Friday, April 24, 2009

I <3 Amazon

Ok, so this is something that I had to write about sooner or later. I'm addicted to A co-worker did this to me. He told me about Amazon Prime and voila! Two years later, I'm hooked. I do about 90% of my shopping on Amazon. It's great for Christmas shopping, especially when you have the Amazon Prime membership. Let me rewind a bit.

Amazon is a website where you can find just about anything to buy, but I use it mainly for DVDs/Blu-rays and video games. Amazon Prime is a special membership you can sign up for to get free 2-day shipping on all items that are sold and fulfilled by Amazon. The membership costs $79/year. Also, if for some reason you need the item the next day, you can pay an extra 2 or 3 bucks to get it there sooner. Think about it. The rate to ship something 2-day (a DVD, for instance) is $3.99. If you buy more than one, the shipping rate goes up, of course. So, if you do lots of online shopping, this deal will pay for itself within a month or two. And it did, for me. In 2007, I did all my Christmas shopping on Amazon. I ordered all kinds of stuff and everything always showed up in two days or less, even items that I ordered the week of Christmas.

But the kicker came when I ordered two large items from Amazon. For Sezzy's birthday, I ordered a Dyson vaccum cleaner. Can you guess the best part? That's right, free two-day shipping. Then, last August, I ordered my 58" Plasma TV for our new rec room. Best part? Free shipping (they couldn't guarantee 2-day since they ship through a 3rd party, but it was still free and it was delivered to my front door by two very nice Hispanics that didn't speak a lick of English). The delivery guys even unboxed the TV for me (after some coaxing and a decent-sized tip) and hooked it up to make sure it was working. The best part about Amazon Prime (arguably) is that you can add up to 4 other members to your account. I added Sezzy so now we have one Prime account and all items that either of us buy get free 2-day shipping.

But Amazon Prime is not the only reason I shop on Amazon. Their prices are many times unbeatable. The retail price on the TV that I bought was close to $800 more than what I payed on Amazon. And it was full price at both Best Buy and Circuit City. Also, no tax for us Pennsylvania residents (I believe the New York residents now have to pay tax on Amazon because of some stupid new law that deals with online shopping). So I can buy a new video game (which by the way, are usually a couple dollars cheaper than the list price) and pay no tax and no shipping, and I can do it while I'm watching TV or surfing the web. The real kicker here came last summer when Amazon added "Release Date shipping" to some of their video game titles. I thought that shipping for new releases was usually spot on before they added this, but this guaranteed that the games would arrive on release day. For no extra charge for Prime members.

Where Amazon really wins, though, is their customer service. Or rather, customer satisfaction. I'll be the first to admit that dealing with Amazon's customer service can often be quite frustrating. Their call center is outsourced so communication can be a problem. Usually, you end up talking to somebody in India and having to explain the situation multiple times (seriously, average call time with them is like 25-30 mins), but this is pretty normal in this day and age anyway. The thing that sets Amazon's customer service apart is that they try to do whatever they can to make you happy if you have a problem. Everyone makes mistakes, and Amazon is part of "everyone". But they realize how frustrating it is when they make a mistake and they do what they can to keep you happy, even if they are just following a script. I ordered Mario Kart for the Wii when it came out. I had it pre-ordered and chose "Release Date Shipping". It did not come on release day. I called and explained and they threw a $5 credit on my account. When I ordered the Dyson, I didn't know it could come in the actual Dyson box and not a plain brown Amazon box. It was a birthday present so I kind of wanted it to be a surprise. I got a phone call at about 3:30 pm on the delivery date from Sezzy, and all she said was "We haz a vacuum?" Thanks Amazon. I called, complained, got a $5 credit on my account. Sezzy ordered a video game with 2-day shipping for me for our anniversary in November. It took 5 days for it get here. She called up, complained, got a $5 credit on her account.

But my latest incident with Amazon is what impressed me most. It impressed me because I was the one who totally screwed the pooch in the situation. Amazon recently started taking trade-ins on video games (credit comes in the form of Amazon gift card credit to your account). I'm a pretty avid gamer and I worked at EB Games/Gamestop for almost 4 years so I know my fair share of what goes on in the retail video game industry. I know, more or less, what you can expect to get in trade value from Gamestop for most games. So I thought I would check it out. I haven't traded in any PS3 or 360 games yet because Gamestop's trade values don't impress me much anymore. When I looked at Amazon's trade values, I was impressed. There were some games that I thought were worthless (i.e. Heavenly Sword, which I got for free with my PS3) that they were willing to give a very generous amount in trade for (I got $20.50 for mine but it's back down to $13 now). Plus, they pay for you to ship your games to them. I was skeptical of shipping times and whatnot, but I thought I would give it a try since the trade values were good.

Then I saw their trade-in special. Trade in 4 or more games for any system and get an extra $20 toward a select list of games. On the list was Killzone 2, a game which I have been meaning to get but was previously too cheap to actually shell out the money for. This was perfect. I could trade in my games and get Killzone for free, basically. So I got my games together to trade in: Heavenly Sword ($20.50), Prince of Persia ($17.75), NCAA Football 09 ($9.50), Rock Band ($7.25), and Guitar Hero: Aerosmith ($3.50) for a total of $58.50. These are all games that I'm not going to play anymore, for various reasons. So, with my $20 extra credit, that comes to $78.50. That's almost enough to buy two games. So my plan was to buy Fallout 3 ($49.99 on Amazon) and then when I got my $20 credit in my email (they don't all come at the same time; trade credit first, then promotion credit), I would buy Killzone 2. Voila, two brand new games for under $25.

However, I didn't exactly execute my plan the way I intended to. Somewhere in there, I had a brainfart and in my excitement to play Killzone 2, I went ahead and bought that with my trade-in credit (by the way, I still haven't played it). This was very, very stupid of me, since I did not yet receive my $20 promotional credit. So I had $5.51 left in trade credit, and last night I got my gift card code for my $20 promotional credit. Being the idiot that I am, I still only realized this morning that my $20 credit was more or less useless. Killzone 2 is the only game off of the list of "select games" that I really wanted. So now I was looking at paying $45 for Fallout, rather than $24.50. In desperation, I called Amazon. I explained the situation (5 times, and often in piecemeal) to the customer service rep who, by the way, was very helpful. I spent about 30 minutes on the phone with her, but eventually she was able to add a $20 credit to my account that I could use on anything in my next purchase. Praise Amazon. I thanked her profusely, admitting my mistake several times. I promptly bought Fallout 3, as if the credit were going to disappear as soon as I hung up with her.

So kudos to Amazon once again. I haven't found a more reliable, dependable online retailer in my short lifetime. From their great prices to their outstanding selection to their unbeatable deals to their sometimes-frustrating-but-always-satisfying customer service, they have it all figured out. I feel I will be an Amazon customer for life after the experiences I have had with them and if you haven't yet experienced the glory that is Amazon, I would definitely recommend it.

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