Computing Columnist: Amazon Prime
Amazon is Primo
I'm not in the habit of hawking a service offered by an online vendor. But I have to share with you - because it was shared with me - one that's so far been worth every penny. Amazon Prime.
First let me say I think Amazon has done nothing but "right" from inception. The online giant saw a space - books for sale online - and realized that it was the proverbial foot in the door. Because of its very nature, the printed word is "browsable" online, unlike many other goods for sale. Clothing, for example, took a long, long time to transition because we really do want to feel the fabric, try it on, see the colors next to our skin, see how well it’s made, and so on.
And while yes, browsing the shelves of a bookstore can be fun, and there is a certain amount of serendipity in wandering around and shuffling through the discounted bins, or happening by a well-placed display item, Amazon got that covered very quickly with recommendations it served up along with the item you requested. Not only that, but it developed a very, very accurate algorithm for associating you to others with your taste and then associating their taste to you and offering you books that were highly likely to please. I can't tell you how many books I bought as a result of having them suggested to me by Amazon.
And it goes without saying that Amazon invented the shopping cart, acclimating all of us to the experience of shopping online. I don't know how many of you remember the trepidation with which we first approached putting something in a shopping cart, fearful that we'd own it and not be able to give it back, or that our choice would get lost in the ether, or that some other disaster would occur because this was all happening virtually rather than at a bricks and mortar store.
Now we not only shop online, but I am madly in love with Amazon's other delightful invention "1-Click," which allows you to set up parameters for buying items simply by making a single click and it’s on its way (you do always have that buyer's remorse period, of course!).
And I have never, never had a problem with Amazon accepting a return. There's just nothing to it.
It's also quite easy to check recent purchases, track orders, keep an address book of people for whom you buy gifts, create or use other folks' Wish Lists (wow does that make gift giving easy!), find hard to find merchandise, and set up your own store front - or shop others - selling or reselling merchandise, new or used. That used merchandise feature is great if you're looking for a higher ticket item.
Then let me say a word or two about Amazon's rating system. Yes, yes, I know, it's abused by spammers inflating or deflating the ratings with praise or damnation, but it's pretty easy to figure out which reviews are honest and which are fake. I don't rely so much on the overall rating as I do on individual evaluations. I read a handful and get the gist of how the product performs, and so far, I've found the reviews (except for books, music, and movies, but that's a whole different story) to be spot on.
Recently Amazon introduced movies - not for sale, but rental/streaming, a la Netflix. I haven't tried it yet, but I will say that the movies offered are very recent release, which is already a definite plus. The downside is, I can't get it to play on my iPad (at least, not yet, but that is for another article).
Now, on to Amazon Prime. A savvy tech shopper friend recommended the $80 annual subscription, and I have to admit it had me a little put off. 80 bucks? That's not cheap! So he asked me how much I used Amazon. I said, oh, all the time. I buy vitamins and stockings and audio cables and Kindle books (constantly) and gifts and even odd items like spray salad dressing (this is true!!) that for some crazy reason you can't buy in the stores in Syracuse any more. I said I charge it all so I can get a handle on my purchases, and I probably spend anywhere from $100 to $300 or more on Amazon monthly. So he said, ok, figure out the shipping charges. Hmmm. Good point.
Because one of the things Amazon Prime offers is free shipping. Free two-day shipping. (And it really is two day shipping, I've tried it!) Plus free instant streaming of hundreds of movies and tv series, with additional titles at a small fee. And finally, there is a Kindle lending library you can access to browse through hundreds of titles to borrow (free) and enjoy.
The free two-day shipping alone is worth the annual fee for me, as a single shipping charge can be $5, $10, even $15, depending. (Amazon Prime does not cover storefront, private or commercial, so you will pay shipping on items purchased outside the Amazon "store.") So given the number of items I'm purchasing, and even though Amazon will thoughtfully bundle purchases where possible to save on shipping, it can still be frustrating to pay extra, and then to wait, most of which goes away with Amazon Prime.