Ask Consumerist: Amazon Prime Throttling?

Teresa loves, but never became a member of Amazon Prime. In that service, you pay a flat rate and gets free two-day shipping on many items, upgrades to overnight shipping for just $3.99 an item. There’s also no minimum purchases required and a “members-only” one-click button on product pages.

Ever since Amazon introduced this service, Teresa has noticed her free shipping packages are taking longer to arrive. She wonders if is throttling the shipping for people not in the special shipping club.

Have any other Amazon Prime members noticed anything similar to what Teresa describes after the jump?

She writes:

    “Hi Consumerist,

    I have a question for you. I’m a long-time Amazon customer and a long-time lover of their free shipping. I know a lot of people love Amazon Prime, but I’ve never seen the value of paying a flat fee for the opportunity to pay even more fees just to get things faster. To me, a great value is “free.”

    Since the introduction of Amazon Prime, however, I’ve noticed my free shipping packages are taking much longer to get to me. I’ve been wondering if Amazon is throttling their free shipping packages in order to discourage customers from using it, and to further differentiate their shipping tiers. If that’s the case, then is “free shipping” shipping really “free”? Because it seems to me with throttling there’s a cost, even if the cost is time, not money.


    Teresa O.”


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Moto says:

    My experience is that the free shipping takes forever and that it is intentional. Amazon has state of the art delivery systems, so why should it take so long for a product to ship? I order autoparts from a place online with free shipping and I swear the parts are always there the next day. I don’t know how they do it. With Amazon free shipping it takes about 10 days.

  2. heathalouise says:

    I had a similar problem with Amazon with some of my shipments. I wasn’t using the free shipping option, but paying for standard shipping. I usually would get my stuff in 2-3 days. Then one time, took 10 days for a CD to arrive. I sent them an e-mail about it and lo and behold, the next time I was online they offered me a free 3-month trial of Amazon Prime. I took them up on it, but I’ll probably cancel before the three months is up. And yes, I’m getting stuff as early as overnight now.

  3. Lars says:

    I would say that my experience has been just the opposite of Theresa and Mr. Moto. For example I recently received a DVD set of “The White Shadow: Season 2” which shipped this week from Amazon and arrived on my stoop not 4 days after shipping, which was only a few days after it’s release. Aside with being pleased with how excellent “The White Shadow” is, I’ve been very happy with Amazon’s free shipping for this and other items I order. This may be because I live near some shipping hub, but I never wait more than a week for most readily available items to get to me via free shipping.

  4. Juancho says:

    I bought my new MacMini from Amazon at Christmastime (on Christmas Eve, in fact) and I was very surprised at how fast it shipped, it came in like 3-4 days. I have placed two orders since then with free shipping, and they have been slow as molasses.

  5. TedSez says:

    I recently purchased two copies of a book from Amazon (I really only wanted one, but buying two got me the free shipping option). When I received their confirmation e-mail, I was surprised to see that the estimated time of arrival was two weeks later — including one week just to ship the books from their warehouse. I called the hard-to-find customer service number (which, to their credit, was answered almost immediately by a very nice Canadian-accented woman) and asked why, given that the site said the book “usually” shipped within 24 hours, my copies would take so long. She didn’t really have any good explanation — she thought maybe it was because I ordered two copies instead of one, although, since they had copies in stock, that didn’t really make sense. The upshot? The next day I received an e-mail saying my order had shipped. Did they speed things up because I called, or does Amazon just really overestimate the days till shipping in their confirmation e-mails? I guess I’ll never know.

  6. blakewest says:

    Recently, I went to make a purchase on Amazon and they offered me a free 90 day subscription to Amazon prime. I took them up on it, and it really is pretty awesome. I think I bought one item that was only $4, and it arrived just two days later. I think it would only be worth the fees if I knew that I would be buying enough merchandise to go over the subscription fee in shipping fees, like at Xmas time. I like getting the free shipping in the normal fashion, but if it’s really taking so long now, I’ll probably just go back to my local bookstore for books and the like.

  7. Anabelle says:

    First: Lars, I loved “The White Shadow” — so cool it’s on DVD now.

    Second: The regular Amazon free shipping (when you buy $25 or more of qualified items) is almost always verrrrrrrrrry slow, in my experience. – So slow it’s close to useless for anything you want to read, watch, use, or listen to in the very near future. I’m talking at least two weeks, sometimes longer.

    It’s not a bad thing to support your local b&m bookseller: instant gratification and no shipping fees.

  8. missdona says:

    I’m an Amazon prime subscriber, mainly because my post office sucks (doesn’t leave notices, doesn’t redeliver on time, loses packages, sends stuff back before 10 days). I love being able to order anything from Amazon with built-in 2 day UPS delivery.

