Amazon: The Online Bookstore Has a Wet Basement and Termites

February 15, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

I read a less-than-positive discussion of my favorite online bookstore Amazon. The analysis appears in the “real” news publication New York Magazine. The essay is a combo: Some news, some commentary, some management suggestions.


Two dinobabies are thinking about the good old days at Amazon. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Your indigestion on February 9, 2024, appears to have worked itself out. How’s that security coming along? Heh heh heh.

In my opinion, the news hook for “The Junkification of Amazon: Why Does It Feel Like the Company Is Making Itself Worse?” is that Amazon needs to generate revenue, profits, and thrill pulses for stakeholders. I understand this idea. But there is a substantive point tucked into the write up. Here it is:

The view of Amazon from China is worth considering everywhere. Amazon lets Chinese manufacturers and merchants sell directly to customers overseas and provides an infrastructure for Prime shipping, which is rare and enormously valuable. It also has unilateral power to change its policies or fees and to revoke access to these markets in an instant

Amazon has found Chinese products a useful source of revenue. What I think is important is that Temu is an outfit focused on chopping away at Amazon’s vines around the throats of its buyers and sellers. My hunch is that Amazon is not able to regain the trust buyers and sellers once had in the company. The article focuses on “junkification.” I think there is a simpler explanation; to wit:

Amazon has fallen victim to decision craziness. Let me offer a few suggestions.

First, consider the Kindle. A person who reads licenses an ebook for a Kindle. The Kindle software displays:

  • Advertisements which are intended to spark another purchase
  • An interface which does not provide access to the specific ebooks stored on the device
  • A baffling collection of buttons, options, and features related to bookmarks and passages a reader finds interesting. However, the tools are non-functional when someone like me reads content like the Complete Works of William James or keeps a copy of the ever-popular Harvard “shelf of books” on a Kindle.

For me, the Kindle is useless, so I have switched to reading ebooks on my Apple iPad. At least, I can figure out what’s on the device, what’s available from the Apple store, and where the book I am currently reading is located. However, Amazon has not been thinking about how to make really cheap Kindle more useful to people who still read books.

A second example is the wild and crazy collection of features. I attempted to purchase a pair of grey tactical pants. I found the fabric I wanted. I skipped the weird pop ups. I ignored the videos. And the reviews? Sorry. Sales spam. I located the size I needed. I ordered. The product would arrive two days after I ordered. Here’s what happened:

  • The pants were marked 32 waist, 32 inseam, but the reality was a 28 inch waist and a 28 inch inseam. The fix? I ordered the pants directly from the US manufacturer and donated the pants to the Goodwill.
  • Returns at Amazon are now a major hassle at least in Prospect, Kentucky.
  • The order did not come in two days as promised. The teeny weensy pants came in five days. The norm? Incorrect delivery dates. Perfect for porch pirates, right?

A third example is one I have mentioned in this blog and in my lectures about online fraud. I ordered a CPU. Amazon shipped me a pair of red panties. Nope, neither my style nor a CPU. About 90 days after the rather sporty delivery, emails, and an article in this blog, Amazon refunded my $550. The company did not want me to return the red panties. I have them hanging on my server room’s Movin’ Cool air conditioner.

The New York Magazine article does not provide much about what’s gone wrong at Amazon. I think my examples make clear these management issues:

  1. Decisions are not customer centric. Money is more important that serving the customer which is a belabored point in numerous Jeff Bezos letters before he morphed into a Miami social magnet.
  2. The staff at Amazon have no clue about making changes that ensure a positive experience for buyers or sellers. Amazon makes decisions to meet goals, check off an item on a to do list, or expend the minimum amount of mental energy to provide a foundation for better decisions for buyers and sellers.
  3. Amazon’s management is unable to prevent decision rot in several, quite different businesses. The AWS service has Byzantine pricing and is struggling to remain competitive in the midst of AI craziness. The logistics business cannot meet delivery targets displayed to a customer when he or she purchases a product. The hardware business is making customers more annoyed than at any previous time. Don’t believe me? Just ask a Ring customer about the price increase or an Amazon Prime customer about advertising in Amazon videos. And Kindle users? It is obvious no one at Amazon pays much attention to Kindle users so why start now? The store front functions are from Bizarro World. I have had to write down on notecards where to find my credit card “points,” how to navigate directly to listings for used music CDs, where my licensed Amazon eBooks reside and once there what the sort options actually do, and what I need to do when a previously purchased product displays lawn mowers, not men’s white T shirts.

Net net: I appreciate the Doctorow-esque word “junkification.” That is close to what Amazon is doing: Converting products and services into junk. Does Amazon’s basement have a leak? Are those termites up there?

Stephen E Arnold, February 15, 2024


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