Amazon prime and prices

| Comments (3) | Misc
Eszter Hargittai has an odd post complaining about Amazon Prime. As far as I can tell, the story is this. Say there's some item X (the example she gives is this 8 GB SD card) that is sold by both Amazon and some third party seller. Ordinarily, Amazon will offer it to you from you the lowest price seller, in this case $17.13 ($14.12 + 2.99 S+H). However, if you have Amazon Prime, it will (at least some of the time) offer you the Amazon version, even if it's more nominally expensive than the third party version (currently $17.99). Presumably the theory here is that if you've signed up for Amazon Prime, you want to actually use it. Note that this is just a matter of what appears as the main result: you can always select other sellers.

Anyway, Hargittai is pretty unhappy about this (she calls it a "shady product") but I have to admit that I don't understand what the issue is. She keeps saying she's being billed twice, but I don't understand the argument here: if you didn't have Amazon Prime and you chose to buy the product from Amazon rather than a third party seller, Amazon would charge you their price + S+H (unless of course you buy $25 worth of stuff and get super-saver) so you are getting free shipping (or more precisely, prepaid shipping) from Amazon. It's just that Amazon's price isn't that great, so you would be better off buying it from someone else. What makes this confusing is that you don't need to go to their site to buy it, Amazon will let you buy it from the the third party seller through Amazon's site. So, I don't see the problem.

Anyway, Eszter may be unhappy, but I actually prefer things this way: all other things being equal, I'd rather deal with Amazon than some third party seller, and certainly if the total price is identical I'd rather have 2-day shipping than whatever yak-based delivery system the third party seller would otherwise use. I'm even generally willing to pay an extra dollar or so for that. So, I'm happy to have Amazon offer me that option preferentially—though I'm a bit curious how big the difference is before Amazon will show me the cheaper item instead.

Incidentally, I don't know if I've mentioned this, but the combination of one-click selling and Amazon Prime has an amazingly powerful lock-in effect on me. It's just so much easier to buy stuff from Amazon than bother to set up an account anywhere else, figure out shipping, etc. If I were some smaller seller, I think it might be taking a real interest in 3rd-party Internet identity systems so that people could buy stuff to me without having to register for an account any time they want to buy something from someone new.


Amazon Prime also covers third-party sellers who outsource fulfillment to Amazon.

That said, Amazon has experimented with dynamic pricing in the past. It retreated due to customer complaints, but I have noticed classical music CDs almost invariably sell at full retail price. It is quite possible Amazon charges more to Prime customers than others since it knows alternatives would end up pricier if you factor in shipping. I end up buying them from ArkivMusic even though I will end up paying more in shipping, just to make a statement.

tarzan like prime!

I've been also universally disappointed by shopping on Amazon when Amazon wasn't doing the fulfillment. Christmas gifts showing up in a plain box on the porch, things missing and/or broken, stuff packed in a box way too big so it swings around and gets bust up.

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