Not long ago, it would have seemed absurd or at least a little strange to get everything you needed delivered to your door – groceries, entertainment, furniture, you name it. Today, and especially after social distancing, online shopping has almost become the norm.
Smart consumers will therefore know how to save money on Amazon and similar marketplaces. In many cases, this is quite simple. You may simply not have heard about some of the many worthwhile opportunities available to you.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Amazon and How Does It Work?
- 2 How to Save Money on Amazon: 13 Proven Methods
- 3 How to Save Money on Amazon Prime
- 4 Baby on Board: Save Big on Childcare Essentials
- 5 Save Money on Amazon Subscriptions
- 6 Shipping Secrets: How to Save on Amazon Deliveries
- 7 How to Save on Amazon Using Coupons
- 8 How to Save Money on Amazon by Tracking Prices
- 9 Snap up “Deals of the Day”
- 10 How to Save on Amazon Outlet
- 11 Sell Your Unused Stuff Back to Amazon
- 12 How to Get Free Amazon Gift Cards
- 13 Save on Amazon by Understanding Their Return Policy
- 14 Save on Amazon by Using Third-Party Websites
- 15 Cash in on Amazon Smile
What Is Amazon and How Does It Work?
Amazon is today the largest retailer in the United States by share price, one of the most recognizable brands worldwide, and the second-largest employer in America (not counting the government). Even so, many people still think of it as nothing more than a website you can use to order stuff. What’s actually going on behind the scenes?
The basic idea behind the company is a kind of example of how economies of scale can benefit both corporations and the consumers who buy from them. Jeff Bezos realized that a physical bookstore could, at most, stock perhaps a thousand titles. If you went to one looking for a book on a particular subject, say rabbit breeding, they may or may not have what you need.
If you move that bookstore into a warehouse, however, and mail out the products instead of letting customers browse, you can offer tens of thousands of different books. This gives shoppers way more choice: instead of one book about bunnies, you can select an introductory guide, a college-level textbook, or even a manual covering a specific type of rabbit. What’s more, since their overhead costs are lower than those of a real bookstore, they can offer these books more cheaply, even once you factor in delivery charges.
Books gave Amazon a start on its meteoric rise (the company was only founded in 1994), but they have since diversified into digital services, manufacturing, video streaming, and more. Since our goal here is to discuss how to save money on Amazon, let’s just focus on the facet of the company most familiar to all of us: their online marketplace.
The main thing to understand is that, more often than not, you’re not actually buying anything from Amazon itself: it’s an online sales platform, not a store in the traditional sense. With the exception of house-brand products like AmazonBasics and the popular Fire tablet, which are manufactured for Amazon under contract, the website is really just an intermediary. It helps to bring sellers and shoppers together and manages purchase transactions, but things like shipping, warranties, sales tax, and customer service are often the vendor’s responsibility, not Amazon’s. The company does, however, go to a great deal of trouble in keeping tabs on their third-party sellers: a history of poor customer feedback or disputes can make them ineligible for participation in special programs and even cause their product listings to be removed altogether.
There is also a kind of middle ground called the Fulfillment by Amazon service. Especially popular with small businesses and individuals selling through the website, this means that Amazon takes care of all the warehousing and logistic work on behalf of the seller for a small fee. As a customer looking to save on Amazon, this mainly means that you can expect a more streamlined delivery process. The difference becomes much more significant when you become an Amazon vendor yourself, which can become a pretty lucrative hands-off business if you’re smart about it.
How to Save Money on Amazon: 13 Proven Methods
Whether you’re a total novice at online shopping or you think you already know the ropes, chances are that you can still save money on Amazon by changing your buying habits. In many cases, it pays to plan your shopping ahead of time instead of making impulse purchases.
How to Save Money on Amazon Prime
The Amazon Prime program has approximately 90 million subscribers in the U.S, so a pretty substantial portion of their users think it’s a good idea. How exactly does this work, though?
