Shopping News: Amazon stopping soft 7-day price-drop refunds on non-TVs

Amazon has an official 30-day low-price guarantee policy on HDTVs. For other items, the last few years, their customer service representatives would often make “one time exceptions” if an item you purchased dropped in price within 7 days after purchase (and you contacted them asking for a refund of the difference).

This soft benefit is apparently going away now according to Re/Code.net which speculates that part of the decision to do so is motivated by a number of 3rd-party services that offer to automatically track price drops of items you purchased and notify you to take advantage of price guarantees. Some of these services require logins to your shopping accounts to do the price-tracking automatically, while others need access to your email. The Amazon representative contacted by Re/Code took a customer security angle to this.

I’m gonna venture a guess that it’s not just security. Security is a very valid concern, I would never let a 3rd-party (especially newly launched startups) have access to my email or shopping accounts. But no doubt about it, this is also a dollars and sense type of thing, if millions of people keep getting small refunds on millions of purchases, it’s goodbye quarterly profits for Amazon and back to losing money 🙂

More discussion via Techmeme.

UPDATE: Back Online [WAS: Amazon.com currently down]

UPDATE (3:49pm ET): as of this check, it looks like the Amazon website is back to normal…

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Amazon Changes Free Shipping Minimum for non-Prime members: $25+ for Books, $49+ for Other Items

Once upon a time, Amazon offered free shipping with an order of $25 or more. A few years later, they increased the minimum purchase amount to $35. Fast forward to now, and we have another change. The minimum is now increased to $49 or more. However, there is a caveat for books (physical books, not e-books), if you buy $25 or more of books, the books (and everything else in your order) qualifies for free shipping. (the usual restriction of sold and shipped by Amazon, or fulfilled by Amazon applies).

You can find more details at their Free Shipping Help page. Annotated screenshot crop of that below:

new_amazon_free_shipping_february2016

It is an interesting split here between book and non-book purchases. I don’t know whether it’s the media mail aspect of books, or perhaps their flat nature that makes packaging and shipping them more predictable. Or a romantic tip of the hat to their early days being a book seller. Or perhaps a more pragmatic reason, the Barnes and Noble website offers free shipping with $25+ orders 🙂

This perhaps may create a fork in the road for some shoppers when making sub-$50 purchases (eg new movies, new CDs, consumables, small accessories, etc). Buy the items elsewhere or sign up for a Prime Membership ($100/year) and get free 2-day Prime shipping and all the other benefits (I still have to create the long-promised post with the Prime benefits/cons).

NOTE: the $25 limit remains for the Add-On program ~ look at the purchasing minimum mentioned in any Add-On item, for example, here’s a Melisandre-Red mouse pad that is part of the Add-On program.

Circuit City is making a comeback with new owners

This flashback becomes a flash forward! Circuit City is coming back later in 2016. Two New York area based money people bought the company name and related assets from the Tigerdirect parent company late last year. The new company will have both a website and brick and mortar stores, with some focus on millenials. Details of this development at TWICE (via Engadget).

Amazon starts tagging International Versions of products

Amazon, like eBay and Rakuten and others, is an open marketplace, and such it has more risks since literally anyone can sell items on their website. Unlike closed marketplaces where the retailer is the only one offering an item. I’ve been saying for many years that Amazon and eBay have not done enough to help consumers make informed decisions. Partly perhaps because it’s very hard to measure sales that don’t happen versus sales that actually happen. So if something cannot be measured, it can often be prioritized much lower than tangible.

Regardless, to cut a long story short, Amazon has began tagging “International Versions” of products. Here is an example of the Nikon Coolpix L340 and another example of a bundled kit of the same item. An annotated screenshot shot of the tag is right below:

international_versions_At_amazon

This is definitely a step in the right direction, however, one should not make additional assumptions. This does not mean that items without the tag are all USA warranty items. It only means that items with the tag are International Versions. On the main USA-version page of an item, you can still have a mix of new, imported, refurbished and used by Amazon itself, featured sellers, and everybody else on the internet with an Amazon seller account. Amazon itself is an authorized dealers for almost all the items they sell. And there is a number of well-known third-party sellers there that are authorized dealers (Adorama, Huppins/OneCall, etc). So you still have to pay attention to the actual seller, and if it’s not a familiar or well-known seller, it is very prudent to still research them to your satisfaction.

Another distinction that may not be obvious to those who rarely shop at Amazon is that “fulfilled by Amazon” is eligible for Prime shipping and you get Amazon Customer Support, however, for warranty purposes, it does not “transfer” authorized dealer status. “Fulfilled by Amazon” simply means that a seller sent a box of things to an Amazon Warehouse and when you buy those items, they get processed from the Amazon Warehouse, instead of the seller’s facilities. A manufacturer can still decline warranty service if that particular seller is not authorized.

More commentary on these matters by S.W. Anderson in the Comments section of a previous imported item post.

PSA: Tigerdirect: No Returns, No Refunds, No Exchanges

Please note for purchases made 12/24/15 and later at Tigerdirect’s website, all sales are final. There will be no returns, no refunds, no exchanges. If a product is covered by a manufacturer warranty, any issues with the product must needs be addressed through the manufacturer’s warranty. This is posted on the Tigerdirect’s Return Policy page.

