Thursday, December 8, 2022

Amazon Versus Wish - No Difference?

What's the point of ordering online if they just scam you?

Years ago, ordering online didn't exist because "online" didn't exist.  We had something called "Mail Order" and there were a few "catalogs" you could order from that were legit - Sears, Mongomery Wards, L.L. Bean, Land's End, Lilian Vernon, and so forth.  You filled out a little form and sent it in with your check, cash, or money order (No stamps!  Who pays with stamps?  I guess it was a thing at one time).  Weeks later - after your check cleared the bank, you would get your merchandise, but since there was no "tracking" back then, if you didn't get it, it was tough to claw back your money.

In the "Joe Consumer" column in the local paper, there would be, once a month, a plea from a reader who ordered something from an advertisement in the back of a magazine and they never got their merchandise.  Joe Consumer - the columnist - would chastise the reader for being such a chump as to send off money to parts unknown!  It was his fault, not theirs.  He should have bought from a traditional brick-and-mortar store, such as those who advertise in the local newspaper!  No conflict of interest there, to be sure.

Thus, it was something of a novelty when eBay came along.  You sent someone money and hoped they sent you back the merchandise!  The rating system which allowed you to review merchants was supposed to be self-policing.  If enough people gave poor ratings and complained about poor service, eventually the merchant would be shouted down and find it hard to sell merchandise.  In a way, it was like social media - you can upvote certain posts and downvote others.   Some things get downvoted to oblivion, others make the "front page".

In theory, anyway.  People (bad actors) figured out early on that you could brigade a site with downvotes or upvotes, using bot accounts, and thus elevate odious content to the top and bury contrary opinion forever.  State actors figured this out - and are still doing it.  Sites discussing recent protests in China, for example, are being flooded with garbage posts with links to porn sites - burying any real posting about the protests under a tsunami of SPAM.  Pretty scary stuff.  It is a wonder anyone uses social media anymore, given how clear it is we are being manipulated by it, all the time.

But I digress.

Getting back to online ordering, the entire eBay thing was based on TRUST and early on, you had to trust the merchant to ship your goods, and the merchant had to trust the buyer not to claim that the goods were damaged (or never received) when they were, in fact, just fine.   But people being people, they had to screw up a good thing.

Of course, today, we have credit cards, and a consumer can request a charge-back if they didn't receive the goods or the goods were damaged.  But that doesn't stop the bad guys, at least not for long.

There are entire sites which are little more than scams.  I wrote before about penny-auction sites - where you are paying for "bids" and hope to be the "winner" of the auction in the real gambling sense.  They are not retail sites, they are gambling sites.  Then there are sites like, which for the life of me, I cannot understand how it stays in business.  They offer goods for sale at ridiculously low prices - a computer motherboard for 99 cents, for example.  People "buy" these items and are shipped some trivial item such as a cheap plastic toy or a pen.  I am not sure why they bother to do this, other than to be able to say they did ship something and the buyer is just being unreasonable.

Amazon to the rescue - at least at first.  Amazon built a reputation as being an honest retailer with an amazing return policy.  It was generous - too generous.  People started abusing it.  Brides would order a bridal gown and then wear it to their wedding and return it for a full refund.  Most returned items are discarded or wholesaled at a great loss.   Amazon was not amused.

Amazon used the Silicon Valley model of "go big, go fast, break things" and expanded exponentially, becoming the second-largest retailer worldwide and one of the world's largest employers - a long way from selling used books out of your parent's garage!  But any mercantile endeavor can be a business of thin margins, as the barriers to entry are pretty low.  So Amazon started trying to make more money by doing some weird things.  They offered "free shipping!" and then tacked on an $8 shipping charge at checkout - that you had to politely decline if you wanted the free shipping.  "What, you don't want to pay $8 extra?  We just assumed - most of our customers do!"  Yea, right, Amazon, sure.  Keep lying!

Prime was another deal - you could get things shipped more quickly, but only if you were willing to pay a monthly fee.   You'd be surprised how many people paid that fee.   They added other perks, such as their streaming service - I think everyone today has a streaming service.  My Dentist offers one with each cleaning.   Funny thing, no one is making money streaming video.  Not Disney, not even Netflix.  I think YouTube is, however - but more on that another day.

