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Last year, Amazon stopped offering Prime members free delivery from Whole Foods, instead charging customers a $9.95 fee per order, so it's easy to understand why some members might be upset. No one likes suddenly paying for something that was previously free. But was the policy change illegal? A pair of new lawsuits suggest that Amazon may have misled its Prime customers, and potential new customers, by changing the terms.
On Tuesday, an Amazon Prime member in California filed a proposed class action lawsuit suggesting that Amazon misleads customers by implying free Whole Foods delivery is still part of the Prime subscription. This legal action comes less than two weeks after a similar lawsuit where two plaintiffs allege that Amazon should have either provided refunds or given the option to cancel subscriptions after removing this "key perk," according to a report from The Seattle Times.
The May lawsuit reportedly accuses Amazon of using delivery from the upmarket grocer to lure in new Prime members before they then "pulled the rug out from its customers." "Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Amazon Prime members paid for a membership because they wanted to take advantage of Prime's free Whole Foods delivery service," court documents state according to the site Top Class Actions. "As a result of Amazon's unfair business practices, consumers paid $119 for a service that was unfairly terminated."
"Amazon has engaged in unfair business practices, breached its duty of good faith and deprived Prime members of the benefit of their bargain," the lawsuit reportedly continued.
Meanwhile, the more recent lawsuit alleges that, even after tacking on the $9.95 Whole Foods service fee, Amazon still misleads customers both by implying that free delivery from Whole Foods is still included as a Prime benefit and also by not mentioning the price of delivery until after an order is started.
"In addition to Amazon's false representations that Prime members will receive 'FREE Delivery' and 'FREE 2-Hour Grocery Delivery,' Amazon engages in a bait-and-switch advertising scheme by not disclosing the $9.95 service fee along with the advertised price of the Whole Foods grocery items," the court filing states. "Amazon's practice of initially advertising only part of a price and then later revealing the service fee as the consumer completes the buying process has been labeled 'drip pricing' by the Federal Trade Commission ('FTC'). Amazon uses drip pricing to bamboozle consumers using the tried and true classic, and unlawful, bait advertising scheme."
As The Seattle Times points out, the price of Amazon Prime membership itself has also continued to increase, most recently from $119 to $139 annually and from $12.99 to $14.99 monthly.
Food & Wine has reached out to Amazon for comment but had not yet received a response at the time of publication.