Amazon Customer Service: Let Many Flowers Bloom and Die on the Vine

November 29, 2023

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

Amazon has been outputting artificial intelligence “assertions” at a furious pace. What’s clear is that Amazon is “into” the volume and variety business in my opinion. The logic of offering multiple “works in progress” and getting them to work reasonably well is going to have three characteristics: The first is that deploying and operating different smart software systems is going to be expensive. The second is that tuning and maintaining high levels of accuracy in the outputs will be expensive. The third is that supporting the users, partners, customers, and integrators is going to be expensive. If we use a bit of freshman in high school algebra, the common factor is expensive. Amazon’s remarkable assertion that no one wants to bet a business on just one model strikes me as a bit out of step with the world in which bean counters scuttle and scurry in green eyeshades and sleeve protectors. (See. I am a dinobaby. Sleeve protectors. I bet none of the OpenAI type outfits have accountants who use these fashion accessories!)

Let’s focus on just one facet of the expensive burdens I touched upon above— customer service. Navigate to the remarkable and stunningly uncritical write up called “How to Reach Amazon Customer Service: A Complete Guide.” The write up is an earthworm list of the “options” Amazon provides. As Amazon was announcing its new new big big things, I was trying to figure out why an order for an $18 product was rejected. The item in question was one part of a multipart order. The other, more costly items were approved and billed to my Amazon credit card.


Thanks MSFT Copilot. You do a nice broken bulldozer or at least a good enough one.

But the dog treats?

I systematically worked through the Amazon customer service options. As a Prime customer, I assumed one of them would work. Here’s my report card:

  • Amazon’s automated help. A loop. See Help pages which suggested I navigate too the customer service page. Cute. A first year comp sci student’s programming error. A loop right out of the box. Nifty.
  • The customer service page. Well, that page sent me to Help and Help sent me to the automation loop. Cool Zero for two.
  • Access through the Amazon app. Nope. I don’t install “apps” on my computing devices unless I have zero choice. (Yes, I am thinking about Apple and Google.) Too bad Amazon, I reject your app the way I reject QR codes used by restaurants. (Do these hash slingers know that QR codes are a fave of some bad actors?)
  • Live chat with Amazon customer service was not live. It was a bot. The suggestion? Get back in the loop. Maybe the chat staff was at the Amazon AI announcement or just severely overstaffed or simply did not care. Another loser.
  • Request a call from Amazon customer service. Yeah, I got to that after I call Amazon customer service. Another loser.

I repeated the “call Amazon customer service” twice and I finally worked through the automated system and got a person who barely spoke English. I explained the problem. One product rejected because my Amazon credit card was rejected. I learned that this particular customer service expert did not understand how that could have happened. Yeah, great work.

How did I resolve the rejected credit card. I called the Chase Bank customer service number. I told a person my card was manipulated and I suspected fraud. I was escalated to someone who understood the word “fr4aud.” After about five minutes of “’Will you please hold”, the Chase person told me, “The problem is at Amazon, not your card and not Chase.”

What was the fix? Chase said, “Cancel the order.” I did and went to another vendor.

Now what’s that experience suggest about Amazon’s ability (willingness) to provide effective, efficient customer support to users of its purported multiple large language models, AI systems, and assorted marketing baloney output during Amazon’s “we are into AI” week?

My answer? The Bezos bulldozer has an engine belching black smoke, making a lot of noise because the muffler has a hole in it, and the thumpity thump of the engine reveals that something is out of tune.

Yeah, AI and customer support. Just one of the “expensive” things Amazon may not be able to deliver. The troubling thing is that Amazon’s AI may have been powering the multiple customer support systems. Yikes.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2023

Amazon Alexa Factoids: A Look Behind the Storefront Curtains

November 24, 2023

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

Hey, Amazon admirers, I noted some interesting (allegedly accurate factoids) in “Amazon Alexa to Lose $10 Billion This Year.” No, I was not pulled by interesting puddle of red ink.


Alexa loves to sidestep certain questions. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Nice work even though you are making life difficult for Google’s senior management today.

Let me share four items which I thought interesting. Please, navigate to the original write up to get the full monte. (I support the tailor selling civvies, not the card game.)

