Sunday, November 22, 2020

Why Amazon Prime is Worthless

Whenever you enter into a business relationship predicated on a lie, no matter how trivial, the relationship will go downhill from there.

I was typing on my computer the other day and my phone lit up.  I use the phone as WiFi hotspot, something I tried to explain to a friend the other day - it was like teaching a dog Esperanto.  They just didn't understand it.  The Internet was created by Comcast!  You have to have cable TV to get the Internet - or maybe that service from the phone company.   What do you mean it comes through your cell phone?  Witchcraft!

It was comical - trying to tell them they needed to turn their WiFi OFF in order to turn their Hotspot ON.  "But don't you want the WiFi ON in order to get the Internet?"   These are folks paying over $70 a month for voice-only phone with no data plan.   Oh, well, Apple people - so insulated and protected from mean old technology that they never learn anything about it.

But anyway....

I look over and my phone screen is on, and the Amazon app is running.   Funny, I don't remember turning it on.  Worse yet, it is displaying a screen asking me to sign up for Amazon Prime.  WTF?  So I nope out of that and close the app.

A few minutes later, I get an e-mail on my laptop.  "Welcome to Amazon Prime!" it says.  WTF - Part II!   So I go onto the Amazon website and UNSIGN up for Prime, which, thankfully it does (without having to call a call center and wait on hold for hours) and says I still have free Prime until December 20th.

OK, I guess they signed me up in a sneaky, underhanded way, but at least - this time around - they let me un-sign.   Good thing, because otherwise I would have to cancel my credit card to keep from being charged $12.95 a month (!!!) for the rest of my life.  That's a lot of money for Amazon, for basically doing nothing. As I noted before, how long it takes to get things from Amazon really doesn't change much with or without Prime.  Free shipping isn't much of a perk, when almost everything on their site offers free shipping.

That's the first scandalous lie that Amazon tells - when you check out, it says, "Do you want fast, free shipping?"   That sounds fine and all, but in teeny, tiny print, it says you are clicking to join Amazon Prime.  If you nope out of that, you get a second page saying, "What are you, a fucking moron?  We're offering you free shipping!  All you have to do is click here and you get it (and are signed up to join Scientology - no obligation, of course!).   That's a lie - a small lie - but it illustrates how sleazy Amazon is.

Even the product listings are full of misinformation.  When I buy something online, what I want to see is the description of the product - what is included in the sale, what the specifications are, is it new or used, and so on and so forth.   All that messy data, however, might disincline me to buy, so instead, Amazon puts up all sorts of crap to distract you:

ME:  I want to see the product description.

AMAZON:  No, you'd rather look at this hugely blown-up corner of the product photo.

ME: Product description, please!

AMAZON:  People who bought this item, also bought these other items!

ME:  Just the product description, PLEASE!

AMAZON:  See other products you might be interested in!

ME:  NO!

AMAZON:  How about a snippet of a five-star product review from a shill?

ME:  Just what the fuck are you selling here?

AMAZON:  Would you like to see other products from this seller?


AMAZON: (sigh) OK, just scroll down.  Further.  Further.  Further. Whoops, too far!  Back, Back, that's it!

ME:  This is just a listing of the UPC code, the shipping weight and the product dimensions!

AMAZON: Well, technically, that is a product description, right?

You see how this works - they want you to buy a pig-in-a-poke.  No wonder their return rate is so high.

Warehouse clubs, it is said, make a huge portion of their profits on the annual membership fees.  There are people, I am sure, who belong to multiple warehouse clubs, pay the annual membership fees, and then shop at only one of them, occasionally.   It is like the Parcheesi club here on the island - we have members who never show up or do anything, but pay the membership fees every year (when someone gets around to sending out reminders) and the coffers are overflowing with cash (or were, before Karen spent it all on a private party for her and her friends).

I am sure Amazon works the same way - $12.95 a month for nothing - a pretty sweet deal for them!  No wonder they are constantly trying to trick you into joining.

Well, anyway, I had this 30-day free membership, and they kept telling me about all the great movies on Amazon Prime.  I mentioned before I tried this, and most of it was come-ons to buy streaming services from other companies - of which there are many.  So many in fact that if you signed up for them all, you've have a streaming bill well over $100 a month!  A better approach, if you "have to have" a streaming service, is to sign up for one of them, for one month, and binge-watch The Crown or The Mandalorian or whatever, and then cancel the service and move on to another one.

So I checked out the Prime streaming service.  Problem #1 was our screen.  We have an older SHARP that is programmed to play Netflix, VUDU, and YouTube, as well as a couple of other obscure streaming services that never went anywhere.   In the middle of the remote is a huge NETFLIX key.  Nowhere is there a "AMAZON" key - nor any Amazon link on the menus.  This leaves me two ways to play PRIME on the screen.  First, I can use my phone as a hotspot and then load PRIME on the primitive browser they provide.  It is so painfully slow I cannot even type in the URL to load Amazon Prime.

Second, I can load the Prime app on my phone and then use screen mirroring to watch on the big screen.  We tried this and it worked, sort of.  As I noted before, screen mirroring uses a lot of battery power and actually makes the phone hot.  And for action movies, it can cause "jitter" in the screen image.  So to watch many of these newer streaming services (Disney, Amazon) I would have to buy a new television.   I searched the owner's manual and it said that if I updated the software, it would add new streaming services as they become available.  So I did that, no joy - the same services were listed, and there is no way on any menu to install an "app" on this Smart TV.