  9. airship says:

    Fortunately, I live in Iowa City, a college town with multiple choices for book/CD/DVD purchasing. Here’s my order of preference:
    (1) Prairie Lights, a local bookstore famed for its support of the arts, including sponsorship of local bookreadings by world-renouned authors.
    (2) Haunted Bookshop-on-the-Creek, a marvelous local used bookstore with high-quality and timely stock.
    (3) University Books, the (you guessed it) University of Iowa bookstore.
    (4) Barnes & Noble, local mall-located megastore. (Unfortunately, B&N is the most conveniently located for me, and it gets more of my business than I’d like just because I’m lazy.)
    (5), the online web presense representing an amalgam of thousands of local used bookstores.
    (6) ebay, my main source of ‘specialty’ books. (And not what you’re thinking; I’m interested in airships, and there ain’t much available elsewhere, either new or used, but there’s always something on ebay.)
    (7) Amazon. I buy both used and new books at Amazon occasionally.
    So it’s local-used-college-megastore-online, in that order, for me.

  10. etinterrapax says:

    In general, I either need things in a huge hurry or whenever. So if Amazon’s free shipping is getting slower, I’m not noticing it. I did notice, though, that if something is listed in-stock, I generally get it within three days from regular shipping anyhow. And I think Amazon is clinging pretty desperately to the Prime program, even though it’s not as profitable as they’d hoped. That pretty much tells me that even though I’m one of their better customers, I’m better off paying as I go.

  11. jcj71612 says:

    In my experience Amazon and Newegg always sit on your order for 2 days before shipping if you choose the most inexpensive shipping option. They tack on the extra days to hide the fact that the cheaper options are almost as quick as the more expensive options.

  12. OkiMike says:

    Yeah, the whole “we’ll ship it later for free” thing is ridiculous. If they can ship it now for free but choose to wait, then they are just plain stupid.

    It’s like they are intentionally trying to slow down the rapidity that the internet brings to online shopping.

  13. Ben Popken says:

    Morgan writes:

    “I used to get stuff shipped for free from Amazon within a week, but two recent orders (one by my sister and one by myself) are currently estimated at over 2 weeks each. We were wondering why, and trying to get us to upgrade to prime seems as good a reason as any. Too bad they don’t seem to be living up to the estimates they give you when you check out anymore.”

  14. Ben Popken says:

    Mike writes:

    “In response to T(h)eresa’s post about free shipping taking longer, I have a related Amazon free shipping tip…

    In many areas near a distribution node for Amazon, even the slow-slow-slow ground takes very little time. After all, the slowest vehicle that they can stick a package on is a truck. I live in Salt Lake City, and with “Overnight” delivery, it takes, you know, one day. But it also costs big $$$. Free shipping from the Nevada site to here takes no longer than 3 days after shipping. It gets sent over UPS Ground, and if UPS didn’t sit on the package in their center here overnight, it would probably get here in 1-2 days.

    So I’m curious if other readers have seen the same relative speed?”

  15. trixare4kids says:

    This is rather timely. I ordered 2 books on the morning of March 24 and I decided on super saver instead of paying the $5.00 shipping. I’m kicking myself! It’s the afternoon of the 28th and they still haven’t shipped. They used to ship within a couple days with free shipping.. but it seems to me they are sitting on them longer and longer these days. No more free shipping option for me.

  16. Ben Popken says:

    David writes:

    “I am just amazed with how long Amazon is sitting and purposely delaying orders that choose free shipping. The last time I ordered from Amazon with free shipping the order shipped in a day or two but took about almost a week to get to the house. No problem – for free shipping I’ll wait a few extra days.

    This time I ordered from Amazon on Monday the 27th and this morning (the 31st) the order was still in the queue with a expected time of arrival of April 17th even though all the items I ordered said they ship in 24 hours. Luckily I was able to cancel the order and ordered from has already listed my order to arrive no later than April 7th.

    This is the e-mail I send Amazon after I canceled the order:

    I just want you to know that I canceled my order and purchased these items at I understand that with your Super Saver shipping things take longer, but my order sat in queue for over 72 hours without any action. All the items I ordered stated that they ship in 24 hours.

    I understand that you would use a slower delivery service for Super Saver shipping, but sitting on an order to encourage customers to pay for upgraded shipping this way is just bad business.

    I understand that with free shipping one is supposed to wait a little longer, but to sit on orders to get people to buy into their “Amazon Prime” membership is just plain wrong.”

  17. retiredat44 says:

    I have ordered lots of stuff from over the years. Almost always, int he past the items came pretty fast. This time, however, the items were shipped from Los Angeles County, and I live in San Diego County. About 80 miles. I used the Free Super Saver Shipping. The items are very small items. It has been 8 days so far. Nothing here. They use US Postal Service. The items were in stock. The order notification was sent to the USPS office in Bell Ca. on March 29. it is now April 6. is definitely and purposely holding the order back at least 7 days just to play games.

  18. Anonymous says:

    I’ve never had a problem with Amazon’s free shipping. I’ve always gotten my orders on or before the date estimated. However, I just signed up for the Amazon Prime account…and suddenly my packages are arriving late! But it is the Holiday Season. We’ll see after New Year’s…..