Tuesday, December 14, 2021

How Wish.com Helps Amazon (or How Amazon Uses FUD)

Sketchy internet sales sites helped promote FUD and thus benefit Amazon.

There is a scam going around on the internet, and some friends of mine have fallen for it. Sketchy third party websites offer products at astoundingly low prices. You order the item in question and weeks later, a package arrives from China. Inside is some inconsequential item such as a keychain or a pair of socks. You spent $20 and what you thought was a Lego kit of the Millennium Falcon, and ended up with an item worth $0.50.

Of course, it serves you right, being an adult playing with Legos. It also serves you right expecting to find something that's very expensive, for cheap. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

But what is interesting about this phenomenon, which particularly seems to affect Wish.com, is that it helps promotes more mainstream retail outlets such as Amazon.

In my previous posting, I opined that the psychological techniques for manipulating people on a mass basis, as predicted by Heinlein, are in fact in use today, by governments, both foreign and domestic, political parties, or by commercial interests.  Take this trend of "Meme Stocks" for example - a few people have convinced folks, using social media, to buy up pretty lousy stocks, which in turn drove up the price.  Since these stocks were "shorted" by hedge funds, the purveyors of this scheme clean up on their options when the hedge have to back up their shorts.  The entire thing is based on psychology, and it is no coincidence the stocks chosen are for companies that are favored by tech nerds and gamers - who dutifully go out and buy a single share of the stock, which in turn drives up prices.  But more about that in another posting - although I have touched on it recently.

In one online discussion I looked at, people were complaining about receiving these trivial items instead of the product they ordered. The company who shipped the piece of junk claimed that since something was shipped, they fulfilled their half of the obligation. And apparently, some online resellers will take the shipping verification as proof that the product was delivered, even if it wasn't the correct product.

I guess there are some people in this world would just take that on the chin and move on. Myself, I would file a chargeback with my credit card. But online, some people claim this doesn't work, particularly with Discover card as the "proof" of shipping provided by the seller negates your claim of fraud. I'm very skeptical of this.

But like a Greek chorus, the number of people started commenting that that's why they always shop with Amazon and why they subscribe Amazon Prime, as if this somehow insulated them from fraud on the internet. In other words, don't try those sketchy off brand sites, because you'll probably get ripped off! Stick with trusty good old Amazon and Jeff Bezos and he'll take good care of you. It's not hard to see what's going on here. These are likely paid shills from Amazon, and probably the entire thread was dreamed up by somebody in their marketing department.

It's FUD at its finest - Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.  You can steer people away from competing companies and better deals if you put fear into their mind.  Sure, you could go across town and buy a car from American Motors, but hey, how long do you expect them to stay in business?  It sounds silly, but it was a strategy used by car salesmen in the 1950's and 1960's.  It scared enough people away from Studebaker, Hudson, and eventually, AMC, that they all went under.  Stick with the trusty "Big-3" automakers!  They tried again in the 1970's and 1980's with Japanese cars.  They're junk!  They're unreliable!  But they were so cheap, some were willing to try.  And when reports came back from real owners (and not car salesmen) that a Toyota was a reliable bargain, well, all the FUD in the world couldn't hold back the tide.

FUD is part of the nature of how marketing has changed in this internet social media age. You don't come out with a blaring ad promoting your company or products. Rather, you create these subtle, almost subliminal discussions online that appear to be from concerned consumers, but may in fact be manufactured in my a bunch of professional trolls.

I've ordered a number of things online from eBay that came directly from China. Usually they take two or three weeks to arrive, and they come in these odd shaped packages with Hong Kong post on them. And in most cases, they were pretty good value and I had no complaints about the product. There was only one bad experience I had, and that was a small 12 volt fan that was so cheaply made. that it created a horrible night of noise when you turned it on. I contacted the seller, and they admitted the product was inferior and refunded me my money and apologized.

So all that being said, my negative experience with buying things from China is so far is zero.

This is not to say there are not scams and frauds out there, because there are. But on the other hand if you're paying by credit card, you can always request a reversal of the transaction, which really damages the reputation of the seller. As a merchant account holder myself, I've only had one chargeback in my lifetime. I did a Prior Art search for a client once, and they weren't happy with the results - because I told them their invention was unpatentable. Out of spite, they requested a $500 chargeback, the cost of the search. I had already told them I would refund their money but they went ahead and pulled the pin on that.