Amazon started doing other weird things - their pricing became "dynamic" and finding the lowest price on an item started to become like a treasure hunt.  Readers report that if you leave something in your "cart" a few days, you get offers at lower prices.  Funny how that works.   I noticed that prices on things, such as the hot tub we bought, changed by the hour.  Wayfair is famous for this - and famous for being sketchy, too. This sort of pisses-off customers and many manufacturers are finding it easier to sell to their customers directly, online, through their own websites.

For example, I find that with "online coupon discounts" it is cheaper to buy Bissell items from than from Amazon.  Ditto for Merrell sneakers - online prices on are far better than Amazon.  In fact, given how Amazon charges companies to sell their products, it makes sense that the company can sell for less and make more money by selling directly to consumers.  The whole model of manufacturer-wholesaler-retailer-customer is being upended.  And Amazon is quite literally stuck in the middle.

There are exceptions, of course - and most manufacturers are still stuck in the 1990's, selling only at "manufacturer's suggested retail price" on their own sites, fearful that retailers will drop their product if they sell for less.

Mark likes to use Phisoderm to clean his face.  It is a good product and on the Phisoderm site, it retails for about $10 a bottle for the 6-ounce bottle.   I checked eBay but most of the sellers there wanted $8 or more per bottle - some asking more than MSRP!   Walgreens had it for close to $6 a bottle, which is a good price, but I would have to drive into town to get it.  So, reluctantly, I clicked on Amazon and lo and behold, they had a six-pack of 6-ounce bottles for $31, with "free shipping" (the usual gag!).  That works out to about $5 a bottle, so I ordered it.

A week later, an envelope arrives in the mail.   I got one bottle of Phisoderm, and all there was, was the bottle itself.  The contents had all leaked out, into the envelope and no doubt all over the USPS sorting machinery (it was one of those UPS-to-USPS delivery deals). The packing slip clearly says "Package of six" but I guess either the order-puller didn't read carefully or the third-party seller was a con-job.

So, now I have to drive into town, take this dripping mess to a UPS store, and have them re-pack it and send it back.  And no doubt, Amazon will claim that I never sent back the six bottles which they never sent me.  It comes down to my word against theirs, and if they want to be dicks about it, I have little recourse, other than to do a chargeback on my credit card (already done) and not shop at Amazon again (the latter of which, I pretty much have been doing, thanks to experiences like this).

I mentioned before that years ago, I ordered something from Amazon - I can't remember what, maybe furnace filters? - and they sent me a toilet.  Not a whole toilet, just the lower part. Kind of useless without the tank.  I e-mailed them and they said "just keep it" and eventually I got my product.  I guess with so much going through their system, mistakes happen - but they seem to be happening more and more these days.

It is getting to the point where Amazon is no more reliable than - and that's saying a lot!

By the way, I have ordered many liquid items online over the years and have never had a problem until now.  I ordered a gallon of highly toxic termite killer for our pine trees, and it came double-wrapped with the lid taped and no leaks.  Most folks, including our local Avon rep, put a piece of packing tape over the lid of a bottle - that is enough to prevent it from unscrewing or popping open.   Skin-so-soft really rocks in keeping away no-see-ums.  Good for your skin, too.  Too bad it is sold through an MLM, though!

For some reason, Amazon can't figure this out, so I have this dripping mess of a bag to return, which I have put into a ziplock to prevent further spilling.  It is almost like Amazon doesn't care about the retail arm anymore - maybe they are too consumed with Prime-TV, self-driving cars, and maybe their own version of "Meta?"

Yea, that.  Seems our psychotic Billionaire friends are all going down the rabbit-hole and plowing way too much money into pie-in-the-sky ideas, frantically trying to find "The Next Big Thing!" that makes wild profits, instead of fine-tuning their existing businesses.  The latter is difficult and boring and doesn't wow investors.  So maybe there is a pattern here - in Musk buying Twitter, or Zuckerberg plowing billions into Meta, or Redfin trying to get into the house-flipping business, or Amazon dropping the ball and neglecting the family jewels in favor of Pentagon contracts.

Maybe.  That is the problem with "The Next Big Thing!" - you have to keep creating bigger and bigger (read: more and more profitable) things to satisfy the appetites of the investors, who all want staggering rates of return on their investments.  No one wants boring old dividend checks or steady growth in share prices in a mature industry.   The fault lies with the investors, who constantly crave distraction.

