Amazon Shipping – A Prime Mess

Can you spot the errors in this screen shot taken on Wednesday 29 November?

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.

Sub-Prime Shipping

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.

14 thoughts on “Amazon Shipping – A Prime Mess”

  1. I read with interest your story about Amazon Prime, and its failure to “deliver” as promised. I can understand your frustration, and can share that the situation is even worse for me. I now live in Hawaii, where I moved a few years ago. I assumed that there would be language in my Amazon prime membership that excluded places outside the contiguous 48 states, but I was assured by Amazon Customer Service that it was not the case, and that the delivery date advertised when I purchase an item would be honored.

    Since then, I can report that while the 2-day delivery is rarely shown (usually it’s 3-4 days), the actual delivery can range from a minimum of 7 days to a month or more. Sometimes I’m notified of the delay, but in most cases not. When I call customer service, they often blame third-party vendors for the problem. Sometimes they say that the shipment is lost and resend the item. I’ve received double orders (with no extra charge) which some might consider a bonus, but if I really needed two of an item, I would have ordered it.

    The exception is when I pay extra to have an item shipped sooner. On those occasions, the item seems to reach me as advertised, although “by COB” can often mean 9PM.

    The reason I don’t complain more is that for most vendors, shipping to Hawaii incurs a heavy mailing fee (if they deliver here at all), while the “expedited” Amazon Prime Service remains free. So, I usually wait in silence. The cost of living in paradise.

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    I am becoming increasingly frustrated and angry with Amazon, especially now that their unabated greed has topped their customer service. I use Amazon Prime for personal as well as professional use and see how they are trying to game the shoppers especially in Amazon business (eg) I will need to purchase a 12 pack of soda. It will be available for almost $22! in Prime but show as $5:96 in Prime Pantry. So I have to decide if i’m willing to pay a whopping $22 for 12 cans of Coke, or move the item into Prime pantry where it will have to sit until I have enough orders to ship the Pantry box, which in turn wastes copious amounts of time attempting to move all your purchases around and into different baskets in order to arrange prompt and efficient shipping.

    Deplorable and shameful tactics from Amazon. Looking into alternates to Amazon for personal and professional.

    I’m not even going to touch their shameful false reviews tactics nor their 3rd party vendor antics.

  3. I ordered an item from Amazon while in Mexico…over “global Amazon” . They shipped it from Kentucky or somewhere around there and was at my door in Mexico….300 miles south of Mexico city in one week. No problem. Here in Phoenix I order MCT Oil on Friday night and its on my doorstep before noon on Sat. We do have a huge warehouse here with Amazon delivery service.

  4. David,

    While I have certainly experienced what you describe, I’m even more frustrated by the bogus Amazon delivery notices. By that, I mean I receive text messages that tell me my item has been delivered. In the old days upon receipt of a delivery notice, I could go out and find the item just outside my door. Nowadays, it means very little and certainly does not necessarily mean it has been delivered. Last Friday, I received a text message notice that my package had been delivered at 11:03 AM. Since this is roughly the time that USPS comes by my house on weekdays and when the package was promised, this seemed plausible. It was not, in fact, true. Amazon on their website asks the customer to wait 36 hours after the delivery notice before notifying them and for the customer to look harder, ask neighbors, etc in the interim. I called Amazon Sunday evening roughly 56 hours after the scheduled delivery and was told to wait until Monday at 4PM – for an item they listed online as ALREADY DELIVERED on Friday morning.

    Credibility is lacking recently. As Amazon begins to lose it, they will lose their iron-vise grip in the online shopping market that right now is theirs to own and grow.

    Happy holidays!

  5. I emailed Amazon a few months ago about the “2 day free” shipping since the delivery date given wasn’t making sense on a potential order. Apparently the 7pm cutoff for ordering was changed to 2pm, plus the day you order doesn’t count as a shipping day. So if you order it on Wed then Thurs-Fri are the shipping days and it’ll be delivered Saturday. The other thing I’m now seeing is “get it on xxx date” but when I put it in the cart, to get it on that date is an additional shipping charge.

    I ordered 2 items on Wednesday evening which are supposed to be delivered by 8pm tomorrow. I’ve logged into my account and it hasn’t even shipped. I don’t think they can meet delivery tomorrow or even the next day. They miss tomorrow I’m asking for a free month, they miss it 2 days I’m going to try and get an additional credit like you got.

    1. That is strange math, isn’t it. And when you keep in mind that the delivery on Saturday could mean as late as 9pm, then you might order by 2pm on Wednesday, receive it at 9pm on Saturday, and be told to be appreciative of your free two day shipping!

  6. In addition to their shipping policies, I also question their pricing practices.

    I recently viewed an item advertised on for $55.62 with free shipping. It stated there was ‘only 3 left’.

