Service of Reading the Fine Print and Your Emails: Amazon’s Subscribe and Save Program

September 26th, 2016

Categories: Fine Print, Prices, Promotions

terms and conditions

I’m not a fan of automatic anything. When I buy OTC items from a drugstore website, I’m asked if I’d like a monthly order of shampoo, toothpaste, vitamins or makeup. No thanks.

So I didn’t know about Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program where people sign up to get repeat orders of staples like coffee or trash bags. It should be called Subscribe and Sometimes Save. It’s a great example of people signing up for something they haven’t looked into carefully and being duped into thinking they are always getting a good deal.

toothpasteAccording to Brian X. Chen in his New York Times article, “Subscribe and Save on Amazon? Don’t Count on It,” the company’s pricing model doesn’t always work out in the customer’s favor. “Any sticker shock, analysts said, may be the result of Amazon’s complex pricing system coming into conflict with consumer expectations of a traditional subscription.”

He wrote that Amazon “frequently adjusts item prices based on a sophisticated set of variables like supply and demand, time of day and prices offered by competitors.” He shared the insight of Jared Wiesel, a partner at consulting firm Revenue Analytics. It “is the company’s way of making it look as if you are always getting the best deal.”

chewing gumChen identified one customer who paid $10 for gum when signing up and was charged $100 on the repeat. “Prices of most items, including dishwasher soap and toilet bowl cleaner, changed frequently. As often as weekly, prices rose, dipped and rose again like a roller coaster. In extreme cases, prices for items like instant coffee and napkins jumped between 90 and 170 percent.”

  • A 30.5 oz tub of Folgers ranged from $6.64 in June to $12.50 in August.
  • Vanity Fair napkins moved from $7.94 in May to $21.46 in June/July and $15.36 in August.
  • More high/lows include an air purifier filter and humidifier filter, $18.06 to $33.24 and $$4.67 to $11.27 respectively.

Participants are given a chance to opt out. Amazon sends them an email 10 days before a delivery with the price they’ll be paying and they can cancel. I suppose not everyone reads them.

The trouble with the concept, according to Wiesel is: “I think they’ve violated the psychological concept of a subscription with their customers in changing prices like this. When people think of a subscription, they think of locking in a set cadence of receiving a good.”

Chen offers a solution: “If you truly want to save money on Amazon, one approach is to sign up for price alerts on Camel Camel Camel to get an email when a price drops to a desired amount. When that happens, manually reorder — yes, that’s an extra step — your instant coffee, toilet cleaner or lint rollers.” [Camel Camel Camel is an Amazon price tracker Chen explained.]

Why should Amazon change an eyelash on this or any other of its programs? In the last 17 months its stock price closed at a high of $800, more than doubling in 17 months.

Do you automatically receive anything from Amazon or any other company? Have you fallen for a deal that seemed great only to learn it’s more complicated—and not as great–as you first thought?


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4 Responses to “Service of Reading the Fine Print and Your Emails: Amazon’s Subscribe and Save Program”

  1. hb Said:

    Anyone ever recall hearing of the 1890 Sherman Act? No? No surprise.

    The sheer weight, mass, power and sophistication of the internet has now tilted the tables strongly in the favor of the monopolists in the never ending battle for control of our and the world’s economy between them and the consumer friendly trust breakers.

    Of course you will be gypped if you deal with Amazon, any thoughtful consumer realizes that is the nature of the beast. The only way to stop the monopolists from reducing the public to consumer serfdom is to fight the consolidators and monopolists such as Amazon. Don’t patronize them and fight to have them broken up.

    Remember, some of the fiercest opponents of 19th Century American black slavery were wealthy Welsh Quaker mine owners who had children work 12 hour, six day weeks in their mines whilst keeping families debt captive through company housing and stores. All is not what it appears to be.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    There are ways around the gyp as reporter Brian X. Chen described–using camel camel camel to determine when the lowest price is available and paying attention to your emails if you sign up for the so-called subscription.

    People are always striving to simplify their lives–that goes for corporations too that have customers do so much of the work they did formerly from printing instructions to assembling and installing products. No problem for the wealthy who can hire people to assemble and fix or for whom a $90 price difference is no biggie. Others had best pay attention.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Most of us have taken poisoned bait at least once. I experienced the bad taste inexpensively and early on. A policy of non response to promotions seems to be the best. My spam box is never empty, and that’s where all these “great deals” land, headed for permanent extinction.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Sage advice, especially for people with no time or patience to read the small print! Funny how trying to save time while at the same time, saving money, can be in conflict.

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