Lots of buzz around Amazon’s moves on AI, Whole Foods, Amazon Go, entertainment. Even more noise about their efficient dynamic pricing models, endless marketplace inventory, and ease of Prime 1-Click shipping. And when you have Prime, the unlimited everything they include provides so much value, it’s like you don’t need anything else.
Or do you need something else?
I was in a good debate on LinkedIn about the Walmart and Amazon pricing models, and it made me look back and think about my experience with Amazon — and I realized that I haven’t ordered anything from there in weeks. Part of it has been a bit of a conscious decision but part of it has been an unconscious passive migration to other smaller shops and niche DTC ecommerce sites because I don’t find the value in what Amazon delivers anymore.
Here’s why I don’t shop on Amazon:
It’s too easy. Amazon shopping is quick, easy, and surgical. I need some new hair product, boom, 1-click and done. There’s no friction and the only delay is the two-day (ish) turnaround for shipping. But I find myself missing the surprise and delight and discovery of an in-store shopping experience where I find and touch new things and leave with more than I planned, but items that were never on my list. Shopping on Amazon isn’t fun — it’s surgical and clinical like a sad hospital.
I like surprise, delight, and discovery. I love Target. Unlike Amazon, going to Target is an experience. Grab a Starbucks, a cart, stop here and there, see something new, put a six pack of beer in your cart, check out the iPhone X, etc. And now in pandemic, I’ve spent more time on small DTC sites, Pinterest, Instagram, browsing through their content. Because it’s about the experience. I want experience. I want to feel an emotion and connection to what I purchase and identify my personal brand with. Every time I shop, I want to find something new, maybe buy something that’s extra. I like the surprise and delight in the discovery. Amazon tries to recommend me things, but they are all derivative — never new and interesting. More of the same, over and over.
Delivery is too slow. Two-day shipping was a revelation. Amazing that this could be for free. But I have to plan ahead. And sometimes I can’t. When I want something right now, I drive there. Increasingly and now always, Amazon’s Prime promise of 2-day shipping has been missed by 1–2 days. Pandemic has made my delivery dates ‘maybe this week.’ In fact, now it’s completely unreliable (and I’m 5 miles from an Amazon distribution center). The unreliability is my critical issue, but in companion with the need for items when I want them, I make the store trip. Most places offer the option to order ahead and pick up at curbside which has been an incredibly convenient innovation out of the pandemic which I wonder why it hasn’t happened earlier.
The inventory is inadequate. I search. And I search. And I search. Lots of searching on Amazon to find what I want. Or a version of what I want because they don’t have that brand on Prime or it’s more than it was last time since it’s from another marketplace partner. The inconsistency in the availability along with the dynamic pricing along with the lack of brands that I care about puts me back at the search box. Or when I find something, I dig into reviews and find that it’s a poorly made Chinese product that is inconsistent and falls apart after a couple of uses. Or even worse, there’s fifty of those products, exactly the same as the last, all the same price, same design, just with a different random brand name on each. In fact, it seems like most of my results aren’t name brands anymore, but copycat brandless products built to be cheap and propped up by fake reviews. Wait…fake reviews?
Reviews are fake. Like most of us, I like to pick a product with five stars. Sure, four is good too. But on Amazon, even a five star review is tainted. First, there’s the Amazon Vine program which pre-seeds any new product with rosy reviews by people who received it for free. Then, most companies have developed a work around where they give you a discount or free second product if you provide a 5-star review on the first product. Which is why you see products with a bunch of 5-star reviews and then a handful of 1-star reviews. The 1-star reviews are the ones to attend to because those usually are the true story of the product, not reviews that have come from a skewed review benefits program or an overseas review farm (yes, that’s a thing where fake accounts populate reviews).
Reviews are a big deal because, in addition to price and margin, it’s how not only consumers decide but also how the Amazon algorithm chooses Amazon Choice and page ranking for product listing pages in search results. I have zero faith in Amazon reviews.
I don’t care that I get unlimited* digital content. Unlimited has an asterisk because they include video, music, photo storage, etc but it’s not really unlimited. If I want Music, I have to pay more — but I like Apple Music better. And if I want good content, I’d rather go to Netflix and Hulu because I find the library and original content much better. And I don’t watch Twitch. If I want an Audible book, I’ll buy it and not subscribe. Storage plans have changed 5x since I started so I just moved everything to Dropbox because it’s consistent, faster and much easier. I already spoke to thoughts on shipping benefits above. So what’s left in Prime that matters? Nothing really. A consumer can get a ton of extra benefits ‘included’ for the Prime subsidy, but if I don’t use them, they don’t matter. I can find better elsewhere. And if I drop Prime…that $109 per year can pay for my other bundle of services completely.
I like small businesses. Unlike me, lots of people love Amazon. While I’m moving away, more are joining. Meanwhile small businesses are being damaged. It’s not about innovation or their lack of effort — it’s too hard to catch up now. So if you care about small businesses, you need to shop them. Etsy, Instagram businesses, local shops, and others need our support or they will die. I’d rather take a few extra minutes out of my day to bring back the ‘browse’ in a local store then just turn-and-burn in a 1-Click that only satisfies your instant need.
And then…what about Ring and the monitoring of your neighborhood by police, potentially assisting monitoring of protests and racial profiling? Automatic flying drone home monitoring? The anti-trust review that’s happening now shows that Jeff Bezos has run a company that thrives on anti-competitive practices by subsidizing price wars from other parts of his massive business. Or how about running a startup fund that then copies products and releases those copies for lower prices?
Amazon is easy, simple, fast enough, and convenient. However, next February when my subscription comes up, I won’t renew my Amazon Prime. I’m sure it provides incredible value to someone, maybe even you, but in light of how it misses the mark for what I need and care about, and in light of the swath of retail destruction that is discouraging innovation and diversity in the shopping experience — I will watch Amazon for business reasons and admire the growth, but I will not miss the cold, transaction experience that is destroying the joy of shopping and moving all of us closer to mere consumption.