Trendspotting: Fuji Instax and GoPro

In a very long press release, Amazon revealed a number of tangible and semi-tangible factoids about their Black Friday 2015 Holiday shopping season. The camera and photo segment there reveals that the Fuji Instax (instant film camera), the GoPro Hero4 Silver, and its AB headstrap mount were their top selling items under the Camera and Photo category…

It is interesting to see how things change for the mythical average consumer. A few years ago, every techie wanted to have a dSLR to call his/her own, and the various tech blogs were heavily covering the latest hot cameras du jour. Now it seems the average mythical person wants an instant film camera and an action camera :)… The retro theme was also there in Audio, a turntable was ahead of a classic A/V receiver and a fancy-techie SONOS player :)…

Another interesting factoid, “Members worldwide uploaded more than a billion photos for free with Prime Photos this holiday.”. They certainly did not do that with Kindle Fire Phones, so the app must be popular with other devices 🙂 [remember, if you are a Prime member, you automatically get unlimited Cloud Photos!]

CAUTION: Amazon’s After Rebate Prices of Canon Cameras eligible for Canon MIRs are WRONG

Red flag alert! There’s a problem with the way Amazon calculates prices for Canon digital cameras that are eligible for the Canon Pixma combined purchase mail-in rebates. The after rebate prices are incorrectly shown on camera-only kits. These won’t fly since the Canon mail-in rebates specifically require a camera + printer purchase.

Here’s an example of a broken price box, using the Canon G5X as our guinea pig:

amazon_pixma_mir_broken

When you click on the rebate link, it will take you to the usual Canon Pixma combined-purchase rebates. See the PDF form.

What to expect on your first PrimeNow order (long post)

This is the post that was promised last weekend. PrimeNow is rapidly expanding to more cities, with Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Sacramento added most recently. If you haven’t ordered anything from them yet, coupon GETITNOW gets you $20 off an order of $50+. Details at the Prime Now promo page. PrimeNow is only available to Prime members.

PrimeNow is different from most of the other Amazon variations-on-a-theme (AmazonFresh, Prime Pantry, Prime One Day, etc). You can only place PrimeNow orders using Amazon’s PrimeNow apps downloaded from Google Play, iTunes or Amazon’s own appstore. You cannot place PriceNow orders from their website through a browser. If you already have Amazon apps installed on your device, it will pick up the credentials from there, so you won’t have to enter your username/password again. Your payment methods are also linked, so you don’t have to re-enter them.

This is a looooong post, more after the break…

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Caution when buying Camera Gear from Jet.com

Jet.com is trying to inject some new energy and ideas in the world of online shopping, and they have been getting more funding, encouraging further experimentation. However, when it comes to buying capital/investment type of gear (eg where the manufacturer’s warranty is important, such as camera gear), it’s a big risk. Why?

Jet, unlike other sellers with open-marketplaces (such as eBay, Rakuten, NewEgg, Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy), does not tell you who the seller is before you order. You don’t have to bother figuring it out or pick a particular seller from a long list or incur additional shipping fees for items sold by the 3rd-party sellers (as opposed to the “home team”). That’s nice and convenient for household items (you are probably not going to use the manufacturer’s warranty on the kitchen towels!).

However what is a plus for small purchases, becomes a big negative for things like camera gear. Because not all marketplace sellers are equal, and only some of them are authorized by the manufacturers, you have no idea whether you are getting an authorized-USA product or a grey-market product before you order. Considering all the shenanigans we know (and not love) about camera gear selling, and some sellers are less reputable and reliable than others, this is a big wild card and risk.

Retailers: Target now price-matching many others

As of October 1st (2015), Target is now price-matching a number of online and offline retailers, including Amazon, NewEgg, Best Buy, Sears, Walmart, Costco, and more. Details via The Consumerist.

Shipping: Monoprice opens Kentucky Distribution center

On the shipping front, there are good news for Monoprice fans in the East and Mid-West regions. They have opened a distribution center in Kentucky carrying 1400+ of their most popular products.

Speculation: one frustrating thing with shopping at Monoprice is that there is consistent way to predict whether you will pay shipping or not. Most other retailers have predictability (purchases over a certain amount or membership or free shipping for almost everything). Maybe the launch of an Eastern/Midwest distribution center can make it easier to give customers a non-moving target. Again, this is pure speculation.

B&H Photo redesign + Ever-Scrolling B&H Featured Deals

Remodeling time – the B&H Photo website is now remodeled with a more compact airy design. The new design pays off when you look at their Latest Featured Deals page, four items per row are easier to quickly skim and scan, and it has “infinite” scroll when you keep clicking the orange “Load More” button at the bottom of the rows of items. There are a lot of specials on that page, it will take me some time to digest and price-check them, but in the meantime you can check them out on your own if you prefer.

For your convenience, the B&H Latest Featured Deals page has been added to the Sidebar of this blog under the “DAILY DEALS LINKS”.

PS: the Sidebar of this blog is long overdue for an update, eg add more useful deal-related links and such. It will happen eventually (chaos and disorder reigns supreme!).

