8 Sneaky Ways Amazon Gets You to Spend More Money (and How to Resist Them)

Amazon has research, psychology, and technology on their side, but here are tips for resisting spending traps.

Browsing goods on Amazon online store
Updated May 28, 2024
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Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world, and that fact is no accident. The company is great at enticing customers to spend as much money as possible on their website or on their app.

The mechanics and psychology behind how Amazon lures shoppers into spending are fascinating — and scary. Here are some of the ways Amazon traps you into spending, and tips for avoiding these snares.

And don't forget to take advantage of these smart Amazon shopping hacks.

Getting you to sign up for Amazon Prime

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Amazon Prime is a membership program consumers buy for $139 per year or $14.99 a month. The biggest perk of Prime is free expedited shipping on most items you buy at Amazon, with no minimum purchase necessary.

Customers become so accustomed to Prime’s free and fast shipping that they appear to buy more from Amazon than they otherwise might. It is well-known that the average Prime member spends more at Amazon than nonmembers.

In fact, some shoppers get so hooked on Prime and its gratis shipping that they may purchase something at Amazon even if it is not the highest quality, or if it might be found cheaper elsewhere.

You can resist this overspending trap by not joining Prime, or by instituting a regular process of looking for items you need to buy at one or two other retailers before buying them from Amazon.

Offering free shipping if you buy at least $25 in goods

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For shoppers who don’t buy an Amazon Prime membership, Amazon offers free shipping on orders of at least $25. This feels like a deal, but it encourages shoppers to buy more than they had planned to so they can qualify for the free shipping.

It’s easy to fall into this trap, so avoid it by grouping your purchases. Keep a running list of items you need, and shop all at once when those items total $25 or more. Or, simply put items into your cart when you need them, but only make the actual purchase when you have enough necessary items to hit the $25 mark.

Sending targeted product suggestions based on your history

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Amazon keeps detailed logs of a shopper’s purchases and items they view to build a profile for each shopper. This allows the retailer to target suggestions of items to a shopper based on the consumer’s past purchases and views.

To beat these targeted suggestions, go to Amazon’s “Improve Your Recommendations” page and exclude items from being used to recommend other items. Or, simply make a point of ignoring the targeted suggestions.

Making suggestions based on similar customers

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When you look for an item, Amazon also will often suggest other products to you based on what customers with a similar profile to yours bought. It does this by using an algorithm that matches your profile with those of other shoppers with similar profiles.

A combination of targeting and peer pressure, these suggestions can be tempting because shoppers don’t want to miss out on what other shoppers have purchased. Avoid falling into the peer pressure trap by ignoring these suggestions when they show up.

Dangling the temptation of an Amazon credit card

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Applying for an Amazon credit card can be a smart move. Depending on the card you hold and whether you have a Prime membership, you can get cash back on purchases you make at Amazon. Those enrolled in Prime can even score a bigger reward rate on select items.

But all that potential cash back can lure you into spending more. Remember, if you buy an item that you truly don't need and get a small percentage of cash back on the purchase, you really have not saved anything.

Offering instant ordering

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Amazon makes it possible to buy an item with just one click. Amazon’s Buy Now feature allows you to instantly buy an item and have the purchase applied directly to a payment method you have previously chosen, such as a preferred credit card. While this is convenient, it can make it awfully tempting to buy more than you need.

Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this trap — you can simply turn off the option. That way, you cannot buy something with a single click, giving you a bit more time to consider whether you really want to make the purchase. 

Getting you excited for Prime Day

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Prime Day is a shopping “holiday” that Amazon created to drive sales. The plan has worked beautifully. Every year since Amazon introduced Prime Day in 2015, the event has grown. In 2021, shoppers bought more than 250 million items during the Prime Day event.

Many shoppers know just what they plan to purchase on Prime Day and wait for the shopping extravaganza to begin before making their purchase. But many other transactions are pure impulse purchases based on the promotions pushed to Prime members for the sale period.

The easiest way to avoid falling for Prime Day sales is not to visit Amazon at all during the Prime Day period.

Zapping you with Lightning Deals

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Amazon offers what are known as Lightning Deals, which are time-sensitive bargains that will tempt the most disciplined of shoppers. As you shop these deals, Amazon even displays the percentage of items that are still available, further ratcheting up the pressure to buy before it’s too late.

Yes, you can get great bargains here. But you can also easily overspend. If you have trouble controlling impulse purchases, it’s best to follow Mom’s time-honored advice and avoid playing in the lightning.

Bottom line

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There is an easy way to avoid all the traps of shopping on Amazon — simply stop shopping at the site. However, for many shoppers, this is too much to ask. After all, Amazon is a great and convenient place to shop, especially if you know these shopping hacks.

So, take steps to discipline yourself. For example, perhaps you institute a policy that you will not buy anything until 12 to 48 hours after you see it on Amazon. Giving yourself a buffer of time may be enough to help you avoid getting sucked in by Amazon. 

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Author Details

Elizabeth Rollins

Elizabeth Rollins has degrees in literature and business, and she's combined these loves into a career in writing about personal finance. Her special areas of interest are debt, value, budgeting, education, and retirement.