Online shopping subscription services offer access to discounted products and faster delivery and returns – and in the case of Amazon Prime, dedicated video, music and gaming streaming, free access to selected ebooks, cloud space and photo back ups on Amazon Drive, too – but are they worth their subscription fee?
Amazon Prime vs eBay Plus
A popular subscription service founded in the USA in 2005, Amazon Prime was launched in Australia in June 2018 and has an impressive range of services on offer. In response, eBay released its own subscription service, eBay Plus, which also offers members fast, free shipping on selected products and exclusive benefits – but without access to streaming add ons.
Are these subscription services worth your investment? We look at the offerings of these two popular services and investigate if there are any traps and rip-offs you should be aware of.
Amazon Prime, which is thought to have 150 million paid members globally, is the more expensive of the two we looked at – by $10 – but it's also the one that provides you with the most add-ons. You'll get access to Prime Video, where you can stream series such as The Boys, Good Omens, Little Fires Everywhere, Utopia and Hanna, read over 1000 ebooks via Prime Reading, play free games and get free in-game loot via the Twitch Prime gaming service, and listen to more than two million songs on Amazon Music.
But let's get back to the shopping.
By signing up to Amazon Prime, you get free and fast shipping on millions of products through amazon.com.au in all 23 shopping categories currently on the site, including clothing and accessories, electronics, books, toys and beauty.
And there are certainly some bargains to be had. For example, when last we checked, a one-litre bottle of Sukin Botanical Body Wash was selling for $17.95 at Coles, while on Amazon, the same product was $8.97, including free and expedited Prime shipping.
When it comes to appliances, the Nespresso Citiz & Milk Coffee Machine via Amazon Prime, with free and expedited delivery, was $299. The same product via Nespresso's own online store will set you back $399.
But of course, you'll need to shop regularly with Amazon for those savings to balance out the $59-a-year membership cost (although the $6.99 a month option might be worth it for a one-off purchase) and, if your product is being shipped from the USA site, you will need to meet the $49 minimum spend for free international Prime shipping.
You'll need to shop regularly with Amazon for those savings to balance out the membership cost
Other perks of Prime membership include early access to daily 'Lightning Deals' (limited discounts offered on items for short periods of time) as well as exclusive access to Amazon's annual members-only Prime Day sales.
What to watch out for
- Don't assume Amazon will always offer the best value. When we did our mystery shop, we discovered a 2L bottle of Cold Power Advanced Clean Front & Top Loader Laundry Liquid Lemon on special at Woolworths for $8.75 ($4.38 per litre). The same product via Amazon was $16.99 – or $8.50 per litre.
- Some people have been shocked to find they are Amazon Prime members without any knowledge of how or when they signed up. This is the result of a confusing Prime 30-day free trial promotion you may have unwittingly accepted when purchasing something from the website, via an offer of free shipping. If you don't opt out of the membership before the 30-day free trial period ends, you will be charged a subscription fee. If this has happened to you, contact Amazon customer service to cancel your membership and request a refund.
- Currently, Amazon Prime costs $6.99 a month – or $59 a year – for Australian membership. According to Amazon's terms and conditions, if the price for Prime is increased, you'll be charged the new price once your membership rolls over into the new period.
- If the payment method you use for your Prime membership is declined for any reason, Amazon will use any other payment method it has on file for you to charge its fees.
If you regularly buy products from Amazon and are likely to use the many Prime bolt-ons included in your membership, you're the sort of customer who is likely to get the most value out of an Amazon Prime subscription.
Amazon has been pretty sneaky about how they get people to sign up to Prime, so read the fine print
However, always shop around to ensure you're getting the very best price because it may not always be found on amazon.com.au. Amazon has also been pretty sneaky about how they get people to sign up to Prime, so read the fine print next time Amazon offers you free shipping if you'd prefer not to sign up to the service.
eBay claims to be Australia's number one online shopping site, with over 11 million Aussie visitors each month. Its membership service, eBay Plus, was launched in Australia in May 2018 to go head-to-head with Amazon and its popular Prime membership service.
Priced at $49 for annual eBay Plus membership, the subscription currently offers a less expensive shipping service alternative to Amazon Prime – but with fewer add ons.
Launched in Australia in 1999, eBay has grown from a bustling secondhand marketplace to an online behemoth offering the wares of up to 40,000 Australian retailers. This year eBay Australia is celebrating its 21st birthday with a number of dedicated sales events and promotions scattered throughout the year.
This year eBay Australia is celebrating its 21st birthday with a number of dedicated sales events and promotions
If you sign up as an eBay Plus member, you'll have access to shopping benefits, delivery savings and member-only special offers – and get free express delivery to metro areas on all eBay Plus purchases paid with PayPal, credit card, debit card, Afterpay, Google Pay or Apple Pay. Where metro delivery is not eligible (it's not available in Western Australia, Northern Territory or Tasmania), members will receive free standard postage.
Returns are free on eBay Plus purchases, which is handy if you're a picky (or nervous) online shopper who wants the security of being able to return items if you change your mind. eBay sends you a free postage label with either Australia Post or ParcelPoint for you to return the product directly, at no cost to you.
In addition, you'll also get five percent off when you shop with Coles on eBay, as well as free grocery delivery for orders over $49 – although, as always, T&Cs apply.
You'll certainly find some bargains on eBay. When we checked, at BWS, you could pick up a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label Champagne Sparkling 750mL bottle for $82; but as an eBay Plus member, on eBay you could get a bottle for $69.99 (via Dan Murphy's) with free and expedited shipping, which is an impressive saving.
eBay Plus customers have access to year-round exclusive savings on products, however, at this stage, eBay Australia does not offer an equivalent annual sales event dedicated to its subscribers like Amazon's internationally anticipated 'Prime Day', which is exclusively for Prime members.
What to watch out for
- Only a fraction of eBay items are available on eBay Plus. Currently, eBay Plus sellers include Baby Bunting, Bing Lee, Coles, City Beach, Dan Murphy's and Myer and its product categories are limited to home and garden, health and beauty and food and drinks.
- If you sign up for a free trial but want to cancel, make sure you do so before the annual fee gets charged. eBay won't refund if you forget to cancel, even if you haven't used the service since you were charged.
- You only get free delivery and returns on items you buy using the 'Buy it Now' function, not with a 'Best Offer'.
- eBay may limit your number of free deliveries and returns, and could even give you the boot without giving you a refund if it decides you're 'misusing' the program or your use is 'excessive'.
Top tip: You can cancel your eBay Plus membership at any time online and still continue to use the service until your paid-up period expires. You can always sign up again later.
If you're an avid eBay shopper who finds themselves often paying for shipping (and particularly if you want the flexibility of being able to return your purchases), the $49 annual fee may be worth paying.
Launched in 2017, subscription service Shipster was Australia Post's answer to Amazon Prime and offered free delivery on eligible purchases from over 60 participating retailers, as long as you spent a minimum of $25.
Australia Post closed down Shipster in July 2019 after just 18 months, citing significant market changes with online shopping as the reason. With free shipping now commonplace, customers expectations had also changed, which made the business a less viable enterprise.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.