Amazon's announces "free" shipping
June 21, 2001 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Amazon's announces "free" shipping
I have been shopping on Amazon for over 3 years. When I buy books, music and DVDs, I buy on average $80 worth of entertainment. Today I received a order of 10 books. I used the "Wait until order is ready" service because I preordered Neil Gaiman's new book. The total for my books was $123.26 with shipping of $13.39 making the grand total $136.65.

I was shopping Amazon tonight and saw their new free shipping notice. My first though was great! Then when I went to look for some books, I noticed the 20% off prices were no more. Now they are full price or 10%. I searched around and found the total for the books I just purchased using your new pricing. The grand total of my order would now be $147.91 with free shipping. An increase of $11.26 or 8 percent.

I am a fan of Amazon but not a fan of their thinly veiled attempt to raise prices using the bait-and-switch approach taken from offline stores. Nothing is ever 'free.' I know Amazon wants to be profitable by Q4, but this pricing is too aggressive. The email for feedback is Voice your opinion about this offering. Is it warranted?
posted by lheiskell (50 comments total)

There's a company here in Dallas called GroceryWorks that I've been meaning to try, but whenever I need stuff from the store, it doesn't take that much effort to stop at a Kroger on the way home from work, and I get my stuff immediately, I can price-shop better, I don't have to worry about being charged (directly or indirectly) for shipping and whatnot. It's just still more convenient for me to do it the offline way. I'm sure their service is great, but changing is just not in my best interest right now, which is NOT in their best interests. So they keep emailing me stuff convincing me to try them once, and a couple times I almost have, but their marketing schemes just haven't been successful enough to snag me yet.

So companies like Amazon and GroceryWorks have to find ways to convince their potential customers that the online way IS more convenient, and cheaper, and all that stuff. You happened to see past a trick this time. Odds are there's other times in the past when a company came up with a marketing scheme that you didn't see through. Looked like a deal for you in the short term, but always remember, companies don't do anything for free. They have some kinda plan in their head for making more money. Fabric softener with 50% more in the box or bottle than usual? A two for one coupon for a pizza? Low down payment and no monthly payments through the end of the year in order to buy a car or a computer? There's a catch. There is always a catch.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:19 PM on June 21, 2001

Is Amazon the only online bookstore? No. If it's such a problem, take your business elsewhere - free market and all.
posted by owillis at 10:29 PM on June 21, 2001

damn amazon, how dare they raise their prices to become profitable? next thing you know, mcdonald's will start selling soft drinks at a profit.

(i agree that the 10% discount is too aggressive. just think of all those independent bookstores that don't have the economies of scale to be able to afford that!)
posted by jimw at 10:39 PM on June 21, 2001

This isn't a bait-and-switch unless they lured you in with promises of a really cheap price on a book you wanted, then told you once you logged in that the book is out of stock but hey wouldn't you rather have this old 1st-edition signed copy of the same book for five times the price?

I do think this is going to cost them a loss of business, though. People have been trained to expect discounts online. If they don't get them, they won't buy. Personally, if I'm only going to get 10 percent off a book, I'd just as soon drive to my local bookstore; instant gratification and the benefits of getting out of the house for a while are worth more to me than a lousy dollar or so.
posted by aaron at 10:45 PM on June 21, 2001

just think of all those independent bookstores that don't have the economies of scale to be able to afford that!

And who never have the book you want anyway.
posted by aaron at 10:46 PM on June 21, 2001

I know it's a free market and I respect that. I don't mind subtle price increases. The reason I posted was because of the unusual method of this increase. I am not Amazon exclusive. I just like their extensive selection. I live several blocks away from a Borders, Half Price Books, and a B&N and I shop at all three as well.
posted by lheiskell at 10:53 PM on June 21, 2001

I love the mail I get from Amazon:

Dear XXX

We notice you haven't purchased anything from Amazon for quite some time. We really care about you, and we'd like to see you again, so here's a voucher for free shipping.

NB - voucher only valid for shipping to a single address in the continental United States.

Sure they care about me - not enough to realise I LIVE IN AUSTRALIA, though. God, if they're stupid enough to use spamming software that can't even filter out foreign domain names, no wonder they can't turn a profit.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:17 PM on June 21, 2001

Lance, in an attempt to keep the front page scroll to a minimum I lovingly edited your post. Whaddya think?

