Join 3,501 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The death of non-specialist retail or Kozmo 2.0?
July 13, 2012 5:27 PM   Subscribe

How Amazon’s ambitious new push for same-day delivery will destroy local retail.
posted by Pope Guilty (184 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I dispute this doomsday scenario, and so does the data. People still need real life stores for some things. What they don't need is big box stores who can't adapt quickly to new realities like small stores can.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know what would greatly increase my shopping at local retail? Searchable online inventories. I should be able to go to Google Maps, type in the name of a product and have it show me what stores near me have it in stock.
I often end up just buying something on Amazon since too often I've gone out do 4 or 5 stores nearby and not been able to find what I was looking for. My time is more valuable than that.
posted by MrBobaFett at 5:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [116 favorites]


Oh kozmo.com, though your delivery people were always surly and trailed the scent of marijuana wherever they went, making my hallway smell like a college dorm when I opened the door to accept my camel lights, cookie dough ice cream and frozen pizzas, I miss you so.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:46 PM on July 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm super perplexed that Amazon hasn't done more in Canada. Amazon.ca is a pale, sad shadow of the US version or the UK version. It really makes no sense, to me at least, as most other online merchants in Canada completely suck balls, while Amazon.ca just sort of licks one of them then pats it dry. But honestly I would probably never order anything except from them if they actually had what I wanted to buy.

I probably spend more at B&H photo, which is out of New York, than any other online vendor at all. (Except Apple, which is at least in theory just for occasional purchases of stuff one can only get from them.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:49 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Searchable online inventories. I should be able to go to Google Maps, type in the name of a product and have it show me what stores near me have it in stock.

I've used the barcode reader on my smartphone in exactly this way when shopping for common auto parts (belts, etc.) from the comfort of the mechanic's waiting room. Google Shopper does this on my browser at home as well.
posted by carsonb at 5:50 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I want my WebVan back!
posted by nostrada at 5:53 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"They should pay tax. No! Wait! Don't pay tax! Wah!"
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


If they byppass the USPS to make it happen, then unfortunately yes, I will be all over this.
posted by bleep at 5:55 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Heh. Have you heard about Amazon Fresh? It is a wonder of the modern world.
posted by Artw at 5:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I hope they're going to do something about their international shipping rates. Their prices on books are great, but it doesn't make sense to buy a bunch of 9 dollar paperbacks when I have to pay $5.50 per book for the slowest shipping, which takes 18-32 days. The two faster options are $8.26 for 8-16 business days, and $9.64 for 2-6 business days.

This is to Mexico City, practically in their backyard, while people in Alaska, Hawaii or Puerto Rico get free 2-day shipping for $79 a year. I'd buy a lot more from them if shipping was cheaper.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:58 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Because the Canadian postal service is a cruel, elaborate joke. I never, ever thought I would miss Royal Mail but I do.
posted by Damienmce at 5:58 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


If a local retail store is good, it will survive.

If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated? The only reasons people have EVER given me for supporting local community all the time is "because it's mom and pop!" Well if that's your sole reason, just go to the retail store, buy what you wanted, and then on your way home stop by mom and pop and just donate the cost difference. My friend will go to her local family-run hardware store and buy a hammer that costs five dollars more than at, say, home depot, just because she wants to support the family. Dude, just give them the five bucks.

I'm not a fan of Walmart. But I moved to a town that had only two stores that sold food - a Walmart and a mom & pop. I tried the M&P, I really did....but after about a month of getting groceries of limited selection, that spoiled incredibly quickly, I did go to Walmart.

Now if a local store is incredibly useful to the community - say, in the hardware store the people are willing to bend over backwards to help you get your project in order - then it WON'T go out of business.

If we want to preserve something, we need to think about why, and that why needs to be a little more than, "just because!".
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:01 PM on July 13, 2012 [23 favorites]


I've used the barcode reader on my smartphone in exactly this way when shopping for common auto parts (belts, etc.) from the comfort of the mechanic's waiting room. Google Shopper does this on my browser at home as well.

Not all local retailers have this feature, though, is the point, I think. Google Shopper relies on submissions, which not all stores do.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 6:04 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


So what if I want a significantly lower shipment cost and I'm ready to deal with a slower service, for individual items? Can't do apparently.
posted by elpapacito at 6:07 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"You know what would greatly increase my shopping at local retail? Searchable online inventories. I should be able to go to Google Maps, type in the name of a product and have it show me what stores near me have it in stock."

I'd think that this would be an opportunity for an internet start-up: integrate inventory control with a web interface API that would allow smaller retailers to present a web searchable storefont and, possibly, one from which they can purchase items and request delivery.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:08 PM on July 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


Now if a local store is incredibly useful to the community - say, in the hardware store the people are willing to bend over backwards to help you get your project in order - then it WON'T go out of business.

Page's in Guilford, CT ... amirite?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:09 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm super perplexed that Amazon hasn't done more in Canada.

You mean that amazon.ca doesn't have cute rollerblading couriers who deliver packages via portals tagged with stars that go through people's heads?!
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:14 PM on July 13, 2012 [36 favorites]


I am shocked there is not already a delivery service that will bring you mom-things when you are sick -- chicken soup, tylenol, gatorade, etc. I think people would pay a lot of money to have someone pop over to the 24-hour grocery store at 3 a.m. and bring them some saltines when they're sick. (And really, most sick-person things are shelf-stable, so you could just keep them in your delivery van.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:14 PM on July 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'd think that this would be an opportunity for an internet start-up: integrate inventory control with a web interface API that would allow smaller retailers to present a web searchable storefont and, possibly, one from which they can purchase items and request delivery.

That would open the door for something pretty nice where you can post your inventory needs on an online market and suppliers bid to fill them, sort of like the way existing ad networks operate. Throw in ebay-esque penalties for low-rated retailers and suppliers to cut down on abuse, maybe?
posted by jason_steakums at 6:15 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated?

Because the local store is more likely to recycle its profits into the community, rather than shipping them off to a CEO on the other side of the country.
Because while efficiency is good for stockholders, it is generally bad for employees. Local businesses tend to employ more people than a big box. A hardware store with 10 people and a grocery store with 10 people is better than a combo store with 15.
Because wages tend to be better at locally owned operations (though this is disputed in some studies).
Because competition and choice works out better for the consumer than a monolithic chain.

All of which is not to say you should feel obligated to shop exclusively at local stores, but hey, isn't 5 bucks worth having a viable, lively downtown rather than a megachain of parking lots out by the freeway?
posted by madajb at 6:15 PM on July 13, 2012 [76 favorites]


Because the Canadian postal service is a cruel, elaborate joke. I never, ever thought I would miss Royal Mail but I do.

When did Amazon Canada switch to using Canada Post for shipping? It's been UPS to me every time thus far.
posted by juiceCake at 6:22 PM on July 13, 2012


I'm super perplexed that Amazon hasn't done more in Canada. Amazon.ca is a pale, sad shadow of the US version or the UK version.

It's because shipping in Canada is expensive and shitty. In 1997, I came up with the idea for what Netflix ended up doing but when I checked into shipping it became cost-prohibitive. This is one of the reasons, I think, Netflix didn't give a big push in Canada till streaming was feasible.
posted by dobbs at 6:23 PM on July 13, 2012


Hey, it's another one for the Farhad Manjoo File!
posted by zamboni at 6:23 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


I often end up just buying something on Amazon since too often I've gone out do 4 or 5 stores nearby and not been able to find what I was looking for.

I can't even handle Duane Reade anymore - they keep embiggening the stores and changing the layouts and I just want some goddamn tampax and even the dude restocking the mile long shampoo aisle doesn't know where they are and I am ready to just buy a box of diapers and call it a day.

Fuck stores.
posted by elizardbits at 6:25 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated?

Because before long without it you won't have a community.
posted by milarepa at 6:25 PM on July 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


I was actually just thinking about this issue of Amazon vs. local retailers the other day. I've been buying a lot more stuff from Amazon lately for the reasons the article mentions (I have Prime, the delivery has gotten ridiculously fast) and probably also because I have a kindle, so I'm just more aware of Amazon in general (genius branding).

But even though I'm buying a lot more on Amazon, I don't really think I'm diverting too much money from the local mom and pop stores, because most of the stuff I buy on Amazon (household goods, mainly) are things I would probably have to drive out to the suburbs and buy from a big box retailer anyway.

Also, I live in Seattle, so I always do feel a bit like I'm supporting the local economy by shopping on Amazon. They're a big employer here, and their HQ presence has done a lot to revitalize a downtown neighborhood. Too bad they're not really a great benefactor to the community, though.
posted by lunasol at 6:27 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth: "If we want to preserve something, we need to think about why, and that why needs to be a little more than, "just because!"."

Well, for starters, mom and pop's don't generally lock employees in the store overnight.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:27 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


There's a grocery store that operates in my neighborhood that has a web-searchable inventory and delivery called Yummy.com. The selection is only slightly more limited than the smaller supermarkets, and I think you can buy a subscription instead of incurring per-trip delivery charges. It did indeed come in handy when I was too sick to move, but is certainly a good step more expensive altogether than using the supermarket.

I do recognize how lucky I am to live in a coastal City of the Future (my Amazon orders are already almost same-day) and that these things may not apply across the country, or the planet. But people are thinking about these things and working things out on levels below Amaon's behemoth. Wider implementation is forthcoming.
posted by carsonb at 6:28 PM on July 13, 2012


So what happened to all the stuff about how shitty it is to work for Amazon? How exploited the workers are and how cruel the management? I've stopped ordering from Amazon - fuck 'em, is what I say. I want more for the future than a polarized world where 50% of us are working in shitty, unairconditioned warehouses shipping goods for the other 50% who can't bear to wait more than twelve hours for their sweatshop-produced shoes or whatever. All this business of "oh, it's more convenient" - well, it's just putting slightly-less-horrible retail jobs at risk and replacing them with more horrible, more precarious shipping jobs.
posted by Frowner at 6:28 PM on July 13, 2012 [56 favorites]


I own a local retail business. Amazon (currently) is not one of our competitors, but we do have online competition (knitpicks, WEBS). We can't compete with them on price. No local business can. So we don't even have e-commerce. But we offer help and community that are a big value. We offer local yarn, goodies, and classes that you can't get online. We let you touch the product, see things that are knit up with it, and we talk to you with a smile. I'm not too worried.
posted by rikschell at 6:29 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated?

Because if you don't pay extra to shop there, they'll go out of business and you'll have to pay higher taxes to support the former proprietors and their former employees on the dole. You can't win.
posted by spacewrench at 6:32 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I try to buy local whenever possible, but, goddammit, the local service has to be worth it. For example, I recently spent $150 for child's bike at locally-owned bike shop, and bought some new clipless pedals at $100. So that's $250.

