It’s a big week for on-line shopping so I thought I would discuss an Amazon program I stumbled across this weekend. My goal was to order a simple kitchen brush. A quick search showed that Amazon carried the product and that it was in stock. But there was a catch. Check out that little tag in the picture below stating that this is an “Add-on Item.”
So just what does that mean? Here is how Amazon explains it:
The new Add-on program allows Amazon to offer thousands of items at a low price point that would be cost-prohibitive to ship on their own. We’ve kicked off the Add-on program with thousands of new Add-on Items, and we’re adding more each day. Add-on Items ship with orders that include $25 or more of items shipped by Amazon, and you can get them delivered to your doorstep with free shipping. …
If you have an Add-on Item in your cart but less than $25 of items shipped by Amazon you can still check out with the rest of your items. When you proceed to checkout we’ll give you the choice either to keep shopping or to check out with the rest of your items and save your Add-on Items for later. We’ll keep your Add-on Items in the “Saved for Later” section of your cart so that you can easily add them to a future order.
Or to put it in a straightforward fashion: Amazon won’t sell me a kitchen brush unless I buy something else.
Note that it doesn’t matter here whether you are an Amazon Prime customer or not. You still need to get to $25 in order to buy the item. They won’t even quote you price with shipping if you were willing to pay a premium to get it without bundling it with something else.
According to All Things D, Bezos and Co. rolled this out back in May and it mostly hits on the “household goods, beauty or grocery categories.” For example, a search on toast tongs shows that there are many tongs that are impossible to buy some as a stand along item. Not to surprisingly, a quick web search shows that many customers are none to please with this exciting new program.
I wonder if this is a case where operational thinking trumps customer service. I completely get that the cost of chasing down and packing up one pair of four-dollar toast tongs is high relative to the margin on the product. That argues for dissuading customers from asking for just the toast tongs. Amazon’s Super Saver Shipping is one way of accomplishing this. The Super Saver program offers free standard shipping when orders top $25. Thus a bargain hunter looking for a sweet set of toast tongs is largely unaffected by the Add-on program.
So who is taking the hit? Prime members such as me who have already paid for “free” shipping but now do not have the convenience of getting just a kitchen brush. Stated another way, Add ons reduce the usefulness of the Prime program for customers while cutting Amazon’s cost. But just how abusive are Prime members? The program has been praised for locking customers in to shopping at Amazon. Eroding the benefits of being in the program may over time cost Amazon customers. Does Amazon really save enough on handling toast tongs to justify losing loyal customers?
A final point. I sent Amazon an email when I was trying to figure out just why I couldn’t buy my kitchen brush. Amazon customer support must live in an irony-free zone. The email response explaining that I was just out of luck on buying the brush without bundling it with something else closed with the following:
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