Amazon (Almost) for Free

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AUTHOR: Andrew Forsythe on 6/23/2024

Do you write reviews for items you buy from Amazon? Most people probably don’t bother. But I do at times, especially if I find a particular purchase to be either great or horrible. Although the ways of the Amazon Vine program are mysterious, I’m guessing that’s why last October I was invited to join.

The Vine program allows members to pick from a daily and ever changing menu of Amazon items to receive for free. In exchange, members are required to write reviews for at least 60% of the items received. There’s a footnote to the “free” part: Amazon sends a 1099 at year end to the IRS listing the total taxable value of the items you received. You’re then responsible for paying income tax on that amount. For food and certain medical items, though, Amazon assigns a zero taxable value. So, not quite free, but seriously discounted.

Amazon merchants choose to participate in Vine if they’re launching a new product and are eager to get some early reviews posted. My feeling is that if I’m getting the items (almost) for free, I should try to review every one, not just 60%. Since October, I’ve received 46 items and I’ve reviewed 45. The one review lacking is for a TENS/EMS electrical stimulation device that I thought might be helpful for my wife’s leg and hip arthritis. Somehow she never seems to be available to try it out, maybe because she’s afraid I’ll dial the current up too high!

So what kind of items have I received over the last 8 months? It’s an extremely wide ranging list, and includes a dog bed, chair cushions, bolt cutters, a table lamp and a floor lamp, a knife block, a flashlight, steel toe boots, 2 stainless steel garden hoses, Italian biscotti, a carving knife, a large bag of macadamia nuts, a 12-pack of Ben’s risotto, a cordless tire inflator, a pressure washer, and several items my wife has found handy: slippers, a set of plant stands, a nice sweater, a huge set of makeup brushes, and more. And lest I forget, there was the 25 lb. bucket of lentils, which may last us decades.

There is a lot of chaff with the wheat. Amazon has undoubtedly figured out my age as the items on offer always include countless wheelchair accessories, canes, knee braces, shower stools, etc. But at the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been surprised to see some really wild offerings, including paternity test kits, “Nuclear / Chemical Survival Gas Masks”, at home insemination kits, and even, believe it or not, sex toys.

I’m just at the “Silver” level, which means my limit is 3 items per day (more than I’d ever choose), and the items have a list price of $100 or less each. If you’re a really ambitious Viner, you can try to make “Gold” status, which allows up to 8 items a day with no limit on the list price. I have no desire for that status as it strikes me as a full time job. But there are plenty of these “extreme Viners” out there, and a NYT article provided a peek into their very busy world.

I’ll probably tire of it eventually, but so far Amazon Vine has been fun and rewarding. And it’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to working after retirement.

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