Problems with Amazon Prime

Up until the last month, I have been very happy with Amazon Prime, the service where you pay $80(?) for a year of free 2-day delivery.  I am sure I have ordered more stuff from Amazon because of it, and I know I order it faster because I don't wait weeks with things in the shopping cart to group shipments.   

However, in the last month, I have had not one but two orders show up in 7-8 days instead of two.  The first was a Batman Begins DVD, pre-ordered to ship on its release date (which it apparently did).  It was shipped USPS, so there was obviously no hope that it would arrive in 2 days.  The second was a new Nikon D50, which was back-ordered for about a week.

I never really got an explanation for the DVD shipment (maybe they don't apply Amazon Prime to pre-orders?), but I did get some explanation for the Nikon D50.  After writing Amazon, asking them why my item shipped UPS Ground with a 7-8 day delivery time instead of 2-day, which I had paid for with Amazon Prime and was listed as the shipment method on the order page, I got this response  (greetings, apologies, etc. omitted):

After your order leaves our fulfillment center, we may use any
appropriate ground or air shipping service necessary to ensure that
your order is delivered within one or two days, depending on the
delivery option you selected.  These delivery options do not
directly correspond to any carrier-branded shipping services.

I have researched the order in question, and it appears your package
will arrive on time.

We understand that customers who select Two-Day or One-Day delivery
want to receive their orders faster, and we will only use an
alternative shipping method when we know your order will arrive by
the estimated delivery date.

This is obviously not very clear, but here is what I infer:  When the item was back-ordered, they gave me an updated delivery date range, something like "estimated delivery Nov 2-10".  What I infer from this email is that once they give you an estimated delivery date range, they feel like their obligation to ship 2-day is voided.  The only obligation they now feel they have is to hit that date range.  So, despite the fact that my camera shipped on Nov 2 and I paid for 2-day shipping, they feel they are meeting their obligations if it gets to me by Nov 10, the back end of their estimated range.

The conclusion is not to feel sorry for me that I have to wait to play with my new toy, but that this may be the first sign of a program that is being gutted under profit pressure.  When lawyers looking for loopholes take over the customer service and fulfillment department, things can go downhill pretty quickly.  Note that the "est. delivery date" dodge really gives them carte blanche to get out of the 2-day obligation any time they want, since they set the estimates. 

As a note, I tried to confirm my interpretation with Amazon and have been unsuccessful.  In the tradition of making itself one of the hardest companies in America to actually contact, one can't reply to their customer service email so I can't get an easy confirmation or clarification.  I actually got and called their customer service phone number, which you will never find on their site (write this down:  1-800-201-7575).  The person on the other end of the line was useless, not understanding that I wanted a clarification of the Amazon Prime rules rather than some resolution of a particular order.  She couldn't access the emails I had sent to customer service or had received from them, and didn't seem to understand Amazon Prime rules, so she was no help.  The only funny part was that as I kept trying to clarify what I wanted from her, she kept upping the gift certificate amount she offered me as compensation, despite the fact that I kept saying "I don't want money I want to know what the rules are".  I think I ended up with $20 without even wanting it.

Which makes me wonder why I can't reply to Amazon's customer service emails.  I don't have a problem getting customer support via email rather than the phone, but to make this work I really need to keep working through to resolution with the same person, and the Amazon process makes this impossible.


  1. Todd K. Moyer:

    Interesting. I've felt that they've been messing with Amazon Prime, too, but in ways that are hard to pin down. It's just that when I first signed up, it seemed that more things qualified for Amazone Prime, and everything for the first 6 months would arrive in 2 days.

    Now, it seems that things don't always ship the same day, and there are things that don't seem to qualify for Amazon Prime, but I think should.

    But it's all kind of just a feeling. I do have some CDs on backorder right now, in a similar scenario to yours. I'll let you know what happens. So far, it seems that they're slipping the ship date on me. When it actually ships, it will be interesting what method they use. They appear to be holding to 2 day shipping, since the 'ship estimate' is October 31, 2005 - November 7, 2005, and the 'delivery estimate' is November 2, 2005 - November 9, 2005.

    I order so much stuff that it clearly saves me money, even compared to ground shipping. If they screw up the service, as you're indicating, I'll probably grumble, but sign up again for another year of Amazon Prime.