However, I wanted to buy a specific kind of helmet for my son, and they didn't have it in stock. I said to the salesperson/mechanic, "Don't worry, I'll just buy it at MEC" (a "co-op" similar to REI in the States that is hated by local bike stores) and the salesperson proceeded to lecture me about the importance of buying local.

Which seemed kind of weird, because he was saying that I should buy a bike helmet that I did not want in the first place!
posted by KokuRyu at 6:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


What does same day delivery matter when I'm never at my apartment to receive it? And I have to drive out to the UPS place to pick it up anyway? Seriously, unless these deliveries are happening past 6PM, then why the fuck even bother?
posted by Chekhovian at 6:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


So what happened to all the stuff about how shitty it is to work for Amazon? How exploited the workers are and how cruel the management? I've stopped ordering from Amazon - fuck 'em, is what I say. I want more for the future than a polarized world where 50% of us are working in shitty, unairconditioned warehouses shipping goods for the other 50% who can't bear to wait more than twelve hours for their sweatshop-produced shoes or whatever. All this business of "oh, it's more convenient" - well, it's just putting slightly-less-horrible retail jobs at risk and replacing them with more horrible, more precarious shipping jobs.

Well eventually Amazon will address your concerns by replacing all of their warehouse workers with robots.
posted by gyc at 6:42 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Because while efficiency is good for stockholders, it is generally bad for employees. Local businesses tend to employ more people than a big box. A hardware store with 10 people and a grocery store with 10 people is better than a combo store with 15.

Call me crazy, but I think you can come up with better ways to promote social welfare than encouraging inefficient use of labour.
posted by ripley_ at 6:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [27 favorites]


I buy local when I don't have to wait for stuff.

I'll pay retail for a book from my local bookseller ... if it's in stock when I go there. Fuck me if I pay them to "order it" so I have to go there twice; I can "order it" thanks.

Shopping at WalMart or whatever for common consumer items is basically disgusting; I won't do it. I don't go into those stores. I can't stand the merchandising, products or customer vibe. I hate Canadian Tire but it's the best chance I have; at least their Chinese-made crap is one notch less worthless than WalMart's. It still breaks but a week later. I'm so frustrated by stuff that breaks.

We don't have a car and getting the carshare or taking a bus to the mall for "durable goods" is a pain in the ass. Who knows if they'll have what we want in stock, and it'll be marked up to mall prices anyway. Fuck that.

There used to be a computer store in town (Canada Computers) that I would do business with, but last time I went in they asked me to drop my backpack behind the counter because they wouldn't trust me to not steal shit. I won't do business with businesses that don't trust me; clearly they're not worthy of my trust either. So now I have to buy computer parts from NCIX or Tiger Direct (barf) or NewEgg online anyway.

If it's camera crap I'm just fucked, because the local camera stores are jackholes who exist to talk rubes out of dough. Or there's Vistek which is decent but only if you're on an expense account. If you're just a regular photographer you're just fucked -- get it from Brooklyn. They have a deal with Purolator anyway and it arrives in two days anyhow.

Anything else, if I can't get it at the grocery store, I'll do without (likely) or if I'm lucky and it's in stock, I get it from Amazon. Not because it's cheaper, but because it's available at any price.

That's what it's like shopping in Canada when you want to buy things that don't suck.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am shocked there is not already a delivery service that will bring you mom-things when you are sick -- chicken soup, tylenol, gatorade, etc. I think people would pay a lot of money to have someone pop over to the 24-hour grocery store at 3 a.m. and bring them some saltines when they're sick.
posted by Eyebrows McGee


Kosmo.com did this - it failed.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:47 PM on July 13, 2012


Every time I walk into Best Buy, I like Amazon more.
posted by underflow at 6:47 PM on July 13, 2012 [24 favorites]


My friend will go to her local family-run hardware store and buy a hammer that costs five dollars more than at, say, home depot, just because she wants to support the family. Dude, just give them the five bucks.

I don't get it -- why shouldn't she shop where she wants to shop?

I'm not sure why Manjoo thinks this is a big deal. Of the things that I purchase, which things do I need today as opposed to tomorrow or two days from now? Groceries, but I'm not going to buy those from Amazon anyway. Things I want to buy at the store I buy from the store, things I want to buy from Amazon I buy from Amazon. I buy plenty from Amazon. But I can't think of a single item for which same-day delivery would make me switch.
posted by escabeche at 6:48 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess the solution to the delivery issue is the 7-11 digital lockers they'd planned earlier.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:49 PM on July 13, 2012


Unfortunately, for some things, local stores simply don't make any sense any more. Record stores, anyone? Once bread can be bought and delivered the same way you buy a song, people will go do that — and they will also go to the local artisanal bread joint, the same way you pay to see a band live or see a movie in the theaters. Bonus: you can't pirate bread.

So there goes small retail that isn't boutique or specialty. I'm afraid this is a one-way street, and we may soon look back on small stores the way we look back on all the record shops and soda jerks that used to populate our streets: with nostalgia, but with the understanding that for the most part, their time had come.

The big companies have always been there, by the way, for centuries now, controlling pricing and quantity and distribution. There are just fewer middle men now.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 6:49 PM on July 13, 2012


What does same day delivery matter when I'm never at my apartment to receive it? And I have to drive out to the UPS place to pick it up anyway? Seriously, unless these deliveries are happening past 6PM, then why the fuck even bother?

I think the wave of the future is going to have to be lock boxes. I've had problems getting shippers to leave stuff when I'm not here, and with increasing frequency problems where, when things are left at my door, they magically walk away. (Thanks, awesome economy!)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:50 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth
Are sustainable business practices a good reason? That is a major reason to say the fuck away from Wal-Mart.
posted by MrBobaFett at 6:50 PM on July 13, 2012


Their next goal will be to ship items faster than light, so that they arrive before you order them.
posted by bad grammar at 6:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


What does same day delivery matter when I'm never at my apartment to receive it?

I just get everything delivered to work.
posted by octothorpe at 6:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Call me crazy, but I think you can come up with better ways to promote social welfare than encouraging inefficient use of labour.

There are always greater efficencies to be wrung out of systems. Ultimately however, most low-level, entry jobs are warm-body or pair-of-hands kinds of positions, the kind of thing that eventually robots will replace entirely. As that day draws ever closer, entry level jobs get harder and harder to find. There are worse things in the world than inefficency, like having a permanent unemployable class.

One could argue that we're really starting to feel that now, in fact. The amount of money and energy the right spends on blaming people, to stop the finger of blame being pointed at management and company owners, could be considered an indirect sign of that.
posted by JHarris at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Because the local store is more likely to recycle its profits into the community, rather than shipping them off to a CEO on the other side of the country.

Is this true? Does it even matter? A local shop owner can just as easily recycle his profits all over the globe.

Because while efficiency is good for stockholders, it is generally bad for employees. Local businesses tend to employ more people than a big box. A hardware store with 10 people and a grocery store with 10 people is better than a combo store with 15.

I think you've got this wrong. While efficiency may mean fewer employees, inefficiency may mean no employees. Or business.

Because wages tend to be better at locally owned operations (though this is disputed in some studies).

Really? I've never known Mom and Pop stores to have notably high wages. I'd definitely say this was disputed.

Because competition and choice works out better for the consumer than a monolithic chain.


Monolithic chains are capable of a great deal of choice and competition. Amazon offers many items from different sources. Big box stores often carry things that small town Mom and Pop stores would never have.

All of which is not to say you should feel obligated to shop exclusively at local stores, but hey, isn't 5 bucks worth having a viable, lively downtown rather than a megachain of parking lots out by the freeway?

Sometimes downtown isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Because before long without it you won't have a community.

If the store makes the community, the community's days are already numbered.

Are sustainable business practices a good reason? That is a major reason to say the fuck away from Wal-Mart.

Walmart is'n't sustainable?
posted by 2N2222 at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Call me crazy, but I think you can come up with better ways to promote social welfare than encouraging inefficient use of labour.

Maybe, but taken too far, we're going to all efficiently labour ourselves right out of a job.
posted by madajb at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


So... is Amazon really going to be doing same-day delivery in anywhere that isn't a major urban area? Or is this all about "hey, we can do this in big cities, but if you live in any place which hasn't had a sitcom set in it then you don't actually exist for us"?
posted by hippybear at 7:02 PM on July 13, 2012


I’d gotten next-day Saturday service for free. I have no idea how Amazon made any money on my order (the whole bill was less than $30) but several people on Twitter told me that they’ve experienced similarly delightful service.

Gee, Farhad, maybe Amazon has a list somewhere of widely-read, yet easily-duped hack columnists that are likely to turn a free $10 shipping expedite into an Amazon plug to their 22K Twitter followers and a gushing article on a well-known webmagazine that focuses on how delightful their service is, rather than how shady their business practices are? Maybe that's how they make money on your order.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:02 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ultimately however, most low-level, entry jobs are warm-body or pair-of-hands kinds of positions, the kind of thing that eventually robots will replace entirely.

Sure, but if you outlaw robots, they'll be more likely to revolt.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hardly ever buy from Amazon anymore. Fuck them, that’s not the future I want. I use their site to read reviews, compare items, etc. and then buy it locally, or if that’s not possible, from an online site I like more.
posted by bongo_x at 7:05 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Maybe, but taken too far, we're going to all efficiently labour ourselves right out of a job."

Yeah, but that's never happened in the long term before.

There's a reason why people can't live, much less support a family, on entry-level, low-skill jobs. And it's not because there's not any. There are, they're mostly in service industries. The reason why those don't function for that socioeconomic class the way that warehouse or factory jobs did in the past is because the labor movement in the US has been systematically destroyed. All the people who have conspired to do this, as well as all the people who have particpated in this by apathy and inaction, are to blame. The fault lies not in that businesses have becoming more efficient, but that there's not a vigorous labor movement in place to make sure that as these efficiencies are achieved the benefits accrue to the working class as well as the capitalists.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:11 PM on July 13, 2012 [28 favorites]


Gee, Farhad, maybe Amazon has a list somewhere of widely-read, yet easily-duped hack columnists

I've gotten free next-day delivery from Amazon several times in recent months, to my recurring surprise. What should I do, send the stuff back because it came too fast?
posted by anigbrowl at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe, but taken too far, we're going to all efficiently labour ourselves right out of a job.

So if no-one is working but the economy is making more things faster and more efficiently than ever, then somehow those things are going to end up in the hands of people who don't have to labor for them - net win for everyone - because capital has no use for manufacturing things for the sake of manufacturing things, toasters have no reason to exist unless they are somehow going to end up in the hands of people.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:16 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Google-licensed self driving vans manned by a guy who runs the Amazon package up to your door while sensors on the vehicle collect street view data to sell back to Google. Or something.
posted by bendybendy at 7:16 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but that's never happened in the long term before.

