A New York Times review of Brad Stone’s book The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon reminded me how much Amazon.com has been aimed to please customers and inspire brand loyalty. I am among the millions seduced by its discounted prices, buying hundreds of books every year from them, while bookstores around me have been forced out of business, unable to compete with the behemoth’s discounts. As it has extended to selling other things than media products and to manufacturing books itself, I have given little thought to Amazon giving back nothing (starting with jobs) to where I live, that is, the collateral damage of the emerging retail monopoly. When I have tried to “buy locally,” I have often not been able to find what I seek (and I live in a major metropolitan area!) and made some large purchases from Amazon.
I don’t object to raising the floor for free shipping from $25 to $35, as it has just done. The offer of cheap e-versions of books that I have bought print copies from Amazon does not appeal to me, but does not seem evil to me. The considerable information from my purchases that enables recommendations of what might interest me does not bother me as much as the data-mining by Google (where the first commandment purportedly used to be “do no evil”) or Facebook. (I easily weaned myself from LinkedIn.)
The customercentricity that has alienated me from my main supplier of media products and occasional supplier of other kinds of products is as a small-time seller rather than a seemingly compulsive buyer. The official Amazon statement says:
“Amazon provides a platform for third-party sellers (“Sellers”) and buyers (“Buyers”) to negotiate and complete transactions. Amazon is not involved in the actual transaction between Sellers and Buyers and is not the agent of Sellers except for the limited purpose of processing payments and has no agency authority for any other purpose, and Amazon is not the agent of Buyers for any purpose.”
“Because Amazon is not the agent of Seller except for the limited purpose of processing payments and is not the agent of Buyer for any purpose, Amazon will not act as either party’s agent in connection with resolving any disputes between participants related to or arising out of any transaction. Amazon urges Sellers and Buyers to cooperate with each other to resolve such disputes.”
Twice in my experience as a seller, buyers have made false claims directly without using the Amazon communication with seller facility and Amazon has provided full refunds. The first time, some years back, a buyer alleged she did not receive the book that I sent. I was supposed to have time to respond and responded within hours of the e-mail from the company being sent to me, asking whether packages sent to the buyer were in an area open to anyone else. Amazon had already granted a refund and claimed to be unable to undo what it had decided to do.
In the second instance, I received a message about allegations I am certain are false in “Buyer-Seller Messages.” I responded the same day. A few days later I received e-mail from Amazon that the buyer’s claim was accepted because I had failed to respond. I knew I had responded at some length. (It is possible that the spiral-bound book was damaged in transit by the USPS, which could be established with a digital photo of the package received in this particular instance.)
I was referred to the Marketplace Participation Agreement (from which the previous two quotations derive), which does not inform (warn) sellers anything at all about closing claims and refusing to provide information about the claimant’s history or “the case.” To be sure I had not missed something in my reading, I extracted the text and searched for “clos,” which only found forms of “disclose.” Similarly, there is nothing in this document about “Buyer-Seller Messages.” There is also nothing in the agreement about refunding payments to orderers (if they are refunded the full price plus shipping costs, they cannot still be called “buyers”) who do not return the product ordered.The support person who referred me to the Marketplace Participation Agreement
lied to me, and Amazon in effect was an accomplice with the person who ordered
the book that I sent, lied about it, paid nothing for it, and did not return it.
To me this is a bias in favor of the customer of pathological (and possibly
In sum, Amazon is good for buyers and those seeking to get products without paying for them. It is not good for sellers, in general. I do not think the “buyer-seller messages” software works properly. And it seems necessary for sellers not only to buy tracking for everything shipped but to photograph the product before shipping. I think that e-Bay is more seller-protecting. My experience as a buyer on e-Bay is that misrepresentation by sellers of products is accepted.
And for society in general, the concentration of control over the market (including, now, production of hardcopy books and e-books for its product (Kindles) is bad. Forcing local stores (not just bookstores) out of business is bad for every locality except Washington’s King County (Seattle). I was endeavoring to buy more locally even before Amazon colluded in stealing an expensive book from me.