Amazon Prime, which claims to have 100 million paid members globally, is the most expensive shipping service of those we looked at – but it's also the one that provides you with the most add-ons. You'll get access to Prime Video, where you can watch series such as The Grand Tour, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Man in the High Castle, American Gods and Jack Ryan, access to over 1000 ebooks via Prime Reading, and you'll be able to play free games and get free in-game loot via the Twitch Prime gaming service.
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. When it comes to groceries, an 80-pack of Finish Powerball Quantum dishwashing tablets at Woolworths will set you back $35. On Amazon, assuming you meet the $49 minimum spend for free shipping from the US site, you can get the same pack for $21.24. At Coles, you can get a 32-pack of Kleenex Complete Clean Toilet Tissue for $15 (which works out at around 47c per roll); on Amazon Prime, you can get a 30-pack for $12.50 (around 42c a roll). When it comes to tech, you can get the Bose QuietComfort 35 (series II) wireless headphones via Amazon Prime for $414. The same headphones at JB Hi-Fi will set you back $496.
But of course, you'll need to shop regularly with Amazon for those savings to balance out the $59-a-year membership cost.
What to watch out for
- Don't assume Amazon will always offer the best value. When we did our mystery shop, a 250ml bottle of Finish Dishwashing Rinse Aid was on sale at Woolworths for $2.62 (which works out to $1.05 per 100ml). A 500ml bottle via Amazon cost $6 – or $1.20 per 100ml.
- Some sellers on Amazon may charge restocking fees if you change your mind and decide to return an item (in addition to return shipping), and according to at least one user on Amazon's Facebook page, those fees can be hefty indeed. We rang the company's customer service team and an agent confirmed that items sold, fulfilled and shipped by Amazon itself won't incur a restocking fee, but those that come from a third party may.
- Amazon Prime currently has an introductory price of $4.99 per month, but be aware that if you sign up, you'll start paying $6.99 a month from February 2019. And according to Amazon's terms and conditions, if the price for Prime changes, 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.
The bottom line
If you regularly use Amazon and you're likely to use the Prime bolt-ons, you're the sort of customer who is likely to get the most value out of a subscription. But if you want the best price, continue to shop around, and watch out for third-party sellers who may charge a restocking fee for returned items.
eBay is Australia's favourite online shopping site, with over 9.4 million Aussies visiting the site in an average four weeks, according to Roy Morgan. At $49 per year, eBay Plus is the second-most expensive shipping service – and unlike Amazon Prime and Shipster, you can't sign up for a month-by-month membership.
If you sign up, you'll get free standard domestic delivery on all eBay Plus listings and free returns on those orders within 30 days. That's 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.
In addition to that, you'll also get double Flybuys points on all eBay orders (with some exclusions) if you link your eBay and Flybuys accounts, exclusive deals and discounts such as free listings and final value fee discounts for those who sell items on eBay, and premium customer service in the form of a dedicated team available online or by phone.
What to watch out for
- Only a fraction of eBay items are available on eBay Plus.
- 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.
The bottom line
If you're a frequent 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.
Shipster is Australia Post's answer to Amazon Prime. Launched last year, it provides free delivery on eligible purchases from over 60 participating retailers, as long as you spend a minimum of $25, and the delivery would normally cost less than $20. (Buy a Bosch washing machine from Harvey Norman, for example, and you'll still need to pay a $49 shipping fee.) You'll also get one free food delivery from Deliveroo (there's a minimum spend of $25 for that too) per month.
But keep in mind that several of the companies that partner with Shipster already have free delivery with a minimum spend. Splash out $100 with Myer or $50 with Chemist Warehouse, for example, and you'll get free shipping automatically.
What to watch out for
- Although in its terms and conditions Shipster says you can cancel your account online before midnight the night before your monthly subscription is due to roll over, its FAQs give conflicting advice, asking you to cancel "with more than 2 business days notice from your next billing date". We suggest you err on the safe side and cancel as soon as possible – you'll still have access to the service until the end of your paid-up period.
- Shipster absolves itself of all responsibilities, writing in its terms and conditions that the retailers that participate in its program are "solely liable if they do not provide free shipping on eligible purchases to you."
- Under the terms and conditions, you agree to allow retailers to give Australia Post information relating to all your purchases – including those that aren't eligible for Shipster benefits!
The bottom line
To make Shipster worth its monthly fee, you'd need to make relatively cheap online purchases from participating retailers a few times a year. That being said, regular Deliveroo customers may also find signing up worthwhile.
The big three compared
How Amazon Prime, eBay Plus and Shipster compare
|| $6.99 per month after 31 January 2019 ($4.99 introductory rate until then) or $59 per year
| $49 per year
| $1 per month or $10 per year
|How to pay
||Recurring credit or debit card payment
| Recurring credit card, debit card payment, direct debit or PayPal
| Recurring PayPal payment
|What you get
- Free expedited delivery on domestic eligible items (two days for metro areas, three days for non metro) with no minimum spend
- Free international standard delivery on eligible items shipped from Amazon US ($49 minimum spend) when you shop from amazon.com.au
- Access to Prime Video
- Access to Prime Reading
- Access to Twitch Prime
- Free delivery on eBay Plus listings
- Free returns on all eBay Plus orders within 30 days
- Double Flybuys points on all eBay orders (exclusions apply)
- Exclusive deals and discounts
- Premium customer service
- Free delivery on eligible purchases from participating retailers, with a minimum spend of $25 — as long as the shipping would normally cost under $20.
- One free Deliveroo delivery (minimum spend of $25) per month
|| Anyone with an Australian address who is aged over 18
| Anyone with an Australian address
| Any individual with an Australian address (not businesses, charities or other organisations)
|How to cancel
|| Cancel online or over the phone. If you haven't used your Prime benefits during the current membership period, you'll get a full refund
| Cancel online. Once the annual fee is charged, you can't get a refund, even if you haven't used any benefits since then
| Cancel online by midnight the night before your next payment is due
|Free trial period?
- If you're not an Amazon shopper but want to watch Prime Video content, access Prime Reading or use Twitch Prime
- Regular Amazon shoppers, particularly if you like to shop from Amazon US
- Amazon shoppers who want faster delivery
- Regular eBay shoppers
- Those who want to be able to return items they buy on eBay
- Regular Deliveroo customers
- Those who shop online at participating retailers such as Myer, Booktopia, Target and Chemist Warehouse at least a couple of times a year for less expensive purchases and normally pay delivery fees