First came free shipping. Then came free two-day shipping, sometimes with a minimum purchase. And now there's free next-day delivery regardless of how much your order costs.
We're talking Amazon, of course, which is continuing to revolutionize the way Americans shop with its incredibly powerful Prime service.
This time, the e-commerce giant has quietly expanded its one-day shipping for Prime members for items without a spending minimum, according to Recode. What this means is that if you're a Prime member, you can log into your account, search for whatever $2 toiletry you forgot to grab last time you were at Target, and have it at your doorstep by tomorrow.
A search on Amazon by Money staffers found several small items that were able to be delivered — individually — the next day, with free shipping: a $1.54 box of Huggies wipes, a $1.83 tube of Colgate toothpaste, a $2.48 package of Extra gum, and a $3 bag of cotton balls.
In the past, you'd have to "add on" these kinds of low-priced products to another qualifying purchase — usually to hit a $35 minimum — in order to get quick free delivery. Amazon officials haven't announced a policy change (they rarely do), but Recode reports that Edgewater Research analysts noticed Amazon had quietly turned off the Add-On program.
Not everything is available from Amazon with free next-day delivery. In particular, low-price items sold on Amazon's site third-party vendors are fairly likely to still come with shipping fees. Free overnight shipping is available only for Prime members too. If you're not a Prime subscriber, you'll still need to hit a minimum purchase of $25 to qualify for free shipping — and delivery generally takes about a week.
But overall, the arrival of free overnight shipping on many low-price goods for Amazon Prime members spells trouble for stores like Walmart, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and all the other places with physical locations you'd typically stop into to buy one-off consumer packaged goods, Recode writer Jason Del Ray explains. Some of these stores, such as Walmart, have already overhauled their delivery services to try to compete with Amazon. But it will be difficult for any retailer to compete with delivering items so cheap that it will cost Amazon more to ship them than it will cost you to buy them.
The change also is likely to upset environmentalists, who've raised concerns that Amazon's shipping methods are wasteful. One- or two-day delivery on almost all orders, while convenient, encourages customers to make many small purchases, which are then sent in more packages onto more trucks to meet delivery deadlines.