Primed for Loyalty: How Branded Experiences Are Catching Up to Amazon
Amazon Prime is the gold standard of loyalty programs: you pay $119 once a year and all of your online shopping dreams will come true in a matter of 1 or 2 days. As more and more online retailers roll out their own branded loyalty programs, however, I’d like to ask: is Prime really worth it?
More and more, online retailers are rolling out their own “free 2-day shipping,” and at no cost. Jeff Bezos may not be shaking in his boots, but this means the average consumer, could be getting their money back by shopping with certain brands.
Amazon was once my personal go to when I wanted something (really, anything), and I wanted it now. Low prices, wide selection, and speedy delivery – what’s not to like?.
Is It Worth It?
That is until I started ordering Christmas gifts for my niece and nephew. The hot toys that everyone wanted were hard to come by around the holidays, but I was sure Amazon had my back – until it didn’t. Private 3P sellers – a focal point for today’s Amazon experience – marked up prices to ridiculous heights, eroding any value I’d get from fast delivery. A quick google search showed me that Walmart had exactly what I was looking for, for a much lower price, and what’s this? Free 2-day shipping with no membership requirements.
Come to think of it, before this moment, it never came to mind that anyone else on the internet was offering such a service. And why would I? All you ever hear people talking about is that Amazon Prime has free, quick shipping, and no one ever mentions any other retailer.
Amazon – Not Alone Anymore
While the item I was looking for was also from a private seller, the price was one I was actually willing to spend on a toy an 8-year-old would get bored of after a few play sessions, so I filled up my cart. You see, Walmart has partnered with hundreds of their third-party sellers to offer ACTUALLY FREE 2-day shipping.
As long as a product is marked as eligible, it doesn’t matter who is selling it; you will get in 2 days for free. Another key advantage that Walmart offers – which Amazon cannot – is a network of over 4,700 stores that accept returns in person. While Amazon has official pick up locations where you can also return your unwanted items for free, those locations are few and far between, especially if you live in rural America.
Walmart’s not the only one giving away this perk for the low cost of $0. Apple will also send you your new toys in 2 days. With no cart minimum, the only exclusions are that the item is currently in stock, not customized, and you aren’t adding any kind of engraved items. If you’re ordering a brand new iPhone, they will deliver it for free, next-day shipping.
If you are someone who buys at least $3,500 worth of product annually from Best Buy, you too can qualify for free two-day shipping with no minimum purchase. Do you shop on Jet.com? You might want to start! Jet offers free 2-day shipping on “Everyday Essential” items like groceries, paper products, health & beauty, and so on. The only requirement is a $35 order minimum.
With all of these different options, what does Amazon have to offer that is special and unique to a consumer? Sure, the Prime account includes a TV/movie streaming service and a Music streaming service, but is it worth it? I am a Prime member, but also have accounts with Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. With subscription service costs going up, I still find myself loyal to Netflix over Amazon, as the free options on Prime aren’t usually things I’d like to watch and I find Netflix to provide better original content. A recently added Prime membership benefit is reduced prices at Whole Foods. This is great for someone who already shops at Whole Foods, but for the average middle-class American, Whole Foods isn’t exactly an accessible option (although Amazon is trying hard to bring their prices down out of the stratosphere). Prices are already marked up so high that the consumer would only save $1.50 on a $400 grocery haul.
I know it’s becoming trendy, but I don’t want this to sound like I’m bashing Amazon. The fact is, the things that once made Amazon Prime so special and engaging for consumers are no longer exclusive to Prime. In fact, many companies, large and small, are now providing some of the same services for no monthly fee at all. In this experience-driven digital economy, the merchants that can continue to offer better services and more engaging and economic experiences will see returns on their investment and have a fighting chance against the leviathan that is Amazon.