Amazon announces “free” shipping. As a fan of Amazon, I’m chagrin to find myself wallet deep in an attempt to raise prices using the bait-and-switch approach of offline stores. Amazon wants to be profitable by Q4, but this pricing is too aggressive.

Also, (this goes for everyone) never start a sentence with “I”.


p.s. I have trouble heeding my own advice.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 11:23 PM on June 21, 2001


Ew, each paragraph of my post started with I. At least I didn't refer to myself in the third person.
posted by lheiskell at 11:33 PM on June 21, 2001

" ... but not a fan of their thinly veiled attempt to raise prices using the bait-and-switch approach taken from offline stores."

Hmmm ... Has anyone checked to see if they've tried to patent bait-and-switch along with one-click shopping. Long live the boycott.
posted by RavinDave at 12:56 AM on June 22, 2001

I expect they're only trying to solve the problem with people buying, then abandoning the shopping cart when they find additional shipping charges.

The 8% increase lheiskell calculated is based on the idea that you're buying a lot of items and can consolidate some shipping charges. If you're only buying two items, the price is probably a wash. I typically saved up my purchases and overbought to save on shipping. I think this will disincentivize that and probably will hurt their sales, but time will tell.
posted by willnot at 1:24 AM on June 22, 2001

Amazon raises prices: I shop elsewhere. I hate buying books from BN too, but sometimes I'm there with their extended hours and all and I buy a book. Or when I ride the bus home I walk right past a BN. . .I wither and buy The Progressive, indeed the last place one would want to buy that mag. But there is a way to have a win win. Support your indy bookseller and not kick yourself for buying that first edition hardback simply because you had to read it (not to collect it).

Which is interesting with the current WalMart thread running: At least look, how those who are the literary, reader type support what they've seen happen to the independent hat, apparel, pharmaceutical, grocery, furniture et al stores of the past. I suspect because they've read about it.
posted by crasspastor at 1:53 AM on June 22, 2001

Heh, an increase of 8% is worth it if you ask me because:

1) It's STILL cheaper than you can get it elsewhere
2) The delivery is FAST and RELIABLE
3) The inventory is HUGE
4) Lots of value adds & recommendations that actually WORK (thanks mainly to Junglee)

Let me elucidate. Recently I needed to print photos taken with my Canon Powershot G1 for an art show. I was under a deadline. Looked into Kinko's (ridiculously expensive) and (too slow) as well as a few other digital devlopers.

Finally, I decided to buy a printer since I had wanted to anyway. I went to Office Depot, Office Max, three different computer stores, Fry's Electronics. I was at the end of my rope.

Then a guy in the office said, "why don't you order it online?". "But won't that take a long time", I asked?

The answer is no. I looked at a few places. Amazon had the cheapest for the model I was looking for, I found it EASILY (unlike the others) and it was in stock. Even better, the shipping time for normal shipping was 2-3 days.

So I ordered it. I checked the package tracking the next day. It was already in the San Francisco UPS depot by 11am. I had it the following day.

As far as I'm concerned, Amazon did it's job and did it superbly. Had I thought of shopping there before running all over town, they would have not only saved me money but also countless wasted hours.

Thank you, Mr Bezos. I'll gladly pay you 8% more...
posted by fooljay at 2:43 AM on June 22, 2001

Amazon does have a "why are we doing this?" link on the pop-up that announces this new free-shipping feature. They say, among other things:

At, we're always working to make your shopping experience as simple as possible. It's our hope that this offer will accomplish that by eliminating your need to do the math for shipping costs. For qualifying orders, the price you see is the price you get--you'll no longer need to factor in shipping charges at the end of your order.

We've also changed our pricing on some books, CDs, DVDs, and videos: for some products prices have stayed the same, for some products prices are lower, and for some products we've reduced our discounts. When we run the numbers, most customers, all-in, save even more money and have a simpler shopping experience with this approach.

For example, New York Times® hardcover bestsellers were 40% off. They're still 40% off, but now shipping is free--just buy two.

To be fair, seems they are trying to explain the discount cuts.

I would love it if all their books still had the 20% discount from a few years ago. Those days are long gone, though. At least they're being some what up-front about this.
posted by bilco at 3:34 AM on June 22, 2001

Jeff Bezos is a benevolent master who will one day rule us all - and, I, for one, welcome our new bookselling-overlord.

