputation for speedy shipping, low prices and good customer service.
The online store offers free shipping if you spend a relatively small amount. However, this is a loss-leader and the minimum spend required for this perk has gradually been raised. Amazon Prime is a way for the company to cross-subsidize its free delivery offer.
Pros and Cons of Prime Subscription Service
- Free one-day shipping
- No minimum spend for free shipping
- Access to special deals
- Can get bulky and heavy grocery items delivered
- Free unlimited downloads
- Rushed service leads to mistakes
- You get free shipping anyway if you spend at least $35/ £20
- Encourages you to spend more than planned
- Not all items are cheaper online than your local store
- Shopping and spending online distracts you from other tasks
Where Does Prime Membership Operate?
Amazon Prime membership was initially rolled out just for US consumers. The offer consists of regular monthly payments in exchange for quicker shipping, early access to sales, discounts on selected goods on Amazon and special offers on linked services like Kindle and Amazon Pantry.
According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), by the end of March 2017, 60% of Amazon’s US customers had signed up for Prime membership. Their average spend was almost twice that of a non-Prime customer.
Amazon then opened up Prime membership to other markets including Canada, India, Japan, the UK, and Germany, but customer adoption in these countries has been slow. US Amazon Prime still accounts for two-thirds of its worldwide retail sales. In order to increase take-up of the service, Amazon has been offering free trial memberships of Prime especially in international markets.
Is Amazon Prime Worth It?
The value you place on the Amazon Prime service will depend on your individual circumstances. I signed up for a free 30-Day Prime Trial in the UK. The specifics of my review are UK focused, but service levels elsewhere are likely to be similar.
Prior to taking the trial, I had been a regular shopper with Amazon for years. The convenience of shopping online is my chief reason for shopping there. I usually find their prices to be the cheapest and the few times I have a problem with delivery it has been resolved quickly and courteously.
I had seen Prime membership advertised, but initially considered it a waste of money. I always opt for free delivery and have no problem reaching the required minimum spend to get that service. However, in recent months the previously reliable delivery service has deteriorated. My deliveries never used to take longer than 3 days. Now they are taking 7 to 10 days to reach me.
I dithered over subscribing to the free trial. Then I saw adverts for the Annual 30-hour Prime Bargain Day. Once a year selected goods are offered at 20% discount to Prime members. To my surprise the items on offer included things I was about to order anyway. By taking the month’s trial, I could immediately make a 20% saving on my shopping. So, I signed up.
Amazon Prime Day Bargains
The Lure of the Amazon Prime Day Sale
The selection of goods included in the sale is huge, but you have to be a Prime member to get the discount. If you have never been a member before you are offered a 30-day free trial of the service.
I read the small print carefully to make sure I was not committing myself to longer than 30-days. The website asks for your credit or debit card details before you complete the sign-up. This is because Amazon hope you will forget to cancel the payment mandate after the trial. If you do not cancel, the free offer automatically converts into a paid membership.
Being a savvy shopper, after registering with the service, I immediately went to the “cancel your trial Prime membership” option in my account. By cancelling straight away, I retained the free period, but would not be billed when it ended. I figured if I liked the service I could always rejoin. The monthly fee was the same whether I took out continuous membership now or came back later of my own volition.
I ordered several sales items and got 20% off the bill as well as upgraded delivery. Membership of Amazon Prime means free next day delivery with no minimum spend. All good so far. Well not quite.
Speedy Next Day Delivery
Before I had Amazon Prime, my orders were delivered by amazon’s own delivery fleet. I could track the location of each item online. As I always opted for the (slow) free delivery, they would inch their way from depot to depot. They would eventually arrive at my home; unhurried but well packed.
Amazon promises “fast delivery and more” for their Prime service. I got the fast delivery but the “and more” was not quite what Amazon intended. The 30-hour sale had obviously proved very popular and the packers seemed to have been overwhelmed. They had skimped on the job. An Amazon order normally arrives packed in a sturdy cardboard box. Inside plenty of bubble wrap is used to ensure nothing gets damaged on route. This time the item had not been put into any protective outer wrapping at all. The retail shelf pack had simply had an address label slapped on and it was sent just like that. It stood little chance of arriving undamaged, but there’s more.
