Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 4, 2016

Amazon.com and the Decay of America


The non-virtual Amazon is under siege, while an Internet behemoth has its way with us.

I turned 51 a few weeks ago. In a way, I always wondered if I would actually make it this far. But I did. [High five!]  Thanks to all who have kept me safe and (relatively) sane over the years.  I’m feeling good, so I plan to stick around awhile longer –if you’ll have me. [Knock wood…]

Also, since by now I have earned the standard-issue “old fogie’s right of complaint”, let me get a few things off my chest about what is bugging me these days.

Firstly, despite what our shallow United States (or “developed world”) opinion-makers would have us believe, the world is not a marketplace, and I am more than the numbers on my weekly pay stub, or what I buy with that money. 

I’ve been discussing the whole question of what, why and how Americans buy stuff for decades now. I do it occasionally on the blog, and Facebook– but I ain’t got a big cadre of followers, so you may have missed those posts. Most recently (like the past six years), I’ve just privately traded stories with a few close friends or family, and presently pretty much just with my fiancé Susan. Nobody else seems to care about my amateur sociology and economic critique anyway, so I mostly don’t rant about consumerism and corporate hypocrisy as much as I used to.

However, the small incident last month that brought it up again was yet another errant purchase of a defective item from Amazon.com : a DVD Susan got me for my birthday. It was a sealed two-disc set of the remastered “Singin’ In the Rain”, plus all the bonus material. I opened the case a few days later, and there was only a bonus disc. No movie. 

That makes at least six problem products –out of about eight total purchases– which either went “bad” immediately or else had delivery problems. That’s in just the three years since she and I have been together. Not a good average for Amazon, right?

Mostly it has been shoddy (probably all Chinese) consumer electronics, manufactured by third-party companies: two small “hybrid”  laptops with detachable touchscreens (one by ASUS and one by Acer), one phablet style smart phone. Then there was a full-spectrum light therapy light that arrived damaged, a crafting desk/cabinet for which the third-party freight company screwed up a *scheduled* delivery, and now the DVD.

When Amazon started, books and DVDs were their bread and butter. (That was in 1994,  …yes, the Dark Ages as measured in Internet Time…)  Now they sell everything, while their Borders Books and Circuit City competitors are mostly bankrupt. But they get more than half of it wrong. The UPS Store guy confirmed yesterday (when we returned the DVD) that their biggest volume is from Amazon returns.  So apparently Amazon is big enough now that they need not care about quality anymore. They get the repeat business anyway, …or else make better money instead by selling us virtual products made up of 0’s and 1’s (streamed content, ebooks, and the like). 

There were once anti-trust laws that reduced this level of “monopoly/collusion” bullshit, but those laws have no teeth anymore. Same goes for consumer protection and Quality Assurance laws (if they ever did have an impact, which I doubt). So now, unless a product is literally killing people, manufacturers can cut corners all day long, knowing we will just buy a new one in a year when the present item breaks. 

When’s the last time you had a pair of shoes repaired professionally?

I’m not sure who to blame here. But I will think twice about buying from Amazon from now on, just as I started doing with Wal-mart a long time ago, over similar quality issues, plus their unfair labor practices. 

Susan and I may be just two Davids in the face of these Goliaths, but even a gnat can get the better of a clumsy, lazy lion almost every time, if we are to believe that old fable from Aesop.

But when it comes to governance, commerce and an ethic of fairness… Where is that Ancient Greek wisdom now, when we need it most? Who’s minding the world’s biggest store?


Responses

  1. Good post, Mark. You are right, quality products are not the “normal” any more.


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