One of my beloved cousins posted the above on Facebook two days ago.
I adore my cousin. She and I agree on most things that matter (equality, justice, compassion, honesty, for instance), but this post was different. We had a little dialogue. Actually, I incoherently lectured and she politely listened/replied.
For the average busy person it is hard to care about what happens to a retailer, or a new little brand with a messed up market price, or any other distant business entity. And Amazon’s execution is unrivaled. They earned our trust. This trust is lately being destroyed.
Here are salient individual risks for every Amazon customer every time they purchase:
- The majority of reviews on Amazon are fake. There are armies of people paid to write them on behalf of sellers.
- Knockoffs are the fastest growing product category on the site, 25% of the products on Amazon come from China–mostly from very skilled rip off outfits. A senior Amazon exec told me that three years ago Jeff Bezos started getting really nervous about Alibaba’s growth (Amazon of China) and changed a long-standing policy of forcing international sellers to go through a domestic representative. That prior policy effectively policed the quality and origin of products. Removing that requirement has created an endless sea of cheap counterfeits. Amazon’s fraud department went from seven people to 150 in 18 months, but the horse is out of the barn.
- Hijacked listings. Fraudulent sellers have advanced their craft to even porting over all the content from original sellers to front their fake products.
Grommet Makers who list on Amazon routinely find photos of their children, themselves, and their products, being published on hijacked, fake listings.
The product that is sold there is not their own. But when it shows up and fails, the ensuing bad reviews tank the original product. The criminals just move on to destroy another target.*
- Amazon Private Label. Amazon makes a habit of watching the velocity of sales on its platform and then blatantly knocking off its vendors. It now has 125 private label brands, most with sneakily generic names. It is quietly copying the products of others and profiting from tax-paying companies’ R & D and other brand-building efforts. Regulators are just starting to notice and question the practice.
It’s ironic that Amazon is using a beloved Dr. Seuss character on its holiday boxes, because I feel like Seuss’s Lorax, shouting “Save the Trees!” vis-a-vis Amazon. I hear it all the time from intelligent and generous people: “I am too busy. Amazon saves my butt.” These time-starved people pay taxes** and value government services from teachers, first responders, and the like. They donate to charities. They vote, they volunteer, they build companies that pay taxes, they raise their children to care about others. But then they (usually unknowingly) contradict all that civic mindedness and concern for equality, justice, honesty and compassion by buying “everything” from Amazon. I guess it seems like “just that one little tree” is less important than the 15 minutes it would take to avoid Amazon.
Sometimes Amazon is simply unavoidable–they have aggressively wiped out all the competition for a given product. But we can stop that steamroller by keeping our annual number of Amazon purchases in the single digits–strictly limited to products where Amazon is the only game in town. Competition provides stronger companies and living wages for today’s and future generations. Monopolies do not. You can be sure that protecting the economic fabric of society is not on the Amazon roadmap. But it is one of the most critical gifts we can give to our children.
*The Gimlet Media “Reply All” team released a well reported expose of these bad business practices on their “The Magic Store” podcast episode. It is a must-listen, especially for any parent who wants to leave a vibrant economy still intact for their children.
** Amazon pays a fraction of a percent in federal taxes. The average company pays 24%. You saw their tax avoidance writ large in the HQ2 project where they created a frenzy of cities throwing tax credits at them, outright buying high paying Amazon jobs funded by taxpayer dollars.