Why Amazon is starting to remind me of the mob

Photo courtesy Alejandro Saez

If you recall my time on the Slow Carb Diet, you may recall that I’m a big fan of Vega protein powder. The one I use has a good amount of greens and antioxidants, a tasty flavor without sugar, and doesn’t use any animal products like whey or casein, which are not necessary for our diet.

Because I have a Vega smoothie every day now, I’m always looking for a cheap way to acquire some. Costco has been my go-to place, but on a recent trip they had taken to selling a slightly different formulation that isn’t nearly as good (and which, oddly, isn’t even listed on Vega’s site).

So, as one does these days, I went to Amazon. They sold the Costco-sized tubs there, and the price was fantastic too.

This is pretty much the best protein powder I’ve ever had. Not an affiliate, just saying.

So I was sold. I figured I’d buy two of them so I could save on shipping (the current deal is that anything eligible over $25 qualifies for free shipping, though they have changed this from time to time) and went to put them in my cart.

I couldn’t.

Instead of the “Add to Cart” button, was a “Try Prime” button. Apparently, I could not purchase this item unless I subscribed to Amazon Prime.

Are you kidding me?

Really, Amazon?

The hell with this company. I realized then that I needed to find an alternative.

Prime will make you feel good

Amazon Prime is insanely popular. Something like 80 million households in the U.S. have Prime now, attracted by its two-day free shipping and…all that other stuff (I mean, who is really compelled to sign up for Prime because of their e-book selection?).

Now, I get that fast shipping is a convenience, and free shipping can save money. We’re all busy, and no one wants to drive out to the big box stores anymore, which is why 25% of U.S. malls are predicted to close in the next five years.

But as I never grow tired of saying, Amazon Prime doesn’t save you money. I think most people will only barely make the money up that they spend with Prime, and, worse, it encourages you to spend more than you would otherwise.

Don’t believe me? Business Insider states that those with Prime memberships spend $1,300 a year with Amazon, as opposed to $700 for those who don’t have Prime. Now some of that might be diverted spending from other places, but it also could be distracted spending. Just click to purchase; it’s so easy!

So I don’t have Amazon Prime, and don’t recommend it. I actually like the $25 minimum order required for free shipping. It acts as a buffer, keeping me from ordering whatever I want at random times. This is a feature, not a bug.

But like Facebook, smartphones, and using credit cards for everyday spending, there are many things I don’t recommend you use that I know most people use every day. I get it.

Paying for protection

That said, forcing you to sign up for Prime to buy something feels like Amazon has crossed a line. With this tactic, Prime has gone from carrot (“sign up and you’ll get all these benefits”) to stick (“don’t sign up and you won’t be able to get what you want”).

That sounds a little mafia-esque doesn’t it? Is Amazon Prime protection money now?

“That’s a nice household you’ve got there. It would be a shame if you couldn’t buy what you needed for it. A terrible shame.”

But unlike the mob, you have choices. And while of course you can buy things in the big box stores in the sprawlly areas on the edge of town, I asked myself, “is there any alternative to Amazon where I can buy a wide range of affordable things online cheaply and easily?” (There is. But that’s for another post.)

Point being, I think the tactic that Amazon is using has crossed a line, and given the company’s power, is perhaps a taste of things to come.

I won’t pay protection money, Amazon. You’ll have to come for me with your concrete boots.

But enough about me. Have you been able to resist signing up for Amazon Prime?

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

I offer a free phone consultation to anyone who is interested in changing their financial narrative. Are you ready? Click here for details.
Mike Pumphrey
Posted on August 14, 2017