  2. Brad Warbiany:

    Quick question: where did it ship from, and where to? For example, I'm in Georgia (near Atlanta), and I had to ship something to one of our customers in Jacksonville, FL. Shipping next-day or two-day is ridiculously expensive, but shipping ground gets it there in two days (using UPS, at least).

    IIRC, you're in Arizona. So let's say Amazon has a distribution center in Las Vegas, and that's where your product is coming from. They'll ship UPS Ground, knowing it will arrive within two days anyway. Saves them money and keeps you happy.

    Did the product arrive within two days of shipment?

  3. Highway:

    It's certainly probable that they've gotten quite the selection bias response to their Amazon Prime service, in that people who would defintely have spent more than 80 dollars in shipping in a year signed up, but people who would only spend on the order of 100 dollars or less per year haven't, thereby ruining their idea of it averaging out. It's also sad that their customer service is sounding more and more like eBay, where they mostly try to avoid clear promises and resolutions that might obligate them to do something not in their favor.

    Brad, in answer to your questions, I think this is the scenario: Amazon Prime says that the orders will get '2-day shipping'. On normal items, this means they use expedited service, from USPS, FedEx Express, UPS, whomever. But when an item is backordered or pre-ordered, there's a difference in expectation: The customer expects that the items will ship, when they arrive at Amazon, by 2-day express shipping. Amazon instead seems to be saying that there is a window for things to ship, and a window for things to arrive at the customer, and the windows are 2-days apart. And any shipping that will make it arrive in that arrival window is acceptable by their terms of contract.

    So the items that are being received are shipping by methods that will not deliver them within 2 days of the ship date, but rather before the end of the 'arrival window'.

  4. Todd K. Moyer:

    I can't say where the CDs shipped from, since they havn't shipped yet. However, I ordered a book at the same time, and as with most things, it came from Sparks, Nevada, and I live in Oregon. Lower cost ground shipping was used, as confirmed by checking the tracking number at UPS' website. I guess as long as UPS gives an expected delivery date no more than 2 days after the ship date, Amazon will use that option. And, normally, I don't really mind. In the majority of cases it gets here when I expect.

    But, I guess I have to say, when I signed up for "Prime", I expected everything would be shipped via a premium, 2-day guaranteed, delivery service.

  5. Todd K. Moyer:

    One other interesting detail: it appears that when you track a package on Amazon's site, they don't reveal which shipping service was used, other than telling you the carrier. But if you go to UPS' site, it tells you which service was used.

    So, looking at a few past orders, all under Amazon Prime, they all came from Sparks, NV, but some were shipped ground, and some were shipped 2nd Day air. I haven't been able to discover why the difference.

  6. podraza:

    Thanks for the number, I used it this morning.

  7. jason:

    I have been using prime for several months and getting my items with 2 day
    shipping and having them arrive in 2 days.

    My last order shipped in 2 packages with 3 day select one arrived in 4 days
    the other arrived in 6 days from the shipping date.

    The support guy pointed to the 2 day shipping not corresponding to any
    branded service -- fine.

    It must mean something.

    How an item shipped on the 1st and arriving on the 7th can fall under
    "2 day shipping" is beyond stretching the language it is redefining it.

  8. Mark:

    I have had this happen three times now as well. I just got some Indian call center guy to admit to me that they are having "technical difficulties" in some of their fulfillment centers! Amazon is doing what is called legally "fraud in the inducement", indicating that an item is in stock and if you order it by a certain point in time, you can choose the next day shipping option and get it the next day. They failed on this once and have failed twice on two-day shipping, both in the past month or two. I plan to contact the Washington State Attorney General's office and file a claim, as Amazon is clearly duping people and screwing the Amazon Prime subscibers.

  9. George:

    Amazon induced me to sign up for Prime by hitting me with an "ad" as I was checking out of my cart with Christmas presents last December. I thought it sounded like a good deal until I bought Prime - then I immediately found out most of my presents weren't covered by Prime. That made me nervous about Prime, so I asked for a refund IMMEDIATELY (another weird thing - you can't undo the transaction yourself, you have to e-mail customer service).

    Amazon is normally very good about refunds / cancellations, which is why I felt OK about signing up for Prime in the first place. However, BUYER BEWARE - if you want a refund on Prime, you have to go through mutiple steps with customer service, and (as noted by a previous post) you never deal with the same person twice. After a month of trying to get a refund, the last customer service person I dealt with denied that Amazon had ever charged my credit card, and told me I had to submit proof that I had been charged.

    The customer service rep at my credit card company got a good chuckle out of that one. I'm just glad I can dispute the charge through my credit card company.

  10. Bob:

    I signed up for Prime right when it came out and it proved less than useable for me. Prime only applies to items sold directly by Amazon, which pretty much means books and CDs. I tend to buy electronics, games, jewelry, etc so my purchases rarely qualified.

    I didn’t really mind, just kind of figured that’s life. However, I had decided that when it expired I wouldn’t be renewing it.

    SURPRISE! When it expired, they automatically renewed it, without even so much as a howdy do! It turns out (if you read all of the fine print) that Prime membership is automatically renewed without notification. It is incumbent upon you (the member) to cancel before the renewal date.

    Canceling Prime is now fairly easy, you just follow the Help link, click on the Prime section and follow the cancel link. However, you only get a refund if you haven’t made a Prime qualified purchase. I was unclear if they meant “ever” (because I had made two or three prime purchases during the first membership period) or if they meant for the current period. I tried to find an actual phone number to call and verify, but there is no such animal on the webpage. Searching the web led me to this site and the INVALUABLE phone number. I called and it was all resolved in minutes.

    Amazon has been a good company, but the Prime scheme could endanger that. If they counted on an “insurance” style membership where minimal users subsidize the heavy users I think they made a poor decision. If on the other hand, they were simply trying to buy store loyalty (people always go to Amazon for their stuff) then it was probably a decent decision. However, the automatic renewal thing is pretty evil, and definitely needs to be changed.

    Thanks for the golden number!

  11. Larry:

    I was offered a 3 month trial membership in Amazon Prime last December. On Feb 27, 2006 they sent me a notice saying my trial membership was set to expire on 3/26/06, and gave instructions on how to keep it or cancel it. Yesterday, I went into my account information and saw very plainly that my trial membership wasn't due to expire until June 26, 2006 (I kept a copy as a .mht file for reference). I figured that Amazon was just extending the trial. Today, 3/26/06, they hit my credit card with a charge for $79 and the account info today on their website show that the trial expired today. They either have a massive bug in their software, or they are using deceptive practices with their customers.

  12. Allan:

    Amazon Prime isn't the only problem now days. I didn't get my math book in the mail, ever! I had to ask/write multiple times to get a refund from the seller. It must have gotten lost in the Amazon mail system (others have had similar shipping problems).

  13. Seth Williamson:

    I signed up for Amazon Prime, and well over half my shipments are late. I complain and each time I have gotten a promotional credit on the next order, but I'd prefer the stuff to arrive on time rather than get a credit.

    Another problem is what strikes me as an increasing number of inventory items that appear to be eligible for Prime, but there's a weasel-way out of it. I just ordered a book which they said was "in stock but might require an extra one or two days of processing," something like that.

    That is NOT what I paid for when I paid them nearly $80 for Prime membership.

    On a previous complaint call, the phone monkey told me that all it means is the shipping will take one or two days, whenever they get around to it. In other words, I could order today, they might not ship for six months, but if they got it to me in two days, it would be be "Amazon Prime service." This is BS in my opinion.

    I have had a very favorable opinion of Amazon up til now, but I'm beginning to think this is the first time they're gonna crash and burn on a new program. They don't seem to be able to make it work.

  14. Andrew:

    Yep, I have had this problem also- a couple of my orders have just shipped ground when they're more than 2 days away. I called Amazon customer service, and they outright lied and told me that the expected delivery date was earlier than it said on the screen. Going to call them back and hopefully at least get some sort of credit if my stuff doesn't arrive within 2 days.

  15. jadi:

    Hey guys, I found a way to filter amazon's searches for only prime eligible items, something which I had wanted to do ever since I became a member! Using this trick, I don't have to worry about whether or not the products I'm seeing are elible, they all are! I wrote about how to do it here:

  16. Jacob:

    I'm a huge Amazon Prime fan, but like Jadi, I've always found it very frustrating that their search engine returned so many non-Prime-eligible results. I eventually got so fed up with it that I created my own site,, that allows anyone to search for Amazon Prime and SuperSaver eligible items only. If you try it, let me know what you think -- I'd love some feedback from other Prime users.