We've also never lived in a world where it was so easy to buy a product 3 states over and have it at our doorstep the next morning.

I'm not saying that no one should ever shop at Amazon. All I'm suggesting is that, if it's possible for me to buy an item from the guy at the local store, who eats at my neighbor's restaurant, buys a hard drive from my buddies' computer shop, gets his oil changed at the quickie lube down the street, maybe picks up a used book from the corner shop, that's worth $5 to me.

I'd rather the people in my town have jobs (wage-slave or not) than some guy in a warehouse in the next state.
posted by madajb at 7:26 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


So what if I want a significantly lower shipment cost and I'm ready to deal with a slower service, for individual items? Can't do apparently.

Actually, if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can choose regular shipping rather than the standard Prime two-day shipping, and they'll give you a $.99 credit to the Amazon music store. It's not real money, but it's something.
posted by jessssse at 7:27 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am shocked there is not already a delivery service that will bring you mom-things when you are sick -- chicken soup, tylenol, gatorade, etc. I think people would pay a lot of money to have someone pop over to the 24-hour grocery store at 3 a.m. and bring them some saltines when they're sick.

Eyebrows: Taskrabbit. Reportedly works great!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:28 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the article focuses on taxes a bit too much and less on the last-mile problem. How much of a discount does amazon get for contracting with UPS/Fedex/USPS? Is it sustainable for the delivery companies to continue to bend over backwards for amazon's business? My guess is yes but I know little about (to borrow marketing-speak from UPS) "logistics". Doesn't it make sense at some point for amazon to start their own delivery system, incorporated with their existing "smart" warehouses with the robots and the whatnot, with a fleet of trucks coming out of these scattered warehouses they own?
posted by antonymous at 7:29 PM on July 13, 2012


So if no-one is working but the economy is making more things faster and more efficiently than ever, then somehow those things are going to end up in the hands of people who don't have to labor for them - net win for everyone - because capital has no use for manufacturing things for the sake of manufacturing things, toasters have no reason to exist unless they are somehow going to end up in the hands of people.

Sort of? Some form of redistribution really is key, because some people simply won't have anything to trade for those toasters if automation reduces the demand for some types of labour even further.

In your story, there is significantly less labour required per unit of output, and so the demand for labour drops significantly. Great for people who already have some resources, but not so good for anyone who only has their labour to trade. Private individuals aren't going to make you a toaster if you can't trade them something for it, even if it costs significantly less to make than it does now.
posted by ripley_ at 7:29 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google-licensed self driving vans manned by a guy who runs the Amazon package up to your door while sensors on the vehicle collect street view data to sell back to Google. Or something.

Google maps 37Signals with Flickr iPod?
posted by loquacious at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


I prefer to buy from my neighbors if possible because they are who I live around, and if they are prosperous then I live in a community (block, town, nation) with prosperous people and that seems like a good bet. It's cool to have a global economy, and I'm glad also that my purchases can help fuel growth in Korea too, but my concentric circles of care go: family, neighbors (including the poorest of my neighbors, actually them first, then the pizza guy), city, state, nation, world.

Fuck aliens though they take forever to deliver on everything but anal probes, and I'm sick of those.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:35 PM on July 13, 2012 [10 favorites]


Call me crazy, but I think you can come up with better ways to promote social welfare than encouraging inefficient use of labour.

I don't give a fuck about the "efficiency" of a retail operation. I won't shop at big-business chain stores that have MBA-formulated "management strategies" that exist to destroy the bodies, minds, and souls of the people working for them. I want to live in a functional community. I don't mind paying an extra $12 / gallon for paint or whatever at the local hardware store when I get to pet the store dog and have a conversation with the clerk who has time to do that because he isn't being threatened with firing for not being "efficient" enough.
posted by junco at 7:35 PM on July 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


My guess is yes but I know little about (to borrow marketing-speak from UPS) "logistics".

Logistics isn't marketing-speak. Here, let Wikipedia explain it to you.
posted by hippybear at 7:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


"I'd rather the people in my town have jobs (wage-slave or not) than some guy in a warehouse in the next state."

You write that as if this were a self-evidently good thing, but in my worldview, the privileging of those near oneself (in relation or geography) is one of the primary causes of systemic injustice.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:39 PM on July 13, 2012 [24 favorites]


I'd rather the people in my town have jobs (wage-slave or not) than some guy in a warehouse in the next state.

I understand that a lot of people feel this way, but I think we're all people, and the bigger our "tribe" is, the better for all of us. Protectionism at the expense of efficiency lowers our wealth. But efficiency can also help equalize things, and we are currently the beneficiaries of a very unequal world. It's quite possible that the chinese standard of living and the american standard of living will trend towards a happy medium, and even as the rising tide lifts the average of all boats, that average may be not what were expecting when we're accustomed to a game rigged in our favor.
But if it's the most wealth for the most people earned fairly, I think of that as a good thing, even as it hurts my interests.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


When I was a kid, my home town was filled with businesses - pharmacy, appliance store, general store, restaurants, and the like. They are all gone now that the business has moved 30 minutes away to a WalMart at the edge of the next big city. The only thing left to call my town a town is the high school. It's depressing and dehumanizing. I really don't like this future Amazon envisions for us.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'd rather the people in my town have jobs (wage-slave or not) than some guy in a warehouse in the next state.

Usually people aren't quite so so frank about using proximity as a measure by which to dispense compassion to other people.

I don't mind paying an extra $12 / gallon for paint or whatever at the local hardware store

With properly implemented policies, you could buy the paint at the more efficient store and have some or all of the $12 go toward a much better cause. Poverty reduction, the environment, whatever you like.

You could even do that yourself if you like - shop at the more efficient store and donate the cost difference to a worthy cause. It's not hard to think of people in this world who are much worse off than the owner of that locally owned hardware store.
posted by ripley_ at 7:46 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated?

Because as soon as Amazon achieves a monopoly, it will raise prices through the roof, as every other monopoly in history has done, and as shareholders would sue them for not doing if they unaccountably broke with all precedent and failed to do.

How is this even a question?
posted by jamjam at 7:46 PM on July 13, 2012 [19 favorites]


I wonder how much investment it would take for Amazon to tackle the last mile problem themselves, at local delivery centers (or regional, in rural cases) hiring local workers?
posted by jason_steakums at 7:46 PM on July 13, 2012


In your story, there is significantly less labour required per unit of output, and so the demand for labour drops significantly. Great for people who already have some resources, but not so good for anyone who only has their labour to trade. Private individuals aren't going to make you a toaster if you can't trade them something for it, even if it costs significantly less to make than it does now.

You're not following this through. If the so-efficient-there-are-no-humans economy won't make toasters because humans have nothing to trade, then that means that a human can use labor to make toasters.

The idea that all people can efficiently labour themselves out of a job is economically contradictory.

Sure, some people can be out of a job while societies needs shift (buggy-wheel carvers, for example) until they start laboring on something else, but it doesn't scale. It never has. We've been massively increasing labor efficiency for hundreds of years now. And it's never killed labour.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:49 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


the privileging of those near oneself (in relation or geography) is one of the primary causes of systemic injustice.

And to me, the constant widening of charity to those far away is one of the primary causes of liberal inactivity. "How can I volunteer at a soup kitchen or buy local produce, there are people starving in Africa!" Because you have to start somewhere, and you are in a place, not everywhere.

(Not that you said any of those strawmen I set up, but I think that kind of thinking leads to it).

(Just to be clear I am a lazy selfish prick who doesn't volunteer at soup kitchens so this is highly theoretical.)

posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:49 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


You could even do that yourself if you like - shop at the more efficient store and donate the cost difference to a worthy cause. It's not hard to think of people in this world who are much worse off than the owner of that locally owned hardware store.

I think you're mistaking my position. There are certainly many billions of people in this world who are worse off than the owner, or even the employees, of my local hardware store, who are in greater need of my money. But I am unwilling to reward the owners of large "efficient" operations for their immoral, inhuman business practices. It's a false dichotomy: the "efficient" operations are only possible through abusive labour regimes.
posted by junco at 7:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've gotten free next-day delivery from Amazon several times in recent months, to my recurring surprise. What should I do, send the stuff back because it came too fast?

I'm just saying that in an era when personalized service is easily provided, that high-profile journalists reporting on that service need to at least recognize that they could possibly be getting better-than-average service because they are known to the businesses providing it. This is well established practice in restaurant reviews, for instance, where many top restaurant reviewers take pains to avoid being recognized.

(It's not relevant - yet - when a writer is writing about a mass-market good, like an iPad or CueCat or whatever that everybody has the same access to. Roger Ebert doesn't have to worry that Tarantino sent him, and only him, a special edition of Inglourious Basterds where the French tavern was replaced with a Steak n' Shake.)

The reason I thought of this was I listened to a Slate podcast two months ago, where Manjoo's colleagues discussed how companies were providing extra service to people with high Klout scores, in hopes of getting positive columns and social media coverage.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:51 PM on July 13, 2012


It's amazing to me, as a Marxist/Socialist/Communist (I'm not quite sure where I lie on the theoretical end of things these days - still working it out, regardless...) it's so interesting to see the comments here defending "efficiency" and "large corporations" and the glories of capitalism at the sacrifice of those who are now put out of a job. If we had a society that didn't blame the jobless and praise those who put them out of the job via the wonders of capitalist efficiency, maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but when you force people to struggle to survive and compete for fewer resources available (to them), while the rich continue to rake in profits and capital via the wonders of efficiency, then you have a really fucked up system.
posted by symbioid at 7:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


Also to be clear(er): I try to actually see ALL of my neighbors, not just the ones that look like me, especially the ones that need my help.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2012


How many comments do you think I can get in while Ivan writes a dissertation? I'm setting the over/under at 40.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:54 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're not following this through. If the so-efficient-there-are-no-humans economy won't make toasters because humans have nothing to trade, then that means that a human can use labor to make toasters.

Good point.

That said, people usually aren't fans of high levels of inequality and that does seem inevitable in a world with huge returns to capital investments in automation. Even if people aren't absolutely worse off, they may be relatively worse off, and that has bad implications for happiness and perhaps governance as well.
posted by ripley_ at 7:55 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is this [money stays in the local community] true? Does it even matter? A local shop owner can just as easily recycle his profits all over the globe. "

Yes, and your local government has probably done studies on it. Every $1 spent at a locally-owned store stimulates something like $1.54 of economic activity in my city as that money circulates through the community. A big-box is something like $1.17. Wal-Mart specifically is $0.79 (they cost the city money just existing). (Interestingly, government spending stimulates like $1.61 ... that is, it's the most efficient at creating local wealth.) Amazon, the money just leaves town.