Free Same-Day delivery on select Amazon Prime items (includes some Cameras; 14 metro areas)

The Amazon Prime Membership has another new feature available in 14 major metro areas, free Same-Day delivery of select items eligible for this. This includes a number of digital cameras and other related camera and photo gear!

amazon_prime_free_sameday_14_metro_areas

DELIVERY FEES
Prime members get free same-day delivery on orders over $35. For orders under $35, you pay $6 as a Prime member. Non-Prime members can also use this service, but delivery fees start at $10 ($9 flat plus $1 per item). Check the Help page for more details and the Same Day Delivery Rates page.

WHAT’S ELIGIBLE?
You can filter for eligible items on the left side of an Amazon non-product page.

amazon_prime_free_1day

You can also easily tell on an individual product page if an item is eligible…

amazon_prime_free_1dayb

Availability of products may vary by metro area. You can enter your zipcode on the left side of the colorful map at the Same Day page to see whether your area is covered.

This should not be confused with various other Prime programs, it is different from Prime Pantry, Prime Fresh, Prime Now, Prime Mind Reader, Prime Needle In a Haystack and Prime Plus Extra Deluxe Extreme (some of the names are made up!)

Amazon Prime MAY expand to include Free 2-Day Shipping from some Third-Party Merchants

According to sources at Recode, Amazon may be planning to expand the Prime 2-day shipping benefits to include products shipped directly by select 3rd-party merchants, without the items having to be physically present at an Amazon Warehouse or facility. It is a delicate dance, since Amazon and the 3rd-party merchants will have to negotiate how the actual shipping cost is paid, and the merchants would have to trade-off losing direct sales on their website from regular customers who instead opt for the free 2-day Prime shipping.

Amazon has been adding more features to its Prime service, but the new additions were not shipping related (Cloud Photos, Music, Radio, Video, Kindle First, eBook Lending library, 30 minute early access to deals, etc). In fact, a few years ago, they pulled back on the free 2-day shipping benefits by putting select low-priced items (typically $5 or less) under the Add-On Program, requiring Prime members to place an order of $25 or more before the shopping cart would allow them to buy the darned things (and you can’t pay shipping out of your own pocket for Add-On items even if you beg and plead with the shopping cart).

But perhaps Amazon’s hand may be forced by changes in the marketplace too, specifically on the shipping front, not the ever-expanding list of non-shipping benefits. Shoprunner continues to recruit online retailers for a meta-free-shipping service (includes the official Pentax and Casio stores, NewEgg, Tiger, Staples but not any camera-centric retailers), and has various promotions for discounted or free service. For example, some American Express credit cards include a free Shoprunner service.

Even though NewEgg participates in Shoprunner, they also have their own NewEgg Premier service that goes for $50 per year and offers free 3-day or less shipping. And Walmart is making progress towards their own $50/year free shipping service.

B&H Photo launches Deal of the Day (today 2TB Thunderbolt)

Daily deals fans, your wish has come true! B&H Photo has launched a Daily Deal page. Each daily deal will expire at 11:59pm ET of that day, or earlier if the item sells out. Today’s item is a 2TB My Book VelociRaptor Duo Thunderbolt Desktop Hard Drive for $280 with 5% rewards and free shipping. Limit 10 per customer. The page also has a % claimed, so that gives you a better indicator of how much time you have to decide whether to get it or not… This has also been added to the right Sidebar of this blog under “DAILY DEALS LINKS”, so you can check on your own at any time, you don’t have to wait for me to wake up from hibernation 🙂

Black Friday Trends: The Pre-Order thing is a Samsung innovation

Three days ago we spotted the unusual Black Friday Deals preorders (! [preorders of existing products; not unreleased products]) at Amazon but it turns out, this is not an Amazon “innovation” but a Samsung innovation. Similar Black Friday HDTV Deal “pre-orders” can be found at Samsung’s own website and at B&H Photo.

So far this consists of Samsung HDTVs. I don’t know if it will expand to digital cameras this year or in future years. But it is a new trend to watch as retailers are perhaps trying to zero in on shoppers who want good deals but don’t want the hassle of brick and mortar lines or deal-chasing on the internets when they can instead spend Thanksgiving weekend getting grilled by the Mother In Law 🙂

New twist: Prime Members get 30 minute Early Access to some (but not all) Amazon Lightning Deals

Amazon revealed a new twist today, a new feature for Prime members. For some of the items in the traditional Gold Box Lightning Deals, Amazon Prime members will get access to them 30 minutes before the general population does. It’s easier to explain with an example, look at the annotated screenshot crop of the Ape camera case below (click on the picture or open in new tab/window to see it at full size)…

amazon_prime_early_access_deals

As you can see, the Ape case has the “Prime Early Access Deal” line. Only Lightning Deals that show this line are going to be available to Prime members for 30 minutes early. All the other items will go live at the same time for everybody. Here is an annotated screenshot example below of Upcoming Lightning Deals, some are Prime Early Access, some are not (click on the picture or open in new tab/window to see it at full size)…

amazon_prime_early_access_deals2