ORLANDO, Fla. – Like bad guys in a super-hero movie, the pioneers who successfully created web-shopping portals are methodically being bumped off one-by-one from their top spots. Unless you’ve been living without internet access for the last five years or so, it should come as no surprise as to who is the king of the e-commerce mountain: Amazon.com.
According to online retail analyst Slice Intelligence, last year 43 cents of every dollar spent shopping online in the U.S. was spent through the retail behemoth. In fact, Amazon, worth more than $370 billion, is bigger than its next 11 competitors, (those early pioneers) combined.
That list includes household names such as Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Dillard’s, Gap, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Sears, Target and, of course, Walmart.
“If I realize I’m out of something, I’ll just add it to my cart – or just buy it on there with one click,” said Steffani Irvin, a mom of two and wife of a husband who loves technology. Steffani orders from Amazon multiple times a week. Her Amazon Prime membership ($99 a year) qualifies most of her purchases for free two-day shipping. Technology around her house keeps porch pirates at bay and her virtual assistant Alexa (her husband has put devices all over the home), keeps her updated on what she’s bought.
Speaking of Alexa, sales of Amazon’s family of “smart speakers” (which include the original Echo, portable Tap and desktop Dot), have topped 5 million units in just two years. Built on the ashes of one of Amazon’s few failures, the Fire Phone, the Echo, Tap and Dot have rapidly matured, challenging well-known names such as Bose, Logitech and Sonos for a significant chunk of the wireless speaker marketplace.
Last month, Amazon launched a new Alexa assistant, the Echo Look. For $199, the fashion gadget includes a built-in camera so customers can take full-length selfies and use Amazon’s style-check software, which can compare outfits and give recommendations based on trends and what looks best on each person.
In late June, Amazon will start shipping the Echo Show, a tabletop video conferencing version of the original Echo. The new Show – its biggest selling point is hands-free video calling – is priced at $229. Prime members who pre-order now; however, you can save $100 on two units, bringing their individual cost down to $179 (use promotional code SHOW2PACK at checkout).
Consider buying it now and beat the Christmas rush, considering last year Amazon sold out Echoes, Taps, Dots and even Fire Sticks days before Christmas.
And here’s a little Easter egg from Amazon: As of last week, coinciding with the announcement of the Echo Show, Alexa devices can now call and message each other (including cellphones and connected tablets each with the Alexa app). Using a sort-of-VoIP software update, Alexa now lets a user with multiple Amazon speakers in a home use those speakers as a house-wide intercom system. Alexa can also seek out people in your contact list who also have an Echo, Tap or Dot so the two of you can now connect, talk or leave messages for each other.
As if landlines weren’t already falling out of vogue, Amazon is trying to kill them off once and for all.
What Do I Get for My $99 a Year Prime Membership?
Amazon Prime is a mishmash of -- stuff. There’s really no other way to describe it as the membership runs a gamut of services, content and deals. Want a list of what a yearly membership gives you? Read thoroughly because although you may know the general benefits, there are little nuggets below you probably don’t know about:
Shipping: The most well known perk of Amazon Prime is free two-day shipping on not just thousands but literally tens of millions of items (50 million, according to the site). In addition to two-day shipping, some items can ship in a day, some the same day and even some within twohours (Prime Now).
Never used Prime Now: you can take $10 off your first order if you use promo code 10PRIMENOW at checkout. If you don’t always need your items in two days, did you know you can earn “shipping credits”? No-Rush Rewards lets you choose five-day shipping and accumulate promotional credits that you can use on future purchases.
Prime Video: Probably the second-most talked about perk, the streaming video service competes directly with both Netflix and Hulu. Prime Video was significantly lagging behind Netflix until this year when "The Grand Tour" premiered. The automobile-themed, scripted-reality show featured three former hosts from the BBC’s "Top Gear" and doubled Amazon’s Prime subscriptions in the United Kingdom. Coinciding with the debut of the show (the first season cost around $250 million to produce), Amazon also took a direct swing at Netflix by offering an $8.99 month-to-month subscription plans for Prime Video.
Ordering with Alexa: Did you know you can save money on some items when you reorderthem through an Alexa-enabled device? The deals are exclusive and wide-ranging. Discounts range from percentages to actual dollar amounts but are only good when you order through the device.
Amazon Family: A replacement for the old Amazon Mom program, the new parent program gives Prime members exclusive discounts and those rare to find coupons on many baby items (it also includes a baby-registry link). Amazon Family subscriptions start when you create a profile for your child.
Audible Channels: Heard of Audible (Amazon’s audio book subsidiary?). Well, Prime members now get Audible Channels, a free service that includes streaming books, podcasts, and original programming.
Gold Box Lightning Deals Early Access: Have you heard of Amazon’s Gold Box and Lightning Deals (kind of a daily flash sale on the site)? Well Prime members get early access to Lightning Deals (very useful during Christmas when items tend to sell out quickly).
Prime Pantry: Prime Pantry is a little hard to understand. Basically, imagine having a gigantic box, filling it with as much as it can hold and then shipping it for $5.99. Why would you do this instead of free two-day shipping? Because Amazon discounts certain Prime Pantry items that don’t get the same discounts as regular Prime. Also, select five or more items and your Prime Pantry order ships for free. In a nutshell, Amazon does it to keep costs lower by shipping in bulk as shipping some items individually is cost prohibitive.
Prime Reading: Prime Reading allows Prime members to read a selection of books and magazines for free. The benefit also extends to select Audible audio book titles.
Amazon Exclusives: Not a Prime only benefit, but still worth a mention. Amazon Exclusives is kind of an incubator for individuals and businesses to launch new products. Here’s the link.
More Free (and Discounted) Stuff:
The Washington Post: Did you know that since Amazon and The Washington Post are owned by the same company and that Prime members get a WAPO discount? Yep, if you’re a new subscriber, you can get six months of access to the newspaper at no charge using this link: WAPO New Prime Subscribers.
American Express: Looking for a free year of Prime? If you’re an American Express cardholder, follow this link.
Sprint Mobile: Like the deal directly above, you can also get a free year of Prime if you’re a Sprint customer and you have the Better Choice XXL Plan. Here’s the link to sign up.
Prime Student: Amazon starts college and graduate students off with six months of Prime for free and then just $49 a year for as long as they’re in school. Here’s the link to Prime Student.
Amazon Household: Do you have more than one Amazon Prime account in your household (yes, new married people, we’re talking to you). How about combining two or more subscriptions into one? Amazon Household lets you have two adults in the same household and up to four children all under one $99 Prime membership. For more information, click here.
One-Month of Free Amazon Prime: An often overlooked section on Amazon’s guaranteed delivery page says customers” … may be eligible for a free one-month extension if the delivery date isn’t met.” Translation: if your package doesn’t arrive on the specified day, contact customer service, be nice, and you’ll probably be rewarded with a free month of Prime (up to 12 times during a membership period).
Another site hack isn’t really a discount, but it can help with budgeting. Another hidden page on Amazon’s site (Order History reports) lets a user go through all purchases, returns and refunds, sort them, and then generate a report in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. For businesses this is an invaluable tool as well as anyone trying to keep track of exactly how much they spend on Amazon without slogging through the Your Orders page or sifting through confirmation emails.
Our last hack is actually not on Amazon.com. We found several “pricing tools” to help you keep track of Amazon’s ever fluctuating prices. The website camelcamelcamel.com lets you track prices, create price drop alerts and look at price histories for just about everything on the site. Camelcamelcamel also has a browser extension available; two other options include Keepa and Honey.