Prime is tailored to regular Amazon customers; the idea is that you pay upfront now in order to get substantial benefits later. Delivery is often free and/or speedier, you get slightly earlier access to time-limited “lightning deals”, free games, movies, TV shows, Kindle books and music, access to samples of beauty and other products, discounts at Whole Foods stores, and the option of applying for an Amazon Prime Visa card featuring a competitive cash back rate on Amazon purchases (including a $100 bump in your Amazon account as soon as your credit is approved). You’ll also be able to bag major savings on Prime Day, an annual 48-hour event in which only subscribers can participate.
If you plan to take advantage of all or at least most of these perks, the fee of $13 a month or $119 per year is totally worth it. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial to see how all of this works and whether or not it’s for you.
Amazon is also very eager to turn today’s students into tomorrow’s customers; this is how to save money on Amazon Prime if you qualify. In addition to six months of free Prime membership, you can also sign up for a year at only 99¢ per month. This gets you access to exclusive deals on everything from computers and software to personal care products and clothing. People on government assistance, which means many of us right now, can also apply for a discounted rate of $5.99 per month.
Baby on Board: Save Big on Childcare Essentials
If you already have a Prime membership, you can also enroll your children in Amazon Family at no extra charge. This lets you save up to 20% on necessities like infant formula, toddler clothing, and diapers. If you are still expecting or just learning the ropes of caring for a newborn, you should also create a baby registry with Amazon to make it easier for people who’d like to help out to see what you need. Simply doing so causes Amazon to send you a complimentary box of baby supplies worth $35, and you’ll receive a 15% discount on selected items when you buy anything on the list you didn’t receive as a gift.
In addition (and some people find this more valuable than the purely monetary savings), you’ll also receive plenty of articles and tips tailored to your child’s age. Much of this will have a marketing slant, but will in general just steer you to Amazon product pages for items you were going to buy anyway.
Save Money on Amazon Subscriptions
Another of the benefits Prime members receive is a full 20% off automatic deliveries of home staples: personal care products, pet food, cleaning supplies, groceries, and so on. To qualify for this, you only need to sign up for five recurring purchases that will all arrive in the same shipment. These deliveries are always free, making them ideal for bulky items you don’t want to wrestle in and out of shopping carts. The amount of time and frustration you save with these repeat orders by itself makes it worth taking advantage of this service.
Most people’s shopping lists change very little from week to week and month to month, so you’re almost certain to find a couple of repeat purchases that will let you save money on Amazon. Products are normally delivered monthly or bi-weekly, so you won’t be able to order perishable food in this way. On the other hand, you can also choose to receive an item only every second to sixth month, so seldom-used goods can count towards your 20% discount.
Non-Prime members can still save up to 15%, and you can skip a delivery or cancel a subscription at any time (you’ll receive a notification email before your order is packed so you can see what’s coming). To get on board, simply select “Subscribe and Save” instead of “One-Time Purchase” on the right-hand side of your screen and choose a delivery frequency and quantity.
Shipping Secrets: How to Save on Amazon Deliveries
Clearly, it costs money to get the stuff you order from an Amazon fulfillment center to your home. One way to save money on Amazon is to make this come out of their profits instead of your pocket.
As long as an order contains products marked “Free Shipping” worth $25 or more, you don’t have to pay for deliveries if you’re willing to wait five to eight days. All you need to do is plan your purchases so that you can bundle enough eligible items together. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily apply to sellers who don’t use the Fulfillment by Amazon system, while residents of Alaska and Hawaii may still have to pay the postage.
Prime members are generally eligible for free two-day shipping even on smaller orders. If you’re not in a hurry, however, you should know how to save money on Amazon Prime by selecting “No Rush” shipping. You’ll get either a discount on your order or a credit to your Amazon account if you select this option – they decide which. In either case, this is basically free money.
How to Save on Amazon Using Coupons
Couponing is an essential part of the toolkit of every smart shopper. Online purchases are no exception, and the ease with which you can find special offers on the internet makes coupons a lovely way to save money on Amazon.
This process is especially streamlined. If any coupons are available for an item you’re looking at, you can find them simply by checking the “Special Offers” section (scroll down past the description and recommended products). Alternatively, you can browse currently available coupons on Amazon itself or look through third-party websites if you find that more convenient. Savings of 20% or more are not uncommon, and these are often stacked on top of other discounts such as those you’ll receive as a Prime member.
