March 3, 2014Why Amazon should have presented their price hike as an apology

I’m a loyal Amazon Prime customer. But I’ve spent the past week complaining about their recent price hike from £49 to £79 for Prime.

The deal is that when you renew your Amazon Prime membership, it’s now bundled with (a very poor selection of) streaming movies and TV shows and this, supposedly, warrants the 60% price hike.

Naturally, most people who have Prime membership for one day delivery are furious.

After all, Ikea don’t force you to buy meatballs every time you buy a flat pack sofa. So why force me to buy streaming movies with my one day delivery? Why force me to pay 60% more for a service I don’t want?

The truth is Amazon’s profit margins are razor thin and they’ve been subsidising one day delivery for years.

They need to raise their prices. The trouble is they’ve done it in an underhand way. Imagine my surprise when I received an email trumpeting this 60% price hike as a saving because if I had bought the two services separately I’d be paying even more.

Black is white, price hikes are savings, benefits are tax

Sometimes this tactic works. I was shocked when a friend asked me if he’d have to pay “the bedroom tax” if he bought a two bed house and lived in it alone.

UK readers will know that the “bedroom tax” is a slogan created by the opposition parties to describe the cut in government hand-outs for people who live in state-subsidised housing but have more bedrooms than people living permanently in their house. Even the BBC admits “it is not a tax at all”.

It’s a testament to the power of the “big lie” that so many people believe a reduction in the amount of money the government gives you is actually a tax. And maybe it’s why Amazon think they can get away with presenting their 60% price hike as a saving.

They’re wrong.

Don’t complain, create

I was going to write a blog post complaining about the ridiculous and phony justification for this price hike. Then I saw something Dave Trott retweeted:

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain.” – Henry Ford

I realised that many people, like me, would actually probably be prepared to pay £80 for Amazon Prime. 1 day delivery is incredibly useful and if you use it a lot, it’s still cheap at half the price. A price that’s remained low and subsidised for many years.

Like me, many people are just as annoyed at Amazon’s attitude (a big F.U. to their loyal customers) as they are at the price hike.

So instead of complaining, I thought I’d re-write Amazon’s condescending, dishonest email for them. Instead of trying to trumpet the 60% price hike as a “saving” for me, I wrote it in a tone of voice that would cause me to reconsider cancelling my Prime membership — an apology.

Some lowlights from Amazon’s original email:

“We’re pleased to announce some exciting upgrades and changes to your Amazon Prime membership.”

No, it’s a 60% price hike.

“Prime Instant Video will give you unlimited access to popular TV shows like Dexter and Prison Break, exclusive movies such as The Hangover: Part 2 and Friends with Benefits”

The Hangover Part II? That’s the best you can offer? No thanks.

As a valued Prime member you will be able to start streaming videos at no additional cost… until you renew. After that, your membership will continue for the new price of just £79 per year (passing on £41 in annual savings compared to adding a separate streaming membership).

It’s not a £41 saving. It’s a 60% price hike. I don’t want your shitty streaming video service. Telling me I’m saving money? It’s a slap in the face.

Instead, I figured honesty was the best policy. It usually is.

Customers can spot a cheap and dirty trick a mile off. So don’t insult them. Reach out.

Here’s what I would write:

Dear Loyal Customer,

We hate to write to you with bad news, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. For years, you’ve been enjoying Prime membership at just £49, a price that’s stayed the same for the last five years.

We’re sorry to say that because of increased costs, we simply can’t continue to offer next-day shipping at this subsidised rate.

Don’t blame us, blame the bean counters.

We’ve been trying to avoid raising shipping prices for our most loyal customers for some time now. But the folks upstairs have said this is the only way to continue offering you the best deals.

So to continue offering you the best prices, we’re reluctantly raising our Prime membership fees to £79 when you next renew with us, which we hope you will.

We know that money matters. To make things a little easier, we’re giving you unlimited free access to our catalogue of streaming movies and TV shows. We’re also planning on introducing a free streaming music service soon.

Renew your Prime membership now and we’ll give you an additional 10% off the renewal price.

Thank you for being a loyal customer.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Amazon do say sorry. Here’s a message they sent me just today:

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 12.53.00

If you can apologise about a late delivery, you can apologise about a whopping (but necessary) price hike.

Which would you rather? A fake email trumpeting how much money you’ll “save” or an honest apology that shows how valued your custom is?

Amazon dropped the ball with this little sleight of hand. It’s little wonder their share price plummeted.

Words matter.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 3rd, 2014 at 4:32 pm and is filed under Blog, Copywriting. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.


  1. paula kazarosian says:

    Hi Alistaire,
    Awesome and very true! Loved the post and wish that the world could always function at such a transparent level.
    At least here in the US we are being indoctrinated into a ‘lying is acceptable and even good’ culture as per our truthless (not fearless) leader…
    Keep being honest and perhaps we will start joining in…lol

  2. Great post Alastaire and the email you composed for amazon was absolutely spot on. Consumers can smell BS a mile away these days and in most cases it’s simply better to be upfront and honest. Nice Henry Ford quote too!

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