Amazon Strategy: Just Prime the Pump with Low Grade Fuel

September 30, 2022

Have you pulled into a filling station in rural Missouri, filled your tank, and driven into the beauty of the state? Enjoyable, right. At least it was fun until the motor died because the fuel you purchased won’t run in your whale killing, dolphin destroying vehicle with a giant V8 and oversized wheels.

Bummer.

I think that’s how some Amazon employees feel after reading an email explaining that Amazons payroll department is not very good at math. You know. The hard math of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Strike that: Amazon has subtraction and division (maybe divisiveness) under control.

Oops, Amazon Emails Staff with News It Miscalculated Their Compensation” reports what may be “real news”:

A one-time bonus that was part of their compensation package had been miscalculated due to a software error and would be lower than what they had been told … The bonuses had initially been calculated using older, higher stock prices and about 40% of promoted employees this quarter were affected by the error.

No biggie. Just 40 percent of the Amazon happy tribe of Bezos bulldozer drivers.

The lower pay tier workers at the joyful Amazon money factory heard some bad news earlier, according to the write up:

Earlier this month, CEO Andy Jassy said that a $25 minimum wage is unlikely.

Interesting. Perhaps this ineptitude explains why Amazon has been less than revealing in some of its financial reports. The term for this is either inepticity, duplicity, or innumeracy, but that’s just my personal opinion.

What happened to my next day delivery?

Stephen E Arnold, September 30, 2022

Amazon and Open Source: A Me Too Spin on Microsoft and Its Extinguish Tactic?

September 26, 2022

I heard that Amazon — the lovable online bookstore — is thinking about open source software in general and open source search specifically. This is just a hunch, based on comments bandied about in the vendors’ area at a recent law enforcement conference. The attendees may not think much about Amazon as an ecosystem for bad actors but the vendors with whom I talk are:

Aware

Eager to use the AWS platform

Expressing varying degrees of concern.

Were these vendors representative of the cyber security community? Are you kidding? Were the conference attendees a cross section of the more than 100 US enforcement agencies? Nope.

So why do I mention this impression? Three reasons:

  1. Amazon, like Microsoft, provides plumbing for a number of government entities and for some darned interesting cyber security vendors in the US and elsewhere (Hello, Israel?)
  2. The US government is not a cohesive entity. One of the regulatory agencies, which I shall not name, is thinking hard thoughts about the friendly online bookstore. I have heard that third party seller activity (Amazon’s and some seller), Amazon’s human centric management approach, and some of Amazon’s surfing on data generated by resellers, vendors, and possibly home shoppers are topics of interest.
  3. Years ago, Amazon hired some Lucid Imagination open source search professionals and plopped the wizards in the Bezos Bulldozer’s Burlingame office. Evolving from that “lucid” input, the venerable online bookstore engaged in a game of fork you with Elastic, a company associated with the open source Elasticsearch, for fee services, and a digital animal dubbed ELK.

These reasons cause me to recall one of the principal conclusions my team and I formulated when we wrote “Open Source Search Report” for a mid tier consulting firm. (Unsurprisingly the company changed hands and the study was split apart with individual chapters going for $3,000 each on — guess what online bookstore? Give up? It was Amazon.

I reflected on the conclusion in our monograph: Open source is the domain of large corporate entities. Why? Open source was pretty much free and could be changed. Plus, unpaid open source enthusiasts would find and fix software problems.

One of the reasons enterprise search in general and content processing in particular has been a company killer is that search is not an “application.” Search is weirdly personal, and each enterprise search client wanted a system that would work for the many silos within an organizational structure.

The information super highway is littered with search road kill. Many of the names are long forgotten. When was the last time you longer for the francophone centric Delphis or the enterprise powerhouse Entopia?

Why am I thinking about Amazon and open source search?

I read “Open Source Bait and Switch” with the fetching and click magnet subtitle “When OSS advocacy goes too far & corporate greed takes over, free software is used as a tool to destroy competition and hurt the developer community.”

I noted these statements in the article, which is in step with our 2011 research. (Yep, more than a decade ago, which I find interesting.)

let me highlight a couple of statements from the article which arrested my attention this morning (Monday, September 26, 2022).

Take Elastic search. They were open source and killing it. But AWS was forking and not really helping their bottom line. So Elastic changed their license to block AWS. AWS started their own fork. Some people vilify Elastic in this story but those people probably never had to fight Amazon for the survival of their business. In this case, both sides weaponised open source in a business fight.

Also:

I love open source and think it’s remarkably important. That’s why we shouldn’t let corporations weaponize it.

And:

Major corporations use open source as a weapon to fight each other, we seem to benefit in the short term. But as they win the corporate mindset takes over and they double down on control.

What’s shaking at Amazon? Based on my vantage point and my limited viewshed, I will hazard several observations:

  1. Amazon wants to dominate via search and retrieval because it is a utility that is essential for next generate search based applications.
  2. Amazon wants to strike at its competitors, which are estimable organizations obviously, and deprive them of any advantage these firms may be perceived to have when it comes to findability. Could these be great outfits like Google and Microsoft as well as annoying start ups like Algolia and the almost laughable Gulliver of search in Canada as well as an interesting entity morphing as I write this essay? (Want names? Sorry, not in a free blog, you silly goose.)
  3. Amazon lacks imagination, and it is — in my opinion — manifesting the old Microsoft method of embrace, extend, and extinguish. Yep, extinguish. In my view, Amazon is showing other outstanding for profit entities how to attack competitors, community minded open source developers, and users of Amazon AWS simultaneously. None of the “special operation” thinking that has been in the news lately. Amazon is operating strategically and tactically with a single minded purpose. Split up the bookstore and each part will grow bigger than it is today.

Should I worry that my eBook won’t arrive or the French bulldog’s winter coat fail to show up tomorrow? Nah. What about open source, the community thing, the free thing. Yep, worry is good.

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2022

Amazon Needs More Lobbyists, More Former Government Professionals… Pronto!

September 26, 2022

I have no idea about Amazon’s lobbying efforts. I don’t want to know. The money spent on DC insiders and Beltway Bandits makes me wish I still lived in the DC area. Selling work? Not too tough for those with connections. Heh, heh, if you know what I mean. Also, I am not confident that the modern RNA treatment for Potomac Fever works. What is supposed to chug along with reasonable predictability is influence peddling.

Amazon Loses Effort to Exclude Jassy and Bezos from Testifying in FTC Prime Probe” seems to highlight an instance when events don’t go according to a plan. I learned from the allegedly real news CNBC story:

The Federal Trade Commission late Wednesday rejected Amazon’s bid to exclude CEO Andy Jassy and founder Jeff Bezos from testifying in a probe into the retail giant’s Prime program.

I can hear the “Commissioner, thank you for that question. I don’t know the complete answer. I will have the information you request sent to your office, etc, etc.”

Prime is a subscription or membership or a knock off of a low rent country club. Members get special treatment; for example, Thursday night football games, allegedly better-faster-cheaper delivery, and benefits at an Amazon grocery store like free delivery. Sorry, strike that free delivery for any Prime member. There’s even a page which explains what a member-subscriber-spender gets at this link and here.

The write up says:

The FTC has been investigating sign-up and cancellation processes for Amazon’s Prime program since March 2021. The agency is looking into whether Amazon deceives users into signing up for Prime, while failing to provide a simple way to cancel and avoid recurring charges. The Prime subscription program, which costs $139 a year and includes perks like free shipping, now has some 200 million subscribers worldwide. Amazon said last month it has been complying with the FTC’s requests so far, producing some 37,000 pages of documents.

I am curious about other Amazon business activities which may warrant some scrutiny; for example, certain interesting content on Twitch, products which appear to be from a well known “brand” but are slightly different from those in old fashioned stores, and the mechanisms for charging for certain functions on AWS.

Amazon Fire up the C-SPAN, get the popcorn, and tally the number of “thank you for the question” answers. Exciting. A bit late in the Monopoly game, but good theater.

Lobbyists will be watching to learn what to put in their next pitch to the Amazonians assigned to make this hearing stuff go away.

Stephen E Arnold, September 26, 2022

Amazon and Fake Reviews: Ah, Ha, Fake Reviews Exist

September 5, 2022

I read “Amazon’s Delay for the Rings of Power Reviews on Prime Video Part of New Initiative to Filter Out Trolls.” The write up makes reasonably official the factoid that Amazon reviews are, in many cases, more fanciful than the plot of Rings of Power.

The write up states:

The series appears to have been review bombed — when trolls flood intentionally negative reviews for a show or film — on other sites like Rotten Tomatoes, where it has an 84% rating from professional critics, but a 37% from user-submitted reviews. “The Rings of Power” has been fending off trolls for months, especially ones who take issue with the decision to cast actors of color as elves, dwarves, hand waves and other folk of Tolkien’s fictional Middle-earth.

Amazon wants to be a good shepherd for truth. The write up says:

Amazon’s new initiative to review its reviews, however, is designed to weed out ones that are posted in bad faith, deadening their impact. In the case of “A League of Their Own,” it appears to have worked: To date, the show has an average 4.3 out of 5 star rating on Prime Video, with 80% of users rating the show with five stars and 14% with one star.

Interesting. My view is that Amazon hand waves about fake reviews but for those which could endanger its own video product. Agree with me or not, Amazon is revealing that fake reviews are an issue. What about those reviews for Chinese shirts which appear to have been fabricated for folks in the seventh grade? SageMaker, what’s up?

Stephen E Arnold, September 12, 2022

Online Bookstore and Health Services: No Problem

September 1, 2022

After getting a taste of delectable patient data, Amazon is ready to leap headlong into the healthcare field by purchasing primary-care service One Medical. What could go wrong? Time reporters Roger McNamee and Johnny Ryan answer that rhetorical question in, “Amazon’s Dangerous Ambition to Dominate Healthcare.” Amazon has repeatedly shown it cannot be trusted with personal information, despite its avowals to the contrary. Why would a trove of the most sensitive, and potentially lucrative, data be any different? The article observes:

“Recent scandals revealed that Amazon uses the data collected for supposedly innocent reasons in ways that betray our trust. Amazon staff say there are no limits on how Amazon uses this data internally. According to Amazon’s former head of information security: ‘We have no idea where our [freaking] data is.’ One Medical receives health information about children, families, the elderly, and vulnerable. That includes information about substance abuse, mental health issues, and other intimate conditions. We cannot be confident that Amazon will treat this new data any better than it has treated its existing data hoard. Our secrets are not safe inside Amazon. And it is not just consumers who are at risk. Other companies that compete with or sell through Amazon will almost certainly be harmed. Amazon uses data collected from one part of its business to help other parts. For example, it competes with retailers that sell on its platform by exploiting its insider data about their businesses. More data – especially intimate data – increases Amazon’s market power over consumers and competitors.”

There is one potential obstacle to this deal: the FTC has yet to approve it. The authors urge the commission to nip this especially troublesome tendril of surveillance capitalism now. It would be a welcome sign, they say, that the government is finally ready to protect citizens from big tech’s growing abuse of personal data. One can dream.

Cynthia Murrell, September 1, 20221

Amazon Leaps into Slow Motion Action

August 25, 2022

As Amazon continues its valiant struggle against fake reviews, it still insists social media is to blame. Now, though, instead of chiding social media itself, the company is going after those who use Facebook and other platforms to generate false reviews for profit. DigitalTrends reports, “Amazon Sues 10,000 Facebook Groups over Fake Reviews.” That is a lot of defendants. Writer Trevor Mogg tells us:

“‘These groups are set up to recruit individuals willing to post incentivized and misleading reviews on Amazon’s stores in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Japan,’ the company said in a post on its website. It added: ‘The fraudsters behind such groups solicit fake reviews for hundreds of products available for sale on Amazon, including car stereos and camera tripods.’ One of the Facebook groups mentioned in Amazon’s lawsuit is called Amazon Product Review. It had more than 43,000 members when Facebook-owned Meta kicked it off its platform earlier this year. Amazon said that the group’s administrators tried to hide their activity and evade detection by slightly altering the spelling of words in phrases designed to alert A.I.-powered software that searches for fake reviews. Amazon said it has more than 12,000 employees globally working to protect its shopping site from fraud and abuse, including fake reviews. Another Amazon-employed team is tasked with identifying fake review schemes on social media platforms that include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.”

We are told Meta has removed about half the groups Amazon has brought to its attention and is investigating others. The sleuths have kept millions of suspicious reviews away from customers, we learn, and the company expects this more proactive step to stop many more and hold scammers accountable. Great! Now, what about the gig work sites which list people ready to create fake reviews?

Cynthia Murrell, August 25, 2022

Amazon Twitches with Never Complain, Never Explain

August 18, 2022

In 2019, I included a short case example in a lecture for the National Cyber Crime Conference attendees about a Twitch luminary to be. The creator’s name was and is “iBabyRainbow.” The individual wears a bathing suit, purports to be a teen, and cavorts in San Diego. The creator also has some interesting videos findable via Web queries with the name “BabyRainbow.” I pointed out that Amazon Twitch seemed A-Okay with this creator. I checked to see if this creator was still online after I read “Twitch’s Zero-Explanation Bans Continue to Baffle Streamers, This Time a Popular VTuber.” I was and remain puzzled how the “iBabyRainbow” persona fits into the Amazon Twitch rules of the information highway.

The answer, if the information in the cited article is accurate, Amazon Twitch adopts the British upper class maxim “Never complain, never explain..”

The write up describes the plight of a creator who is a cartoon or in young person speak a “VR chat model.” Viewers watch a cartoon and interact in real time. I think this means that the VR chat model talks to the viewers. Interesting but not exactly comprehensible to this dinobaby. I get the willing suspension of disbelief argument, but, actually, no, I don’t get it. At all.

The write tip states:

Shylily and the many other streamers who make a living on the platform are frustrated with Twitch’s lack of communication when it comes to abrupt suspensions. In May(opens in new tab), the streaming site said it was looking into providing more context with the bans it sends out, but hasn’t made any further announcements about implementing this policy. At the time, Twitch said it stood by the accuracy of 99% of its suspension decision.

I interpret this as “never complain, never explain.” Very upper crust, old chap and chapatti. My perception is that Amazon Twitch wants to avoid being tangled in its own rules. Without spelling out the rules on the Amazon Twitch information highway, the company retains some flexibility. The Amazon Twitch executives can do the “Senator, thank you for the question” and the stone walling of which some legal eagles have considerable expertise.

And iBabyRainbow? A bit of a mystery that. A cartoon is problematic but a “teen” on a motorized skateboard holding a mobile phone with a rainbow colored swim suit? Perfectly okay for the teen agers who seek inspiration from Amazon Twitch stars. This dinobaby does not understand.

Stephen E Arnold, August 18, 2022

Google YouTube: Trying to Put Sand in Amazon and TikTok Product Search? Yep. Yep. Yep.

July 29, 2022

Most people don’t think too much about the impact of Amazon’s ecommerce search. It mostly works and the savvy shopper knows how to spot a third party reseller scam brand. (You do, don’t you?) Here’s a bit of anecdotal context. Amazon product search has chewed into Google search. In the post-Froogle years, Amazon sold online books. Then Amazon started adding products. With the products came reviews. Some reviews were Fiverr-type service generated but a few — the exact percentage like the number of bogus Twitter accounts — is not known.

People around the world use Amazon ecommerce search to find products, get basic information, and some useful, some misinformation about a particular product.

The impact on the Google has been significant. The number kicked around among my slightly dull research team is a decrease of 30 percent in product search in 2021. How does one know that Amazon has done more to cause pain at the Google than many know? Easy. Google took a former Verity wizard (you remember Verity, right?) and used high school reunion type pressure to get that person to indicate that Google product search was going to get a couple of steroid injections, a tummy tuck, and a butt lift. These are digital enhancements, of course. Google is not a humanoid, despite Google management’s insistence on its sentience.

YouTube and Shopify Just Started Livestream Selling and You Should Too” explains:

YouTube just announced a partnership with Shopify.

Yep, the company that media luminary and business wizard Scott Gallagher touted for several months on a popular podcast featuring insights and school yard humor. (Was Google won over by Guru Gallagher’s blend of insight and George Carlin thinking?)

The article points out:

Social selling is the shopping experience of the future.

The write up adds a bit of color to what seems like a “next big thing.” Spoiler: It’s not.

My reaction to the write up? The most important point should be that Google is racing (possibly out of control) to find a way to stop the loss of product search clicks. Hence, TikTok me too videos with product endorsements. Hence, a deal with a modern version of Yahoo stores. Hence, a tie up to use Shopify as a war horse.

My view: Too late. Amazon, TikTok, and a handful of other product centric ecommerce services are sitting behind their revenue ramparts. Google doesn’t have the weaponry it did before the erosion became noticeable in 2006. Froogle? Froogle? Long gone. But the spirit of Verity is here to claw back the product search traffic. Exciting.

Stephen E Arnold, July 29, 2022

Amazon: Other Trivial Changes Post Bezos

July 18, 2022

I read “Amazon CEO Andy Jassy Breaks from the Bezos Way.” I suppose the sentence “He was very inquisitive” sums up a key difference. Did Mr. Bezos know? Does Mr. Jassy not know? The thrust of the write up is that Amazon is changing. Like many “real” news discussions of the Bezos bulldozer with a new person at the controls, some small — and probably irrelevant to many. From my point of view, a few small changes suggest rather interesting adjustments for the giant online bookstore.

Let’s look quickly at four small changes and conclude with a question.

First, if you want to manage books on a Kindle reader, the process is now cumbersome, unintuitive, and ill advised. Why? People who read want to know what books are on the Kindle, ready to read. Also, when one finishes a book, some people — including me — want to remove the book from the device. No more. Now once has to be quite careful when trying to navigate the device; otherwise, one buys books. How does one connect from a WiFi network? That process is also convoluted, and I use a simple trick: A Faraday set up. Doesn’t everyone have one? The software is not a Dark Pattern; it’s an indication of Amazon’s desire to make what once worked unworkable for some.

Second, order certain products and then try to cancel them. Sorry. The cancel order policy has changed and results in messages like this:

image

I like the hope to see you again. My hunch is that you will be seeing some people less and less.

Third, news is circulating in the “real” news stream about Amazon releasing certain Ring data without the warrant process being followed. “Today I Learned Amazon Has a Form So Police Can Get My Data without Permission or a Warrant” allegedly presents this Amazon policy and discusses it. If the write up is accurate, my thought is that following legal procedures is a helpful policy. Defense attorneys love to discover this type of work around. The result is that expensive investigations can get thrown out and alleged bad actors can resume their activities. That’s a change worth monitoring.

Finally, have you tried to reach Amazon customer support? Give it a whirl. Our test efforts to contact Amazon and AWS went nowhere literally. The chatbots and logic are set up to lead one back to forms which are like merry-go-rounds. Fun for the young at heart. For a customer with a problem, the process is not too amusing.

To sum up, there are changes at Amazon post Bezos. Lobbying is one facet of the brave new world for the online bookstore. The other shifts may be as or more important. Is Amazon a monopoly? That’s a good question.

Context is important in my opinion.

Stephen E Arnold, July 18, 2022

Amazon Statistical Factoid: House Brands

July 18, 2022

I read “Amazon Slashing Private-Label Selection amid Weak Sales: Report.” The source is the estimable Fox News, which like the Wall Street Journal, is affiliated with the fantastic Murdoch information potentate. Within the Fox-ish story is a factoid, which I am not able to absorb without some of that faux salt stuff sold to some with cardiac issues.

Here is the factoid. Believe it or not.

As of 2020, Amazon’s private-label business offered 45 house brands accounting for 243,000 products.

As I understand it, the idea for slapping a private label on a product is to capture sales that would otherwise go to a merchant. That merchant may make more money than some outfits I know. One of those unnamed outfits simply approaches the manufacturer, places a big order with a special label, and offer the product at a price that delivers the cash to the “me too” merchant.

I assume that successful outfits like Mother Teresa’s original fund raising organization and Amazon-like companies would never attempt to get more money and discriminate against the poor and down trodden. Nope, never. Ever.

Let’s assume that Amazon is changing its house brand policy. Okay, why? What are some possible reasons?

  1. Amazon wants to reduce its costs and rethink how it interacts with the rock-solid third party sells apparatus. (I love plurals which I can spell apparati, albeit incorrectly.)
  2. Amazon wants to amass some fungible evidence that it is a really equitable outfit, eager to operate in a fair, transparent manner.
  3. Amazon’s forecast team senses trouble ahead.

I think Amazon may be facing some headwinds: Prime Day doldrums, assorted legal hassles about certain products, and backlash potential from regulators.

Yeah, and some less Fox-y news is here.

Stephen E Arnold, July 18, 2022

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