I did a whole lot of schlepping this week.
I returned two giant cases of diapers that my daughter had outgrown to Amazon. I walked through pouring rain to pick up our CSA box, then walked that 15-pound box of vegetables back home. And I bought a Jumperoo (this thing) on Craigslist, then carried it eight blocks back to my apartment slung over my shoulders, its attachments whipping against my cheeks in the bitter wind.
These are total #firstworldproblems, yes, but they came to mind Thursday when Amazon revealed that it is raising the cost of an annual Prime membership to $99, from $79. I’ll shell out the extra $20 without a fight, but the price increase and subsequent complaints (and workarounds) got me thinking about what I’d really like from a Prime membership and what I’d happily pay quite a bit more for. (A crappy-sounding music streaming service is not on my list.)
These may sound like steep requests, but Amazon Prime is getting a lot of competition on the speedy delivery front — especially as same-day delivery becomes more feasible. Amazon has a service called Prime Fresh that offers same- or next-morning delivery, is $299/year and is available in Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. Google recently launched the same-day delivery service Google Shopping Express in the Bay Area, eBay Now is available in four cities (including parts of New York City) and plans to expand to 25, and the startup Deliv has raised about $13 million to do same-day delivery. So until Amazon starts delivering via drone, here are some other ways Prime can stay ahead.
Get rid of the schlep
The best part of Amazon Prime is not the streaming video or the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library of largely self-published ebooks — it’s the unlimited two-day shipping that removes the need for shopping trips. (It sounds as if many Prime members agree with me.) Since I had a baby, I’ve become even more dependent on Prime because shopping with an infant sucks.
With the influx of baby stuff into my apartment, I’ve also had to make a lot of returns, which are as inconvenient as Prime is convenient. In the case of those cases of diapers, for instance, I had them stashed in the nursery and by the time I realized my daughter had outgrown them, I’d long recycled the big boxes they came in. Confronted with the task of finding the right size of box and packing materials, filling out return forms and getting everything to UPS, I’m often tempted to keep the item instead bothering sending it back. (Which is probably what the seller would like.) When I process a return on Amazon, I’d like to be able to click a button that says “Handle my return” — without having to worry about providing packing materials or transportation. A guy comes to my door at a prearranged time, takes the item and that’s it.
Be my post office
Post offices are THE. WORST. USPS.com now lets you do some tasks like printing Priority-Mail-and-faster shipping labels and buying stamps, but tasks like shipping parcel post or sending a certified letter still have to be done at the post office, unless you have a paid Stamps.com membership (but that product is primarily aimed at businesses and starts at $15.99 a month). So I’d love to see Amazon take a hint from eBay, team up with USPS (they’re already kinda cozy thanks to that awesome delivery-on-Sundays deal) and start letting users handle all mailing tasks through its website. Give Prime members some free postage and send them printable sticky labels.
Give me streaming sports
We don’t have cable, so my husband subscribes to streaming packages from NHL and MLB. Amazon should work with the major sports leagues to offer streaming sports to Prime members (or offer a sports package to Prime members for an additional cost). There will likely be geographic restrictions preventing people from watching their local teams, but those restrictions are already in place for the streaming packages anyway. (A variation on this theme: Amazon could just buy the streaming rights to big games, as Peter Kafka has suggested.)
Partner with Costco, with Taskrabbit, with Craigslist…
This is a variation on the “reduce the schlep” theme from above. Partner with Costco (Walmart already owns Sam’s Club) and let verified Costco members place orders for non-perishable Costco products through Amazon at the same prices they’d find in Costco stores. (Yes, Costco allows online shopping but its interface is bad and the prices are higher than you’d find in-store.)
Partner with Craigslist and Taskrabbit. Let people who are buying used stuff off Craigslist pay with a credit card through their Amazon account, then book a Taskrabbit through Amazon at the same time to pick the order up.
Be my personal shopper
Amazon will already send you reminders and automated gift ideas for people’s birthdays. Take it a step further and give it a more personal touch: Once I’ve entered everyone’s age, interests and home address, email me a couple weeks before their birthday with suggested gifts in three price ranges and a “Yes, send this” button right in the email. Do the same with flower delivery before Mother’s Day (should be easy enough since Amazon opened a flower shop last year).
Take a hint from companies like Stitch Fix and suggest clothing for me. Again, let me buy it straight from an email. An algorithm could suggest clothing based on my past purchases or Prime members could have the option of working with a real live personal shopper who suggests items for them. Returns are free (as they already are with most Amazon clothing purchases).
What would you like to see from Amazon Prime? Let me know in the comments.