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Amazon now makes super-cheap items insanely easy to impulse buy

The company confirms that it quietly shrank its "Add-on items" program in recent months.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
2 min read

Please send a single toothpick to my house, please.

Helen H. Richardson/Getty Images

Amazon has maintained a program for years called "Add-on items," which restricts certain inexpensive products from shipping unless you hit a $25 threshold. Amazon says the program has let it offer really cheap stuff that's otherwise too costly to ship on its own.

Well, it ends up that Amazon quietly shrank the size of its "Add-on" program, making it easier for Prime shoppers to purchase a pocket-size tube of lip balm for $1.20 or Glade air freshener for 82 cents without having to reach that magic $25 number.

On an earnings call with reporters Thursday, Amazon Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky confirmed this change when I asked about it, prompted by a story from Recode earlier this month that highlighted the move. In quite a few cases, these items are now even available for Prime one-day shipping. Amazon's press office, though, had declined to say much about the prior report.

"We do have an Add-on program globally," Olsavsky told me. "What I would say is we've been revisiting which products we put in that program, and in the US over the last six months or so we've reduced the number of ASINs that are in the Add-on program."

ASINs, by the way, are Amazon Standard Identification Numbers, which are given to every single type of product the company sells. Olsavsky didn't offer any other details about this change and moved on to another question.

If you aren't a Prime member, you'll still need to bundle $25 worth of items together to get free shipping. Otherwise, Amazon may charge you about $6 apiece for these low-priced items.

Amazon scaling back its "Add-on" program could be a boon for Prime customers interested in quickly grabbing small items without having to worry about grouping them together with other stuff. For Amazon, the change could help it reinforce the reflex it's trained in Prime customers to come to it first for whatever they want.

The change is likely a sign of Amazon's multibillion-dollar investment in its shipping and warehousing infrastructure, as it works to turn its two-day Prime delivery program into one day. That effort includes expanding Amazon's local delivery network, which is likely powering some of this work. But, as Amazon showed in its latest quarterly report Thursday, those infrastructure costs -- which probably include shipping super-low-price items in a day -- are eating away at profits.

Also, fewer "Add-on" items could hurt local convenience stores, mom-and-pop shops and drug stores like CVS and Rite-Aid. 

Still, if you really need toothpaste or soap or floss or deodorant, you may still go out to get it instead of waiting a day for it to arrive.