How to Save Money on Amazon by Tracking Prices
The price shown for each product on Amazon’s website changes over time – very often, and sometimes unpredictably. In many cases, these fluctuations are the result of decisions made by a computer rather than planned promotions.
The upshot of all this is as follows: if you’re willing to let a little time go by between deciding to buy an item and actually placing your order, you can frequently save serious bucks. This is especially true for big-ticket items. A number of tools are at your disposal so you don’t have to monitor each seller’s best price from day to day.
CamelCamelCamel is perhaps the best-known price tracking website for Amazon. You can use it to see how much an item cost in the past and also set up email or Twitter alerts for when the price of something you’re interested in drops. Creating an account is free and browser extensions are available to assist serious shoppers.
Keepa offers similar functionality but with a more intuitive interface. The free version should be perfectly adequate for the average shopper; a subscription plan costing about $18 a month is targeted more at businesses who sell on Amazon. The Tracktor is currently offline for an upgrade, but is also free and has the advantage of being very easy to understand and use. There are also numerous phone apps that serve the same purpose.
Amazon itself, too, will let you know if items you’ve placed in your cart but haven’t actually ordered are now cheaper (or, for that matter, more expensive). If you’re thinking about a large purchase like a new home appliance, you can always click “Save for Later” and see if it becomes available at a bargain price.
Snap up “Deals of the Day”
Price tracking is mostly a passive process, but people who know something about how to save money on Amazon often recommend a more diligent browsing program. In short, you’re much more likely to find great deals if you spend some time looking for them. The Amazon app comes in very handy here, especially since you can browse upcoming promotions and choose to be notified when they start.
There are two types of bargain worth checking on a weekly or daily basis: Lightning Deals and Deals of the Day. The latter run for 24 hours, while Lightning Deals may be available for much shorter periods. In either case, you may be able to score discounts of as high as 50% – just make sure that you’re buying something you truly need instead of products that are cheap but also of no use to you.
If you do find something you genuinely want, however, you should jump on it. Lightning Deals usually have only a limited number of items on offer. Once these are gone, the price goes back up to normal. You can also join a waitlist for an in-demand product on the off chance that someone who has already added one to their cart will cancel their order, somewhat like buying a standby ticket for a flight.
How to Save on Amazon Outlet
Let’s say you’re looking for a smartwatch without being too concerned about what brand you get, or you need to buy a gift that doesn’t cost the earth for someone, or you have a little bit of money available and want to buy something nice for your home. In all of these scenarios, Amazon Outlet may have exactly what you need, even if you’re not yet sure what that is.
In some cases, a seller may have ordered or manufactured more of some item than they can sell at the usual price, or they want to get rid of old inventory to make room. Whatever their reasons, you can often find bargains at 30% to 50% off on quirky, practical, and deluxe products. These aren’t junk, either: every product on Outlet has been approved by Amazon, which implies that they have at least a 3/5 customer rating.
Surprisingly, though this part of the website has existed for years, many otherwise savvy online shoppers have never heard of this way to save money on Amazon. As you would expect, the selection here isn’t quite as wide as that on the main shopping portal, but you can still count on finding thousands of products in almost every imaginable category.
Sell Your Unused Stuff Back to Amazon
If you bought something from Amazon some time ago, you can save money on an upgrade through their trade-in program. If you’ve ever seen something advertised as “used” while browsing the website, chances are good that this is where it comes from.
For the most part, the only products they’re willing to send you an Amazon electronic gift card for are books, video games, and electronics, especially those carrying the Amazon brand. Unsurprisingly, they pay the best rates for items in good condition. As an added incentive, they will pay the shipping costs, as well as recycle your Amazon devices for free if it is not possible to refurbish these to salable condition.
Should you want to search for devices that have been traded in, as well as any that were returned for some reason or damaged in storage – even if that just means that the packaging got scuffed – you can take a look over at Amazon Warehouse and Amazon Renewed (there’s no real difference between these two, although everything sold on Renewed is supposed to have been tested). The downside to shopping there is that you can expect, at most, a warranty lasting only 90 days with plenty of terms and conditions attached.
