Saturday, February 23, 2019

Amazon and Google in Bed Together?

eBay is almost always cheaper than Amazon, and often has a better selection.  So why does Amazon dominate the search results on Google?   Money is why.

I recently had to buy some things online.  Mark needed new business cards for a pottery show coming up.  I needed a new "chainsaw on a stick" to trim some tree branches.  The dishwasher needed a new part (it's going to go to the curb in the not-too-distant future!).  We wanted a new electronic safe for the new camper.   Where to go?  Amazon?

Fat chance.

Almost everything on Amazon was at least a few dollars more than on eBay - sometimes far more.  And eBay, like Amazon, offers "free shipping" and you don't have to sign up for some $12-a-month deal to get it.

But if I googled the item I was looking for (in the case of the dishwasher part, the actual part number) I ended up with page after page of hits, the first five hits all being from Amazon - and the next 15-20 from sites with much higher prices.   A real no-brainer, right?  Amazon is the best deal!

Not really.  eBay was the best deal I could find - in the limited amount of time I wanted to search, and that right there is the key.   When I searched the same term with the word "eBay" or went right to eBay's search engine, the same products came up at much lower prices.   Funny how that works, right?

Amazon often floats to the top of Google as they have sponsored ads at the top of many product searches.  And I am sure that Google "rewards" Amazon by giving them the top non-sponsored search results as well - and perhaps by suppressing eBay's search results (unless explicitly searched for) or the result of anyone selling anything for cheaper than Amazon.

Or so it would seem, to this outside user who has no access to Google's algorithms, but can see how they work in the real world.

But more and more, I find myself visiting Amazon less and less.   Their prices are often "meh" and the selection of products is often limited.  Yes, I know, this latter comment sounds odd - after all, Amazon has the largest selection of merchandise on the Internet, right?   I mean, they have more than double what Walmart has on their site - so they must have the best selection, right?

Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on what you are looking for.   Since Amazon sells a little of every damn thing, their depth of product selection in any one area can be surprisingly shallow.  And since everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to become an "Amazon merchant" and hopes to buy things at discount stores (or from China) and sell them for a buck more online, there is a lot of crap on Amazon that is overpriced.

Want some crap from China?  Buy it directly from the Chinese, on eBay.  I outfitted my bicycle with accessories for only a few dollars.   If you are prepared to wait a week or two for "China Post" to deliver, you can pay half as much as you would for Amazon to ship it in three days.

If you want specialty products, such as auto parts, Amazon is the last place to look.  I bought new shocks for my truck for $78 apiece - Amazon wants over $80.  And the folks at Stage 3 motorsports can answer any question you have about what shock is right for your truck - do you think Sanjay in India at Amazon's call center even knows what an F-150 is?   I didn't think so, either.

Maybe saving four or five bucks isn't a big deal (hey, it pays for that Starbucks, right?) but it does represent over 6% in savings, just by clicking around.   And it illustrates that Amazon isn't really a stellar place to buy things - the prices are "just OK" not exceptional.   You can end up with a better deal, elsewhere.

So why does Amazon stay in business?   They have reached the point of saturation - they have an installed base of customers who are too lazy to shop around, even when shopping around means clicking once or twice.  They have critical mass as I noted before, so over time, they have been slowly raising prices and hoping people don't notice.

I noticed.  Sorry.

Only a few years ago, I was buying almost everything online on Amazon.  The prices were better than anywhere else on the Internet, and unlike eBay, you didn't have to dick around with auctions and whatnot - as well as sketchy sellers.

Well, that was then, this is now.  Today, eBay and "Mom and Pop" websites have better prices than Amazon, consistently.   Maybe a dollar here or two dollars there - but sometimes significantly less.  And of course, if you are willing to wait and bid, sometimes you can snag a real bargain on eBay buying something lightly used from an individual, who has no real overhead or expectation of making big bucks.

It's gotten to the point where, when I am searching for some obscure part or something to buy, I just bypass Google entirely and enter as a URL and then search in the eBay search box.   I might check Google and Amazon just to see if the prices are realistic, but lately, Google and Amazon are always returning the high prices, always.

Sadly, this is usually true for Home Depot and Lowes - their prices are always higher than other online stores.   Sometimes the same is true for Walmart, although I finally broke down and ordered new printer paper (a lifetime's supply at this point in my life) and Walmart was the cheapest place for quality paper.   Oh, sure Amazon had a cheaper price, for a three-ream "carton" - which was by itself a little deceptive.

I guess I am a shopping agnostic.   Just because I am on one site doesn't mean I am going to buy all my purchases there without shopping around.

In the past, our parents would drive all over town, comparing prices.  Today, it takes just a click of a mouse - yet our generation seems less inclined to comparison shop than our elders did!

It makes no sense.

Amazon kind of sucks, really.