  1. “Just about every plan to monetize Alexa has failed, with one former employee calling Alexa ‘a colossal failure of imagination,’ and ‘a wasted opportunity.’” [I noted the word colossal.]
  2. “Amazon can’t make money from Alexa telling you the weather”
  3. “I worked in the Amazon Alexa division. The level of incompetence coupled with arrogance was astounding.”
  4. “FAANG has gotten so large that the stock bump that comes from narrative outpaces actual revenue from working products.”

Now how about the management philosophy behind these allegedly accurate statements? It sounds like the consequences of doing high school science club field trip planning. Not sure how those precepts work? Just do a bit of reading about the OpenAI – Sam AI-Man hootenanny.

Stephen E Arnold, November 24, 2023

Pundit Recounts Amazon Sins and Their Fixes

November 14, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

Sci-fi author and Pluralistic blogger Cory Doctorow is not a fan of Amazon. In fact, he declares, “Amazon Is a Ripoff.” His article references several sources to support this assertion, beginning with Lina Khan’s 2017 cautionary paper published in the Yale Law Journal. Now head of the FTC, Khan is bringing her expertise to bear in a lawsuit against the monopoly. We are reminded how tech companies have been able to get away with monopolistic practices thus far:

“There’s a cheat-code in US antitrust law, one that’s been increasingly used since the Reagan administration, when the ‘consumer welfare’ theory (‘monopolies are fine, so long as the lower prices’) shoved aside the long-established idea that antitrust law existed to prevent monopolies from forming at all. The idea that a company can do anything to create or perpetuate a monopoly so long as its prices go down and/or its quality goes up is directly to blame for the rise of Big Tech.”

But what, exactly, is shady about Amazon’s practices? From confusing consumers through complexity and gouging them with “drip pricing” to holding vendors over a barrel, Doctorow describes the company’s sins in this long, specific, and heavily linked diatribe. He then pulls three rules to hold Amazon accountable from a paper by researchers Tim O’Reilly, Ilan Strauss, and Mariana Mazzucato: Force the company to halt its most deceptive practices, mandate interoperability between it and comparison shopping sites, and create legal safe harbors for the scraping that underpins such interoperability. The invective concludes:

“I was struck by how much convergence there is among different kinds of practitioners, working against the digital sins of very different kinds of businesses. From the CFPB using mandates and privacy rules to fight bank rip-offs to behavioral economists thinking about Amazon’s manipulative search results. This kind of convergence is exciting as hell. After years of pretending that Big Tech was good for ‘consumers,’ we’ve not only woken up to how destructive these companies are, but we’re also all increasingly in accord about what to do about it. Hot damn!”

He sounds so optimistic. Are big changes ahead? Don’t forget to sign up for Prime.

Cynthia Murrell, November 14, 2023

A New Union or Just a Let’s Have Lunch Moment for Two Tech Giants

November 10, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

There is nothing like titans of technology and revenue generation discovering a common interest. The thrill is the consummation and reaping the subsequent rewards. “Meta Lets Amazon Shoppers Buy Products on Facebook and Instagram without Leaving the Apps” explains:

Meta doesn’t want you to leave its popular mobile apps when making that impulse Amazon purchase. The company debuted a new feature allowing users to link their Facebook and Instagram accounts to Amazon so they can buy goods by clicking on promotions in their feeds.

11 10 23 hugging bros

Two amped up, big time tech bros discover that each has something the other wants. What is that? An opportunity to extend and exploit perhaps? Thanks, Microsoft Bing, you do get the drift of my text prompt, don’t you?

The Zuckbook’s properties touch billions of people. Some of those people want to buy “stuff.” Legitimate stuff has required the user to click away and navigate to the online bookstore to purchase a copy of the complete works of Francis Bacon. Now, the Instagram user can buy without leaving the comforting arms of the Zuck.

Does anyone have a problem with that tie up? I don’t. It is definitely a benefit for the teen who must have the latest lip gloss. It is good for Amazon because the hope is that Zucksters will buy from the online bookstore. The Meta outfit probably benefits with some sort of inducement. Maybe it is just a hug from Amazon executives? Maybe it is an opportunity to mud wrestle with Mr. Bezos if he decides to get down and dirty to show his physical prowess?

Will US regulators care? Will EU regulators care? Will anyone care?