How to Get Free Amazon Gift Cards
Selling your old stuff back to Amazon isn’t the only way to get gift cards you can use for online purchases. The idea of getting paid just to have an opinion may seem far-fetched. Even so, plenty of companies want to know what their current, former, and potential customers are thinking and are willing to pay for the privilege.
Some online survey websites that allow you to cash out your earnings are:
Some of these companies will offer you an Amazon gift card for as much as $25 just for creating a free account with them. To earn more points you can redeem for additional gift cards, you may complete questionnaires, redeem online coupons, participate in focus groups, or just allow an app to look over your shoulder as you browse the internet like you would do normally. This can be a rewarding and even fun way to fill an otherwise idle hour, but you shouldn’t expect to earn huge amounts of money doing surveys.
Save on Amazon by Understanding Their Return Policy
Buying items like clothing online is always hit or miss: just because the manufacturer tells you that something is your size doesn’t mean they’re using the same measuring tape, and “small”, “medium” and “large” just mean different things in different countries. This is what makes Amazon Wardrobe such a great idea.
This is another way to save money with Amazon Prime: assuming you’re a member, you can order up to eight garments, spend seven days deciding if they fit you, and return anything you don’t want free of charge. If you choose to pay an additional $5 per month for their Personal Shopper service, you’ll also receive personalized recommendations to suit your style, body type, and budget.
Occasionally, you may also receive items that were damaged in transit, the wrong color, or simply not what you ordered in the first place. It pays to know the terms and conditions regarding returns before you confirm your order. In general, you’ll have 30 days to return a defective item for a refund or replacement. You will usually have to pay for the postage, which will be refunded (up to $20) to your Amazon account balance. These terms may be different when dealing with sellers who don’t use the Fulfillment by Amazon service, though you can usually appeal to Amazon’s A-to-Z guarantee if you experience any problems.
Save on Amazon by Using Third-Party Websites
One of Amazon’s greatest strengths, namely the huge variety of products you can order through their website, can also become a drawback. If you go into a physical store to buy a hairdryer, you may have only three options, making the decision an easy one. On Amazon, there are literally hundreds for you to choose from – where in the world should you start?
Reading through customer reviews and comparing prices yourself takes a lot of time and attention; this is not how to save money on Amazon if you’re a busy person. Luckily, some websites have done the legwork for you and often use industry experts to select the best, most economical products.
Tom’s Guide, for instance, keeps track of the best Amazon deals on tech items on a daily basis. These are organized by product type, so you can quickly jump to the section you’re interested in. ClarkDeals casts a much wider net, covering categories like DIY, office equipment, and sporting goods. Each offer is accompanied by a bite-sized review explaining what you can expect. Woot serves a similar purpose but is owned by Amazon itself. You can get exactly the same information on the main website if you search hard enough, but browsing Woot is often a lot easier, especially if you’re not sure of what you’re looking for.
Cash in on Amazon Smile
While Amazon Smile doesn’t actually help you save money, it may just save something even more important and is therefore worth mentioning. Charities all over the world are in dire need of funds – if you can support them without having to spend a cent of your own money, why wouldn’t you?
You choose the charity, and with about a million of these participating, you’re sure to find at least one cause that appeals to your conscience. Simply register with the Amazon Smile program and the company will donate 0.5% of the price every time you buy a qualifying product. This may not seem like much, but given Amazon’s enormous turnover, millions of dollars end up being sent to where they’re needed most. You can also choose to donate money or goods directly.
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Perhaps the best way to save money on Amazon (and on online shopping in general) is to keep your impulse purchases to a minimum. There are plenty of tricks these companies use to get you to spend more than you planned, some of which can be called good customer service and others that are downright sneaky.
The best way to approach online shopping and save on Amazon is probably to look only for a specific item rather than browsing at random until you find something that looks cool. Unless you’re totally sure that you need it and can’t find it cheaper somewhere else, put it in your shopping cart and wait 24 hours to actually confirm your order. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up deciding that a Marilyn Monroe costume for your dog isn’t really a must-have item and that it’s cheaper to make your own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at home.
There are a number of ways to save money on Amazon that aren’t covered in this article, such as writing exceptionally helpful reviews. Perhaps you’ve tried some of them. Please, share your experiences in the comment section. Just maybe, your thoughts will assist others in making Amazon work for them.