By Kelli B. Grant
Amazon is giving consumers the chance to shop like purchasing agents.
The Internet giant launched a site Monday aimed at business and industrial customers: AmazonSupply. Experts say the spin-off is likely to create competition in the business-to-business space — but even individual consumers may find it useful alternative to hardware and office supply stores, says R.J. Hottovy, an analyst for Morningstar. (A spokeswoman from Amazon.com says customers “can purchase any item they would like on AmazonSupply,” and use their existing Prime benefits there.)
Admittedly, most individuals aren’t in the market for centrifuges or plastic tubing — the appeal will likely be limited to those shopping in specific categories such as tools, office supplies and automotive care. AmazonSupply prices are competitive with those of Amazon, and in some cases, even lower. A Brother P-Touch PT-18R label maker, for example, is $58.20 there and $62.98 on Amazon’s regular site. Even when there’s no price advantage, AmazonSupply shoppers get a longer return period and faster shipping. Shoppers have 365 days for returns, compared with 30 days on Amazon. But the policy at AmazonSupply stipulates products be unused and in their original packaging, while Amazon’s requires “new condition with original packaging and accessories.” AmazonSupply customers get free two-day shipping on orders of $50 or more. At Amazon, $25 is enough for free shipping, but via a slower method promising delivery within five to eight business days. On both sites, Prime members get free two-day shipping on all orders.
But shoppers shouldn’t necessarily count on Amazon and AmazonSupply to be cheapest, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. The $50 free-shipping threshold is high, especially for cheaper items like bolts and double-sided tape. “You can probably find most things more conveniently at places you would initially think to buy these items — like Home Depot, Office Max or Office Depot,” he says. Even the dollar store may be a more reliably inexpensive source for items like brooms and floor cleaner.
Looking long-term, the expansion could entice more people to pay the $79 to become Prime members. “This is still part of a large collective to push Prime memberships,” Hottovy says. Consumers could also see different levels of Prime membership akin to the executive tiers of warehouse club memberships, where bigger spenders get more benefits. Already, he says, a Prime membership can be worth more than $1,000 in extra spending each year.