How I Quit Prime and Survived


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

I quit Prime. And it’s fine.

As I noted in Wednesday’s newsletter, this makes me an oddball. Nearly 98 percent of Americans who are members of Amazon’s shopping club for at least a couple of years keep renewing. Prime is one of the most resilient consumer products in the United States.

I was a Prime member for roughly three years until I stopped renewing in 2019. Friends and colleagues are often stunned when I tell them this. But don’t worry. I’ll be OK.

This doesn’t mean I live without Amazon. Here’s a secret: You are legally permitted to order from the site without being a Prime member — although it takes a bit more planning to get orders delivered without paying for shipping.

Why am I spilling my shopping habits to strangers? (Although On Tech readers are not strangers!) Each of our personal experiences is a way to reflect on whether we stick with Prime out of love or habit. For me, once I questioned the value that I was getting out of the subscription, it was relatively easy to stop.

This is not advice for you to quit Prime. You do you. And my experience is not representative. I don’t have children and I live in New York, where many things that I might need quickly — a roll of aluminum foil or a new phone charger — are often a short walk away.

I know that many Americans live far from stores, have caregiving responsibilities, live with disabilities, or have other circumstances that don’t give them as much shopping flexibility.

More than 300 readers wrote to On Tech about Prime, and many said they felt as if they got more than their money’s worth from the convenience, reliable shipping and other benefits of Prime.

“I got my Prime membership when my husband was ill and I was his caregiver,” wrote a reader in Carol Stream, Ill. “I was unable to go out shopping and this was perfect for me.”

I was a relative late comer to Prime. I signed up in 2015, I think because I was moving and was evaluating streaming entertainment services. I signed up mostly for Amazon’s Prime Video service, and figured that the ability to get faster shipping at no added cost was a bonus. (I hope my memory isn’t faulty. I can’t completely recall my 2015 brain.)

Most Prime members in surveys say that the shipping at no added cost is the biggest reason they signed up and stuck with it. Quite a few On Tech readers said, like me, that Prime Video helped make the membership worth it.

I did shop more on Amazon in the first couple of years I was a member. This is typical Prime member behavior. But over time, I found that I was ordering less.

My renewal came up, and I just shrugged and stopped paying. That changed my behavior. In 2020 and the first months of 2021, when online shopping shot through the roof as many people tried to avoid stores, my order history shows that I didn’t buy anything for myself from Amazon other than a few Kindle e-books.

I did buy online regularly from Walmart, Target and other websites. I shopped in local stores, partly because I didn’t want Amazon and other giant retailers to be the only ones left after the pandemic. Without feeling as if I needed to squeeze value from a Prime membership, Amazon was just one option rather than the only shop that I considered.

For me, online shopping now requires more patience. I keep a list on my phone of things that I might need, and I place orders for several items at once to hit the minimum order amounts for free shipping from Amazon and other websites. (An Amazon order above $25 often qualifies for no-cost delivery.)

The list right now includes a nonstick frying pan, light bulbs, a toilet brush, puzzles and a pair of headphones. My life is very exciting, yes. I might not get the package within a couple of days, but that’s fine for me.

I think I also buy less stuff without being a Prime member because it’s not as easy to impulse buy from my sofa. Some On Tech readers said that they had the same experience.

The real magic of Amazon, and particularly Prime, is that they remove the thinking from shopping. Prime members tend to reflexively go to Amazon, and that mostly works great for them and the company. For me, not having Prime makes me pause for a minute before buying. That’s perfect.

Tip of the Week

If you’re like me, you have unused electronics sitting around at home. Brian X. Chen, the personal technology columnist for The New York Times, tells us what to do with that annoying clutter.

My family’s unwanted tech gear is becoming hard to ignore. My obsolete PlayStation has been collecting dust for more than a year. My wife’s iPad has lived in a drawer for as long as I’ve known her.

In my experience, the simplest way to purge electronics that you don’t want is to drop them off at a Best Buy — which offers free electronics recycling — or donate them to a charitable organization like the Salvation Army. (Please check first. Charities don’t tend to accept all electronics.)

But if you’re hoping to make a buck, there are other options. I’ve had some luck selling old iPhones and iPads to Gazelle, a company that buys and sells used electronics, and Amazon’s Trade-In program. Both sites ask you to answer a few questions about the electronics before shipping them off with a prepaid label.

I’ve also been surprised by how much success I’ve had recently on eBay. Last week, I sold my eight-year-old PlayStation 4 console on the site for about $230 — which is pretty good considering that it cost about $400 when it was new in 2013.

It took only 10 minutes to snap some photos and write a short description. To ship it, I reused an old Amazon box, printed out a label and dropped off the package at the post office.

Next I plan to list my wife’s iPad. All told, I’m estimating that I’ll earn about $500 from my electronics purging. On top of the reward of having a cleaner house, that’s a pretty nice payoff.

This kiddo is comforting a fish, and it is truly the best.

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