Amazon (AMZN) is justifying Prime's 20 percent price hike, to $119 a year, by saying it is more a valuable service than when the fee last rose four years ago.
"The value of Prime to customers has never been greater," Brian T. Olsavsky, Amazon's chief financial officer, said in a Thursday earnings call with analysts, when the company announced the May increase. "There [are] all kinds of new features that we've continually added to the Prime program. It's much different than it was in 2014, and this is a reflection of that."
But, among Amazon's 100 million Prime members, some may be cash-strapped customers. Others might not feel a more expensive Prime is worth it.
(Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.)
For those shopping around for a better Prime deal, here are some alternatives.
1. Share with a friend or family member. Amazon Prime users can share their memberships with one other adult through the company's Household feature, which allows family members and roommates to tap into a number of Prime benefits, including Prime Photos and album sharing, streaming videos and free books through Amazon First Reads. But there's a catch: Users must agree to share payment methods, including credit cards and gift cards. Each Household account can accommodate two adults, as well as four teenagers and four children.
2. Head back to school. Students with an .edu email address are eligible for a half-price student membership for up to four years. Prime Student will cost $59 beginning next month (up from the current $49) and includes special discounts on items such as snacks and school supplies. Students can also sign up for a free six-month trial.
3. Pay by the month. In addition to the annual program, Amazon offers a monthly membership for those who don't need — or want — Prime year-round. Monthly memberships will continue to cost $12.99 (that's $156 a year), while students pay $6.49 (or $78 a year).
4. Pick and choose what you want. Want to stream movies but don't care about free shipping on orders less than $25? Then you might consider paying $8.99 a month (or about $108 a year) for Prime Video.
5. See if you qualify for discounted rates. Shoppers who receive certain types of government assistance, including Medicaid, may qualify for a discounted rate of $5.99 per month, or $72 a year, which will not increase as part of the overall hike. To check eligibility, you can upload a photo of your Medicaid or EBT card, which is given to recipients of programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Amazon notes on its website that funds on EBT cards cannot be used to pay for Prime memberships.
6. Shop somewhere else instead. Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) — among Amazon's largest rivals — now offer free two-day shipping on orders over $35. (Amazon's current threshold for free shipping is orders over $25.) Nordstrom (JWN), Apple (AAPL) and Neiman Marcus, meanwhile, ship all orders gratis. Need something now? Google Express offers free same-day delivery on a number of items from stores like Costco (COST), PetSmart and Lowe's (LOW).
A growing list of retailers also offer unlimited free shipping for an annual rate. (Think Prime on a smaller scale.) A $10 Sephora Flash membership, for example, gets you free shipping on a year's worth of beauty products, while a similar pilot program at Bed Bath & Beyond costs $29.
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