That's part of why communities fight so hard for things like high school basketball tournaments -- that's someone ELSE'S $1 that's stimulating $1.54 of economic activity in your city when they get hotel rooms and eat at restaurants and whatnot.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:55 PM on July 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


The idea that all people can efficiently labour themselves out of a job is economically contradictory.

People can certainly labor themselves out of well-paying jobs, though.

I, by the way, am all for the fully automated, maximally efficient future, I just want it to be a future where everybody benefits from the efficiencies of automation, rather than a future where the rich have robots build their yachts while the poor continue to starve.
posted by Pyry at 7:55 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


If philosophy was conducted like a freestyle rap battle I would have a PHD from Oxford.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:56 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Protectionism at the expense of efficiency lowers our wealth. But efficiency can also help equalize things, and we are currently the beneficiaries of a very unequal world. It's quite possible that the chinese standard of living and the american standard of living will trend towards a happy medium, and even as the rising tide lifts the average of all boats, that average may be not what were expecting when we're accustomed to a game rigged in our favor.

And global income inequality rose sharply with trade liberalization.
posted by junco at 8:00 PM on July 13, 2012


symboid - you are conflating wildly different things. I support efficiency of production, which produces the most wealth. (assuming it's done sustainability, yeah right, but pretend it is). That does not mean I support corruption, rigged laws, profiteering, abuse of power, etc. Those things are incidental to how efficiently you use your labour.

In a factory for example, slave labour is not an efficient use of labour, even though it is very cheap, it is actually highly inefficient. In general, the most efficient use of labour is when you have extremely expert people overseeing very powerful production machinery. Their every hour is ultra valuable because it enables the production of massive value. Cheap labour, by contrast encourages waste and inefficiency, such as using a man with a hammer to break rocks into gravel, because his time is so cheap you might as well not buy a machine.

If Amazon engages in those things (and it does) then that is grounds to criticize Amazon, and that is unrelated from the issue of desirability of efficiency.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:02 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would buy from a local retailer for the same reason I check Jobs or the metafilter store whenever I need something before I go to etsy: because I want to make this community, the place I come every day, stronger. Maybe it will be cheaper on etsy, but I'll check here first. You really can't convince me it's not worth it, and not doing the right thing.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:03 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


You're not following this through. If the so-efficient-there-are-no-humans economy won't make toasters because humans have nothing to trade, then that means that a human can use labor to make toasters.

If toasters were made out of thin air and force of will, then this would be true, but toasters are made of metal, which comes out of the ground, which somebody can own. If rich people own all the mines and all the robots, and use them to build their space-yachts, then you're going to have a hard time building a toaster. If rich people own all the fields and all the robots, and use them to produce hyper-wine, then you're going to have a hard time making bread.
posted by Pyry at 8:08 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Productivity and pay also works backwards - Australia kept a decent minimum wage, which made it uneconomical to hire people unless they were producing a lot of value. Business and capital cried that this would kill jobs and destroy the economy, but in fact that happened more in countries with lower minimum wages. Instead what happened in Aus was that employers naturally had to find ways to ensure workers could produce enough to pay their wages, and thus invested in automation, and the nation became highly competitive, globally, with a higher standard of living was maintained in the country due to higher average efficiency.

Of course, there are no perfect control groups in economics, but Australia and New Zealand with their similarities and differences make for interesting watching.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:11 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think many people have a narrow view of fiduciary responsibility. A board of directors must serve the interests of shareholders, who's money they control, but that doesn't mean they have to increase profit at all costs. Shareholders are also members of society, and if by maximising profit they hurt society and their shareholders they are really not serving the interests of the shareholders are they.

The real problem is executives are so focused on Wall Street and sort term gains in the markets that they can't focus on long term impact. If companies paid dividends instead dealing in beanie babies and baseball cards we might be better off.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:15 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mom and Pop versus Big Box is sort of an artificial, or at least antiquated, dichotomy. Sure I guess you could feel good about buying your new blue ray player from Joe's TV on the corner, but that doesn't change the fact that Joe ought to be looking hard at a new business plan because Joe's TV is doomed, whether or not there's a few well meaning souls that are willing to pay a little extra to keep his store afloat. Joe is an idiot if he thinks he can keep paying his employees on this good will.

To use some examples from my major urban center which also has a generally thriving local economy, I buy a lot of shit from Amazon. The only thing it's done is taken my money away from Best Buy and Bed Bath and Beyond and saved me the hours going to these stores during business hours and standing in line. One shitty employer (whose HQ is in my hometown for whatever that means) gets my money with a narrower profit margin than a different shitty employer with an outdated business model.

And I still spend a ton of money at the Mom and Pops that have something to offer. The local hardware store that is 20 minutes closer than Home Depot and who are incredibly helpful with figuring out what I need to get my job done (because every project requires a half dozen trips for each un intended obstacle you come up against). The bike store that has thousands of used parts and people who not only help, but encourage home bike repair, and show you how to do it. The toy store that has a lovingly curated collection of educational and beautiful things and encourages children to play there. The mechanic whose business I can walk home from when I need to leave my car there for service.

The response should not be "oh no, the world's changing, how do we fight it?" rather "oh wow, the world's changing, how do we adapt and keep ourselves relevant and worthwhile?"

I guess I'd like to tilt the tax laws in favor of local business and encouraging innovation and start ups, but I'm just not seeing the need to buy light bulbs at 30% more from the lighting store on 45th street just because they've been there for 50 years, when it all comes cheap and quick when I put in 5 minutes on the computer after the kids are in bed. Become a lighting design center or a showroom of interesting hand made lighting fixtures or slowly close up shop so a new yoga studio or Korean BBQ place can open that people will actually use.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:31 PM on July 13, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wait... "local retail"? Those big box chains littering the outer suburbs are not local retail. They're not built to last, and if Amazon hastens their demise, then good riddance.
posted by parudox at 8:33 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


You write that as if this were a self-evidently good thing, but in my worldview, the privileging of those near oneself (in relation or geography) is one of the primary causes of systemic injustice.

I want people in my area to have jobs connected to my community because I want people in all areas to have jobs connected to their communities.

Even if the same number of people are employed at an Amazon distribution plant vs. local retailers scattered around the country I'd take the later in a heartbeat, efficiencies be damned.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:48 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, I find much of this amusing, as I live in a town of 10,000 people, which is a 30 minute drive from the second-largest city in Washington.

I shop local nearly all the time. Even the grocery stores here are mostly local chains (we have three, a Trading Company, a Harvest Foods, and a Safeway. We do have a Ben Franklin, and a Tru-Value hardware store (locally owned, which just drove the DoItBest out of business!), and a Bi-Mart (employee-owned!)... There's a slew of other truly local businesses which I provide custom to, from oddball overstock/discontinued stores to a Copy Shack.

We have a Sears Homestyle store, which sells appliances and tools and electronics, and I think I can use to pick up internet orders which I might have delivered there.

And this town took a community poll and actually kept a WalMart from happening here, which I think is one of the better collective decisions this town has taken in the past decade.

But the local bookstore is going out of business, despite having tried to rebrand themselves as a stationery / tchachki / new age woo-woo depot. The other bookstore, used books only, went away a few years ago.

What had been the local movie house sometime before I moved here (nearly 10 years ago), was gutted and has been 3 different restaurants in the past 4 years, and is currently vacant.

We have not one but TWO Starbucks in town... One inside the Safeway, the other as a standalone shop in the Safeway parking lot.

If I drive for a half-hour (and spend whatever amount of fuel that requires), I can be at a Wal-Mart or a Costco or a Home Depot or a K-Mart (yes, they still exist). But... fuck, do I ever hate making that drive just to go shopping. Add on another 15-30 minutes, and I have several malls and a whole slew of big box stores at my disposal. But... I just refuse.

I shop local when I can, as much as I can. If I can't get it here, and I need it Right Away, I'll make the drive (and hate it, and pay the premium for the gas and wear on my vehicle to get it). If I don't need it that quickly, I'll buy it online, frequently from Amazon, but I do a lot of price comparison so that's not a default choice. And I'm too cheap to pay for shipping, so I end up waiting 8-14 days for Super Saver Shipping to get me the item, if I do buy from Amazon.

If Amazon starts up this same-day delivery scheme, I'm pretty much assured it won't happen where I live. There's no distribution point anywhere near me, and they won't be looking at Spokane as a place to expand their services anytime in the next decade, I'm sure of it. They don't even do grocery deliveries in Spokane, let alone to my little hamlet way out here on the edge of the county.

I love when companies talk about doing things (grocery delivery! same-day shipping!) which they aren't actually doing for everyone and make it sound like a revolution.

Want to make it a revolution, Amazon? Make it same-day shipping to EVERY ADDRESS IN THE US. That's the way you will destroy everyone else. If you're not doing that, you won't ever completely win, and places like where I live will continue to have a local economy which works pretty much like a local economy should.
posted by hippybear at 8:59 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


>> If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated?

> Because if you don't pay extra to shop there, they'll go out of business and you'll have to pay higher taxes to support the former proprietors and their former employees on the dole. You can't win.


A friend and neighbour is shutting down her bookstore at the end of this month after a twenty year run. One of the consequences of closing local retailers down that she pointed out to me is that they pay the lion's share of property taxes. Fewer local businesses can result in either higher property taxes for residential properties or fewer municipal services. You really do pay one way or the other.
posted by looli at 9:04 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


In Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End (set in 2025) packages are shot on ballistic trajectories to your present location. This came to mind when I read the article.
posted by secretseasons at 9:11 PM on July 13, 2012


I don't remember taht at all, despite having read it several times. Perhaps some other Vinge book?
posted by anigbrowl at 9:28 PM on July 13, 2012


Amazon has already destroyed local retail. How many stores in your city sell new DVDs?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:29 PM on July 13, 2012


How many stores in your city sell new DVDs?

Four that I can count.
posted by hippybear at 9:30 PM on July 13, 2012


Why would you ever shop anywhere else?

Plenty of reasons elucidated above.

So what happened to all the stuff about how shitty it is to work for Amazon? How exploited the workers are and how cruel the management? I've stopped ordering from Amazon - fuck 'em, is what I say

hear hear.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:32 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


What does same day delivery matter when I'm never at my apartment to receive it? And I have to drive out to the UPS place to pick it up anyway --Chekhovian

I guess the solution to the delivery issue is the 7-11 digital lockers they'd planned earlier.--Chekhovian

Yes, Amazon has thought of that. It is interesting that Amazon has been building them but isn't advertising them yet. Gives credence to the theory that they are going to build in-state distribution centers with same-day delivery, and then pounce, making the lockers part of the big announcement in answer to concerns like Chekhovian's.
posted by eye of newt at 9:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


logistics: the science of smashing the fuck out of any parcel you haven't managed to mis-route or lose completely.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:44 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


...packages are shot on ballistic trajectories to your present location. This came to mind when I read the article.