    I ordered one of the item, thinking if I like it when it arrives, I will order another as the price was good compared to other online retailers. I just wanted to see one in ‘real life’ before I bought 2. When I went to check out, voila, $4.98 shipping was added, even though the item page said free shipping. Did they not think I would notice? However, since it was such a good price, I completed the transaction.

    Curious about the ‘only 3 left’ comment, I went back to the product page to see if it now said ‘only 2 left’, or if the comment was a gimmick to encourage people to maybe buy before they ran out.

    The page now indeed did say ‘only 2 left’ but the price of the item went from 55.32 to 132.62. So now if I want to order another one, it will cost an additional $77, or over twice the cost I paid for the original item?

    What’s with that?

    1. Hi, Earl

      Welcome to the wonderful world of what is politely called ‘dynamic pricing’. There are less polite terms that have been applied as well, some of them very impolite indeed.

      With dynamic pricing, not only does the price you might pay vary from minute to minute, but it also means that potentially two different people could be viewing an item at the same time and seeing two different prices.

      There’s nothing new with prices changing – regular stores do it all the time. But tailoring the price a person sees based not just on a global policy, but on the website’s assessment of what you’re likely to pay, that is a concept that sits uncomfortably with many people. It is a bit like imagining walking through a supermarket, and as you approach the baked beans section, the price per can doubles, then as you leave and the next person comes to them, the price halves. Or, of course, possibly vice versa.

      The dynamic pricing concept seems to be legal, but whether it is fair/moral is an as-yet not universally agreed issue.

      1. Huh…interesting.

        Locally the item sells for $140 CAD .The best price I could find elsewhere online was $70 US, so 55 CAD seemed like a bargain ( almost too good to be true ).

        I guess if they offer prices based on their “assessment of what they think I am likely to pay”, they must know I like a deal 😉 ( or they think I’m cheap LOL )

      2. Hello again, Earl

        You accurately put your finger on the duality and ambiguity of dynamic pricing. Does Amazon et al know we like a bargain and give us better than normal pricing, or does it know we’re keen to get something at any price and give us a higher price? Does it know we always carefully compare prices, or does it think we trust it and so allow them to edge their prices higher?

        The answer to that question however is that companies wouldn’t be instituting dynamic pricing if it was for our benefit. They do so because they believe it will ultimately benefit them…..

  7. I fully agree that Amazon is a different animal at the front of the pack than it was when it was chasing the pack! It seems I’m not alone in my peeves with Amazon — the murky delivery promises, the spotty delivery service, the maddening variances in pricing for seemingly identical products (which often turn out not to be identical but different in critical ways that get minimized in the banner).

    Beyond the nonsense of Prime versus Prime Pantry, for example, has anyone else picked up on the inanity of packaging differences? Like, a 24-pack of Red Bull being priced $2 more than a box of 6 4-packs (or $2 less depending on the day, or hour, or atmospheric conditions, or whatever)? Of course, the burden is on you to uncover these discrepancies — a burden that is magnified by the tendency of their search algorithm to ignore qualifiers that you enter and blast you with a stream of semi-related results.

    The needle is definitely swinging toward “hate” in my love-hate relationship with Amazon, especially as they show an increasing tendency to abuse their power as it nears monopoly status.

    1. Hi, Phil

      Totally agree about some of the anomalous pricing.

      My favorite is discovering some sort of item that is sold at 50c each plus $5 shipping. Maybe the $5 is fair when buying one of the items. But if you buy ten, you are then paying $5 for the ten items, plus $50 to ship them all in one package. That’s an insulting rip-off, and I am disappointed Amazon allows its third-party sellers to play such games.

      You obliquely touch on another topic of confusion and potential hate, too. What is the difference between Prime, Prime Now, Prime Fresh, and Prime Pantry?

      I’ve just been told that my free 90 days trial of Prime Pantry has expired, and I’m being invited to now formally join, for an extra $15/month. What does that get me that the other memberships and features don’t, and why should I want to buy it? I’ve no idea.

      It seems that Amazon is segmenting its market to a point of confusion such that people throw up their hands and end up doing nothing.

  8. Pingback: Weekly Roundup, Friday 8 December, 2017 - The Travel Insider

  9. Peak Amazon was at least five years ago. Ten years ago, Amazon shipping, even Prime shipping, was hit or miss. Then they got their act together and two day shipping worked like a dream.

    I remember buying a lawnmower and paying an extra $4 for overnight delivery. It arrived on time! More recently, shipping dates have started to slip. I wouldn’t mind as much if they actually let you know up front.

    I realize that when vendors ship, things are beyond Amazon’s control, but when the item is sold by Amazon or fulfilled by Amazon, they should at least be able to give a proper shipping estimate.

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