When I found out the annual fee for Amazon Prime would increase last year, I started thinking about whether I could live without the service.
The $US20 increase I would face when my account auto-renewed in the U.S, wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things. But seeing that annual subscription nudge above $US100 made me second-guess myself. Did I really need to be able to receive packages filled with all I desired in just two day’s time? Was it really worth paying the annual fee?
I can’t take all the credit for considering a life without what I call “Uncle Jeff’s Everything Store.” I was inspired by Adam Clark Estes, now my colleague over at Gizmodo, who expressed his doubts about Prime in summer 2018. He noticed the convenience of Prime and Amazon’s other trappings made him a bit dependent on the ever-expanding company. And he didn’t like it.
I reviewed my own Amazon Prime shopping habits and learned that while I spent less than the “average” Prime member’s $1400 per year, I still spent well over $1000 on the site. Here’s what my activity looked like in the last year of my Prime membership (which I wrote more about over at The Penny Hoarder, my last role):
September 2017-August 2018
Total spent: $US1058.28 ($1,534)
Total orders: 57
Most frequent categories: Health and beauty, books, and items for the home
Orders over $US25: 22.8%
My activity surprised me. Seventy-seven per cent of my orders didn’t meet the site’s usual free-shipping threshold of $US25, which meant I was making lots of small orders as soon as I thought of something I needed rather than wait until I could place a larger order. Almost 30% of my orders contained just one item.
I decided I needed to stop doing that. When my Prime membership expired in November 2018, I vowed to try other options, both online and in-person, to meet my shopping needs. Sure, I’d visit Amazon when I needed the convenience or the wide variety of products. But it wouldn’t be my first stop.
Except my plan backfired. It completely backfired.
I didn’t track my Amazon spending in real time over the course of the past year that I lived without it. When I finally dug into my post-Prime orders, I was appalled. Take a look:
November 17, 2018-November 16, 2019
Total spent: $US1085.27
Total orders: 31
Most frequent categories: Home and gifts
Orders over $US2: 54.8%
Without Prime, I spent even more on Amazon. My two most frequent item categories make sense, in retrospect. I moved to a new place and didn’t want to spend too much time searching for items I needed for the move or my new home, like extra kitchen storage. And since I live far from my family, I ordered lots of gifts to be shipped home for Christmas and birthdays.
The only major facet of my Amazon shopping that changed was the size of my orders. While I had previously averaged just over one order a week with Prime, I reduced my frequency to about every other week without it. But I loaded up my cart so I could take advantage of the free shipping Amazon offers for non-Prime orders over $US25 ($36). Amazon packages were arriving less often, but their value was greater.
Beyond sheer embarrassment for how much I still rely on Amazon for basically all material goods, I have gained new wisdom about my online shopping habits. Allow me to share it with you.
If you’re going to quit Amazon, do it cold turkey
You cannot just “order from Amazon a little less.” If you’re going to quit this ecommerce giant, you have to go all the way. All year I was the first in line to sneak around the rules I had made for myself. I told you to buy Prime for just a month if you anticipated needing to do a lot of shopping. When I was eligible for a free trial of Prime in late November, I grabbed it (although, beyond “Christmas shopping!!!” the idea of re-watching “Fleabag” was a big magnet for my lizard brain).
Whether you want to boycott the company for labour practices or want to adjust your own consumer habits for poor old Mother Earth, you’ve got to do it all the way. There is no weaning yourself off Amazon.
Be ready with solid ecommerce alternatives
If you’re going to abandon Amazon, first figure out where you’ll order groceries (if you get them delivered), where you’ll pick up those regular essentials for your home, and whether you’re comfortable paying for any other memberships that might get those items to your door quickly.
If you have a plan, you’ll stop yourself from reverting back to the site you swear to your friends, perhaps a bit smugly, that you quit.
Check stock levels before driving to the store
In the olden days, you went to a store looking for a particular item, and if it was out of stock, you’d get back in your car and go to the next likely store to carry that item. Rinse and repeat as needed until you got what you needed (or something close enough) and half your Saturday was shot.
No more of that. Many retailers show you whether an item is in stock at your closest store when you look at the product listing online. (Some only show you this information in their app.) Or, you can choose an item, pay for it online, and pick it up at your closest store—usually within the same day or 24 hours of placing your order.
If your store is out of stock, you’ll know before you leave the house, saving you the time and hassle that drove you to shop online in the first place. (If you’ve had a bad experience in the past with in-store stock levels being inaccurate from what’s listed online, check again. The systems keep getting better.)
Remember you can only do so much
Developing any new habit takes time, and it’s easy to mess up: You get lazy, or desperate, or even forgetful. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up and try again.
The most important thing is that you make the best buying decisions for your own budget. Nearly every retailer in the world has its labour issues or security threats or practices you don’t agree with. Knowing that has the potential to get you into a “What’s the use?” mindset that leads to achieving zero goals. But if you focus on what’s most important—that is, your own goals and values—you have a greater chance of sticking to your choice.
As for me, I’ll try saying goodbye to Amazon again tomorrow.