I was thinking cargo drones + pallet parachute drops would be a pretty sweet way to handle your more rural deliveries, local delivery services can load the pallets to distribute packages from a secured field outside of town.

Of course, unmanned aerial vehicles loaded down with Amazon goodies will only lead to a future where sky pirates in steampunky home-built flying contraptions rule the skies for a booty of iDevices and cheap HDMI cables, but I can live with this. Maybe the Amazon Air Corps will let you remote control a turret or part of a remora-like protective quadrotor swarm on the UAV carrying your package for a small fee.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


What does same day delivery matter when I'm never at my apartment to receive it?

UPS always just leaves it at my door when I'm not there. The time when I got a notice that my delivery was complete and I didn't have anything at my door I contacted Amazon and they said ok, we'll send it to you again, but if you get the other delivery as well, let us know so we can arrange to have it shipped back.

I got the new order and later that day got the original order. No matter how hard I tried I could not get Amazon to care about having me ship the 2nd order back so I got 2 for 1. This makes me think they don't care if your order is stolen if it's left at your door as well but I also think it's a huge mileage may vary situation.
posted by juiceCake at 9:50 PM on July 13, 2012


With the 7-11 delivery lockers and same day delivery, Amazon will become a virtual retail store everywhere in the country over night. Imagine it, you order something, it appears within hours at a place where you go collect it. You say I'm going to go to "the store" where the single store you need to go to will have anything you possibly want whenever you want it (modulo some lead time).

ITS LIKE THE FUTURE OR SOMETHING.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, unmanned aerial vehicles loaded down with Amazon goodies will only lead to a future where sky pirates in steampunky home-built flying contraptions rule the skies for a booty of iDevices and cheap HDMI cables, but I can live with this.

Fool! Everyone knows that monoprice.com is where you go for truly cheap cables of any sort.
posted by hippybear at 9:53 PM on July 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also, 7-11 delivery lockers don't matter when the closest one is a minimum of 30 minutes by car from where you live.
posted by hippybear at 9:54 PM on July 13, 2012


7-11 delivery lockers don't matter when the closest one is a minimum of 30 minutes by car from where you live.

And seriously, how are Fur trappers in the middle of Canadian wilderness supposed to get to a 7-11 just to get their packages. What a worthless solution.

But more seriously, do you have any redboxes or redbox equivalents less than 30 minutes away? Yes? Then just imagine a different sort of box right next to it, but for your amazon packages.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:01 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


"...packages are shot on ballistic trajectories to your present location. This came to mind when I read the article".

"I was thinking cargo drones + pallet parachute drops would be a pretty sweet way to handle your more rural deliveries, local delivery services can load the pallets to distribute packages from a secured field outside of town".


Two words: Pneumatic tubes
posted by littlesq at 10:01 PM on July 13, 2012


But more seriously, do you have any redboxes or redbox equivalents less than 30 minutes away?

No.

We do still have one of the few existing Blockbuster locations, however.
posted by hippybear at 10:05 PM on July 13, 2012


We do still have one of the few existing Blockbuster locations, however.

Didn't you sing the praises of Tacoma to me at one point? 'Cause right now that song is sounding a little flat.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:09 PM on July 13, 2012


Oh, wait. I'm wrong. There's one at the truck stop, a mere 20 minutes away.
posted by hippybear at 10:09 PM on July 13, 2012


Chekhovian: If you think I live in Tacoma, you're way way off base. Like an entire width of a state off base.
posted by hippybear at 10:10 PM on July 13, 2012


Ohhh, Eastern Washington...I see. Well, that's the problem right there.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:10 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


We do still have one of the few existing Blockbuster locations, however.

So you live in the year 2000? NOBODY TELL HIM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT TO THE TWIN TOWERS!
posted by Talez at 10:11 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


NOBODY TELL HIM WHAT HAPPENS NEXT TO THE TWIN TOWERS!

They're both dating one of another set of twins, and then everyone gets lost in the woods, then find each other, but they don't realize they've each hooked up with the wrong twin?
posted by -harlequin- at 10:13 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


all of us who live in places like this

Have you considered Coeur d'alene? Probably not any better shopping, but man its pretty.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:15 PM on July 13, 2012


While we wait for the online searchable inventory for all stores, there is this funny gadget attached to the SMS and app holder called the phone. I always call to see if a store has what I want before I schlepp. Often, they will even put it aside for you so when you get there, you just pay and go.

There are also times I will pay more locally that have nothing to do with my love for small local merchants. I drive a gas guzzling truck where a gallon of petrol is $4.00 or more. I would pay the extra $2.00 for a hammer locally rather than drive a round trip of 14 miles or one gallon. I have also had the local guy who now knows me leave an item for me to pick up after he closes with the 24/7 deli next door.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:23 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you considered Coeur d'alene? Probably not any better shopping, but man its pretty.

Driving 30 minutes to a 7-11 to pick up a parcel and get a $1 hot dog is an odd idea of good shopping.
posted by junco at 10:24 PM on July 13, 2012


Once again, the liberal coastal enclave cities pretend like nobody but them exists

My folks are always pestering me to come back home to Bozo, which is practically NYC in comparison to your small town, but no, not under any readilbly foreseeable circumstances. Cities are great. Now big cities that also have mass transit systems allowing you to live a little farther out from the core so you have a reasonable house and have some dangerous hobbies are even better.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:28 PM on July 13, 2012


I hate to break it to you, but not only is it pronounced "Chee-nee", but there are a zillion little communities like this all over this country. Once again, the liberal coastal enclave cities pretend like nobody but them exists, but surprise! You're wrong!

We put up with the traffic on 101, we get to benefit from the economies of scale that living in a packed "liberal coastal enclave" brings.
posted by Talez at 10:28 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now big cities that also have mass transit systems allowing you to live a little farther out from the core so you have a reasonable house and have some dangerous hobbies are even better.

I do take the bus into Spokane every day for work, and it's quite efficient.

I might have dangerous hobbies, but when I've written about them in comments in the past, they've been deleted.
posted by hippybear at 10:31 PM on July 13, 2012


Why do you think I don't like where I live?

Well, you were complaining a lot about it...
posted by Chekhovian at 10:40 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think he was complaining that amazon's plan would only cover 80% of US residents. Or something.
posted by skewed at 11:01 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Google Shopping is transitioning into a commercial product. I'm guessing that will be the end of it's limited utility.
posted by rdr at 11:02 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonder If it would be possible to cut a deal with Amazon to open single purpose storefronts with lockers or if 7-11 is exclusive. There are only 4-5 7-11s in Manhattan and their space might be too limited. Direct delivery is a probel here for various reasons also. They could do worse than to piggyback on freshdirect or something.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:06 PM on July 13, 2012


Right now I'm feeling very lonely that apparently I am the only person who likes pottering through shops seeing what they have. I spend all day in front of a computer; while I buy stuff online it's never that much of a fun experience. They closed down a big DVD place near where I get off the bus; I am saddened that no longer can I wander through their shelves and find the wonder that is a truly bad movie completely randomly. And I liked chatting to their employees; Amazon sure as hell isn't going to give me a high five for buying Punisher. Maybe it's not efficient, but that's okay with me.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:07 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't quite get the facination with mom&pop stores. It's just two people that order cheap chinese stuff online (from Amazon quite likely), and reselling it at a profit.
posted by c13 at 11:07 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Certain big boxes are preparing for a showdown or a battle. Some of them, lowes.com for one, advertise on the website that you can order and pay on the web and pick up your items at the nearest store in 20 minutes. It is a short hop from that to doing local deliveries, if or when they need to. One advantage they will have is returns or exchanges can be handled in person locally.

Nobody knows how that will play out, but the good big boxes are getting armed.

What I like is when I order that way from my lowes, they never have it ready in the 20 minutes and I get 25% off.

If you don't pay for Prime from Amazon, and choose Free Shipping, they just hold your order for a week until they release it and it gets 1 or 2 day delivery from then. Instead of that, try buy.com, which ships right away even with their Free Shipping.
posted by caclwmr4 at 11:08 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once again, the liberal coastal enclave cities pretend like nobody but them exists, but surprise! You're wrong!
...
I do take the bus into Spokane every day for work, and it's quite efficient
.--hippybear

Well, next time you're slumming at one of our little 'liberal' enclaves, you might want to take a look around.
posted by eye of newt at 11:19 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


...to open single purpose storefronts with lockers or if 7-11 is exclusive. There are only 4-5 7-11s in Manhattan and their space might be too limited...

At some prime locations I've seen two red boxes right next to each other, because apparently one redbox was too limited, so they copy pasted a second. One could imagine even needing a second or third if demand was high enough. And at that point maybe it would be sensible to just put a roof over the whole area, to keep out the weather. Maybe some extra monitors to see what's in the boxes for pickup, because thats the big delay, when people are spending forever looking through the lists...so eventually we might cycle back to a full pseudo blockbusters experience, just without any people working there...
posted by Chekhovian at 11:29 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't remember taht at all, despite having read it several times. Perhaps some other Vinge book?

"Fast Times at Fairmont High," if memory serves.
posted by teraflop at 11:38 PM on July 13, 2012


My time is more valuable than that.

My first response to this was, "Is it?"

Then I gave it some consideration and decided that yes, it is. We do only have so much time on this earth, and if point-and-click shopping gives us the opportunity to do more with that time that we enjoy, rather than something we don't, then by all means bring it on.
posted by Malice at 11:55 PM on July 13, 2012


So, this is all predicated on relatively cheap oil still, right? When transportation costs fall, it's easier to maintain distant distribution.

What happens when gas prices go up? (Assuming that the economies of scale haven't devastated all the locals.)
posted by klangklangston at 12:26 AM on July 14, 2012


What happens when gas prices go up?

Long term? Trains can run on electricity. And maybe we'll have HTC SMES "batteries" in our delivery vans. Mid term? HB's beloved rural communities get shafted. So maybe distance dependent delivery charges? Surcharges for deliveries to sparsely populated areas not near main routes. The 7-11 hub system could make sense then...you deliver all your packages to some bulk distribution center, so individuals can come and get it on their own.
posted by Chekhovian at 1:00 AM on July 14, 2012


Sales tax is a non-issue and a bit of a red herring.

