A 5:49 A.M. Next Day Delivery Is An Inconvenient Answer for Amazon’s Critics

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At its height as the world’s most prominent sports magazine, and realistically one of the world’s most prominent magazines regardless of genre, Sports Illustrated (SI) was a weekly event of sorts. It generally arrived by mail on Thursdays. Subscribers spent a little or a lot of time in the days leading up to Thursday (keep in mind that this was pre-Internet) wondering who would be on the cover.

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SI’s profits in the glory days were remarkable (as were the expense of accounts of the magazine’s writers), and they logically resulted in all manner of other sports magazines meant to capitalize on the success of the original. In some of SI’s lesser spawns, advertisements for easy self-improvement were abundant. “Want a 36” verticle leap? Just order our unique training regimen. Allow six weeks for delivery.”

Memories like this age your writer while also reminding us how far we’ve come commercially thanks to companies like Amazon

AMZN
. While orders used to take so long to arrive that they were sometimes forgotten, Amazon’s customers increasingly receive their packages the following day. As the title of this piece alludes, a Paw Patrol (Skye) costume ordered for my daughter in a moment of certain weakness recently arrived the next day at 5:49 AM. No extra charge. Amazing.

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All of this and much more came to mind while reading Moira Weigel’s hit piece on Amazon published in the New York Times

NYT
over the weekend. An ability to detect irony is plainly not one of Weigel’s strong suits, which is too bad. In a more introspective moment, Weigel wouldn’t have written as she did. Figure that if the Amazon on which she heaped so much criticism were even a fraction as bad as she presumes, there would have been no opinion piece about the retail innovator in the Times, or realistically any media property of note. Translated for those who need it, the critiques of corporations skyrocket in concert with their growing ability to meet the needs of actual customers, and better yet to invent all new needs. Really, who was demanding Amazon back in the heyday of SI, and who even imagined such rapid delivery of seemingly everything?

Where to begin? Let’s start with where Weigel does. She tells the very sad story of an Amazon customer named Carey Gartner

IT
. In 2017 he ordered a television remote which contained a lithium battery that his daughter swallowed in 2019. Thankfully she didn’t die, but her esophagus was burned and permanently damaged. Gartner’s wife, Morgan McMillan, filed a lawsuit against Amazon, only for the Texas Supreme Court to rule that the retailer wasn’t liable for injuries sustained from a remote purchased from “a third-party merchant with an address in China.” Amazon bad? And in particular Amazon bad for not policing its third-party sellers more closely? Not so fast. One guesses the mildly sapient know why.

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When a company is selling as many goods as Amazon is, or as many goods as it’s facilitating the sale of, there will inevitably be unfortunate circumstances in some way (mostly indirect) related to some of the sales. There will be simply because life on its own is sadly full of the unexpected, including very sad accidents.

Consider the above in terms of statistics offered by Weigel. Amazon, for instance, has 153 million Prime members. Those members aren’t paying what they’re paying annually in order to make limited purchases. Extrapolate however many transactions across 153 million people, and do you think there will be a few mishaps? The question answers itself.

It all calls into question Weigel’s reporting, analysis, or both. Without minimizing the shame of what happened to Gartner and McMillan’s daughter for even a second, it’s hard not to conclude that Weigel is cherry-picking. Find a scenario that perhaps indicts Amazon, or one of its third-party sellers, and write an op-ed for editorialists all too eager to whine about what made one of the world’s richest men one of the world’s richest men. The problem with such a tactic is that it’s so easy expose as nonsensical per Weigel herself. As she notes, according to recent polling “72 percent of us view the company [Amazon] favorably.”

Please consider Weigel’s stat against her opening attack on the company based on one awful experience one customer had with “a third-party merchant with an address in China.” What Weigel unwittingly conveys is that the accident was novel; probably even for the merchant “with an address in China.”

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Indeed, Weigel can’t have it both ways. If Amazon is so bad, why is it viewed in such a positive light by so many? Really, what other company can claim 153 million members who pay over $100 annually just for the right to place an order with said company? Rather than find her introspective side, Weigel essentially changes the subject.