I really, really love Amazon, and if prices went up 20%, I'd still probably buy from Amazon - the convenience & selection alone make it a winner in my book. And not having to calculate or play games with shipping prices makes things that much easier for simpletons like me.
posted by davidmsc at 4:15 AM on June 22, 2001

Still, The Strand has my heart. The physical location, anyway. Fifty percent off reviewers copies of the latests releases, a couple of gruff but excellent bookworms on the staff who will keep an eye out for that hard-to-find title, free water fountains, and just enough of the right kind of chaos, I mean the kind that guarantees you'll run at random into the right book for you, though you didn't know it existed. Also: Books by the foot! Decorate your home or movie set to look like you're a true reader.
posted by Mo Nickels at 5:19 AM on June 22, 2001

I search for books at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, then call my local bookstore and order them by phone. I've been doing this for more than a year and at most I pay around $1 more per book, but often the bookstore is comperable or cheaper, because it doesn't pass shipping charges on to me.
posted by fleener at 5:39 AM on June 22, 2001

Don't come crying to me: I'm a stockholder of AMZN. I want them to raise prices. Right now they are
selling product at unrealistic (and unprofitable) prices and they are losing money.
posted by brucec at 6:35 AM on June 22, 2001

Amazon has always been losing money, or am I missing something? Don't come crying to me, I go to the library.
posted by jessamyn at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2001

Gee, and I ended up saving money on my latest purchase compared to the previous pricing plan.

What are you doing wrong?

(For the record, I prefer to buy books from my local bookstore but there's some specialty Videos and DVDs that I can find at Amazon that aren't available at the local store.)
posted by Pinwiz at 7:19 AM on June 22, 2001

We've also changed our pricing on some books, CDs, DVDs, and videos: for some products prices have stayed the same, for some products prices are lower, and for some products we've reduced our discounts.

I like that wording-- for some the prices are lower, for others, the discounts are lower...
posted by andrewraff at 7:34 AM on June 22, 2001

I like that wording

I've long been impressed with the wordsmithing at Amazon. Everyone there involved in designing the customer experience is super-competent, right down to the copywriters. Yeah, it's a transparent attempt to avoid saying "we raised some of our prices," but the writer in me admires the neatness of the solution.
posted by kindall at 8:09 AM on June 22, 2001

Here at GlobeDominatingMegaCorp., we use Amazon merely for the convenience of getting precisely the title you need within mere days. Even the Borders and Barnes & Noble outlets near us (in suburban Chicago) don't keep the kind of high tech reference stuff in stock that we usually buy. Costs a little more? Well, OK, it's still cheaper than schlepping to the Loop or down near U of Chicago or IIT to buy these things...
posted by m.polo at 8:12 AM on June 22, 2001

I buy books online, but first I hit search engines, some of which also include shipping charges in their pricing comparisons.

Amazon has NEVER offered the best price on anything I wanted, so I've never bought from them. I really don't get this willingness, even desire, to pay more for a book from Amazon.

It's about the book, not the store.
posted by NortonDC at 8:15 AM on June 22, 2001

It's about the book, not the store.

If you know what book you want, sure it's about the book and not the store. If you don't have any idea what book you want, though, Amazon has unmatched features for helping you figure that out. Some people believe that's worth paying more for in and of itself. Sure, after using Amazon to find the book you want, you could then turn around and buy it somewhere else, but that would be like visiting your local hi-fi experts to try out a DV camcorder, then ordering it from a NYC mail-order retailer to save a measly $350! Whoops, I did that! And so do lots of people. Which is why Amazon has spent so much effort on making their ordering process simple. If their price is a buck or two higher than the lowest available price, they want you to perceive the extra cost as still being less than the time you would spend finding the lowest price and ordering the item from another retailer. Depending on how you value your time, this may well be true. $1 worth of my time is about two minutes, one if I'm feeling impatient.
posted by kindall at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2001

ive been going to Boarders for over twenty years,when they where just one store It was a virtual braintrust and thinktank. The aire of intellectual competition with a friendly guiding hand. These people were crackerjacks who weren't exposed to the bloated commerical foo-foo it is today. (Ann Arbor, not Boarders) That store is gone. The point, these folks could find a renegade copy of Goebbels, 'Michael' (sic, spelling) if it was needed. No judgement, no pesky, half-assed questions. Pure professionals. Time is the factor it seems to me. Also, i think it neat what Amazon does, the price increase is just another ploy...but its the lie isnt it. I love boarders and replicating that old State Street institution is almost impossible, if anything, it forces us to get even more personal when it comes to finding that most beloved of Drugs.Books.
posted by clavdivs at 9:10 AM on June 22, 2001

Um...I shop at Barnes and Noble.

