Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program gives shoppers a way to automatically receive household items that they frequently buy. By signing up for automatic delivery, shoppers are offered discounts that range from 5% to 20% off.
How much you save depends on which items you sign up for, how many subscriptions you have per month, and what the price of the items happens to be on the day that Amazon automatically orders them for you (more on each of these below).
So the question is: does it pay to sign up for Amazon Subscribe and Save? The answer is, well, it depends.
How Does it Work?
Amazon Subscribe and Save is a per-item subscription service. That means that you pick out the individual items that you want delivered regularly, then set the interval at which you want them to be delivered (every one, two, three, four, five, or six months).
One of the strengths of Subscribe and Save is the number of items that are included in the program — over 100,000 household essentials at the moment. Eligible items fall into six categories: household, baby care, pet supplies, grocery, health & wellness, and beauty & personal care. With so many products to choose from, there are plenty of Subscribe and Save deals to take advantage of.
There is no contract, and the program allows you to cancel, skip a delivery, or alter your orders at any time. You also get free shipping with every order.
If you have between one and four items on subscription in a given month, you’ll save 5% on those items. With five or more subscriptions in the same month, that number jumps to 15%. Note that you have to have at least five subscriptions delivered in the same month to qualify for 15% off. So if you have five active subscriptions, with four of those subscriptions delivered every month and one delivered every other month, you’ll get 5% off one month and 15% off the next month.
So it pays to sign up for at least 5 items per month, as long as you can find five household essentials that you know you’ll go through on a monthly basis. This makes the program most cost effective for people who are high volume buyers or large families that go through a lot of household staples.
Speaking of families, the largest potential discount comes through the Amazon Family program. Amazon Family is a program that, in Amazon’s own words, “provides Prime members exclusive family-oriented offers, coupons, and age-based recommendations.”
As part of that program, Prime members can receive up to 20% off eligible Subscribe and Save items like diapers, paper products, baby food, baby formula, and vitamins.
Families with young children can probably benefit the most from Subscribe and Save, because the cost of items like diapers and baby food can add up fast. Getting a recurring 20% discount, free shipping, and the convenience of never having to go to the store for things you know you’ll buy a lot of is a great deal.
As with any subscription program, there’s a chance that you’ll forget about an upcoming order and end up with more of something than you actually need. But considering that the highest delivery frequency is one month, and Subscribe and Save is limited mostly to household essentials and non-perishable groceries, it’s not likely to cause a major problem.
One legitimate concern is that Amazon’s prices fluctuate more or less constantly, and this goes for Subscribe and Save items too. Some people get caught off guard by this, as in some ways it violates our standard idea of what a subscription is (i.e. a fixed interval, fixed cost delivery).
Most of the time, price changes are small — but not always. According to the New York Times, one guy signed up to have a $10 box of gum delivered through Subscribe and Save, only to have it come in one month at $100.
That’s an extreme example, and realistically speaking it’s not going to happen to you. But price fluctuations of several dollars are not uncommon.
In order to keep surprises to a minimum, Amazon sends out an email ten days before your items are set to be delivered that includes prices for all of your subscriptions, with the opportunity to skip, cancel, or change an order any time before it ships.
Another issue is that, with your household staples all on set-and-forget, you’re likely to miss out on occasional lower-priced deals that come up for similar items.
Does that mean that Subscribe and Save may actually cost you potential savings?
If you’re at the 5% level (that is, you have less than 5 subscriptions per month), it might conceivably be cheaper to shop for the best possible deals on individual items instead of having them automatically delivered. At least some of the time.
Even so, how much do you value the convenience and the time saved by having stuff on auto-delivery? That’s sometimes harder to quantify, and only you can decide how much those “soft” benefits are worth.
Sam’s Club and Target both run similar programs, and they both have their pros and cons. If you’re a Sam’s Club member already or you like the convenience of being able to return items to your local Target store, you might want to consider one of these two options.
Additionally, if you’re a Target Red Card holder, you can pretty much get 10% off everything, since you get 5% off for being on subscription, and an additional 5% off for using your Red Card (editor’s note: it actually comes out to 9.725%, because the 5% discount for the Red Card comes off the already discounted price — just so you know). Sam’s Club and Target also change their prices a lot less often than Amazon, so you’ll know what to expect.
But overall, Amazon has by far the biggest selection, and even with the constant fluctuations their prices are usually the lowest. So unless you have a specific reason for going with Sam’s Club or Target, Amazon is probably the best choice for most people.
TL;DR…Should I Sign Up or Not?
Amazon Subscribe and Save seems like a no-brainer for two specific groups:
- Families (especially with young children) who have an Amazon Prime membership
- Anyone who goes through a lot of household necessities every month
These two groups stand to save the most — 20% for Prime members who buy from the Amazon Family collection, and 15% for anyone with five or more subscriptions per month.
For anyone else, you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see how much you’ll save. But don’t forget to factor in the convenience and time saved by not having to go to the store as often.