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Price-Checking Amazon's Subscribe and Save Program

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By Ashley Watson, dealnews writer

Pop Tarts for 18 cents each? Raisin Bran for $1.74 a box? Some of the prices we list on dealnews for offers from Amazon's Subscribe and Save program sound incredible. Too incredible? While others have tested out the program to see how it fares, including the New York Times, we needed to see for ourselves how it really stacks up, over time, and if the prices hold up over many months.

The program, which offers free shipping and an additional 15% off of all eligible items, works like this: You sign up, select an item, choose when you want it shipped (in intervals of 1, 2, 3 or 6 months), and voila — you've just made the cheapest, easiest purchase on an item you regularly buy.

We started at the top, with our own dealnews CEO, Dan de Grandpre, who reports that the soap he orders on a regular schedule via Subscribe and Save has held a consistent price over several years. In fact, his last order in March 2011 was actually 77 cents less expensive than his first order four year prior. So his costs have actually gone down very slightly over time.

Liz Dialto, a health and fitness expert, uses the program to save on protein bars and powders for clients. Dialto says that she saves around $8 per box on her monthly purchase of protein bars that she would normally buy in a store. As a city dweller, Dialto says, "This is also superconvenient for me as someone who tries to keep my grocery trips as efficient as possible and doesn't want to carry 100 pounds of groceries." Overall, she says, "I definitely think I'm saving money and don't see any drawbacks."

But even if Amazon's prices can beat a regular store, what about other online discounters? We compared the prices of some of the same items our focus group buy at Amazon with the deals at Soap.com. While Soap.com is actually owned by Amazon, which bought its parent company in 2010, they operate as competitors.

Here's what we found in an online search (keep in mind that the savings total includes the shipping cost at Soap.com, since they only offer free shipping for purchases of $39 and up), prices valid as of March 7:

Item
Soap.com
Subscribe and Save Savings
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Moisturizer SPF 30, 2.5-oz
$15.19
$12.74 $7.44
Clif Bar Builder's Bar, Peanut Butter, 2.4-oz bars, 12-pack $19.99 $15.21 $9.77
Source Naturals Vitamin D-3 1,000 IU, 200 tablets $5.74 $4.49 $6.24

Not only are the actual prices cheaper through the Subscribe and Save program, but Soap.com charges a $4.99 shipping fee for purchases under $25, and $2.99 for purchases of $25 to $39. The only catch we could find is that the Vitamin D supplement only comes in a 3-pack on Amazon (for $13.36, which works out to around $4.49 a bottle). Unless your entire family is taking it, buying in bulk may not make sense for an item that could expire before you use all of it. Still, Amazon's prices were consistently cheaper, even with some of the coupons offered at Soap.com.

But just in case, we got a few more responses from the most trusted super-saving shoppers of them all — the moms. Ali Gerakaris, a marketing manager, tells us that the program saves her money and time. She comments, "As a new mom with a full-time job, I never have to worry about whether or not we need diapers. They just magically appear at my front desk!"

During our research, we also noticed that Diapers.com (a sister company to Soap.com, also with Amazon as a parent company) offers a coupon for 30% off of three months of diapers and 10% off everything else. Even though these were restricted to new customers and certain brands, we wanted to compare prices for diapers and a few more of those items that parents reach for so often.

Here's what we found (with the same shipping fee disclaimer as before):

Item
Diapers.com and Soap.com
Subscribe and Save Savings
Huggies Snug & Dry Diapers, Size 4, (126 ct and 140 ct)
$37.99
$28.55 $12.43
Tide Original with ActiLift, 64-load $15.30 $14.44 $3.56
Charmin Ultra Strong Mega Roll, pack of 6 $9.25 $6.78 $4.54

After price-checking, we realized that the Huggies brand was not included in the 30% off coupon at Diapers.com, but even with the 10% discount for all other items, it's still cheaper at Amazon because of the $2.99 shipping fee at Diapers.com (where you have to spend at least $49, not just $39, to earn free shipping). The same goes for the laundry detergent and toilet paper; the cost of shipping is the same as the amount you would save on a 15% off coupon, which is for new customers only.

Also, if you are a member of Amazon Mom (or want to join for free), you get an additional 15% off, bringing your total on Huggies down to $23.51 for a 140-count package. In sum, Amazon Mom members save $13.67 on Huggies diapers by using Subscribe and Save, and they get 14 more diapers per package — that's $0.17 per diaper compared to the unit price of $0.30 at Diapers.com.

Whether or not you have kids, there are at least a few items you always run out of, and who wants to run back out to the store? From what we can tell here at dealnews, you probably won't find an easier, more cost-effective way than Amazon's Subscribe and Save to ensure that you never run out of those items. Nor will you find a better deal on the items you may never need again. All you need to do is cancel after you get your order.


