Is Amazon.com discouraging free shipping?

A couple of week ago, we placed a book order at Amazon, going over $25 in order to take advantage of free shipping. When I checked on the progress of our order the next day, Amazon said they weren’t going to be shipping the books for two weeks.

Not that the books would arrive in two weeks. No, they were going to start thinking about boxing up our books — that both said they shipped within 24 hours — in two weeks. Since Lisa wanted one of the books for reading on a crazy-long plane trip, we cancelled.

I placed another order on the Monday the 31st, figuring I’d just be patient. For thirty percent off and free shipping, I am prepared to be patient. The same thing happened, and it was still annoying they weren’t going to start the shipping process for a week, but at least I wasn’t surprised.

Turns out I was surprised, happily so, as both books (The Search and Ambient Findability) arrived on Saturday the 4th, about a week before Amazon said they would ship.

Underpromising and overdelivering is one thing, but I think this is really something else. I think Amazon doesn’t want people using their free shipping option, and they are banking on people choosing to upgrade shipping because we all want everything now.

Amazon runs A/B tests all the time [An A/B test in a nutshell involves showing X thousand of users one thing and X thousands of users another thing to determine how well the things work.] I bet they figured out that X percentage of users, when faced with stupidly long ship dates, would upgrade to paid shipping, and this percentage was worth irritating the X percentage of us who will wait, and the X percentage who would say screw it and cancel.

A Tale of Two Hardware Stores

Has True Value lost its mind? On their website, right under the prominently featured search field, it says: “True Value is no longer selling products online.”

Uh, so why do they still have a website?

Seriously. Say I see a Quick-Change Utility Knife on sale for $4.99, and decide I want it. I have to remember later, when I’m out and about, that I want this knife and then go to the store to get it. Is that really going to happen? Or, even worse for them, say I know exactly what I want — I’m shopping for a new vacuum or an air conditioner — and I’m looking for it online with credit card at the ready. There is no “add to my cart” button so they don’t get my business. They are refusing to sell things to me the way I want to buy them.

True Value’s entire website is now a tease — it is saying look at all the gadgets you can’t actually buy right now, when you are looking at them in decision-making mode. I can practically hear Nelson Munch when I visit their site: Ha ha.

Ace, on the other hand, gets it. Under each photo of their vacuums, air conditioners, and many, many utility knives it says: “Free ship to store.”

Instead of seeing online purchases as “stealing” business from brick and mortar stores and reacting with stupidity, the folks at Ace asked themselves how they could translate online sales into retail store visits. They realized hey, people like it when things are free, so let’s make shipping free if they come into the store to pick up what they bought. I bet this works; free shipping on something big and heavy — like a vacuum or an air conditioner — is a good deal.

I also bet Ace sells more utility knives this way, with people going in to their retail locations to pick up orders and deciding to get a few other things while they are there, than True Value does trying to lure me into their store with a web promise of a five dollar knife.

Wanna take bets on how much longer True Value will have a website?