Imagine what the impact this will have towards property tax. If same-day-delivery retail distribution of goods worked, the value of commercial ground-level retail space would plummet, and thereby the tax proceeds. Local governments receive a huge portion of their funding from property taxes.
posted by amuseDetachment at 1:10 AM on July 14, 2012


Actually, a future of one or two super-gigantic megaretailers who deliver to you would probably use less fossil fuels, because of the efficiency that comes from economies of scale. All the cheap stuff from China would be harder to come by, though.
seanmpuckett: I'm super perplexed that Amazon hasn't done more in Canada. Amazon.ca is a pale, sad shadow of the US version or the UK version. It really makes no sense, to me at least, as most other online merchants in Canada completely suck balls, while Amazon.ca just sort of licks one of them then pats it dry.
Oh, so true. The website is a pale shadow of .com.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:27 AM on July 14, 2012


["Fuck you" comment deleted. You know better, it's not okay, act like an adult.]
posted by taz at 3:06 AM on July 14, 2012


I got a free year's worth of Amazon Prime after enrolling in Amazon Mom and ordering a metric pantsload of baby stuff in preparation for my son's birth. At the time, I lived in a major urban area within walking distance of a mall and a 10 minute drive from the grocery store.

And holy cow if I didn't order diapers, crates of baby food, wipes, EVERYTHING off of Amazon. Since I had free shipping, the costs were so much cheaper than what I would pay even at Target. The only things I ever ended up buying in a store that first year were things that I simply needed right that minute and couldn't wait even a day on. Oh, and clothes. Amazon's selection of baby clothes didn't thrill me.

After the trial expired, I had moved to a more rural area and considering shipping prices and having to wait 3-5days, I get most everything at Target now. There are some mom & pop baby stores around here - but... well... we needed to buy a highchair and I went into the m&p store to check out their selection in person. I found one I really liked, and then checked the price on Amazon. It was $50 cheaper. Now, I want to support local business as much as possible - but $50?! I very easily might have paid $10 or even $20 more to buy locally - but for such a huge price difference, I went with Amazon. The m&p stores around here have found their niche selling really beautiful designer foo-foo baby gear, and that's great, but I'm not paying $12 for a sippy cup.

If Amazon offers same-day delivery on diapers and formula, they will absolutely make a KILLING. No question about it. In the first few months especially there's just no question between getting a baby in and out of the car (or subway or whatever) and going to a physical store to buy something that you then have to haul back to your house (and still haul the baby) or to have someone deliver it to you. Now that my son is a little older, I would probably buy locally more often if the stores carried more utilitarian stuff - but in the early days... absolutely no question I ordered from Amazon for 99% of our baby supplies.
posted by sonika at 5:06 AM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Late to the conversation here, but I can help shed some light on some of the logistical matters since I formerly worked at a business that did and still does same day delivery in major urban areas (Chicago, NYC, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cleveland, LA & San Diego). In MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) distribution time can be everything and getting a item the same day at no added cost is huge for customers. This hasn't been reported on much, but Amazon has been getting into this field in the past year. Honestly, I believe that the real reason for the same day delivery is for competing in MRO which is a huge market (Grainger is the biggest player with sales of $8 billion). That being said, I'm sure that they would leverage this infrastructure for all of their consumer goods as well.

Someone asked about the cost of providing this level of service. The first thing to understand is that Amazon already has incredible rates from UPS etc - they might pay 25% of what a normal person would pay to ship a package because their volume is so high. I am certain that they have absolutely no desire to go into the delivery business themselves. Anyway, Amazon is not going to use traditional carriers for same day delivery - they are just not set up for it. They are going to use regional courier services instead. If you have enough packages for the courier services to set up routes, it ends up not being particularly expensive to do. This is probably what Amazon is counting on. The downside to using courier services is that the level of service is not what consumers typically expect. No uniforms or standard vehicles and package tracking is generally not on the same level as the big carriers.
posted by nolnacs at 5:57 AM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The greeter at the generic bigbox store has always struck me as a reluctant acknowledgement of the enterprises innate lack of humanity. As charades go, it's pretty weak.

What I like about Mom and Pop is the fact that I can get some chit chat concerning the product I want (a book, artesianal cheese, ice skates for my child) and, more than likely, any number of other interesting things (the economics of running a bookshop, the cheese making process, the proprietor's past career as a skater). I am not going to get that at the Megalomart or online. ("Aisle Four, half way down."/"We're sorry you are having difficulty with your order.")

Sure, getting stuff in the mail is fun, but a steady diet of it? Hell is lack of other people.
posted by BWA at 7:44 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was a Kozmo believer and an Amazon Prime member as well.

Sometimes it is hard not to feel like I am contributing to the decline of the retail world, oh I miss book and music stores!

My favorite Kozmo moment came two years after the fell when I walked by a homeless person with a Kozmo shirt on, I wish I had a picture of that!

H
posted by silsurf at 8:21 AM on July 14, 2012


The greeter at the generic bigbox store has always struck me as a reluctant acknowledgement of the enterprises innate lack of humanity. As charades go, it's pretty weak.

What I like about Mom and Pop is the fact that I can get some chit chat concerning the product I want (a book, artesianal cheese, ice skates for my child) and, more than likely, any number of other interesting things (the economics of running a bookshop, the cheese making process, the proprietor's past career as a skater). I am not going to get that at the Megalomart or online. ("Aisle Four, half way down."/"We're sorry you are having difficulty with your order.").


I refuse to shop at Asda (the UK Walmart outpost) and Tescos for ethical reasons and rarely set foot in a 'big box' store, but I think this is a really false argument. I don't find that people in 'Mom and Pop' shops are always more likely to chat than people in large shops, or that people in large shops won't chat with you - heck there has been more than one person on the checkout who was overly keen on a chat! Again its always a case of everyone has different experiences, but I have encountered just as many sullen people in 'small' stores as I have found knowledgeable and friendly shop workers in large stores.
posted by Megami at 8:59 AM on July 14, 2012


There is a relatively new (6 months?) Amazon Locker system at the grocery store right around the corner from our house. I saw it and was thrilled- this could solve a lot of delivery issues for us; the store is 24/7, for goodness sake, it would be really, really helpful to have this option. A week or two later, I was offered the Amazon Locker delivery option during checkout- and my location wasn't offered. Nothing within 75 blocks was. I contacted Amazon every way I could think of to ask when the Lockers at this particular location would be available for delivery- I called, I chatted with customer service, I e-mailed, I even tweeted @Amazon. Nobody I spoke to seemed to understand what I was talking about, it's like I was speaking some other language. I tried walking through orders of items of various sizes to see if I was just ordering stuff that was too big- still nothing, and then I stopped being offered the option to deliver to Amazon Lockers at all. I searched around to see if there was any buzz on the lockers in NYC, and I haven't seen any since last fall. So, I have no idea what's going on with Amazon Lockers, and apparently no one at Amazon does, either. Shame, I have a lot of things I need!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2012


What I like about Mom and Pop is the fact that I can get some chit chat concerning the product I want

As an introvert, I consider this a point in favor of big box stores over Mom-and-Pops. And Amazon over big box stores, for that matter.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


MrBobaFett writes "You know what would greatly increase my shopping at local retail? Searchable online inventories. I should be able to go to Google Maps, type in the name of a product and have it show me what stores near me have it in stock."

FutureShop does this with their inventory and it's brilliant.

sonika writes "I went into the m&p store to check out their selection in person. I found one I really liked, and then checked the price on Amazon. It was $50 cheaper. Now, I want to support local business as much as possible - but $50?! I very easily might have paid $10 or even $20 more to buy locally - but for such a huge price difference, I went with Amazon. "

It'll be interesting to see the impact on Amazon (probably negligible) and consumer choice as local retailers decline and people are unable to do their actual shopping in retail environments while diverting procurement to Amazon.
posted by Mitheral at 10:01 AM on July 14, 2012


Seems like new moms will be delighted. For my use scenarios though, the article was completely irrelevant. I buy from Amazon merchants some 90% of the time, so "same day" is irrelevant. And for the actual Amazon purchases, I always select free shipping over $25 - there's absolutely nothing that's time-critical to me that I need from Amazon - just a bit of planning helps. I put stuff on the their "shopping list" and when it accumulates to $25, hit the buy button, and presto. As is, I still get most stuff within a few days. No prime, thanks - since that only is relevant to shipping, while if there is a delay, I find most of it is before shipping, which is not affected by prime, so what use is prime to me? The whole "same day" is irrelevant to me. As to state tax, is that really going to be a factor in favor of Amazon? I mean, for bigger purchases, such as f.ex. photographic equipment, or computers or other electronics which run into serious money, where state taxes may actually make a material difference, well, people will just switch to specialty retailers such as B&H, pay the same price as they'd do on Amazon, and that way manage to avoid state tax - looks to me, like Amazon is going to lose out. Similarly lockers - irrelevant; I have a UPS store mail box that gets all my mail, and it's 3 blocks away from where I live, what do I need an Amazon locker for? I really wonder what percentage of people are going to be affected by this - the breathless tone of the FPP article is a puzzle. Amazon must have done the math, and it must work out, so I guess I'm an outlier in their Excel sheets.
posted by VikingSword at 10:29 AM on July 14, 2012


I think he was complaining that amazon's plan would only cover 80% of US residents.

I'd be surprised if they even hit 50%, actually.
posted by hippybear at 10:32 AM on July 14, 2012


Hmm, it looks like if they were to hit all American cities above 200,000 people, it should be around 60%.

The "urban/urban clusters" categorization from the census is 80% of the population -- although I gotta say, they must be using some reeeeeally specific definition of "urban," cuz it strains belief a bit to imagine, e.g., Vergennes, VT (pop 2,588) as an "urban" anything. (I mean Vergennes actually seems kind of cool, but like, here is all of it.)
posted by en forme de poire at 10:54 AM on July 14, 2012


Here's an idea, use tax money to fund education and healthcare. Then maybe people will stop complaining that their minimum wage jobs are disappearing, because they'll solve their own problems.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:00 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


although I gotta say, they must be using some reeeeeally specific definition of "urban," cuz it strains belief a bit to imagine, e.g., Vergennes, VT (pop 2,588) as an "urban" anything.

Their definition of "urban" involves population density, and isn't really very dense at all. It has nothing to do with the size of the population cluster, and everything to do with how many people live in, say, a square mile.
posted by hippybear at 11:01 AM on July 14, 2012


hippybear, on further reflection I figured that had to be it - Vergennes is certainly compact.

And for the actual Amazon purchases, I always select free shipping over $25 - there's absolutely nothing that's time-critical to me that I need from Amazon - just a bit of planning helps.

If you've never had to buy a 14-pack of Prilosec at the most markuppy CVS in existence because you left your own supply on the counter when you were packing -- to take a purely theoretical example -- then seriously more power to you, that's awesome! I wish I had those kinds of organizational skills. But I do suspect you may be a bit of an outlier there.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:14 AM on July 14, 2012


If you've never had to buy a 14-pack of Prilosec at the most markuppy CVS in existence

Depends. When I had an episode of acid reflux and Prilosec was prescribed, I looked at Amazon offerings, and found them to be all more expensive than what I could get at my local Target. I was on Prilosec for like 4 months - and I kept trying to buy the generic at Target, because why pay more, but damn, if every single time Prilosec was on sale so that it was actually cheaper than the Target generic. But regardless - Amazon was never ever competitive when it came to Prilosec.

