By J. A. Awadalla
I was really surprised when I saw this in my news feed the other day, but apparently you can get Amazon Prime at a discount if you’re on government assistance in the United States. According to Reuters, this is another move Amazon is making to directly compete with Walmart. Rather than the $10.99 per month most people would pay, those on government assistance would pay $5.99 a month instead, which is pretty nice.
But it got me thinking: how would it benefit people who are barely getting by?
I’ve never had Amazon Prime, so I decided to take a look at what its benefits are. I already knew about a few, like expedited shipping and the option to get deliveries by drone, but beyond that, I had no idea what Prime even offered. So I decided to take a look and see what the hype is all about.
On Amazon’s Prime page, they advertise eight benefits for Prime:
- Free shipping on over 50 million items (!!!) and delivery on grocery items in as little as two hours
- Free unlimited video streaming
- On-demand, ad-free music streaming with a staggering two million songs to choose from
- Free unlimited ebooks
- Free unlimited audiobooks
- Discounts on video games and game content, as well as free subscriptions to your favorite Twitch.tv streamers
- Free unlimited photo storage
- Early access to Amazon’s daily “Lightning Deals”
On the surface, this does all sound pretty nice. I’d argue there’s an unlisted, ninth benefit in being the first to know what shenanigans Amazon is up to before anyone else (and I use the term affectionately). I think what Amazon is really driving at is the free shipping–just imagine never having to set foot in a Walmart ever again. I’d pay $5.99 a month just for that!
One thing to understand about Amazon Prime Pantry, Amazon’s “grocery store page” if you will, is that it works on a system they call the “Pantry Box.” Rather than send you what you order individually, they take your orders and out them all in one large box. Each item has “Fills x.x% of your box” next to it so you know just how much space it takes up. According to Amazon, each box can hold up to 45 pounds or 4 cubic feet of stuff, so they’re definitely not small.
In the food department, Amazon doesn’t quite beat out Walmart. I seriously doubt they would ever carry something fresh or frozen on their site, but I’m sure that’s what those grocery stores they’re working on are for. That just leaves canned and boxed foods available to their new, low-income Prime members. Prime Pantry has a decent selection, but it’s far from comprehensive.
Still, it does have several national brands like Betty Crocker and Barilla. And, just like a traditional grocery store, Amazon also has a brand of its own to help you save money. Prime Pantry also has items like scotch tape, aluminum foil and shampoo, just like you’d find at any other grocery store. They definitely have more to choose from in this department than they do food, which actually makes sense if you think about it. This sort of thing is Amazon’s specialty.
Amazon also offers “coupons,” which is essentially a section full of discounted items. It’s quite large, surprisingly, and was even larger than their main pantry page when I checked it out. Even better, a lot of the items listed are small and won’t take up much of your box. I would recommend going to this page first before you check out the rest of Prime Pantry for some reasonable deals. Beware of strange groupings, like Vaseline in the food section:
Video and Music Streaming
If you can hang on to a decent internet connection, you’ll have no problem getting some good entertainment. Amazon Video has a formidable selection, including recent movies, Starz and HBO, Amazon exclusive shows and even news features. As far as music goes, the 2 million song figure is just the tip of the iceberg. You can get “tens of millions of songs” by paying for an upgraded membership, which is discounted if you have Prime. Not too shabby.
Ebooks and Audiobooks
I grouped these two together because if you get an ebook, you can also get the audiobook in most cases, and vice versa. This is fantastic if you’re trying to learn a foreign language. It’s fair to say that Amazon has many more ebooks than audiobooks at time of writing, but the most popular titles are usually available as audiobooks. This kind of variety is a Godsend if you’re into books and literature.
Game Content and Twitch.tv
If you’re looking for recent titles, don’t expect to save much on video games. You can get some nice deals on peripherals and accessories, however: think headsets, keyboards, controllers and carrying cases. As far as Twitch, it would only be of value to you if you like to watch people stream video games. If you do, Prime gives you the chance to support your favorite streamers without any extra cost to you. It’s a win-win for both sides in that regard.
If you take a ton of photos or pursue photography, you’ll love this feature. Amazon lets you store as many photos as you like with Prime Photos in a way reminiscent of Evernote. This means you can view your photos on any device, as long as you log into your account with the appropriate app or website. Unlike some image storage services, Amazon won’t lower the quality of your photos to keep your storage space within a certain quota. You can also turn your photos into custom cards, calendars, wall hangings and more.
Early Access to Amazon’s Lightning Deals
This is what most people think of when they think of Amazon Prime. One thing to remember is that Lightning deals aren’t the same as the daily Gold Box deals Amazon offers. If you’ll pardon the cheesiness for a moment, Lightning Deals can show up anywhere, anytime–it only makes sense you’d want some kind of heads-up on them. If you’re a Prime member, you find out about Lightning Deals two hours before everyone else.
For a brief period, random items throughout Amazon will be available at a discount–the easiest way to find them is to go to Amazon’s “Today’s Deals” page and click on “Lightning Deals” in the left sidebar. You’ll then see a bunch of deals like these with timers and how many have been claimed:
Getting to hear about such deep discounts before everyone else could be quite valuable, depending on the item. If it’s just something blase like vitamins or a toolbox, then it won’t matter much. Now if it’s for a big-ticket item, this feature is worth its weight in gold. This is especially true during the Christmas shopping season when Amazon really goes all out on the deep discounts.
If you’re just using Amazon Prime for shopping, it does have a lot of appeal, even though it won’t solve all of a low-income family’s problems. As always, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare prices; one of Amazon’s draws is all of the stuff they carry, but it won’t help much if you spend more money on your grocery bill in the process. You could also argue any higher prices as a sort of inadvertent “convenience fee” for not having to traipse around a store, deal with crowds and lines, and lug everything into and out of your car yourself. If you are elderly or disabled, this could be an absolute Godsend.
As far as the other features, how much those mean to you depends on you or your family’s interests. If you have no problem holding onto an internet connection, having access to all the books, movies, audiobooks, and TV shows you want is invaluable. I feel like the photo storage and Twitch subscription thing is a tiny bit more niche, though I could be wrong on the photo storage thing. I think it’s a good deal overall, especially if you have a lot of shopping to do or you can’t physically handle walking around a big store. Good on you, Amazon. 🙂
Edited to add one final thought: I don’t think Amazon Prime would be much help if you’re on food assistance benefits alone. As far as I can tell, Amazon’s food prices aren’t too different from Walmart, at least where I live. Your mileage may vary.