Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Signing Out of Amazon - Not Easy!

Amazon wants you to remain "signed in" all the time, so they can figure out what you are shopping for at those "other" places.

We recently were looking for a new bathroom faucet for the camper.  The existing faucet is a cheap plastic job that costs $28.95 online and has a shower diverter.  It is a "wet bath" and when you want to shower, you pull a knob and the shower head (on a hose) turns on.

Problem is, the faucet is so small you can't get your hands under it to wash.   We wanted something a little taller.  We had this problem in the kitchen of the Casita, and replaced the cheap plastic faucet with a bar sink faucet from Home Depot, that allowed you to put a pots and pans under it to wash.  I am not taking a piss on either camper - these are built to a price point, and this means they have to use $29 faucets.  After all, some folks use these only a few weeks a year - why bother putting in expensive fixtures?  It would just raise the price and make the camper unaffordable.

We looked online and found a nice marine faucet, but like anything with the word "Boat" in it, they doubled the price.  I was about to give in and order it - $230! - when I found this "Whale" faucet for $114 including shipping.  It is the same faucet we had in two of our boats - the Riparian Day II & III and it worked well.   Plastic, yes, but low profile and easy to fit in a confined space.

I found it for as little as $103 online, but with shipping, it came to $113.  eBay had it for $108 with free shipping, but "buyer pays return postage" if it didn't fit, so bit the bullet and went with Amazon, which had it for $114.  Damn you Jeff Bezos!  Damn your eyes!   It makes it so easy.

I had just cleared all the cookies on my computer.  For some reason, all the sites I visit lately have cookie warnings.  I thought I should clear these out and was appalled to find the "disable 3rd party cookies" switch on Chrome set to "off".  Oh, well, clear them all and start over.

Amazon freaks out and wants a one-time access code to log in (So does Google).  So I do this via e-mail and order the damn thing.  Hey, two-level authentication - I get it.  Saves us both a lot of money and hassle.  Now if only they can thwart the porch pirates - I wonder how much Amazon loses on this every year.  And I wonder how many homeowners "stage" porch pirate thefts, complete with doorbell cam videos of a "stranger" in a hoodie taking their new Apple computer from their front door.  Just wondering.

But getting back to the site... I go to log off Amazon.  Where is the "log off" icon?   Nowhere to be found!

Oh, there it is, under "account" if you hover over the link and the pull down menu appears.  "Log out" is at the very bottom of the menu and does not appear at all if you are using a laptop or smaller screen (in landscape, not portrait).   You have to carefully move the mouse down to "Log Out" but not too far, or the mouse goes off the edge of the world and the whole pull-down menu evaporates.  Start over.

After five attempts, I manage to log out.  On a whim, I decide to log in again,  Once again, Amazon asks for a access code via phone or e-mail.   WTF?  I do this several times.  Once you "log out" it must erase the cookies and you have to re-register the device with the powers-that-be at Amazon to proceed.  Kind of creepy, really.

It is weird, but they do watch us.  I search for something online, and days later, it appears in an ad on MSN news.  I was looking for as sprinkler timer to replace one that died, and today - nothing but ads on for sprinkler timers on MSN news.  I bought the damn thing on eBay, after searching on Google (aha!).  How are they finding this out?   Of course, while it is creepy, it is also ineffective.  I already bought the damn thing, thank you.  It is like the ads I still get for Ford pickup trucks.  I guess they thought since I bought one, I need five or six more - like toilet paper or something.

This concerns me, because it used to be you got some screaming bargains online in the past.  But today, it seems like "meh" bargains - with Amazon and Google lurking in the background and perhaps skewing your Google search results to only find things that cost as much as Amazon or some other online merchant - if not more.

You can still buy incredibly cheap stuff on eBay, shipped directly from China in those oddly-shaped "China Post" packages - although increasingly, these sellers are shipping from offices in the US and getting things here in days, not weeks.   Gotta love those Chinese - they are astute business people!  If they can just overthrow their government - and if we could do the same here... or at least regime change.  But of course, eBay listings rarely show up on Google searches.  In fact, it you want to search eBay, you best do it from eBay, not from Google.  eBay isn't paying Google enough, apparently.

But of course, eBay is no fun for Amazon!  People comparing prices and checking out the best deals?  Lately, Capital One has been hounding me, every time I log on, to try some sort of price comparison system called "Wikibuy" that guarantees the lowest price online.  I am skeptical because I know there is no free lunch out there.  There are sites a-plenty that promise to compare prices - or mortgage rates, or credit card offers, or whatever - but they turn out to be little more than lead aggregators - harvesting your information and then selling the packaged "leads" to merchants, who then inundate you with phone calls.  There is one amazingly positive review of Wikibuy online - so amazingly positive that one wonders if it is a setup.  Actually, one doesn't wonder so much.... we know how the Internet works these days.