She claims we should feel “guilty” for using Amazon, and we should because we’re “thinking about the warehouse and delivery workers whose labor Amazon exploits, the small merchants whose successful products Amazon copies, and the beloved local bookstores whose bottom lines they undercut.” Hmmm. Let’s unpack Weigel’s charges. According to a New York Times report from 2017, Amazon reached 300,000 employees by its twentieth year as a public company, “the fastest any company has reached that mark.” Were those hires at gunpoint, or were stock options in one of the market’s all-time high-fliers, access to college tuition, and relentless investment in employees a factor that Weigel chose to gloss over? Notable about Amazon is that its automation of its warehouses continues at great speed, and as opposed to putting Amazon employees in breadlines, the company continues to hire the allegedly exploited at wages that go up and up. You see, the unspoken and happy secret about automation is that it doesn’t put employees out of work as much it enhances the productivity of their work through the addition of automated “hands,” as the division of labor always has. In short, Amazon “exploits” its workers by investing in the very advances that render them much more productive, and their work much more valuable (think higher wages) by extension. This may explain why Amazon’s actual workers don’t feel as Weigel does.

Are there disgruntled existing and former employees? Well, of course there are. See how quickly Amazon got to 300,000 employees to see why this is true. Much as one could easily cherry-pick bad experiences with products amid the billions (and trillions?) of sales that take place on the company’s platform each year, so could an ankle-biter of Weigel’s caliber similarly find employees who felt exploited.

Regarding the copying of smaller merchants, should consumers boycott every grocery chain too for providing cheaper (think Safeway’s “Signature” products as one of many examples) options for products sold on their shelves? After which, Amazon copying “small merchants” isn’t a sure-fire bad scenario for the merchant as is. For one, it’s a sign that the world’s best retailer has concluded something similar about consumer demand that the small merchant has. For two, Amazon’s presence in any market expands it for all players by virtue of it exposing billions of eyeballs to a perhaps formerly overlooked consumer good.

As for the “beloved bookstores” that Amazon has “undercut,” Weigel contradicts herself. By her own admission Amazon is the “only institution to appear among the five most trusted by both Democrats and Republicans,” while those “beloved bookstores” have gone the way of the telephone booth. What does that tell you, the reader? The answer is fairly simple: if anyone should feel “guilty,” it should be the bookstores that served their customers so poorly for so long such that Amazon’s online services could so powerfully replace them.

Weigel writes with dismay that companies like Amazon “are able to get customers so many things so cheap and fast because they know only what they have to; toward everything else, they often turn a blind eye.” This is funny considering Weigel’s lament about “small merchants” that Amazon hosts on its platform, and that Amazon “copies.” Depending on the day, Weigel either laments Amazon getting too close to its customers and knowing too much such that they produce what third-party vendors do, or she complains that Amazon turns “a blind eye” to what its third-party sellers (think “small merchants”) are doing. Okay, which is the problem? Weigel doesn’t say, and she doesn’t because she doesn’t know. Weigel’s just mad, and she’s found the perfect page (the New York Times editorial page) to express her rage.

Indeed, she wants to believe Amazon is exploiting workers and “small merchants,” only to admit that Amazon “pocketed $121 billion in fees” from them in 2021. Were the third-party merchants similarly held at gunpoint, or are the fees paid to Amazon indicative of a retail platform that has no peer? One guesses it’s a pretty good deal for third parties as evidenced by Weigel’s own statistic that the average seller gives Amazon a 34 percent cut of every transaction. Amazon doesn’t rate the aforementioned percentage because it’s a bad deal for third parties. Only in movies and on college campuses like Weigel’s Northeastern University do customers, employees and vendors keep coming back to those who allegedly “exploit” them.

Of course, if Amazon is doing as Weigel contends by injuring customers only to hide behind the third-party status of its vendors, exploiting workers, and then pick-pocketing the very vendors that it supposedly foists on customers, the logical answer is problem solved. At least for Weigel. Think about it. If Amazon is the bad actor Weigel claims we should feel guilty for patronizing, then the alleged problem will be solved by the very marketplace that Weigel is plainly so troubled by. Really, how many of us keep returning to the source of our abuse?

The answer yet again is that Weigel doesn’t know. It seems the professor was just writing to write. As she moans in concluding paragraphs, in “Inviting us to transact with far-flung strangers, Amazon says: Trust us.” And trust Amazon we do. According to Weigel’s own statistics. While she plainly put pen to paper in order to indict Amazon, by piece’s end Moira Weigel was essentially yelling at herself.



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