An Amazon Prime membership is an increasingly popular expenditure, since it offers not only super-fast shipping on many of the items you order from Amazon, but also bundles in access to Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, unlimited music streaming via Prime Music, and free photo storage with Prime Photos. But there are still plenty of consumers who shop at Amazon without a Prime membership, and Amazon has recently instituted a number of annoying policies aimed at getting you to sign up for Prime.
As Shira Ovide and Shelly Banjo reported for Bloomberg late in 2015, it benefits Amazon to get you hooked on Prime and its services, since Prime members spend twice as much as non-members each year. Prime members go to Amazon more often, and spend a higher proportion of their overall shopping dollars with Amazon. And as Prime members become more loyal, Amazon can worry less about competing on price, and gains more data that it can use to entice shoppers to spend more on its site.
In the process of trying to attract more Prime members, however, Amazon has made a few changes that are pretty annoying for users who don’t want to pay for a Prime subscription. Read on for our least-favorite ways that Amazon is trying to convince you to sign up for Prime.
1. Slowing down your deliveries
While Prime members are getting their orders — of books, household goods, and everything in between — in just a day or two, Amazon’s shipping has gotten slower for non-Prime shoppers. The company is placing a priority on keeping its promises to Prime members, instead of offering competitive standard shipping speeds to users who haven’t signed up for a Prime membership.
For those who don’t pay that $99 per year, Amazon’s standard shipping is no longer the fastest in the industry. If you need an item quickly, and don’t want to subscribe to Prime, then you’re often better off ordering from other retailers that focus on getting orders to all of their customers quickly, ensuring that even those who don’t pay extra for fast shipping get their orders in a matter of days.
2. Raising free shipping minimums
While we’re on the topic of shipping, Amazon recently raised its free shipping minimums, in another move aimed at getting shoppers to sign up for a Prime membership in order to get free two-day shipping. As Frederic Lardinois reports for TechCrunch, Amazon has long offered free — if slow — shipping for orders over a certain minimum. The minimum was $25 for years, but in 2013, the company raised it to $35. The company has now quietly raised the limit again, this time to $49. If you’re buying books, you still just need $25 worth of free shipping-eligible books to get free shipping. But for everything else, the $49 minimum is in effect.
The move is obviously aimed at pushing more Amazon customers into buying Prime memberships, since Prime members get their orders within two days. Now that free shipping requires a $49 order minimum, the $99 cost of a Prime membership will likely look more worthwhile to a wider range of Amazon customers. In any case, Amazon wins: Your choices are to spend more per order to get the free shipping, pay for standard shipping, or purchase a Prime membership.
3. Giving Prime members early access to discounts
Another annoying practice that’s starting to become standard for Amazon is offering Prime members early or exclusive access to deals and discounts. Around the holidays, Prime members got a 30-minute head start on limited holiday deals, and year-round, they get a head start on Amazon’s Lightning Deals. It’s pretty likely that the holiday promotions — and Amazon’s boasting about the head start afforded to Prime members — resulted in more than a few shoppers shelling out for a subscription.
Offering Prime members early or exclusive access to deals has already proven a successful tactic for Amazon, which saw hundreds of thousands of new Prime members signing up for what Bloomberg characterizes as the “fake holiday” it created with the midsummer “Prime Day.” Amazon also sold more units on Prime Day than on Black Friday. While making some deals exclusive to Prime members has worked out well for Amazon, it can be annoying for non-Prime members, particularly because shoppers have complained of Prime Day and holiday deals that sold out too fast.
4. Restricting access to new services
From streaming service Prime Video to one- or two-hour delivery service Prime Now to Amazon Dash, many of Amazon’s new services and experiments are available only to Prime members — which can be annoying for Amazon customers who live in cities where the new services are available, but don’t shop with Amazon enough to justify spending $99 on a Prime membership.
Prime Now, for instance, offers free two-hour delivery (or one-hour delivery for $7.99) in a number of different cities, but only for Prime members. The restaurant delivery service offered through Prime Now is also unavailable to customers without a Prime membership, since it’s a perk aimed at getting more users to sign up for Prime. Grocery service AmazonFresh is only available to Prime members, or those who pay for a “Prime Fresh” membership, which includes all other Prime benefits.
5. Keeping Prime members from sharing their benefits
If you’d been holding off on purchasing a Prime membership of your own, and using a friend or family member’s instead, Amazon recently made it more difficult for you to share that membership. As Shelly Banjo reported for Quartz mid-2015, the company began imposing new limits on who can share a Prime membership; under the new restrictions, a Prime member can only share free two-day shipping and other Prime benefits with one other adult in their household. Previously, users were able to add up to four other people to their accounts.
The move is a logical way for Amazon to get more users to sign up for Prime, and in the subsequent months, it’s added more benefits to Amazon Household, the program under which you can share a membership with another adult in your household. The program enables users to share e-books, audiobooks, apps, and games. But that doesn’t change the fact that Amazon wants to limit membership sharing to a more traditional form of family, not the extended family that you and your roommates have formed.