I am not sure how to answer these questions. For decades the high tech outfits have been able to emulate the captains of industry in the golden age without much cause for concern. Continuity is good.

Will teens buy copies of Novum Organum? Absolutely.

Stephen E Arnold, November 10, 2023

Amazon: Numerical Recipes Poison Good Deals

November 8, 2023

Dinobaby here. I read “FTC Alleges Amazon Used a Price-Gouging Algorithm.” The allegations in the article are likely to ruffle some legal eagles wearing Amazon merchandise. The main idea is that a numerical recipe named after the dinobaby’s avatar manipulated prices to generate more revenue for the Bezos bulldozer. This is a bulldozer relocating to Miami too. Miami says, “Buenos días.” Engadget says:

Amazon faces allegations from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of wielding price-gouging algorithms through an operation called “Project Nessie” according to court documents filed Thursday. The FTC says the algorithm has generated more than $1 billion in excess profit for Jeff Bezos’s e-commerce giant.

Let’s assume the allegations contain a dinosaur scale or two of truth. What could one living in rural Kentucky conclude? How about these notions:

  • Amazon knows how to use fancy math in a way that advantages itself. Imagine the earning power of manipulated algorithms powered by smart software in the hands of engineers eager to earn a bonus, a promotion, and maybe a ride in a rocket ship from the fountain head of the online bookstore. Yep, just imagine.
  • Amazon got caught. If the justice system prevails, will shoppers avoid Anazon?l lNope, in my opinion. There are more Amazon delivery vehicles in the area where I live in nowhere Kentucky than on the main highway. Convenience wins. So what if the pricing is wonky. Couch potatoes like couches, not driving 30 minutes to a so-called store. Laws just may not matter when it comes to big tech outfits.
  • Other companies may learn from Amazon. The estimable CocaCola machines in some whiz kids’ dreams learns what a person likes and prices accordingly. That innovation may become a reality as some bright sparks invent the future of billing as much as possible and hamstringing competitors. Nice work, if Amazon does have the alleged money machine algorithms.

What is the future of retail? I would offer the opinion that trickery, mendacity, and cleverness will become the keys to success. I am glad I am an old dinobaby, but I like the name “Nessie.” My mama Dino had a friend named Nessie. Nice fangs and big quiet pads on her claws. Perfect for catching and killing prey.

Stephen E Arnold, November 7, 2023

Amazon: Great Products and Transparent Pricing Impress

October 24, 2023

green-dino_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb humanoid. No smart software required.

Free SaaS trials are supposed to demonstrate a software’s capabilities and benefits to convince the user to subscribe. Sometimes free trials require users to input their billing information. If users aren’t careful, they’re charged for the SaaS. Reddit user Mizcizi had a bad experience when he signed up for AWS, read his post, “1k Bill After 1 Month, For The Service I Didn’t Even Use.”

Mizcizi signed up for a free AWS trial to test its Web hosting. He tried AWS Amplify but didn’t like it. He still wanted to use AWS S3 for storage and everything was going well for a while then the problems started. First, the data couldn’t be verified, next the account was suspended. He ignored the issues because he used another storage service.

AWS via RDS then slapped him with a $1000 bill for 280.233 Hrs, 1,129.972 IOPS-Mo, and 150.663 GB-Mo. Here are more details:

“Now there are a few things wrong with this. At first, I don’t remember setting up any RDS service. I might have checked what it provides because I was also checking for a DB hosting at the time, so I’m not 100% about that. What I am 100% sure is that I never used RDS anywhere, so I don’t know where all their IOPS are coming from. One thing that also doesn’t make sense is the 280.233 Hrs resulting in 391.77 USD. In the free trial for RDS, it says that you get 750 free hours.”

Mizcizi is trying to work with AWS support. Because he’s a first time user they may probably wipe the bill. He could also cancel the payment through his credit card. Other comments offered suggestions like setting up bill notifications, opening a support case, and explaining how the charges racked up.

Many comments said that AWS allegedly overcharges some users and recommending services for novice tech developers. Then the invoice arrives. Yipes.