OK, this is a long way from a leaky shipment of face-wash.  But maybe it is a minute data-point in an overall graph.  Amazon is hiring Pinkertons to squelch unionizing.  Given the horror stories coming out of Amazon distribution centers, it isn't hard to believe that unionizing will be inevitable.  First one Starbucks, then the next.  One distribution center, then another.  Amazon and Starbucks can't close them all down without going out of business.   And when they become mostly unionized, well, the business of running the business becomes much more difficult and tedious.  No more wild profits, no more easy money.  You have to run a tight ship and deal with the local union reps.  You can't treat your employees like shit anymore.  It isn't glamorous.  It isn't Silicon Valley startup mentality.

So, lesson learned.  In less time it took me to dick around ordering this stuff online, I could have just pulled into the Walgreens on the way to the grocery store and bought the damn stuff.  As it is, I will pull in there today, on the way to the UPS store to re-pack the dripping bag-o-cleanser.

And they say brick-and-mortar is dead.  Maybe not.

You see, people have to go to work, go to town, or whatever.  We like to look at the produce before buying it - we are not trusting a Walmart employee to pick it for us, or some "door dash" delivery guy to bring it to us for an exorbitant fee.  Because no matter how much it costs us to drive into town, it by default will cost more to have someone drive to our house, because we have to pay them, as well as pay for their vehicle expense.

And if you are going to drive into town - for work, or for groceries - you might as well stop by your local brick-and-mortar store, where they have the goods in stock, and on-sale, and most importantly of all, you give them cash, they give you product.  End of story, no mystery, no waiting, no disputes.

Yea, sure, you get some problems with brick-and-mortar sometimes.  We bought two track-lighting kits for the gallery, as Mark wanted to set up a bookstore section in the old Butler's Pantry and the lighting was poor.  We have a number of authors here on the island and they have a plethora of books for sale.  It is pretty amazing how prolific they are.  So anyway, we bought two LED sets that were pretty dusty, at Home Depot.  I should have bought halogen sets and put LED bulbs in them, in retrospect, as with the LED set, if the LED bulb burns out (and they do, on occasion) you have to replace the whole head.

Well, I guess someone else had that problem, as when I opened one of the boxes, it had clearly been returned, and instead of three LED heads in the kit, were two black halogen heads of a different style, wedged in there, sans bulbs.  Lesson learned:  Always open things at the store first - particularly if they look like they have been repackaged!  But they cheerfully allowed me to return the item for a replacement (in stock) - no need to wait days or weeks for a refund or a new shipment.

Convenience is the selling point of brick-and-mortar.  And yea, the employees at these places are no more motivated than the slackers at Amazon.  Drones are drones, it seems.  All you can do is be nice to them and smile and go about your business.  Poor bastards.  I cannot fathom why anyone yells at these folks, as if they care in the first place, and as if they can make some special exception for Karen.   But I digress yet again.

Oddly enough, I found the same "pack of 6" for sale on and like an idiot, I ordered it.  I guess I must be a masochist, putting my hand on the hot stove, time and time again!  We'll see how that works out....

UPDATE:  Walmart delivered 12 bottles at a better price with no drama.  Came in a box, with each six-pack shrink-wrapped to prevent leakage.  Walmart: 1  Amazon: 0  (-1 actually).

UPDATE: Even Amazon's own newspaper admits the retailer has gone downhill.  Many comments online report similar problems - people will sell one product online and get all five-star reviews.  Then, they change the product description to an entirely different product and then sell garbage - and once the one-star reviews pile up, close up shop and open a new seller account.  More disturbingly, Amazon seems to cancel negative reviews with regularity - so others cannot be warned!

UPDATE:  I submitted a review on Amazon pointing out all of the above.  Today, I noticed my review is missing.  But there are several other reviews complaining that they ordered six bottles and received only one or three and that they were leaking.  So it isn't just me.  It isn't an isolated incident.  One reviewer goes so far as to say "never buy multipacks from Amazon!"   Another points out Walgreens has it for about $5 a bottle (Local Walgreens did not have it in stock, sadly).

Has Amazon jumped the shark?  Or did it a long time ago.  There is a reason I avoid shopping there!  Bad vibes!