Héctor Ramos

On Amazon Prime, Free Super Saver Shipping and Silly Fines

Amazon offers free Super Saver shipping on all orders over $25. For years, this benefit applied to all shipping within the United States, Puerto Rico included. Eventually, Amazon introduced the Amazon Prime program, where for a $79 annual fee, consumers could get free two day shipping on all orders, regardless of the total transaction amount. This, however, didn’t apply to Puerto Rico. The reasoning for it is obvious: we are an island, and the only way to get two day shipping is by air. While Amazon could recoup costs by using ground shipping for all orders made within a given distance of one of their warehouses, this is just not possible for Puerto Rico (or Hawaii, for that matter).

Puerto Ricans began to ask Amazon to give them Amazon Prime. Amazon, please think of us! And so Amazon did. And it didn’t like what it found: a computer glitch was allowing us sneaky Puerto Ricans to benefit from free Super Saver shipping! And it was fixed.

Fouts said those addresses slipped under the radar "due to a bug in the system that was recently fixed."

"I don’t know what the reason is for not offering the free shipping option to Puerto Rico or the territories, but that’s always been our policy," Fouts said, unable to confirm the exact date the "bug" was fixed.

Now, a few months later, the Consumer Affairs Department, known as Daco, after initially threatening to sue Amazon, is fining them:

The Consumer Affairs Department has issued a fine against online retailer Amazon for failing to reasonably support its decision to take the "Super Saver" free shipping benefit away from Puerto Rico consumers, News is my Business learned Tuesday.

The initial $340,000 fine lodged two weeks ago is currently hovering at about $500,000 and will increase by $10,000 a day as long as the case is open, agency Secretary Luis Rivera-Marín said.

Okay. So we are now fining Amazon for not providing a free service on the basis that it discriminates against Puerto Rico consumers. Uh, guys, you might want to lay down the nationality card - Hawaii is also excluded from Amazon’s Free Super Saver Shipping.

Another thing you might want to look into: Puerto Rico consumers can actually get Free Super Saver Shipping! All they have to do is sign up for Amazon Prime for $79 a year. Yes, Amazon Prime is now available in Puerto Rico. The only difference is that, instead of free two day shipping, we get Free Super Saver shipping back. Wait - they are now charging for something that used to be free? The nerve! How dare they!

I signed up for Amazon Prime anyway - the first month is free - and made a couple of orders. Huh, what do you know, this Free Super Saver shipping order is being shipped by UPS 2nd Day Air. Nah, that was a mistake. Let’s try again. ParcelPool? What the heck is ParcelPool? Ah! It’s USPS Parcel Post - and it made it to my front door in two days.

Turns out Amazon Prime is actually using two day shipping even for Puerto Rico. My theory is that they won’t advertise it as such, because things could change and they might need to fall back to USPS’s Priority Shipping (what they almost always used for Free Super Saver shipping back in the day). By advertising Free Super Saver Shipping as part of Amazon Prime and not the two day shipping they actually use, they are protecting themselves from being fined by the likes of Puerto Rico’s Consumer Affairs Department. Aw, crap. Too late.

I think that, instead of threatening with lawsuits and issuing fines just because we don’t get the same services for free as the other states do, we should actually focus on what we can’t currently get at any price. Amazon will not ship electronics and household goods to Puerto Rico:

Some items from our Tools & Hardware, Electronics, and Outdoor Living stores can’t be shipped to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico if they are extremely heavy, oddly-shaped, or considered hazardous. Additionally, some items from our Health and Personal Care and Grocery stores cannot be shipped to these destinations. Check the item’s product detail page for eligibility and available shipping options. Only specific shipping options may be available for some addresses. Available shipping options will appear at checkout when you enter a shipping address.

In addition to these shipping restrictions, we also can not make use of Amazon Instant Video, which is one of the perks of Amazon Prime:

You may watch Amazon Instant Video from Hawaii, which also gets offered free Super Saver shipping as part of Prime instead of two day. It’s only Puerto Rico that is being restricted, since we are a territory. Tell me why, then, won’t the Consumer Affairs Department open an investigation into why Amazon’s content deals exclude territories such as Puerto Rico, while still being available in the District of Columbia? No, it rather chose to fine Amazon because it won’t offer us a free service.

While we’re on that topic, other retailers have brought up the Electronics Export Information declaration as one of the reasons they do not ship to Puerto Rico. It looks like whatever systems they set up to handle orders in their warehouses don’t account for these extra documents that need to be filed when shipping to Puerto Rico through UPS or FedEx. Filing these papers for one order by hand is a minor annoyance. Taking care of hundreds or thousands of orders a day that need EEI papers filed is not. The EEI declaration requirement was introduced in 2008, where were our legislators back then?

Shipments going back and forth between one of the 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico must be treated like any other “international export” under the EEI/SED requirements. On the other hand, cargo headed to American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and most of the other U.S. territories are treated as “domestic” and do not need an EEI/SED.

See that? American Samoa, Guam and other U.S. territories are excluded from having to declare an EEI! Puerto Rico is specifically treated as an “international export”. That’s a federal government requirement. What’s Hon. Pedro Pierluisi, our Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C., doing about it? Oh, right, he’s sending letters to retailers. Mr. Pierluisi, you might want to talk to your friends in Washington about that little EEI that is being used as a pretty valid excuse not to include Puerto Rico as a domestic shipping location.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi this week put the spotlight on some of the most popular online retailers, asking them to explain why they will not ship to Puerto Rico arguing among other things that the island must abide by the same federal trade and consumer protection laws as all of the 50 states.

Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rico Secretary of State, maybe you could send that information over to Pedro Pierluisi?