But yes, I understand your point. I can't plan everything ahead of time either, and it's not realistic - shit happens. However, how often does the scenario you described happen? In my experience, very rarely - last time I think it happened was when I needed some AA batteries, and sooner would have been better instead of the week it took with Amazon. But point taken.

Still, it's a minority of cases. Again, however you must be right overall, otherwise the number crunchers at Amazon would not put much emphasis on "same day" - it just doesn't apply to people in my situation.
posted by VikingSword at 11:33 AM on July 14, 2012


To me, the importance of patronizing local business is less some abstract concept of territorial allegiance than the simple fact that I want to live near places. I'm not much of a capitalist myself, but it's undeniable that in the world's contemporary societies public space is framed and fed by commerce. If we outsource all shopping to the Internet, we risk becoming a two-space society of people shuttling between home and work.

It is vexing, though, how one of the things that really distinguishes brick-and-mortar stores from the online competition-- personnel-- is rapidly disappearing as shops try to staunch the bleeding. If I have to cut off a limb and wave it around just to get someone in CVS (one of the worst offenders as far as ghost employees, imo) to tell me where the razors are, it's hard not to wonder why I didn't just go online.
posted by threeants at 11:58 AM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Kozmo guys were always holding. It was the best thing ever. Cheetos, condoms and weed right to your door, posthaste. If Amazon revives that, I'm all for it.
posted by WASP-12b at 12:03 PM on July 14, 2012


Ok ok, I'll own up, it was usually Cheetos, porn and weed.
posted by WASP-12b at 12:07 PM on July 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


(I just skipped the 2nd half of the comments.)

The whole local mom & pop vs megastore issue is a critical point for how we want to organize our economy. A few points:

The real story here isn't between mom & pop and Amazon, it's between chain retail (Wal-mart, Target, Best Buy, etc...) and Amazon. Mom & pop have already lost, at least in terms of having significant clout in our economy. (recall your econ101 lesson about how joint-stock companies are far less numerous but far more economically powerful than sole proprietorships and other corporate forms)

There are advantages to having local economies, and there advantages to economies of scale. Typically these advantages are framed as local businesses being more likely to give back to the community (via taxes or investment or philanthropy) versus better value to consumers. In a sense that argument is a short-term versus long-term argument: are we willing to give up some consumer welfare in the immediate term (and into the future) in exchange for a more sustainable community in the long run.

Another issue with local economies vs economies of scale is competition and the size of the market players. This has implications for the structure of the markets--laws that protect local competition from outside competition allow them monopoly rents; alternatively, purely allowing economies of scale to form may facilitate other kinds of rents or redirection of wealth. For example, Wal-Mart has succeeded in severely restricting the welfare of its employees and not allowing them to capture rents that e.g. manufacturing employees or other retail employees might have.

Systemic resilience is also an issue here. Efficiency and redundancy may certainly coexist but they are, I would argue, incompatible on some basic level. Bernard Lietaer makes this point in some of his articles and talks.

The most important impact that efficiency has on our society, though, I think is how it structures incentives and wealth distribution. What happens when local opportunities shift from owning a store to driving a UPS truck? Ultra-efficiency can be wonderful because it can, in theory, mean that we all can have a lot of Stuff and it takes very little work to get it. The way our economy is set up now, the way a market system works is, you have to have something scarce to exchange for the stuff you get. As computers and new forms of organization make the traditional scarcities obsolete, we have to figure out what systems of distribution can make the world a bearable and sustainable place for average people.

200 years ago in the USA, the liberty and the pursuit of happiness meant (in part) being able to work your farm and sell your goods on a fair (sustainable, non-monopolized) market. 100 years ago we went through major upheavals as efficiency gains meant the average person no longer possessed the requisite scarcity to survive by producing agricultural goods on a small scale (Thoreau notwithstanding). Today, efficiencies similar to those that revolutionized agriculture are revolutionizing industries not just in retail but all kinds of industries that have provided people a bit of scarcity they can exchange for their daily bread (and sometimes an HD tv and iphone).

That got a bit apocolyptic. Oh well.
posted by ropeladder at 1:03 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an introvert, I consider this a point in favor of big box stores over Mom-and-Pops. And Amazon over big box stores, for that matter.

As a fellow introvert, I find small chance encounters in M&Ps a good counter to what is a problematic tendency both in myself and increasingly in society at large. I expect it’s my age showing.

As to jerky staffs in small shops and decent people in Bigboxes – of course I was stereotyping, but not entirely. The Bigboxes can weather employing jerks better than M&Ps can simply because you don't expect much in a Bigbox. (That, and the big shops are not all that conducive to off-topic chit chat. Managers don't like it.)

(I mean Vergennes actually seems kind of cool, but like, here is all of it.)

One square mile. It had, possibly still has, some serious fiscal problems back then which cut down the potential coolness factor. By rights it should be ripe for starving artists and UVM/Middlebury refugees.

I want to live near places.

Bingo! Give me the aesthetic of a walkable downtown with a variety of oddball shops that marks the area in ways that chain stores and anonymous strip malls or a fleet of UPS trucks do not. There's more to life than just next day delivery and the prices that are INSANE! (And come to think of it, Crazy Eddie came to a bad end.)
posted by BWA at 2:11 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Give me the aesthetic of a walkable downtown with a variety of oddball shops

Although this sounds romantic, the reality outside of obvious tourist traps selling trinkets and faux art (like Moab's downtown) is that what these oddball shops sell is gimmicky crap that no one needs or really even wants. They are interchangeable and many of them are basically hobbies supported by other income or assets. It's not a sustainable model.
posted by rr at 2:29 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Give me the aesthetic of a walkable downtown with a variety of oddball shops

This certainly exists in a lot of places. Chester, VT comes to mind. Chester is a super quaint little town, full of cute mom&pop shops... and little else. Currently, there is a debate over opening a Dollar General in town. Now, if you read the NYT article linked, there's a lot of talk about how this will destroy the image of the town... from people who moved there from New York.

For people who live and work there and don't have second homes elsewhere and aren't living out their retirement? There's no place within a twenty minute drive to buy a regular bottle of shampoo. The nearest supermarkets are in Londonderry and Springfield - each twenty minutes away, more if the weather is shitty. (Meaning: November through March, it might take you an hour to get to the store or you might not get there at all.) Wal-Mart? The closest is in Walpole, NH. An hour away.

It's just not practical to have a town where the small, quaint, oddball shops are the only ones. It's impossible to find regular staples of groceries and toiletries and whatnot, and when you *do* find it, the mark-up is insanely high.

I'm all for mom & pop shops and locally owned stores, but to say that the idea of Main St. USA ruling over everything with nothing else in sight isn't practical unless you have a LOT of extra time and money to go running around finding the things you can't get.
posted by sonika at 3:08 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Although this sounds romantic, the reality outside of obvious tourist traps selling trinkets and faux art (like Moab's downtown) is that what these oddball shops sell is gimmicky crap that no one needs or really even wants.

Well, the future isn't going to lead down to having only big boxes or only mom and pop shops. Beyond tourist traps, small quaint shops are probably going to be sustainable if they cater to a first or second generation immigrant customer (Little Saigon or Little India come to mind) and there's always going to be swap meets and market stands that pop up on school/college parking lots and fairgrounds every weekend.
posted by FJT at 4:13 PM on July 14, 2012


jamjam: "If, however, a local retail store is not considered useful to the community, then why should I care if it's eliminated?

Because as soon as Amazon achieves a monopoly, it will raise prices through the roof, as every other monopoly in history has done, and as shareholders would sue them for not doing if they unaccountably broke with all precedent and failed to do.

How is this even a question?
"

What? What does Amazon produce except for Kindles? Its a middle-man. It can't arbitrarily charge 800% surcharges on its products UNLESS no one else is selling them. Come on.
posted by stratastar at 4:17 PM on July 14, 2012


Odd ball esoteric out there stores CAN compete with the big boys, witness Powell's Books out in Puddletown. That's probably my favorite store ever.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:37 PM on July 14, 2012


What? What does Amazon produce except for Kindles? Its a middle-man. It can't arbitrarily charge 800% surcharges on its products UNLESS no one else is selling them. Come on.

They charge 150% and they say "we’re not carrying all that stuff we used to carry, we don’t have to anymore" and then only carry the top profit makers. Because they have no competition. Surely you’ve seen this scenario before, or else you’re very young.
posted by bongo_x at 6:49 PM on July 14, 2012


It's just not practical to have a town where the small, quaint, oddball shops are the only ones.

The fight when I lived in Vermont was over Walmart, Vermont being the last hold out in America, and it wasn't just flatlanders who opposed it. I get the economic argument, and believe me, I'm sympathetic. Certainly our neighbors were more old local than recent imports, and ours was not a rich town. But even the Times article suggests that the Walmarts and Dollar Stores are a grim substitute for a general store. As with Dollar Value Menus, long term you're paying a cruel price for the low price.

Chester, like a lot of less than rich places, may have no choice, and that's a damn shame. Other places, other populations, do have a choice, and clearly many take the cheap and easy way out, and that's a tragedy. (BTW, I'm mainly talking big city residential neighborhoods and non-touristy destination locations here.)

Odd ball esoteric out there stores CAN compete with the big boys, witness Powell's Books out in Puddletown.

But it ain't easy. The box stores have the upper hand and when they pull out (which they will do for flighty reasons), their sudden absence has a greater impact that is harder to recover from that when a small business turns over.

Though there can be happy endings....

I sound like a scold. My apologies for that. Just kind of surprised to hear so many Ben Stein acolytes here.
posted by BWA at 6:54 PM on July 14, 2012


What I would like to see is near-real-time delivery from more than just the pizza guy and the sandwich shop. The grocery I shop at has delivery, but it's $15 ($5 to pick, $10 to deliver) and you don't get it until the next day. There is no reason why local retailers can't do better than this and have same day delivery of any reasonably small item or collection of items for a reasonable price.

This is not something that should be impossibly vexing to store owners. They can easily compete with Amazon on this. Young people aren't exactly hard to come by, and you needn't have a large delivery area unless you're a specialty retailer, so it shouldn't be too hard to keep the deliverypeople busy enough to make a smallish ($5 or less) delivery charge feasible.

Even if Amazon does same day delivery, they're not going to have it to your door in half an hour. It would take that long to walk/conveyor/whatever your order to the shipping dock.
posted by wierdo at 1:02 AM on July 15, 2012


That's a really good point, wierdo. The "10 items or less" checkout line is rarely in use at the supermarket I use (people with small orders use the self-checkout now anyway) ... why not assign that teenager to deliver 10-items-or-less orders for a $5 delivery charge? I would 100% pay that to NOT have to put my kids in the car and take two kids to the supermarket for a gallon of milk, a bunch of bananas, a head of lettuce, and a 5-pound sack of sugar.