Whitney Grace, October 24, 2023

Amazon Switches To AI Review Summaries

September 22, 2023

The online yard sale eBay offers an AI-generated description feature for sellers. Following in the same vein, Engadget reports that, “Amazon Begins Rolling Out AI-Generated Review Summaries” for products with clickable keywords. Amazon announced in June 2023 that it was testing an AI summary tool across a a range of products. The company officially launched the tool in August declaring that AI is at the heart of Amazon.

Amazon developed the AI summary tool so consumers can read buyers’ opinions without scrolling through pages of information. The summaries are described as a wrap-up of customer consensus akin to film blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes. The AI summaries contain clickable tags that showcase common words and consistent themes from reviews. Clicking on the tags will take consumers to the full review with the information.

AI-generated review summaries bring up another controversial topic: Amazon and fake reviews. Fake reviews litter the selling platform like a slew of counterfeit products Amazon, eBay, and other online selling platforms battle. While Amazon claims it takes a proactive stance to detect and delete the reviews, it does not catch all the fakes. It is speculated that AI-generated reviews from ChatGPT or other chatbots are harder for Amazon to catch.

In regards to using its own AI summary tool, Amazon plans to only use it on verified purchases and using more AI models to detect fake reviews. Humans will be used for clarification with their more discerning organic brains. Amazon said about its news tool:

“‘We continue to invest significant resources to proactively stop fake reviews,’ Amazon Community Shopping Director Vaughn Schermerhorn said. ‘This includes machine learning models that analyze thousands of data points to detect risk, including relations to other accounts, sign-in activity, review history, and other indications of unusual behavior, as well as expert investigators that use sophisticated fraud-detection tools to analyze and prevent fake reviews from ever appearing in our store. The new AI-generated review highlights use only our trusted review corpus from verified purchases, ensuring that customers can easily understand the community’s opinions at a glance.’”

AI tools are trained using language models that contain known qualitative errors. The same AI tools are used to teach more AI and so on. While we do not know what Amazon is using to train its AI summary tool, we would not be surprised if the fake reviews are using similar training models to Amazon’s. It will come down to Amazon AI vs. counterfeit AI. Who will win?

Whitney Grace, September 22, 2023

Amazon Offers AI-Powered Review Consolidation for Busy Shoppers

September 6, 2023

I read the reviews for a product. I bought the product. Reality was — how shall I frame it — different from the word pictures. Trust those reviews. ? Hmmm. So far, Amazon’s generative AI focus has been on supplying services to developers on its AWS platform. Now, reports ABC News, “Amazon Is Rolling Out a Generative AI Feature that Summarizes Product Reviews.” Writer Haleluya Hadero tells us:

“The feature, which the company began testing earlier this year, is designed to help shoppers determine at a glance what other customers said about a product before they spend time reading through individual reviews. It will pick out common themes and summarize them in a short paragraph on the product detail page.”

A few mobile shoppers have early access to the algorithmic summaries while Amazon tweaks the tool with user feedback. Eventually, the company said, shoppers will be able to surface common themes in reviews. Sounds nifty, but there is one problem: Consolidating reviews that are fake, generated by paid shills, or just plain wrong does nothing to improve their accuracy. But Amazon is more eager to jump on the AI bandwagon than to perform quality control on its reviews system. We learn:

“The Seattle-based company has been looking for ways to integrate more artificial intelligence into its product offerings as the generative AI race heats up among tech companies. Amazon hasn’t released its own high-profile AI chatbot or imaging tool. Instead, it’s been focusing on services that will allow developers to build their own generative AI tools on its cloud infrastructure AWS. Earlier this year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said in his letter to shareholders that generative AI will be a ‘big deal’ for the company. He also said during an earnings call with investors last week that ‘every single one’ of Amazon’s businesses currently has multiple generative AI initiatives underway, including its devices unit, which works on products like the voice assistant Alexa.”

Perhaps one day Alexa will recite custom poetry or paint family portraits for us based on the eavesdropping she’s done over the years. Heartwarming. One day, sure.

Cynthia Murrell, September 19, 2023

Amazon, Arm, and Softbank: A Happy Coincidence Indeed

August 18, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I try not to think about Amazon, Arm, and Softbank. Oh, let me add a footnote to the “Amazon” reference. When deliveries do not arrive or I am scammed, then I do think about Amazon. But most of the time, it is a digital discount store located in a low-rent district.

