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Amazon Program Accused of Problematic Pricing Practices

Amazon buyers are complaining over what they call “bait-and-switch” pricing in the Subscribe & Save program. “People are thinking they are getting this great deal unless they check their statement,” a reader told EcommerceBytes.

The Subscribe & Save program lets shoppers sign up to receive products from Amazon automatically – think groceries, toiletries, and office supplies – and it promises shoppers “a discount off the Amazon and Amazon Marketplace everyday low price” along with free standard shipping.

However, as many readers know, prices fluctuate on Amazon, and if you’re not paying attention, you could end up paying more than you think for your items – and it turns out it’s an ongoing complaint that goes back years.

One shopper named Daniel Currie turned to Medium.com to blog his experience with the Amazon program. He describes himself as first being smitten with the convenience the plan offered, but explained, “Over the next several months, many of the things that I loved not shopping for at my local grocery store that I had been buying from Amazon became unavailable at Amazon. Or if they were available, the prices increased markedly.”

That was in 2014.

The EcommerceBytes reader who voiced his own concerns this week pointed to a thread on Amazon’s forums where other shoppers were also complaining. The thread started in 2012 and continue through today.

Some shoppers said they feel differently about Amazon as a company thanks to their poor experiences with the Subscribe & Save program.

“When you subscribe, you assume it is like a magazine subscription – and that the price doesn’t vary and certainly wouldn’t go up. The idea is you are supposed to save, not pay more,” one irate customer wrote yesterday, August 10, 2016. “The most trusted company on Earth just shattered all my trust in one fell swoop.”

Our reader forwarded one of the statements he received from the program 2 days before his items were to ship. Each item was listed, some showing how the price had changed, and some showing the items’ price of the last shipment. He wasn’t sure if the prices shown in the statement were still subject to change in the 2 days before Amazon planned to ship them.

Amazon now has additional grocery delivery options such as Prime Pantry and Prime Now, and we wonder how these pricing and trust issues will play out for its new services.

Another warning about the Subscribe & Save program comes from this Compukiss.com article, where columnist Sandy Berger similarly warns users must monitor pricing – something that surely defeats the purpose of setting up an automatic subscription.

Currie had written in his 2014 blog post on Medium, “I readily acknowledge that products and prices change at my neighborhood store, but I’ve never experienced such rapid changes over the same time period for these products. And I’ve never felt, as I began to feel with Subscribe and Save, like I was the victim of an algorithm bent on extracting the last dollar from my pocket, dime by dime. Maybe the local grocery store hides it better.”

We’ve asked Amazon to comment.

Update 8/26/16: Amazon provided us with the following statement:

“Subscribe & Save offers our customers the convenience of automatically reordering their household essentials so they never run out, and offers up to 15% off Amazon’s already low price on every Subscribe & Save order. The discount customers receive for each order through Subscribe and Save is calculated off the Amazon.com price for the item on the day each order is processed.

“We inform customers that prices can change from delivery to delivery before they confirm their subscription.

“We also email customers ten days before a recurring subscription delivery to let them know their order is being filled and we call out the current price of the item and the price from their last delivery, giving them the chance to skip or change the order if they want.”

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Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). She is a member of the Online News Association (Sep 2005 - present) and Investigative Reporters and Editors (Mar 2006 - present). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com. See disclosure at EcommerceBytes.com/disclosure/.