Sunday, March 20, 2011

Amazon Prime and our giant Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint

We recently tried Amazon Prime free for a month on the recommendation of a friend. Amazon Prime is a service offers where you get free two-day shipping on most everything you order directly from Amazon. The service runs $79 a year, but the idea is that with free shipping and frequent orders, enhanced customer service and saved trips out, it'll pay for itself quickly.

Let's say you keep a list of items you need from the store on your next trip.  With Amazon Prime, in theory, instead of keeping that list you could order the item from Amazon and it would probably arrive at your house before you made that next trip to the store(s).  If you used it that way, it would change the way you shopped.  And that was the way we tried to use it - as a way to order anything we thought we would have picked up on our next trip out.  The kids wanted to spend allowance on Nerf guns, so we did the research online and ordered in our PJs.  I wanted to get Beth a nice necklace for her birthday.  We knew we needed a baby gate and some odds-and-ends for Alison.  Whenever we thought of something we 'needed', we ordered it.

Of course, there were things that didn't qualify for the free 2-day shipping because Amazon wasn't the supplier, but just a storefront for someone else.  And there were things that weren't cheaper on Amazon, even with the free shipping.  And there was the knowledge that Amazon doesn't do sales tax, so I'd have to keep track of it for filing my state taxes next April.  And things like baby food had to be bought in bulk because you can't get that stuff in small packages online.  And every review was begging to be read for every purchase because there were there, and somehow random people on the internet started to have some say in what I bought.  The UPS guy started having conversations with me like we were old friends.  I was making two trips a week to the recycling drop-off to account for all the extra boxes.  And it wasn't just the boxes and deliveries started to add up - so did the credit card bill.  Not too bad, but certainly not typical.

And after a month of watching this occur, it became obvious to us what we were sacrificing so that we didn't have to plan for or think about our purchases.  What was the real cost of this convenience - in manpower, in shipping and handling, packaging, fuel, and ultimately to our expectations?  How had our attitude toward planning and budgeting and smart shopping changed?  How had our strong beliefs in living simply, spending wisely, budgeting effectively, and being good stewards of our world held up?  I wasn't sure I liked those answers, and so we happily let our month-long trial expire.