Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Subscribe and Save Me

It all started about a year and a half ago when we ran out of dental floss. 

My husband asked if I could pick up some while I was out with the kids. Sure, I said. I went to Target and remembered to buy sunscreen. I went to Whole Foods and remembered to buy dal burgers. I went to Stop and Shop and remembered to buy paper towels. For two weeks I remembered to buy a lot of things but I never remembered dental floss.

One day my husband sat me down and said he wanted to show me something. It was a feature on Amazon called Subscribe and Save and he’d just signed us up for dental floss. My services in this department were no longer needed.

I mocked him when the shipment arrived. The box contained six packs of dental floss. Were we going into wholesale? We might have been. Soon after came more items from Amazon all sent in large quantities: tooth paste, toilette paper, shaving cream, batteries, light bulbs. If it was nonperishable and we used it on a regular basis, we were subscribed. The genius of the program was that it made everything simpler. How could I argue? 

You want a discount—you got it. You want it delivered—shipping is free! You want someone else to remember when you’re going to run out—that’s why you subscribe! You want to relish in the de facto tax-free nature of Internet shopping—of course!

I considered writing a note to our UPS man. “I am sorry,” it would have begun, “for the recent frenzy of large boxes. In case you are wondering, we are not doing anything illegal. We just needed a six week supply of granola.”

Yes, we’d moved onto food. Granola, granola bars, coffee, tea, instant oatmeal, boxed mac & cheese. We got the same brands we would have bought at other stores but now we had an inventory six weeks deep.

My trips to the supermarket were becoming less frequent. When I did go, I had no need to walk to the far end of the store or get lost in shelves of laundry detergent. “Bring your sweaters kids, we’re only hitting the dairy aisle.” I could linger on the parts of grocery shopping that were more interesting. “Who wants to sample freeze-dried kale?” I could say, instead of scooting by in a hurry.

But I became a true convert when my four year old came to me with her portable music player. It’s the kind that is buffered by a cushion so she could drop it down the steps and it’d still play Laurie Berkner songs. For some reason it no longer worked. “Of course, it needs to new batteries!” I said, diagnosing the problem and realizing a new one. It took four “C” batteries. To a parent, is there a more troublesome battery?

I opened the cabinet. “I don’t know how to say this,” I told my four year old, “but we have four “C” batteries here and I can fix your music player.”

There are downsides to having a healthy inventory. Space, of course, or how you use it, is one such consideration. When we got our semiannual supply of tissues this August, my husband placed them in different rooms around the house. After about a week I realized why they depressed me. “We don’t have the sniffles yet,” I said, taking a box off the dining room table. Gourds I could handle, but a centerpiece of Puffs made me think I was coming down with something.

There’s an environmental impact to all of our consumption and I read a bit about the debate between online and in-person shopping. I am glad Amazon has consolidated our things into one or two large boxes, but know it’d be better if the packages within those boxes were more efficient. Even better, say some on Terrapass would be to bike to a local store and consume less.

Last May, I read a story in The New York Times that signaled the end of an era for our Subscribe and Save heyday. Amazon had already sent me a survey about my usage. Did they want to improve the service, in which case I feared it was not popular enough to keep around, or take options away? In either case, I worried. But the story was about something I hadn’t seen coming.

 “They are building warehouses in New Jersey!” I said, putting my spoon in my bowl of Subscribe and Save cereal and standing up with astonishment.

My husband left his granola and came to my side. “It will be okay,” he said, “we still save 15 percent.”

He was right. And we still had dental floss. The convenience. The “C” batteries. Not standing in line at 5pm to get one box of raisin bran. But warehouses in our state of New Jersey meant we would no longer part of the Amazon tax-free euphoria. Fair enough. Our time had come. Subscribe and Save was about to become something else. Local.

1 comment:

Tim Morrissey said...

As David said in Prometheus, "Big things have small beginnings." All this because of dental floss. Thought-provoking post, Sarah!