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7 money-saving Amazon shopping hacks

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Amazon (AMZN) may be known as a retailer that offers low prices on everything from books to toys, but beyond that are also some little-known hacks that can save you both money and time.

Some of these strategies are available only to customers who have signed up for Amazon Prime, however. That service costs $99 per year and includes free two-day shipping and free video streaming of TV shows and movies on Prime Instant Video. Of course, Prime isn't for everyone: It's most cost-effective for people who place at least 18 orders annually, according to Consumer Reports.

For frugal Americans, there's another downside to becoming a Prime member, aside from the $99 annual fee (Amazon is offering Prime for $67 just for Friday, Sept. 25, to celebrate its five Emmy awards). Customers who opt for the service tend to open their wallets more -- a lot more. Prime members shell out about $1,500 on average each year, compared with $625 per year for Amazon customers who haven't signed up for the service, according to a report issued earlier this year from market research company Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Not all the following hacks are for Prime members, however. Some are basic strategies that will help no matter what type of Amazon customer you are.

Read on to learn more.

Get a refund if the price drops within a week

Amazon.com

Like some bricks-and-mortar retailers, Amazon will refund the difference if an item's price declines after you buy it.

Retailers have different policies when it comes to price protection, with clothing stores such as Banana Republic and Anthropologie offering a 14-day window. When it comes to Amazon, however, shoppers have seven days to claim a price-drop refund. The refund doesn't include items sold by third-party vendors, according to Lifehacker.

It even worked with a Prime membership itself, noted Kristin Cook, managing editor of Ben's Bargains. She recounted how her own Prime service had just auto-renewed for $99 when Amazon had announced a sale on the service, pricing it at $72 for a year.

"I went on to chat (with customer service), and they said they'd put the difference in my account," she said. Her Amazon account was credited with $27.

If you notice an item has dropped in price, you can chat with an Amazon customer service rep online by going to the "Contact Us" page and requesting an online chat. Customer service is also available via phone and email.

​Check clickable coupons

Amazon.com

Amazon does actually use coupons, but they aren't the kind that customers clip from the newspaper. The digital coupons work when shoppers click on a coupon on the site, such as for Hershey's Halloween chocolates or Huggies diapers. Many of the digital coupons are for grocery items, although Amazon also offers coupons on electronics and accessories, such as iPhone cases.

The easy way to track down the coupons is to visit Amazon's coupon page to check if any deals appeal to you.

Get cheaper textbooks

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Textbook are often the bane of students' (and their families') lives, thanks to their high cost. The average price of a text book jumped almost 10 percent to $68 from from 2006 to 2011, according to the College Board, which estimates that college students on average spend at least $1,200 annually on books and supplies.

One way to find lower-price textbooks is to search on CheapRiver.com, a site that compares book prices across Amazon's international sites. Searching for "Research Methods in Psychology," for instance, finds that the best price can be found from Amazon's U.K. site, where it sells for $96.77, compared with $117.84 at Amazon's U.S. site. Even with shipping costs, buying from the U.K. site is about $10 cheaper than in the U.S.

Get free shipping on Prime Pantry

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Prime Pantry was introduced about a year ago as a way to consolidate a big order of packaged foods and grocery items into one box for home delivery. Even though it's available only for Prime members, the Pantry service tacks on a flat shipping fee of $5.99, which has annoyed some Prime members.

There's a way to get around the shipping cost, however. Amazon is offering free shipping on Prime Pantry as long as customers buy four additional snack items or cereals. The items range from granola bars to Cheerios. Of course, if your family doesn't want those products, the deal won't make a lot of sense for your wallet.

Otherwise, Prime Pantry probably makes the most sense for people who live in rural locations or in big cities, where hauling heavy bags of groceries sometimes isn't practical.

"For people who live in more rural settings who don't have access to big-box retailers, it's probably cheaper than a grocery delivery because you can fit as much as you want in the boxes and it's $5.99," said Ben Bargain's Cook.

Upgrade your shipping for less

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This hack for Prime members has a fair chance of delivering items to you faster, but it's not guaranteed, cautioned Cook of Ben's Bargains.

For customers who want one-day shipping on several items in their order, one strategy is to pay $3.99 for one-day shipping on one item and leave the other items at free two-day shipping. It's likely that Amazon will send you all the items in one box sent with one-day shipping.

"It's one of those worth-a-try hacks," Cook said. "It's 50/50, because it depends on how they package the items."

The broke student discount

Amazon.com

Students are notoriously strapped for funds, and Amazon has an offer to appeal to their frugal natures: six months of free Amazon Prime through its Amazon Student service.

Membership provides some of the same benefits as the regular Prime service, such as free two-day shipping. However, one catch is that Amazon provides its streaming music and video service to students only after the six-month free trial is up.

Still, after the trial Amazon will charge students only half of the normal $99 Prime fee. Students also receive a $5 credit for each friend they refer.

Didn’t get your item? Get one month of free Prime

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Prime members are paying $99 a year for two-day free shipping, and it can be frustrating when those deliveries don't show up on time. But disappointed Prime customers have a recourse, according to Ben's Bargains' Cook.

If a shipment takes longer than two days, Prime members can contact Amazon to report it and ask for a month free of Prime service, a value of $8.25. In some cases, Amazon may offer other credits, on a case-by-case evaluation, the company told Reuters earlier this year.

Those other options include offering to rush a new delivery, for instance. You can also get credits if you're not in a hurry: Customers who opt for "no-rush" shipping will receive a $1 credit toward buying ebooks, digital music or videos.

The trick for getting the credit on late deliveries is contacting Amazon yourself, Cook said.

"They won't do it automatically," she said, adding that she has done it herself. "Why do I pay for a membership if I'm not going to get it in two days?"

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