In news that shocked the country, Amazon recently bumped the free shipping minimum order from $25 to $35. Obviously, this is a cash grab to allow Amazon to pay for its drones.
Many people have been playing the minimum order game for years, and expertly drop a few extra items in their cart to bump the order to $25. Now that the threshold is $35, the game has become a bit more difficult. However, there are still some ways to avoid or minimize shipping. This has actually become an issue in my house. Previously, my wife rarely had difficulty hitting the $25 minimum. Now that it’s $35, she has been leaning on me more frequently to add a few things.
Sweat the small stuff
The next time you are shopping at Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, or K-Mart, take a look in your cart. Could some of these items be purchased on Amazon instead? Focus on items with a long shelf life. Batteries, light bulbs, furnace and humidifier filters, staples, paper clips, pencils, pens, ink, paper, spark plugs, screws, nails, deodorant, shave gel, razor blades, extension cords, 4.1 pounds of Goldfish, etc. With a bit of advance planning, you can use these to push Amazon orders past $35 and get free shipping. If you pay an extra dollar for that six pack of deodorant but save $7 on shipping, that’s a net win. I order all my filters through Amazon, because the stupid things are almost impossible to find in brick-and-mortar stores.[Editor’s tip: I use Amazon’s Subscribe and Save option. Have 5 items coming to you on a regular basis and you get 20% off your order. It’s significant considering their already low pricing. It might even be worth subscribing to some super cheap items that you don’t need to save the 20% on a few expensive items.]
Note: Some low-cost items are tagged as “add-on items”, meaning that they can only be combined with a minimum order, and can’t be used to push the order into the free shipping territory.
The easiest way to keep track of these items is to add them to your Amazon “Wish List”. When your cart is a few bucks short of $35, just wander over to your wish list and drop a few of those items into your cart. Voila, the return of free shipping. [Editor’s Note: I typically use the Save for Later option in the cart.]
This is a variation of the sweat the small stuff strategy. Kindle Matchbook is a relatively new program. Buy the physical copy of a book and get the Kindle version for $2.99 or less. Here’s an example of how this works.
- Kindle Price: $7.59 ($1.99 with purchase of printed copy via Matchbook)
- Mass market paperback: $8.99
- Matchbook combo price ($8.99 for paperback+ $1.99 for Kindle version) = $10.98
You spend an extra $3.39 to get the bundle. You’re able to add an extra $8.99 to your order to push it above $35 (wahoo – free shipping!), and you have a physical copy of the Lehane book to give to your Luddite brother, while you enjoy the same book on your Kindle. If you try hard enough, you may be able to spot instances where the matchbook combo price is the same order less than the cost of the Kindle version by itself.
Note: Kindle books do not count toward the minimum order, because they are not “shipped” – only the price of the physical copy will count.
Pay for Amazon Prime
If you buy a lot of items from Amazon and don’t want to screw around with the small stuff, you can cap your Amazon shipping costs by signing up for Amazon Prime. For the cost of $79 per year, most (but not all) Amazon items ship for free – with two day shipping. It is rare, but occasionally you can get a discount on Amazon Prime
Prime is more than just free shipping, though. Members also receive free unlimited streaming movies from Amazon video and one free eBook download per month from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. Both of these benefits are from a subset of the content available from Amazon. You might not get the newest Stephen King book free and you might not see the big blockbuster movie. However, the selection is pretty solid. Those benefits wouldn’t be worth the $79/year cost on their own, but they are a nice complement to the free shipping.
Amazon Prime members reportedly will be able to take advantage of a program called Amazon Pantry which sources say will launch in 2014. There has been no official announcement, so details are sketchy. The gist of the program is that you would be able to purchase a wide variety or common grocery items and have them shipped in one box for a low set cost. In other words, the Amazon Prime free shipping wouldn’t cover the Amazon Pantry items, but the shipping cost would be nominal. I plan to review Amazon Pantry when more details are available.
You can also get a free 30 day trial of Prime to determine whether or not it’s right for you. Even if you don’t end up purchasing prime, you can take advantage of free shipping during that month by ordering several elephants. You could save millions in shipping.
[Editor’s Note: Though this article is about avoid Amazon shipping fees, I’ve noticed that I can sometimes also save a few dollars with coupon codes like those at Frugaa. It’s just as good as saving money on shipping.]