I'd pay $10 if I called during afternoon naps and they brought me whatever dinner ingredient I just realized I forgot, and they brought it within the hour.

I see pharmacies doing more deliveries, I would guess because much of their clientele is older or has limited mobility due to chronic illness. I wonder if that will bleed over into supermarkets.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:33 AM on July 15, 2012


With regard to picturesque main streets in small towns, at least on aesthetic concerns everyone can be made happy by putting big box stores in their own area on the outskirts of town, no? Usually by the industrial/commercial "park" (and the highway.)

I've seen this pattern from the Sierras to upstate NY to Hawaii and it seems to work fine.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:44 AM on July 15, 2012


Also same day grocery delivery is tough from a business perspective because a huge spike of orders is going to come in from, say, 2:30p to 5:30p with everyone wanting delivery by 6:30p or so--focusing on rush hour, in big cities. You need to fan out a lot of people and vehicles during that window, and will not be able to do so efficiently, but will be largely idle the rest of the time.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:53 AM on July 15, 2012


Amazon Fresh seems to have interesting solutions to the problem. Their process is even more complex because they serve fresh groceries so in apartment complexes they have to deliver when you're at home.

They currently seem to solve the problem by gentle nudging and guilt tripping. When you pick a time for delivery (including same day delivery), they have an icon telling you when a truck will be delivering on that route anyway. Sometimes, all times will be filled up for attended delivery except for the truck which says it's in your area (but generally unattended delivery is always available). They especially like to gently nudge you to pre-dawn delivery. Their idea is that most people like ordering late at night and the box will be waiting at your front door when you wake up. It works for your time and it especially works for Amazon because the roads are clear then, so they're far more efficient. Personally, it's kind of curious why people like UPS and Fedex don't take up on this as an option. I'd sure love to save a couple bucks on UPS deliveries by selecting an option to have them deliver it before 6AM without bothering to ring the doorbell when there's no traffic, but I guess it's because of liability -- then again I'm sure people would be willing to put up a locked box to save in the long run. (Amazon doesn't charge on any grocery orders over $100 no matter the time slot or delivery method).
posted by amuseDetachment at 10:36 AM on July 15, 2012


amuseDetachment writes "Personally, it's kind of curious why people like UPS and Fedex don't take up on this as an option."

The vast majority of UPS/FedEX business is B2B and that business is built around next day over night and delivery to businesses that are open.
posted by Mitheral at 11:39 AM on July 15, 2012


Right, and I know in terms of profit margin delivery for retail goods isn't that great, but it just seems like a good service for customers and they'll need less delivery vans this way (with more efficient use of fuel for retail delivery).
posted by amuseDetachment at 11:56 AM on July 15, 2012


Actually thinking it through, encouraging people en masse to have a locked box would probably never happen in the U.S. because that would likely technically be defined as a mailbox and would therefore be illegal. Never mind.
posted by amuseDetachment at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2012


encouraging people en masse to have a locked box would probably never happen in the U.S. because that would likely technically be defined as a mailbox and would therefore be illegal

Under what law is that illegal?
posted by grouse at 12:03 PM on July 15, 2012


It's only a legal mailbox if USPS is delivering to it. I've been doing deliveries in various ways for well over a decade now, and a lot of places, business and residential, which receive a lot of deliveries have lockboxes and such which non-USPS delivery persons drop parcels into.
posted by hippybear at 12:10 PM on July 15, 2012


Okay, I stand corrected, I've just always heard UPS/Fedex whining about postal monopolies, maybe it was just corporate PR talking points then.
posted by amuseDetachment at 12:20 PM on July 15, 2012


No, you are correct, in that only USPS delivery persons are allowed to put things in legal mailboxes. You aren't even supposed to, as a private citizen, leave a card or car keys or something in someone's mailbox. That's illegal.

But having a second box for other people to leave things in, well, that has nothing to do with the whole legal mailbox thing.
posted by hippybear at 12:25 PM on July 15, 2012


I am an urban dweller; I live in a neighborhood that is wonderfully safe, but is a place where anything not nailed to the front porch will not stay on the front porch longer than an hour. There is no doorman at my building and I do not work from home. So, basically, I do not want to shop remotely and have things delivered to my locked condo, in a locked building, with a front door mere feet from two bus stops and probably thousands of random people walking past all day. It is not more convenient for me to order things online and have them delivered. It does not improve the quality of my life to have more delivery trucks double- or triple-parked in my neighborhood, running yellow lights, side-swiping cyclists, blocking the alley. Shipping it to a place that's not my house? Where I have to make a trip to and access a locker and pick it up? That's not more convenient--that's an extra step, or just as many steps. So my guess is there would be a big Urban/Suburban/Rural divide here.

I wonder if there already is this divide. I know Amazon sells everything, but I still only shop for books and music there. Anything else I need, I can pretty much get nearby and I can touch it or try it on or otherwise inspect it first. So this service just doesn't seem that amazing to me, but then I'm not much of a recreational or impulse shopper. I mean, I get that it's conceptual exciting to people to be able to order whatever random consumer good they want while they are bored at work and have it waiting on the doorstep when they get home from work. And the article seemed to me to demonstrate that's what this service is best for: capitalizing on the urge to buy this Thneed now by eliminating the disincentive of "But I won't get it for a week, by which time I won't want it anymore, unless I pay extra for overnight shipping. eh, screw it, I don't need the Thneed." But it doesn't seem that interesting put into practice. It's solving a problem I don't have--wanting things I order online to be here faster. I don't have that problem--or what escabeche said much more succinctly.

And, as mentioned above, I like living near things. It's also necessary to live near things. We needed milk for my coffee at 7:30 am Friday. Same day delivery can't compete with the shop across the street. My aunt needed her prescription upon discharge from the hospital; same day delivery can't compete with the pharmacy on the way home. I need a different bra if I'm going to wear that particular dress tomorrow--I need to run down the block to a shop and try it on and have it in my hand today in order to do that--same day delivery can't do that.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:10 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This askme is a prime example of the problem with the loss of high margin "mom & pop" stores. One of the things that the margin covered was knowledgeable employees. Any even marginal hardware store is going to have a staff member who could have solved this problem or at least diverted the asker from the rabbit hole of looking for the wrong thing. Instead you get big chain Borg employees are no help whatsoever (I swear it's because the owners of these chains don't want knowledgeable employees. If the guy working electrical says "I Don't Know" to every question the owners can't get sued.) and specially stores whose employees can sell you 6000 different "designer" foos but don't really know in many cases how things work.

And there is currently no way for Amazon to provide the service of telling you what you need to buy.
posted by Mitheral at 4:51 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


And there is currently no way for Amazon to provide the service of telling you what you need to buy.

This is precisely what Amazon's recommendations do, which have been a huge part of its strategy since the beginning. And the more you buy from/through Amazon over time, the more data they have to predict your needs.

I wouldn't be surprised at seeing Fresh offer "suggested weekly carts" or similar after accumulating a month or two's worth of manual order data.

You could go from there to asking Amazon's recommendation engine to tune your life for you--i.e. tweak your grocery orders to assist in weight loss, manage diabetes or whatever.

Plenty of promotional partnership opportunities there too. WeightWatchers integration with AmazonFresh, driven by an App that communicates with NikeFit....blah blah blah....to make it even more Orwellian, add a layer that talks to your doctor (and so your medical insurance provider).

I'd be surprised if someone at Amazon wasn't thinking this way already. If they aren't, they should hire me.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:19 AM on July 26, 2012


The newsonomics of Amazon vs. Main Street: The online retail giant’s shift into same-day delivery will change local retail. Will it also change local news?
posted by vidur at 7:19 PM on July 31, 2012


snuffleupagus writes "This is precisely what Amazon's recommendations do, which have been a huge part of its strategy since the beginning. And the more you buy from/through Amazon over time, the more data they have to predict your needs."

Look at my example again. Clear, Contrived example: If you are searching for a space heater but you really need an A/C there isn't anyway for Amazon to make the correct suggestion. IE: if you think you know exactly what you need but you are totally wrong all your search terms and click throughs are going to steer any recommendation algorithm wrong. Actual experience and intelligence is required to determine that you've made a wrong turn.
posted by Mitheral at 9:21 PM on July 31, 2012


But Fresh is aimed at supplying daily staples of the kind that people know what they want and what they are going to do with...it aims at predictable purchases that would work well with a recommendation engine. How often do you go to the supermarket and require help selecting the right product, so much so that you would have bought entirely the wrong thing otherwise? How often do you even interact with an employee, except to access items kept behind a counter? And in those cases, you take a number and wait to tell the person what you want. Perhaps in some stores people behind the deli or butcher counter can still offer advice, but that's increasingly uncommon.

In short, your example suggests to me that Fresh doesn't threaten to do anything to the local mom and pop that the supermarket hasn't already done. The Fresh equivalent for hardware--not that such a thing really makes sense, considering most of us don't have a daily or weekly need for doorbell transformers and air handlers-- wouldn't do anything to a mom and pop hardware store that Home Depot hasn't already done.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:43 AM on August 6, 2012


I wouldn't be surprised at seeing Fresh offer "suggested weekly carts" or similar after accumulating a month or two's worth of manual order data.

I used to buy most of my groceries from AmazonFresh and at checkout, they would suggest a mixture of items I bought frequently and high-margin items that might be good impulse buys for anyone (like cut flowers). It was way more effective than the impulse buy display at a supermarket checkout because often it would be things I would actually need, and it was at least things I wanted.

The Fresh equivalent for hardware--not that such a thing really makes sense, considering most of us don't have a daily or weekly need for doorbell transformers and air handlers-- wouldn't do anything to a mom and pop hardware store that Home Depot hasn't already done.

AmazonFresh carries all sorts of items beyond groceries. Their home improvement section has thousands of items, including doorbell kits (no air handlers, though).
posted by grouse at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2012


Huh. I have to confess I find that somewhat surprising--I wouldn't expect Amazon to see much upside to selling those items through Fresh vs. the normal Amazon channels, but maybe they do it opportunistically? (i.e. the item is only shown as available to you, specifically, through Fresh if it happens to be sitting on an Amazon shelf near you, specifically.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:12 PM on August 6, 2012


If Amazon is already delivering a load of groceries to you, then the marginal fulfillment cost to them for an additional item is essentially zero. No handling, packaging, loss, or per-transaction costs added. As a bonus they get to sell you something that you get in a few hours rather than waiting days for. You can only get some items, which are presumably the items they already keep in their Bellevue warehouse.
posted by grouse at 12:26 PM on August 6, 2012


« Older Secrets at Apple's Core...  |  Bryn Oh is staging an art exhi... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments