A better, smarter way to shop on Amazon

According to a recent report, nearly half of millennials would choose Amazon over sex, but are they getting the most value? Here's a better way to shop and save money.
Image: Packaged merchandise is seen on a conveyer belt at the Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville
Packaged merchandise on a conveyer belt at the Amazon fulfillment center in Robbinsville, New Jersey, on Nov. 26, 2018.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
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By Nicole Spector

When Amazon Prime launched back in 2005, the deal was simply free-two day shipping on qualifying U.S products. Sounds rather “meh” in comparison to what Prime members have today, including free same-day delivery, free streaming of an ever-expanding library of media content including music, TV, movies and more (the list of benefits goes on), with the only real catch being the rising price.

Back in 2005 members paid $79.99 a year for Prime. Today they pay $12.99 a month, which works out to $156 annually, or $119 a year if you pay for the year in full. (Students can get the service for substantially less: $59.99 per year or $6.49 per month).

Prime costs a pretty penny, no doubt, but members — particularly millennials (myself included) — are hooked on Amazon. A new report by the consumer-tech communications firm Max Borges Agency found that 77 percent of millennials would choose Amazon over alcohol; 44 percent would pick it over sex, and less than one in four would buy a tech product that wasn’t available from Amazon.

“We were surprised to find out how strongly millennials are devoted to Amazon, says Lindsay Stuart, VP of business intelligence at Max Borges Agency. “We expected some to be willing to give up alcohol and few to give up sex, but the results were staggering. [Also noteworthy is that] people are shopping in all sorts of places, from the bathroom to on the road while sitting in traffic. It was clear to us that Amazon is more than a shopping preference — it’s a lifestyle that many can’t imagine living without.”

It was clear to us that Amazon is more than a shopping preference — it’s a lifestyle that many can’t imagine living without.

Amazon attracts millennials more than any other age group

Matt Sargent, SVP at Magid, a research consultancy firm, shared data with NBC News BETTER indicating that millennials lead the pack of Amazon loyalists, from a generational perspective with 53 percent of age group is likely to subscribe to Amazon Prime, versus 41 percent of Gen X-ers and 31 percent of baby boomers.

There are ample reasons why millennials love Amazon as a shopping destination. You can get practically anything you’d want on there at deeply competitive prices, and with free two-day shipping if you’re a Prime member.

These are hard to beat perks considering that most of us are struggling to meet financial goals.

But shopping on Amazon isn’t all value-packed sunshine and discount-heavy rainbows. I’ve purchased plenty of items on Amazon that failed to live up to their descriptions and had to be returned (with Prime, return shipping is pre-paid, but it’s still a hassle). I’ve also bought things at what looked like a rock-bottom price only to see the price fall more the next day. And for me, there are those off months when I’m not buying or streaming anything on Amazon, but still paying for Prime.

These aren’t big problems by any measure, but if we’re so devoted to a company, shouldn’t we be getting the most out of its services? I think so, which is why I compiled this list of expert advice on how to get the best value as an Amazon shopper.

Read influencer reviews of products

Read [product] reviews not only on Amazon, but on influencer websites, blogs and social platforms,” advises Joe Gagliese, co-founder of Viral Nation. “Influencers make up a large part of the marketing industry and their platforms are great ways to get a true understanding of products and brands."

Price track before buying

“If you have your eye on an item, track the price so you can be sure to buy it at the lowest point,” says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert for NerdWallet. “Since prices fluctuate often on Amazon, timing can mean the difference between big savings or not.”

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The best way to track prices is to use a site such as camelcamelcamel.com or keepa.com “to monitor prices, see the price history, and even sign up for price alerts,” Palmer notes.

Apply for one of the Amazon credit cards

“You can earn five percent cash back on all of your Amazon purchases by using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, [which] also offers you five percent back at Whole Foods, two percent back at restaurants, gas stations and drug stores, and one percent back on all other purchases,” says Palmer. “If you are already a Prime member, there is no additional annual fee for the card.”

Sean Messier, financial industry analyst at Credit Card Insider adds that “even if you aren’t an Amazon Prime member, you can still qualify for the Amazon Rewards Visa Signature card. This card boasts many of the same advantages as the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature, though you’ll earn three percent cash back on Amazon purchases, [two percent at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores, and one percent on other buys] and get a free $50 Amazon.com gift card upon approval.”

Amazon also offers the more straightforward Amazon Store Card, Messier notes. “It can only be used for purchases on Amazon.com, but it provides you with a five percent cash back reward rate.”

Use the browser extension Wikibuy and Amazon Assistant

Wikibuy is a widget you can [install] that automatically tells you if you’re getting the best price on a product on Amazon,” notes 28-year old Jadis Armbruster, an Amazon shopper. Like me, she has come to greatly appreciate this browser plug-in (just yesterday I found a better price on a gift on eBay, thanks to Wikibuy’s note). “It will search for coupons or better deals quietly in the background, and pipe up when there’s a better offer.”

Armbruster also speaks highly of the Amazon Assistant feature “because you can use it to add items from any website to an Amazon Wishlist,” she says. “It consolidates all my internet window shopping in one place.

Subscribe to Prime only during heavy shopping months

Amazon Prime is cheaper to buy for the full year than it is to pay month by month, but if you don’t shop it regularly (and don’t use it’s other features, like media streaming), you may want to consider a monthly membership that you can cancel.

“For serious shoppers, the $119 [per year] may be a good deal, but for [many] people, it's not,” says Jen Hayes, the blogger behind Smarty Pants Finance. “A better way is to subscribe to Prime for $12.99 per month. You can cancel at any time. How is this a better deal? Well, let's say a millennial just moved into their first apartment, moved away from home, got married, or started a new job. That person may need to buy many things in a short amount of time (dishes, silverware, bathroom mat, etc.) They can pay for a month or two of Prime when things are really hectic and then cancel Prime once they are settled in. I did this last year at Christmas. I knew I would be buying several gifts and I didn't have time to wait for stuff to get to me via free shipping. $12.99 for a month of Prime ensured all gifts arrived on time and were under the tree on Christmas Eve. I canceled Prime right after Christmas and haven't needed it since.”

Get your next Amazon order for 15 percent off by subscribing

If you are shopping Amazon consistently, and buying the same stuff on a regular basis, consider “subscribing” to eligible products.

“Head to the Subscribe & Save section and tell Amazon which products you want sent to your house automatically every few months — like toothpaste, toilet paper, dog food, protein powder. Subscribe to five items, and they’ll give you 15 percent off every S&S order,” Evan and Nikayla Sutherland co-founders of Budgeting Couple told NBC News BETTER in an email.

Get that free Amazon money via gift cards from these sites and apps

“The easiest way to save money on Amazon is taking advantage of the countless opportunities to rack up free Amazon gift cards,” add the Sutherlands. “Cash back sites and apps (like Ibotta, Drop, and Ebates) are willing to hand over free Amazon money for simply trying out their app/site once. And that’s not to mention all those free survey sites that also pay you in Amazon gift cards. Here’s our full guide to racking up free Amazon gift cards fast.”

Wasted and wasting money? Shop sober

19 percent of millennials (the same ones who would give up alcohol for Amazon), are doing their Amazon tech shopping while intoxicated, according to the Max Borges Agency’s report.

Shopping when tipsy is a bad idea for obvious reasons — and these purchases add up. The average American spends nearly $450 a year when drunk. Consider deleting your Amazon app, if only temporarily, if you’re planning for a wild night at the bar.

No judgments though if you’re among the nearly half of survey respondents who shops Amazon while on the toilet. That’s just efficient multitasking!

MORE SHOPPING TIPS FROM YOUR FAVORITE STORES

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