4 questions to ask yourself before subscribing to Amazon Prime

A scene from "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
Courtesy "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"

More than 100 million Amazon users have a Prime membership, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. It's easy to see why: Amazon's Prime membership program is popular because it offers potential long-term savings and it makes shopping easy and efficient. But that doesn't mean it's worth it for you.

"The main thing to remember about Amazon Prime is that it has an extra long list of benefits. It's designed that way because they want you to sign up, and then you have to start thinking about whether you can live without it," says Kristin McGrath, a shopping expert at Offers.com.

For $119 per year, or $12.99 per month, Prime members are eligible for a whole slew of perks, most notably free two-day delivery, free streaming entertainment with Prime Video and Amazon Music, discounts on select items, and early access to lightning deals. That's not to mention the additional membership perks on Prime Day, Amazon's highly anticipated annual 48-hour sale.

But even with all that in mind, it's up to you to determine the personal monetary value of those benefits — and whether or not you can get those benefits elsewhere without the membership fee, adds McGrath.

To figure out whether a Prime membership is worth it for you, here are four questions to ask yourself.

1. How fast do you really need your purchases?

Amazon Prime has become synonymous with expediency for a reason: Members get free two-day shipping on over 100 million items, and next or same-day shipping on many eligible orders.

Getting items of crucial importance delivered to your doorstep within 48 hours can be well worth the membership fee, says McGrath: "Maybe you need it for a small business, or you're a busy parent and you're constantly ordering things."

But the flip side is that the ease and accessibility Prime affords can lull you into automatic spending or a last-minute shopping habit, both of which can cost you money. Experts suggest adding in a bit of friction to the online shopping experience, like having to reenter your credit card number each time you click "purchase," because the small extra hassle can keep from buying things you don't need.

How the pain of paying can affect your spending

Video by Courtney Stith

Plus, Prime's fast shipping "isn't as unique as it once was" now that competitors like Target and Walmart offer similar two-day delivery options, McGrath notes. And if you're not a Prime member, you can still qualify for free shipping on orders of $25 or more, though shipping may take about a week, depending on your location.

"Prime allows you to not plan ahead, but maybe you could plan ahead a little more and save that $119 bucks," she says.

2. Will buying groceries online save you time and money?

Popular grocery-related Prime perks include 10% off sale items at Whole Foods Markets, as well as additional Prime member deals in-store each week. And in 2019, Amazon rolled out free two-hour grocery delivery in select cities, adding another incentive for members to shop for food staples on the site.

The value of Prime's grocery perks depend on your schedule, where you like to shop, and how easily you can get to the store. Certainly, saving time is "hugely valuable," says McGrath, but "if you have the option to go to your grocery store for no extra cost, no Prime membership," a Prime subscription might not be worth it.

"Is the sale price at Whole Foods actually going to be less than buying the same items at your local store or big box store? Maybe not," says McGrath.

They want you to sign up, and then you have to start thinking about whether you can live without it.
Kristin McGrath
shopping expert, Offers.com

3. Do you prefer to shop for clothes online?

Prime Wardrobe allows you to order up to eight items of clothing or accessories from various brands and keep them for a seven-day try-on period. After that, you're only charged for what you choose to keep. It's a great benefit for those who have limited time, who aren't sure of their size, or who dislike trying on clothes in-store, but "it's a slippery slope for a lot of people," says McGrath.

"It's basically the clothing subscription box model. They hope you're going to keep [all of it]," she says. And while Amazon does try to make it easy to return items you don't want by providing a return box and label, even this step may be an "added barrier" to sending things back, says McGrath. It's easy to just keep what you have on hand, and that may contribute to unnecessary spending.

"The idea that you can have that thing immediately contributes to the temptation to buy it immediately," she says.

4. Will you save money on streaming services?

Amazon Video offers a vast array of Prime original series such as "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," as well as access to the HBO collection, which includes shows like "Curb Your Enthusiasm." But in an age of binge watching and instant access to shows and movies on multiple streaming services, this benefit may not actually help you save.

"There can be some real value there, but if you're keeping Netflix and Disney+, if Amazon isn't allowing you to cancel one [streaming service], it's not saving you any money," says McGrath. "You can think of it as, 'I get Prime Video for free, or you think of it as I'm paying $119 per year, and this is one of the privileges.'"

Overall, carefully considering the value of Prime benefits, and not allowing yourself to get swept up in the excitement of quick product delivery or free services, can help you determine if the membership is right for you.

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