The core premise of Amazon’s Prime program has always been simple – free two-day shipping on items labeled as ‘Prime’ on their site, and discounted one-day shipping. There was no minimum order requirement, and it could be used as often as you wished.
It was launched in early 2005. To start with, it was a wonderful service, and indeed, sometimes items would arrive next day rather than second day, exceeding expectations.
Over the years, the number of products that qualified for Prime shipping seems to have massively increased, and the Prime service itself has added more and more benefits.
This, more than anything else, is the ‘engine’ driving Amazon’s presence into every part of our purchasing activities. We know, because they make no secret of it, that their ultimate objective is to be able to deliver almost anything to us within, not two days, but instead within two hours. Fast, and ever faster, shipping is a key part of their path to more market share in the future. This achieves two objectives – it makes their service more appealing to us as customers, and creates an impossibly high service standard for possible competitors to match.
But at some point I became vaguely aware that ‘two-day’ shipping wasn’t exactly as one would ordinarily understand it – ie, order something on Monday, receive it on Wednesday. Perhaps the ‘close off time’ for when orders could be placed may have moved a bit, and increasingly, it seemed to be a case of ‘order on Monday, receive on Thursday’ while still being described as two-day shipping.
And now, who else has noticed that, as of late, more and more items are being noted as qualifying for Prime shipping, but the lead time is being described not as two days, not as three, not even as four, but instead as “4 – 5 days”.
And wait, there’s more. Amazon is having trouble counting up to four and five. Look at the screen shot above, taken on the afternoon of Wednesday 29 November.
Two items are offered with free one-day service, delivery tomorrow, which truly is one day service. That is very positive.
One item is offered as Prime with no time specified, but delivery promised on Monday 4 December. That is not two days. It is either three or five days, depending on if you could the weekend days. Now that Amazon delivers on both Saturdays and Sundays, it seems fair they should be counted, but even if not, it is still three rather than two days.
Another item is offered as Prime but is identified as taking 3 days and is also promised for Monday.
One item is offered as “Prime (4-5 days)” and delivery next Thursday. But that is neither four nor five days. That’s either 6 or 8 days.
The last item is also offered as “Prime (4-5 days)” with delivery next Friday. That is even less like four or five days. It is either 7 or 9 days.
It is bad enough having the two-day Prime service slip to four or five days. But to tell us that something will be delivered in four or five days (which one?) and to alongside that statement show a leadtime that is clearly either 7 or 9 days plays us for fools.
The Hidden ‘Extra’ Day of Delay
I vaguely remember a time when, if you ordered something for next day or even second day delivery, that implied delivery would occur sometime early in the day.
Now, not so much.
Best case scenario is that the package has its ultimate delivery handled by USPS as part of their regular mail rounds, whenever that occurs. Alternatively, it seems Amazon’s deal with UPS is that Amazon packages are delivered as part of the ground delivery packages, not as part of the air service priority deliveries.
And the worst case scenario is when Amazon uses their own delivery contractors, which can see deliveries stretching into the evening.
There was a time – if I recall correctly – when all deliveries were done by 5pm. But now, 5pm has stretched to 8pm or even 9pm, and an Amazon staffer told me that their delivery people actually will keep delivering until 10pm, but no later.
When you’re getting a delivery in the mid or late evening, that’s only barely an event that registers as a delivery for that day, isn’t it. For practical purposes, unless you’ve ordered a new toothbrush, getting an item delivered at 9pm is pretty much the same as having it arrive early the next morning; it isn’t as though you’re going to get a lot of use out of the item while you’re sleeping.
I write this after having ordered two items on Tuesday; one promised for delivery on Wednesday, the other on Thursday. Mid afternoon on Wednesday, the status of the item due on Wednesday was updated and described as being shipped together with the other item, both now due to arrive Thursday. Nothing hinted this was a delay – I vaguely remember a time when Amazon would send out emails advising of delays with copious apologies within them.
I called Amazon and they did the ritual groveling and – after being pressed a bit more than usual – agreed to compensate me with the standard response in such cases – a free month of Prime service (a value of $8.25). A short while later, I received two emails from Amazon. One was from Customer Service, confirming their apology and the free month extension of my Prime membership. The email said to expect the item shortly, and to contact them again after 4pm on Thursday if it still hadn’t arrived.
The second email triumphantly told me that both items had now shipped, and to expect them – ooops – on Friday. As before, there was no mention made that this represented a second delay for one of the items and a first delay for the other.
So, another call to Amazon, another one month extension of my Prime membership, and this time, a bonus $25 credit too.
This is the third time in 16 days I’ve had problems with orders – a same day urgent order was delayed until the next day, and a food order was delivered to a neighbor (which I only found out about subsequently, after re-ordering; Amazon then graciously said I could keep both orders) rather than to my clearly marked address.
We all understand that Christmas deliveries get a bit hectic, but mid November?
And while it has been frustrating to me, I’ve also received $55 in Amazon courtesy credits, two extra months of Prime membership ($16.50 value) and an entire $63 order for free.
I’d have simply preferred to get my shipments as promised, and while Amazon is being generous in their apologies, clearly their shipping problems are creating substantial costs to them. Most of all, if people are going to start hesitating before relying on Amazon for important time sensitive deliveries, that will surely sabotage Amazon’s plans for tighter integration into our shopping lives.
Giving Amazon the Last Word
Update, Friday lunchtime : Just got an email from Amazon. The twice-delayed order has been delayed, again. This time they also volunteered to automatically ‘refund the shipping charges for your entire order’. Ironically, I’d paid a rush fee to get the order quickly; that small $3.99 fee is now being refunded to me.
Their notification is silent as to when the order will now arrive. Although they offer a ‘track your package’ option in the email, when I go to track my package, it still shows as being delivered today.