I work in New York City, where, if you order before 11:00 am, you get your order on the *same day* (by 7:00 pm) at "standard shipping" prices. I order before I leave for work, and have it delivered to my office. I order more than one item, so I'm consolidating my shipping costs, at least to my way of thinking. Can't beat that with a stick, gang.

Of course there's caveats; when you go to order, you need to make sure that it's in stock and marked "same day delivery" -- i.e., at the warehouse in NJ. You need to be in a list of zip codes, and they also say that they will make every effort to get it to you the same day, but it's not guaranteed. Fair enough, though -- out of the ten or so times I've done it, I think I've only *not* gotten it that day once -- and then, it was delivered by the next morning.

I'm sure they'll expand this to other cities if this works in Manhattan...we'll see. But I honestly think it's awesome, 'specially since bookstores by me are out of the way.
posted by metrocake at 9:45 AM on June 22, 2001

free water fountains

but the shipping is a bitch.
posted by rodii at 9:53 AM on June 22, 2001

clavdivs, where *are* you? (I worked for Borders then. Pure professional me.)
posted by rodii at 9:54 AM on June 22, 2001

Um...I shop at Barnes and Noble.

I work in New York City

Say no more.....getting something the same day from B&N is probably possible ONLY in New York City, where there seems to be a B&N on every third street corner, right next to the Starbucks.

Here in the Boston area where the density of B&N stores is much lower, if you place a "special order", they just order it off the B&N website themselves and ship it to you. Thanks, but I could have done that at home.

I really don't have a problem with Amazon behaving like every other retail business in terms of pricing and shipping, its the sneaky information gathering that bugs me.
posted by briank at 10:15 AM on June 22, 2001

I live in the boston area too, and I have never, never had to buy a book online because I couldn't find it cheaper (or free at the library) somewhere in either boston or cambridge. granted, I really like the actual hunting process, where I get to go into a bookstore and flip through things and browse for a bit, so I don't have that my-time-is-valuable-and-better-spent-elsewhere problem.

I also like used books, so I suppose I don't really fit in to amazon's target demographic. (I would never buy something from them anyway. it is about the book, but it's also at least a tiny bit about the store.)
posted by rabi at 10:50 AM on June 22, 2001

Not that I'm a huge Amazon customer, but I've noticed that they regularly have a greater discount when you preorder something than after it is released. Is it possible that that's all it is and not some bait and switch over the free shipping. The only thing I've ordered from Amazon is a couple anime dvds, and the prices have always gone up after they were released. If you checked the same books before and after they were released, i wouldn't be suprised if they were more expensive.
posted by shinji_ikari at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2001

At my local Barnes & Noble that 147.91 would have an additional $11.83 tacked on (in taxes) for a total of $159.74.

Granted, I might find some discounts and sales in the Amazon purchase but the ease, reliability and availability of products in addition to the lack of tax have made me a loyal customer.
posted by DBAPaul at 11:08 AM on June 22, 2001

briank --

No, no, the items come from New Jersey. From the web site:

"Same Day Delivery is available only to Manhattan addresses. Although we can not guarantee Same Day Delivery, we're often able to provide this enhanced service when the following conditions are met:
1. the item is in stock at our New Jersey distribution center;
2. the order is placed Monday through Friday by 11am Eastern Time;
3. a local courier is available to handle the delivery.
We'll happily provide this upgraded service at no additional charge, whenever Same Day Delivery is possible. "
posted by metrocake at 11:21 AM on June 22, 2001

metrocake -- New York, New Jersey, who can tell the difference.... ;-) But that's my point, it's not the typical experience for someone walking into a B&N store. Count your blessings.
posted by briank at 11:27 AM on June 22, 2001

Bait and switch? From

Shocked, shocked I am!

I gave up on since they took six weeks to ship my last order, which they claimed would be shipped in three to four days. I'd rather pay a bit extra and get good customer service, call me crazy.