In order to ensure next day delivery, Amazon had subcontracted the consignment to another courier company. When I was handed the package, I could see that the end of the box was torn and broken. An unsuccessful attempt had been made to reseal it. I complained to the driver, but he would not allow me to reject the delivery.
To cut a long story short, I phoned Amazon. They apologized, and sent me a replacement the following day using a different courier. I know from experience they would have also done this if I had been a non-Prime customer.
Unless you need quick deliveries, I do not think next day delivery on its own makes the fee for Amazon Prime good value. If this is the only Prime service you intend to use, do not sign up.
Amazon Pantry Versus Local Store
Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh
I use online ordering and home delivery of food for convenience. Amazon offers two food related services; Amazon Pantry for dry goods and Amazon Fresh (as yet only offered in large cities) for chilled and frozen items. Both of these are for Prime members only.
I wanted to make as much use of my free trial as possible so I put together a Pantry order. There is delivery charge for each box, but I took advantage of an offer where providing I choose four everyday items, the delivery charge was waived.
I checked the prices of each item against those of my usual online food store. Some items were cheaper at Amazon and some were cheaper at their rival. If you do use this service it is worth the effort of checking. On the day I shopped, some of the differences were large. For example, on branded dried herbs and spices, Amazon Pantry was 30% cheaper, but on branded canned fruit they were 20% dearer. The video below shows a US customer who noticed the same thing about pricing.
My order arrived in a really strong box and each glass jar had an individual polystyrene sleeve around it to prevent breakage. I was very happy with this delivery.
I recommend the Amazon Pantry service especially if you order heavy or bulky items. Cross-check prices before ordering to ensure you get good value for money.
Other Prime Services
I have listed below the range of services included in the monthly Prime fee. The deal covers unlimited free downloads of audio, video and game content. This could be appealing if you have kids or have tech related hobbies. For me, they are less useful and it would be cheaper for me to pay for the few downloads that I want.
Unlimited cloud storage is another plus that sounds good. But you would lose your content if you decided to stop your subscription at some point in the future.
On balance, I will not be signing up for Amazon Prime as I would not make enough use of the “extras”. However, if I wanted to make a lot of purchases at a busy time of year like Black Friday or Christmas, joining Amazon Prime for a short time could be worthwhile to get quicker deliveries.
Signing up for a free trial 30-day trial is worth doing. It gives you the chance to see whether paying a monthly fee would benefit you.
What Does Amazon Prime Offer?
The cost in 2018 for Amazon Prime membership is $12.99 per month in US and £7.99 per month in UK. Or you can pay an annual fee of $119 or £79. The subscription service includes the following:-
Free next-day delivery
Digital credits for choosing free-no-rush shipping option
Unlimited deliveries with no minimum order size
Instant access to video streaming with Prime Video
On-demand, ad-free music streaming with Prime Music
Unlimited reading on any device with Prime Reading
Unlimited listening to original audio series from Audible
Free game content every month, exclusive discounts with Twitch
Free unlimited photo storage through Prime Photos
30-minute early access to select Amazon Lightning Deals
Groceries though Amazon Pantry and Amazon Fresh
2018 Amazon Prime Has More Than 100 Million Subscribers
Amazon Prime subscriptions are proving to be popular. In 2017, more than 5 billion items were shipped globally to Prime members.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon's Chief Executive, announced in April 2018 that the service has more than 100 million active members. This is great business for the company as Prime members spend on average more than twice as much per head compared to non-subscribing customers.
What Happens If You Forget to Cancel Your 30-Day Prime Trial?
It is a good idea to note the end of your 30-day Prime trial on a calendar. You will receive a reminder from Amazon when payments are about to be taken, so you should make sure you cancel the subscription when prompted. There is no good reason why you would not cancel the service in good time.
However, it is possible that Amazon's reminder gets delivered to your spam folder and you are charged for a Prime service you do not want. Do not panic. You can cancel at any time, so do so as soon as you realize the mistake.
If you have forgotten to cancel, a month's subscription payment will be taken from your credit or debit card as per Amazon's terms and conditions of service. You can ask for it back, but if you complain in an agressive manner, you are unlikely to get a refund. However if you are polite and courteous, Amazon staff will often be willing to return any payments already taken.