amazon-primeOne big advantage e-book readers have over printed books is the “instant gratification” they offer their users: as Amazon puts it, you can be reading any Kindle book within a minute of deciding you want it. And I’ve mentioned Amazon’s Disc+ program in which Amazon applies a similar principle to CDs and DVDs it sells.

But over the last six years, Amazon has been trying to do the same to its sales of, well, everything else. If they can’t deliver instant gratification, they can at least deliver it faster. This is the purpose of the Amazon Prime program, a shipping plan in which customers play $79 to get a year of no-additional-cost two-day shipping (or one-day shipping for an additional $3.99 per order) on every order. Business Week reports that the plan has proven so successful that other e-tailers are trying to copy it.

The article notes that members of the plan purchase more items from Amazon, and are more likely than non-Prime members to purchase things other than books and media from Amazon (which also sells goods in other categories such as groceries). It was more successful than even its creators imagined, breaking even in three months after its introduction rather than the expected two years. And as other companies are coming up with similar offers, including some free shipping overs during the holiday season, Amazon is moving toward offering next-day shipping instead of two-day.

It’s no surprise that the service would make people more inclined to shop at Amazon. Psychologically, if they’re paying almost $80 per year for shipping costs, they will want to “get their money’s worth” out of it by having as much stuff shipped as possible. And it will also inclined them toward purchasing from Amazon things they would otherwise have bought elsewhere—because, after all, they’re already paying for faster shipping from Amazon.

Of course, people who don’t want to pay for two-day gratification can still get free slower shipping from Amazon if they order over $25 worth of merchandise at a time, which leads some to suggest it is not such a bargain after all. In the end, it depends on how much value the individual customer assigns to getting the item he orders only a couple of days after he orders it.

Until we have Star Trek-style replicators and transporters, “instant” gratification for physical objects is going to be limited to people who purchase them in the store—or those who buy e-media, such as e-books or streaming movies. The success of the Prime plan suggests that a lot of people would pay to have their items faster—which suggests that impatience might be a helpful factor in the adoption of e-books over physical ones.


  1. The big advantage of Prime to me, and the reason I’ve been a Prime member from the beginning, is not so much about instant gratification as it is about not having to combine items. Before Prime, I would wait until I had several items to order, so as to minimize shipping costs. With Prime, I no longer have to do that; one item costs me the same as ten items. Amazon wins, because before, some of those items didn’t get purchased from Amazon, because I purchased them elsewhere while waiting to assemble an order.

    BTW, when Amazon began doing local grocery delivery, your Prime membership meant that you got free shipping for smaller orders, but that’s no longer true. Now that’s dependent upon spending a certain amount per month on AmazonFresh, their grocery service.

  2. I’m a very happy (and frequent) Prime user. Please note that not everything Amazon has on it’s site is Prime eligible. Most items Amazon fulfills itself is, but a lot of the stuff on Amazon is from other vendors and does not fall under the Prime label. You can filter for Prime only with the “Prime Eligible” choice under “Shipping Option” on the left of the page.

    Also — I believe the $3.99 next day option is per item, not per order.

    One additional way to save money with Amazon is using their “subscribe and save” option. Many items you might buy at fairly regular intervals are available this way. You save 15% if you subscribe to regular shipments. I get my coffee k-cups and my razor blades this way. You set the frequency. Amazon emails you before the next shipment and gives you the opportunity to delay it, get it early or cancel it.

    And I agree with Sherri….not having to wait and combine items is very nice. Even when you order several items at once, you can choose to have them delivered as they become available or altogether, without having to worry about additional shipping charges.

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