It was no skin off my teeth, but if you have a large number of chargebacks as a merchant account holder, you might lose your merchant account, eventually. One or two chargebacks isn't going to change much. Two or three dozen, means they probably will cancel your account - because you are likely up to no good!

It's funny, because people like your run down credit cards, I guess mostly because people have this intractable credit card that they never seem to be able to pay off. So it's easy to hate on the credit card company as if they're the villain who ran up all those charges and now you have to pay them. These same people promote things like cryptocurrency. claiming it is "the wave of the future" - but the future is behind schedule, it seems.  If you paid for something from China using Bitcoin and there was a problem with the transaction, well guess what? There's no way you can get your Bitcoins back.

Of course, this means there is a lot of losses to the credit card company in so many situations where they can't claw the money back from the seller. And of course there's always credit card fraud which occurs regularly. And that's why credit card companies charge so much in interest and fees, to cover these transaction costs. The benefit to the consumer is that they are very rarely on the hook for losses made using credit cards. As I noted before, I've had both my credit and debit card numbers stolen, and the only hassle was waiting a couple of days for a new card to arrive in the mail.

And in terms of chargebacks, I haven't made many in my lifetime. Most recent one was when I order something using the McDonald's app and they never prepared the food. They promised that the charge will come off my credit card but instead McDonald's went through and processed the charge. However, Bank of America quickly refunded the money to my account. I'm sure the $7.50 was so trivial that they didn't care.

This is not to say I'm a cheerleader for the credit card industry. Only that the system really isn't quite broken just yet. And I'm not sure that alternative payment methods such as PayPal and Venmo and whatnot are any better, in fact are quite worse. I unlinked my PayPal account from my bank account and credit card account because of somebody send you a demand for payment with PayPal, and it goes through, this could charge right to your credit card.

But I digress - big time.  Or maybe not. A lot of this FUD on the internet about credit cards is spread by people trying to promote "Crypto" as The Next Big Thing!  Of course, the problem is, even if "crypto" is the next big thing, which of the dozens of "coins" will strike it big?  Bitcoin, being first to market will likely be last in the marketplace.  And since it costs several dollars per transaction which takes minutes to solve, it isn't going to be used for everyday transactions, much as credit cards are used.

Getting back to topic, Elon Musk (boo! hiss!) has once again used Twitter to twist the market.  A few months ago, he hinted that Tesla will accept Bitcoin and bought a bunch for himself.  Then Tesla changed its mind or said it never agreed to such a thing.  Today it is "Dogecoin" which started out as a joke on the Internet.  Good old Elon - he loves to manipulate markets with his tweets.  He's just a more obvious example of how this new system works.  You get people riled up on social media, and they go out and throw money at things.  You be there when they catch it.

Maybe this will all blow up in our faces someday.  People will wake up and realize the one share of Gamestop they bought for $150 is now worth $10 if that (the company as a negative P/E ratio - why is it worth anything?).  Then again, there seems to be an endless well of chumps out there - 20-somethings like myself, 40 years ago, who thought they could win at this stock market thing and went out and did stupid things like buying stocks hyped on the financial channels.  That didn't end well.  It never does.

But back then, we only had the television to blame.  And I quickly realized that the shouting guy and the fellow interviewing someone who said a stock was "going somewhere" (somewhere being the toilet) all had a vested interest in manipulating me.  Today, you might not even realize you are being manipulated and by who or whom.

In addition to FUD, there is FOMO - fear of missing out.  And with each passing day and each new article about "crypto" or "stonks" there is this nagging fear that maybe you should have jumped on this bandwagon.  Maybe there IS something to this currency that means nothing and can't be spent anywhere! Maybe... maybe we should go back to thinking rationally.

Because it is normal to be affected by FUD and FOMO, but we have to realize when we are being triggered this way.  Once again, like police tape roping off a crime scene, when someone uses FUD and FOMO to get you to do something, you should probably just walk away.  Again, you can spot a raw deal at 200 paces, just from the way it is presented.   Loud advertisements, signs with bright colors, companies that are always having a "going out of business!" sale - all lousy deals and you don't have to "do the math" to realize this.

Same deal with this internet manipulation - when someone posts something online, casually recommending a product or an investment, you should just assume, baseline, they are a paid professional troll with a dog in the fight.

Welcome to the psychology of the social media age....