Amazon isn’t Amazing

You probably use them. Lots of people do. But have you ever subjected your usage to critical analysis? You should. You’ll probably be surprised, but not amazed. And if you have a firm grasp of reality you’ll be disappointed.

Amazon sells a lot of things. Moreover, they offer things for sale by other companies and individuals. This ‘business model’ has proven so successful that other on-line retailers try to imitate it. The degree of success varies; just because it looks like Amazon doesn’t mean it works like Amazon. Not that Amazon works all that well either.

The first failure is with those third party businesses. Amazon doesn’t have much control over them, although they will settle issues on sales negotiated through them and even drop retailers that garner too many complaints. Up to that point there’s a pretty wide range of buying experiences available.

What triggered my writing this missive is this morning’s notification that something I’d ordered had been shipped. Nice. And after only two weeks too. Other recent experiences have been similar, with one item taking nearly a month to show up. Now when we’re talking about buying from someone other than Amazon this isn’t something that can be laid on them. However a couple of my recent orders were “sold and shipped by Amazon”, and they still haven’t arrived either. It’s not like this is the heavy Christmas shipping season.

Now you’re probably going to suggest I go for Amazon Prime, with its promise of no fee two day shipping on most items. Well guess what, I did. It was one thing when they were obviously playing silly buggers and delaying sending over $35 orders with free shipping as a means to entice people to try Prime. I understand that sort of gimmick. Yet some of the items I’ve ordered under those circumstances showed up sooner than expected.

But here there was one item I wanted quickly without handing over nearly as much in shipping as the item itself cost (watch out for those low-price deals which then have massive shipping charges) so I tried Prime on the free trial. Normally that would be incentive for the business to go out of its way and really hustle, to make you think it is worth continuing the service for an extra $80 per year. Well, it obviously isn’t.

The order, “fulfilled by Amazon” and qualifying for Prime, sat for a week before they even figured out when they could ship it. Another order “sold and shipped by Amazon” is presented as “expected to arrive” in a week. And now I note even the “expected arrival time” before ordering is at least a week on anything I look at. That’s not really “free two-day shipping” is it? When it comes to waiting a couple of weeks for something, I’ll go with the free shipping on minimum order of $35. At least there are no false expectations with that.

Now when it comes to making up such orders you have to be careful. Amazon plays silly buggers with prices all the time, as they raise and lower them to see where they can get you to ‘bite’ on an item you’ve shown interest in. They’ll play pennies at this too. You have to be smart enough to say “no” when you see the price go up; delete it from your viewing and let the AI engine start over on analyzing your desires.

Speaking of which, it’s incredibly bad at suggestions isn’t it? This is due to three factors: the brainless simplicity of artificial intelligence, the limited categorization of items (a DVD is a DVD is a DVD), and third party sellers entering their items in as many categories as possible for maximum (albeit at times entirely incorrect) exposure. You just have to laugh. Or pity anyone who falls for it.

Can we take a moment to talk about the more absurd third party sellers? There are some that are quite straight-forward businesses who know their stuff and you can deal with them. There are some that seem to have a massive language, or perhaps intelligence, barrier problem and can’t make a sensible description/price (those are the ones who list their products under every category too). Then there are the ‘scalpers’ or possibly just plain morons who ask quite absurd sums for items without bothering to do any market research as to what others are asking (this is mainly used goods). I’ve seen some brand new items at 20X what I can buy them in a local store for, and some used things which apparently have become instant collectibles sought the world over by fabulously wealthy individuals looking to furnish their mansions. Although why they want a plastic camera for $9,876.32 to sit on the shelf next to the antique Lalique crystal I don’t know. But we have to laugh at something. One of the worst areas for absurd pricing is clothing. Just don’t go there. Never mind the fact you can not tell fit and quality from an on-line catalog and that returns are a major hassle if the item doesn’t work out. With some things it’s best to see before you buy. Most things. Almost everything in fact. Okay, literally everything.

And now back to Prime. There are other ‘bonuses’ included in the Prime package, and some people may even be able to take advantage of them. For me personally they are of no use, starting with my limited Internet service making streaming an expensive adventure in digital hell to offering of things I just plain don’t give a damn about. I wanted it for the shipping advantage, and evaluated for that I’m not sure it’s worth the extra money given how little I buy in a year even if it did work (which it doesn’t). Better to pony up some extra cash on the rare occasion I might want something faster.

But that’s me. Your situation will no doubt be different. Nevertheless you should take a critical look at your Amazon habits and see if you are using it to best advantage, or it is using you. Here’s a hint: if the Prime free shipping is really worth the money per year to you, maybe you have a consumerism problem and are just plain buying too much stuff.

Anyway, step back and take a critical look at it. After all, it’s a jungle out there.

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