Ashley Watson received her MFA from Goddard College in January 2006. Upon completing her degree, she taught writing composition at the University of Arizona and began her career as a freelance writer. She is a contributor to the 2007 Teacher’s Guide to Living Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry and Drama, and she has published articles in various online and print magazines. She currently resides in Vermont.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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7 comments
Hessgt
I thought subscribe and save was a great idea, until I started noticing the price increases every month for the product without any warning from Amazon. Each item went up an average of 20% per month, and in one case increased 50% from $18 to $27 without warning. I think if amazon wants this to work, they need a system that notifies you of price changes.
GSPope
Whenever I do exactly that from the Manage Subscribe and Save items, it just moves the "cancelled" subscription to the "Inactive Subscriptions" list at the bottom of the Manage Subscribe and Save items page (where it stays forever and constantly reminds me there is a "problem" with that subscription).

When you cancel does it remove it altogether from the Manage Subscribe and Save items page? That is the way I wish it would work.
bbrobozio
I buy so many things through Subscribe & Save: kid's ORGANIC snacks, detergent, toilet paper, coconut water, etc etc etc. SO MANY ITEMS! Every day I have 1-2 boxes waiting for me. We live in a mountain ski town, and shopping is pain. Other pluses: Call me unpatriotic, no sales tax=significant savings. I'm also not spending time and $ on gas. I'm not throwing other items in a cart since I'm not out shopping. I'm able to avoid the grocery store MUCH more.

I also have an Amazon credit card which give 3 points for every $ spent on Amazon. I have enough points to take my family on vacation, and I only discovered this "secret" 9 months ago.

I've never had a problem canceling S&S.
I get a wide variety of unique items that are either much more expensive or difficult to find in a regular store. I tell everybody I know about this!
brianlmoon
I like Subscribe and Save. My wife loves it. We get Charmin, Bounty, Tide, Cascade and Snuggle. All stuff we buy all the time. We have a big family, so it goes quick. It's nice to have it delivered to the house. In fact, I got an email today that something had shipped. No effort for me. It's perfect.
lep43056
Not sure if this is the problem with canceling items but I had a similar experience when trying to cancel a subscribe and save from the item page. You must go to the Your Account page then click on Manage subscribe and Save Items on your Orders section. Next go to the item you wish to cancel and find the box in the lower right corner of that item that says "cancel my subscription" Worked for me several times over the years. Good luck
SavingFreak
I find couponing destroys the Amazon prices day in and day out. I get jumbo packs of Huggies and Pamers diapers for only $3.50, boxes of cereal for $1 or less, and frozen vegetables for less than 50 cents. With the couponing websites out there it is easy to only spend a little bit of time and save a ton at the grocery store.
GSPope
Let me say first off I love the subscribe & save program at Amazon. I have purchased raisin bran for less than $2 a box (great deal) and have a variety of items that I have auto-delivered (chips, hot chocolate, coffee, razor blades, antacids, etc.) and it works flawlessly for the most part.

The last line of the article states my major problem with the subscribe-and-save program: "All you need to do is cancel after you get your order." The problem? You can't truly cancel (or at least I cannot find a way to do so), you can only make your subscription "inactive" so that it falls to the bottom of your subscribe & save list where it apparently remains forever -- constantly reminding you at the top of your list that there is "a problem with one or more of your subscriptions". The only "problem" is that I tried to cancel the subscription and Amazon's system merely moved it to the "inactive" list and then proceeds to tell me all the time that a "problem" exists. So of course, I go through all my subscriptions to find the "problem" (cause I do not want to miss anything) only to discover there really aren't any problems - there are just some items I have tried to cancel from the program (for example I changed razors and accordingly changed my razor blade subscription to match, but I cannot get rid of the old one - even though I no longer use that brand of razor. The result? The longer your list gets over time, the more you have no idea whether there really is a problem with one of your current subscribe & save items, or they just want you to look at your "inactive" items (once again) in the hopes that you will "reactivate" it.

Also, contrary to the article, I have found at least one item (actually set of items) that has had wild fluctuations in price: PopChips (in a variety of flavors). Initially subscribed on January 26, 2011 for 4 different flavors at $11.99 each (for a 24 pack) after discount. The current prices (and next shipment cost), however, are slated for a price of $19.12 -$23.65 after discount -- nearly a 100% increase for my next shipment unless the price changes. This wouldn't bother me so much if I could really just cancel and remove PopChips from my list altogether (not wanting to continue my subscription at almost double the cost), but alas, they will apparently forever remain on my list as "inactive" -- along with the constant reminder that there is a "problem" with that subscription.

If Amazon would only fix this one annoyance, I would give the program a 10 out of 10 and would undoubtly add to my list of regularly delievered items. As it is, I would give it an 9 or 8 -- with the score continuing to lower the more "cancelled" items that end up on my "inactive" list -- and only subscribe to items I am relatively certain I will want to continue to receive for a very long time.
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