Screw 'em. I hope they go out of business.
posted by dr. zoidberg at 12:25 PM on June 22, 2001

Aside from the shipping stuff, did anyone else notice the reemergence of the tabs across the top?
posted by fraying at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2001

someone on staff must be reading don't make me think!.

anyway, if you want to buy online, comparison shop here:
addall, best book buys, biblio (new, used, rare, out-of-print), my simon.

otherwise, supporting a local independent bookseller is a Good Thing, in my opinion. - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:22 PM on June 22, 2001

I try to support my local bookstores. I find the experience of browsing in an interesting bookstore much more satisfying then online browsing. I often avoid their block if I don't have $ to spend. But I have to admit that Amazon is very convenient for sending gifts to other people.
posted by mmm at 1:40 PM on June 22, 2001

amazon is great for browsing in this way: reading other people's wish lists. I just start adding things to my own when I do that.

I really wish I could order my wish list in some way: by subject, and also by "these are the things I absolutely must have" and "these are things that I might be interested in buying at some time or another". - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 1:44 PM on June 22, 2001

probably the cowlicked, mid westerning oppy griffith scraglebond trying to get a lock pick guide circa 1978. Heisten Playboys from the Blue Front. Listening to Shaky on State, watching the multi-cultural verby sunset pre skateboard dusk, smelling muggles never seein em, dit-dot computer time at the lab when one had to sigh up and
posted by clavdivs at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2001

heck roddi over twenty as im 34. ill put up my e-mail if it inst there, is it?i like my illusion nom de guerre.
posted by clavdivs at 1:59 PM on June 22, 2001

I'm sure I'm not the first person to ask this, but...

What's a "cowlicked, mid westerning oppy griffith scraglebond"? Does anybody have any good suggestions about where I could buy books on this topic?
posted by swell at 4:39 PM on June 22, 2001

I really wish I could order my wish list in some way: by subject, and also by "these are the things I absolutely must have" and "these are things that I might be interested in buying at some time or another"

And "I wouldn't spend money on this myself but I'm interested enough in it that i'd read it if someone else bought it for me."
posted by kindall at 4:43 PM on June 22, 2001

cowlicked, mid westerning oppy griffith scraglebond

MyBabelFish translation:

Cowlicked, midwestern Opie-from-the-Andy-Griffith-Show scraggly vagabond.

You're welcome. I'd explain Shakey Jake and the Blue Front, but there's just not enough time to do it justice.
posted by rodii at 5:02 PM on June 22, 2001

Personally, unless it's something I can't get locally, I shop at Powell's in Portland. Except for the now-surly-because-they're-unionized-and-can't-be-fired-for-being-surly employees, it's a great store, and there are SOME nice people working there. Well, OK, it's mostly nice people, but some of them give you a hard time just because they can, which annoys me.

Five stories of used and new books? I'm -there-.

As a side note, you can order from them online, too, at (link)- and their prices are very good. If you'd like to support local bookstores and still get the selection of Amazon, try alibras (link), which uses a network of small bookstores to find books that are out of print or rare.
posted by SpecialK at 6:22 PM on June 22, 2001

While the physical Powell's store is nice, even Powell's has thousands and thousands of books listed at and amazon's marketplace.

> Amazon has always been losing money, or am I missing something?

The books, music, and video segment is currently profitable on a pro forma basis, which means that it's making some money if you shuffle the numbers around for awhile. Also, before amazon became a public company, there supposedly was one quarter in which they were profitable (late '95 or early '96 i think).
posted by gluechunk at 6:55 PM on June 22, 2001

it's making some money if you shuffle the numbers around for awhile.

Do you have any more details about this? I mean, they have revenues, and they have expenditures, and it makes money if revenue exceeds the expenditures, right? How do companies shuffle numbers around to magically post a profit?
posted by gyc at 8:06 PM on June 22, 2001

You would think it was a simple thing (expenditures-revenues), but companies can pull all kind of tricks with numbers. Here's a big story Businessweek did recently.
posted by owillis at 8:12 PM on June 22, 2001

Good price comparison engine links, rcb. Here's a couple more:

Advanced Book Exchange (abe)
some crezzy .nu site
posted by NortonDC at 11:01 PM on June 22, 2001

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