However, I noted an article about Amazon which caused me to wrinkle my already crinkly brow; specifically, ”Amazon Has More Than Half of All Arm Server CPUs in the World” uses a trigger word for me — “all.” But that is news headline writing today. The main assertion in the article is that Amazon with its multi-billion dollar server business has more Arm CPUs than Apple has three nanometer fabrication commitments. Why are these giant companies involved in “real news” which seems focused on stock amping than improving technology or privacy protections?

Then I remembered that Softbank, an outfit that is losing money on almost 70 percent of its investments, according to the Financial Times, wants to convert Arm into an initial public offering. I then wondered, “Is this confluence of seemingly disparate factoids a happy coincidence?”

My hunch is that somewhere, somehow, an inspired PR / SEO / or marketing professional thought it would be a good idea to pitch Softbank as a giant in the land of artificial intelligence. AI is hot; Softbank’s financials are, in my opinion, not so hot.

The question becomes, “How accurate is the information about these Arm chips?” and “Is the PR push part of an activity which I cannot discern?” And there is the “all”. How important is the Arm IPO dream if Amazon shifts to a different CPU? Good vibrations strike me as important for both Amazon and Softbank.

Stephen E Arnold, August 18, 2023

Amazon: Machine-Generated Content Adds to Overhead Costs

July 7, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_t[1]Note: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

Amazon Has a Big Problem As AI-Generated Books Flood Kindle Unlimited” makes it clear that Amazon is going to have to re-think how it runs its self-publishing operation and figure out how to deal with machine-generated books from “respected” publishers.

The author of the article is expressing concern about ChatGPT-type outputs being assembled into electronic books. That concern is focused on Amazon and its ageing, arthritic Kindle eBook business. With voice to text tools, I suppose one should think about Audible audiobooks spit out by text-to-voice. The culprit, however, may be Amazon itself. Paying a person read a book for seven hours, not screw up, and making sure the sound is acceptable when the reader has a stuffed nose can be pricey.

7 4 baffled exec

A senior Amazon executive thinks to herself, “How can I fix this fake content stuff? I should really update my LinkedIn profile too.’ Will the lucky executive charged with fixing the problem identified in the article be allowed to eliminate revenue? Yep, get going on the LinkedIn profile first. Tackle the fake stuff later.

The write up points out:

the mass uploading of AI-generated books could be used to facilitate click-farming, where ‘bots’ click through a book automatically, generating royalties from Amazon Kindle Unlimited, which pays authors by the amount of pages that are read in an eBook.

And what’s Amazon doing about this quasi-fake content? The article reports:

It [Amazon] didn’t explicitly state that it was making an effort specifically to address the apparent spam-like persistent uploading of nonsensical and incoherent AI-generated books.

Then, the article raises the issues of “quality” and “authenticity.” I am not sure what these two glory words mean. My impression is that a machine-generated book is not as good as one crafted by a subject matter expert or motivated human author. If I am right, the editors at TechRadar are apparently oblivious to the idea of using XML structure content and a MarkLogic-type tool to slice-and-dice content. Then the components are assembled into a reference book. I want to point out that this method has been in use by professional publishers for a number of years. Because I signed a confidentiality agreement, I am not able to identify this outfit. But I still recall the buzz of excitement that rippled through one officer meeting at this outfit when those listening to a presentation realized [a] Humanoids could be terminated and a reduced staff could produce more books and [b] the guts of the technology was a database, a technology mostly understood by those with a few technical conferences under their belt. Yippy! No one had to learn anything. Just calculate the financial benefit of dumping humans and figuring out how to expense the contractors who could format content from a hovel in a Myanmar-type of low-cost location. At night, the executives dreamed about their bonuses for hitting their financial targets and how to start RIF’ing editorial staff, subject matter experts, and assorted specialists who doodled with front matter, footnotes, and fonts.

Net net: There is no fix. The write up illustrates the lack of understanding about how large sections of the information industry uses technology and the established procedures for dealing with cost-saving opportunity. Quality means more revenue from decisions. Authenticity is a marketing job. Amazon has a content problem and has to gear up its tools and business procedures to cope with machine-generated content whether in product reviews and eBooks.

Stephen E Arnold, July 7, 2023

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