I’m thinking of signing up for Amazon Prime, but I’m not sure if I’ll actually use it enough to justify the $119 yearly fee. How much do I need to buy from Amazon before the service pays for itself?
If you ask most members of Amazon Prime, they’ll argue endlessly on behalf of the service. That said, not everyone ought to sign up.
To give you a quick answer, you’ll benefit from the service if you purchase items from Amazon 10-20 times per year, average under $25 per order, and care about getting your stuff in less than a week.
You’ll also benefit if you want to pay for Amazon’s streaming video or streaming music services, which they include as a membership benefit. As a result, you get three very different services that make it difficult to assess Prime’s actual value. In the end, you’ll find the service worth it if any of those benefit proves even remotely useful to you. There are also two services, Wardrobe and Photos, that aren’t as well known but are worth a look.
Let’s break down both services to get a more specific idea of what $119 per year gets you.
Prime shipping benefits
Amazon Prime’s shipping benefits only matter to those who care about how fast you get your stuff. If you consider yourself reasonably patient, know that your patience must last you a good week or so. Anyone can get free shipping from Amazon if they order $25 or more from the online retailer. While this option costs you nothing outright, it takes 5-10 business days (on average) to receive your items—except when you preorder certain products that offer free release date delivery. If you never find yourself struggling to meet the $25 minimum, you don’t mind waiting, you don’t need Prime’s shipping benefits.
But let’s say you want your stuff faster than 5-10 business days and sometimes you find yourself searching for items that cost $2.98 so you can hit the free shipping threshold. Will Prime save you money? Take a look:
- Standard shipping costs a minimum of $5.99 per shipment. Standard shipping can take about a calendar week to arrive.
- If you want your items quicker, you can often pay for two-day or one-day or same day shipping, although not all options are available for all items. Two-day shipping typically costs $8.98 and one-day or same-day shipping usually costs $9.98.
- Some sellers that fulfill and ship their own inventory charge shipping fees, meaning that even if you hit the $25 order minimum, you will still have to pay to have some items shipped.
So what does this all amount to? It really depends on your individual usage and how fast you want your stuff. Standard shipping has half the lead time of the free shipping you get for orders over $25, but it doesn’t offer a huge advantage for a service that costs more. Two-day, on the other hand, costs quite a bit more but offers significant time savings.
If you order from Amazon 20 times per year and pay for standard shipping each time, you’ll break even if you get Prime. If you opt for expedited shipping always, or even most of the time, you’ll save a lot of money. In the end, it comes down to how fast you want your stuff. If you can’t wait a week, Prime’s included two-day (and now, often just one-day) shipping more than pays for itself.
These numbers can change quickly, however, if you share your Prime membership with others. Because Prime allows you to invite another adult in your household—not that Amazon actually prevents you from inviting someone across the country—you could split the costs with others and pay $60 per year for your benefits. If you do this, getting Prime is pretty much a no-brainer.
Netflix charges a monthly fee of $8.99 per month, which comes out to $107.88 per year. Hulu starts at $5.99 per month, for a yearly total of $71.88. Amazon Prime costs $119 per year, which comes out to about $9.92 per month. Putting aside the shipping benefits you get with Prime, you pay about the same for Netflix, and less for Hulu. If the services had the same library of options, you could justify a Prime membership in an instant. Things get a little more complicated because Prime lets you stream some content but charges for others. Beyond its own shows like Homecoming, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Fleabag, and Catastrophe, Amazon is also known for having a solid selection of movies.
Even if you don’t shop much, Amazon Prime could be worth it for the streaming video options alone.
Amazon Prime members get ad-free streaming access to two million songs with Prime Music. If you break it down by month, Prime costs $9.92 while Spotify, Apple Music, or Pandora each cost $9.99. Prime users can pay an additional $7.99 per month for Prime Unlimited access to 50 million songs, versus the non-Prime price of $9.99 per month.
If you don’t already pay for one of these competing services, you may be happy with Amazon’s selection. You could justify your Prime membership even if you just want to stream music.
Prime users get unlimited high-resolution photo storage and 5GB of video storage with their membership. The drawback is that you only get photo storage, instead of various types of files.
Most other services like Apple, Dropbox, and Google will cost $10 per month for substantial storage space (around 2 TB), including Amazon’s cloud add-on service. It’s nice to have a place to stash your photos if you plan to maintain your Prime membership, but it alone isn’t a reason to sign up.
Prime members can select two or more eligible clothing items to be shipped for a seven-day home try-on period. Your payment method gets charged after you decide which items to keep and which to send back. It’s good for people who have a hard time determining their size from online charts and want to actually touch the clothing they’re buying before committing. Wardrobe boxes must be returned via UPS, which could be a drawback if there’s not a drop-off-location near you. Amazon typically deducts the cost of return shipping from your refund, and you may also end up paying a restocking fee—even if you have Prime.
There aren’t many other services quite like this, and styling services like Stitch Fix and Trunk Club charge an up-front styling fee of $20-25 before your selection is shipped. If you shop through one of these services more than five or six times each year, Prime may be a better deal. But, you have to feel confident choosing your own items to try on, rather than being styled.
When deciding whether or not to sign up for Amazon Prime, your own needs play a major role. It mostly comes down to this: if you want expedited shipping on most of your Amazon orders, you can find the content you want to watch or listen to, or both, you should get it. If none of those circumstances apply to you, Prime probably isn’t a worthwhile investment.
Take a look at your shopping history at Amazon to find out how much you spent on shipping in the last year. Look at what you watch on Netflix (or on television, for that matter) and see if Amazon offers the same stuff. This information will quickly reveal whether or not you should sign up. If you can split your Prime membership with someone, that may drive down the cost to make it more than worthwhile.
If you fit the bill, you’ll love Prime. If not, be glad you’re saving $119 a year on something you don’t need. If you’re not sure, however, you can always try it out for a month for free and see if you like it.
This story was originally published on 8/6/13 and was updated on 6/26/19 to provide more thorough and current information.