But the point is moot.  I searched the scanty Amazon Prime listings, and the results were pretty much the same as I see all day long on every streaming service, cable TV, and whatnot:  Movies I don't ever want to see, movies I have already seen, and made-for-network programming that is episodic in nature and caters to the addiction compulsion in all of us (e.g., the Sopranos, Downton Abbey, etc.)

They had an old Tom Cruise "Mission Impossible" movie on there, and it was mildly interesting for nearly two-and-a-half hours of explosions and car chases (and little dialog - the foreign market!).   Tom Cruise looks more and more like Dustin Hoffman these days - what the fuck happened to his nose?  Anyway, it was two-and-a-half hours I will never get back.

The rest of their offerings were "Amazon originals" and didn't look all that appealing.  So we went over to Netflix. We cancelled our membership there back in June before we went on vacation (why pay for something when you are not home?).   Sadly, not much had changed since we left - the same old movies we already saw years ago, or would never want to see.   They had a new season of The Crown, which is OK, I guess.  We will watch that and then cancel the membership again.  There is something disturbing about that series - it must have been financed by the Queen herself, as it is very pro-monarchy.  I have only watched one episode of this season so far, and already I hate Diana Spencer - they have made her out to be a calculating bitch who is trying to weasel her way into the monarchy.

Like I said before, maybe they should just end the monarchy on a high note.  Liz had a good run to be sure - but it will be hard to follow that act.  So why not just dump this antiquated idea of kings and queens and leave them on the chess board and be done with it?  I mean other than the fact that Americans follow the antics of the Royals like their favorites soap opera.   BINGO!  Just turn the monarchy into a reality television show (programme) and license it and make billions - it would pay for all that royal overhead many times over.   You can thank me later.  Or has this already happened and no one has noticed?

Amazon Prime has a long way to go to catch up in content even with Netflix or indeed, YouTube.  There still is no compelling reason to have Amazon Prime, in my opinion, in terms of buying things from their site, "free" shipping, or their online streaming service.  And since you can sign up (and then cancel) Prime once a year (at least) without paying a cent, why would anyone pay for it?  Trust me, in 30 days, you could easily watch all they have worth watching on their streaming site.   I was able to do this in one night.

I am still trying to figure out how they signed me up for it, though.  This has been happening a lot lately - I find my phone on, with some app running, usually a commerce app, such as Home Depot, Walmart, Amazon, or whatever.   Is there a ghost in the machine, or are they doing this on purpose?  I can only hope my phone isn't shopping online without me, during the night, and the next day, 200 toilets from Home Depot end up on my doorstep.   Maybe I need to uninstall some of these apps.

But getting back to Amazon, it is everyone's favorite online site to hate.  Journalists use it to explain the demise of "brick and mortar" stores.  The latest alleged casualty is The Guitar Center, which went Chapter 11 the other day.  It was the same old story - the company was loaded up with billions in debt it could not service.  They over-expanded too quickly with hundreds of stores, and not enough foot traffic to justify its size.  Think about it - how many guitars can even a musician buy?   I mean, other than Eric Clapton, and I'm betting he isn't going to the Guitar Center.  Billions in debt and its all Amazon's fault!  Not.

Other despise Amazon because of alleged abuse of workers - but it isn't hard to see where this is coming from. Unions want a taste of Amazon's money, in the form of union dues.  So they are pressing to unionize the company, and Jeff Bezos, left-wing liberal, is proving to be an effective robber baron and union buster.

Still others loath the Washington Post and want to hang Jeff Bezos in effigy (or literally, if you are at a Trump rally).  And yet others lump Amazon in the pile with "big tech" which is allegedly too big and too powerful and too liberal (again, maybe in theory, not in practice!).  Oddly enough, Republicans are talking about "breaking up" big tech "monopolies" using anti-trust laws or legislation.  Republicans!  The party that used to be all about big business, monopolies, and "moats!"   How times have changed. What a weird world we live in nowadays.

For me, it is just that Amazon is annoying and confusing to use - the layout of the pages is intentionally designed to obscure product details and trick you into signing up for things you don't want.   The only easy part to use on the site is the "One-click buying" - which you should never use, as it tacks on shipping charges.   The prices are usually "meh" compared to other sites - I can get better prices directly from manufacturers in most cases, eBay or Walmart in others.   And then there are the weirdly overpriced items on Amazon, which is just kind of creepy in some cases (shades of the Qanon Wayfair conspiracy theory) or just a way of ripping people off (again why I want to see the product description!).

The upshot is, the first workable alternative to Amazon that comes along will have no trouble succeeding int he marketplace.  The market abhors single-source solutions and monopolies and will seek out alternatives, no matter how costly or less efficient.  The trolleys and railroads died in America not because of some grand conspiracy of the oil companies or the car companies, but because citizens were tired of poor service, high prices, and inconvenience.  My parents' generation couldn't wait to get their hands on a Model-T Ford so they could tell the trolley company to fuck off.  Decades later, the Interstate Highway system allowed them to tell railroad monopolies to fuck off. In both cases, the overall costs were much higher, caused a lot more pollution, killed an awful lot of people, and were far less efficient.   But people craved the freedom of the car over the efficiency of the train or trolley.

So, even a less-efficient solution to Amazon may succeed. Companies like Amazon have warehouses loaded with inventory all over the country.  Maybe someone could put products in a building like that, with a showroom, and then let people come look at the products and buy them on the spot, without having to wait days for shipping and without having to wonder about the product quality.  Even with higher prices, people would appreciate the convenience.  It could just work, provided the enterprise wasn't loaded up with billions in debt from a "venture capitalist" company!

Just kidding.  Brick and mortar is dead, right?  Killed off by Amazon.  Get with the program!