Yea, no one is giving away free money samples this week.  Wikibuy offers "credits" for shopping through them, so no doubt they are getting kickbacks from retailers in return for steering you to their sites.   The amazingly positive review also suggests buying with a "rewards card" and making even more money!  Shop your way to wealth!   Play the coupon game!  What's the name of your yacht?  While it may be a "hassle" to search online manually, you do pick up other retailers who are not paying Wikibuy to be listed, and thus have a lower overhead.   Any time someone says, "do all your shopping through me!" whether it is Amazon Prime or Wikibuy, I would be skeptical.

Walmart used to have a price comparison feature on their app.  Scan in your receipt, and if they found a lower price online, they would give you a refund.  It was pretty painless - too painless in fact.   There was no incentive not to scan in every damn receipt and wait for your refund.   Walmart wasn't really making money on this.  The whole point of couponing is to incentivize people to buy, not to reward them if they were buying anyway.   That gets lost - but not for long - on a lot of discount and coupon schemes.

Some credit cards used to offer "price protection" - you buy something and later find out it was $50 cheaper elsewhere.  The credit card company would refund the difference.   Problem is, with online shopping, you can more easily find lower prices and credit card companies were losing money on this deal.  It is like Best Buy's policy of matching advertised low prices.   This encouraged people to fake up prices by altering online ads (which isn't hard to do) by inserting lower prices.  This was even a plot device on one episode of "Kim's Convenience" (which like most television shows was interesting for the first season or two, and then quickly became derivative).  Stores are wising up to this, however, and insisting on printing out or viewing online offers themselves, which sort of gives up the game.

But of course, that doesn't stop the raging true believers - the something-for-nothing mentality people who think they can pull a fast one on a major multinational corporation staffed with armies of psychologists, marketers, accountants, and computer geeks.  If you think, for one minute, that you pulled the wool over Jeff Bezo's eyes, think again.  I mean, yea, I did get a free toilet from him once, unordered, but it was just the lower half, and I ended up throwing it away.

No, no, these fuckers have us all figured out, down to the last decimal place.  They know what we are looking for online, what we are ordering, what we are talking about on Facebook, what's in our e-mails, what's in our texts, what we are thinking.   Whenever someone sends me a link (or I send a link) to a product or service we "found" on the Internet, I don't kid myself that it was just a happy accident.   Nothing happens by accident on the Internet anymore.

The "viral" videos and memes are all carefully orchestrated.  The "subreddits" on Reddit were all created by people employed by Reddit and moderated by people employed by Reddit.  Oh, sure, they let one of us "little people" be a co-moderator once in a while - sort of like letting Benny, the retarded boy, score a "touchdown" once in a while.  But the content, for the most part is created.  Hell, can you imagine how boring the site would be if they had to rely on people posting stuff?  Worse yet, can you imagine if it was really just links to stuff people read?   No one reads anymore!  They want funny videos, animated gifs, hilarious memes, and of course, carefully scripted "funny" comments.

Anyone who thinks any of that shit - or anything on Facebook - is "real" probably thinks "Reality Television" is real as well.   It is akin to thinking that "Gilligan's Island" was a documentary.   It just ain't so.

So what is the answer?  Crawl into a hole and die?   Well, no.  Realizing we are being manipulated is the first step - that anything you read, anywhere - even here, or particularly so - may be suspect, whether by intent or not.   People post positive online reviews either because they are paid trolls or useful idiots - the difference is really negligible.

I guess the second step is to consume less.   You can't get ripped-off or pay too much if you buy less crap.   I suppose I could have done without the faucet, although we spend three months a year or more in this camper, and it was getting awkward.  At least I found a solution that cost half as much - and is something I have some experience with.

And I guess the last thing is to always be skeptical but don't let it make you jaded.  Yes, Jeff Bezos is a greedy bastard trying to manipulate us, either online, or through the mouthpiece newspaper he owns.  But he has also brought us an online consumer market that has changed the way we shop - even if we shop at one of his competitors, such as Walmart or eBay.   The American way of life may be crass and commercial, but it also brought us the miracle of the modern supermarket - something folks in most parts of the world would would be envious of.  We have the fattest and richest "poor" people in America - the fact they get ripped-off by payday loan places doesn't diminish this much.

Our main complaint in America isn't that we don't have enough, but that we want so much more.   We don't want to "pay too much" because that means we would have less "stuff" to play with, eat, or drink.   We are very lucky to have so much - more than any peoples at any time in the history of our planet.  And we should appreciate that.

I just wish shopping online wasn't so darn creepy!  I feel like I am being watched.