"Everyone is a competitor"
November 23, 2017 1:10 PM   Subscribe

There’s precedent for Amazon competing with so many companies. It doesn’t end well. (Michael J. Coren, Quartz)
[…] Amazon’s unprecedented logistics and delivery infrastructure, paired with access to personal data about Americans’ purchasing habits, means it is unique in the history of global commerce. No company has ever wielded this combination of consumer insight and infrastructure, say historians and legal analysts, which means the company grows stronger and less assailable with every purchase.

Amazon's Antitrust Paradox (Lina Khan, Yale Law Journal)
This Note argues that the current framework in antitrust—specifically its pegging competition to “consumer welfare,” defined as short-term price effects—is unequipped to capture the architecture of market power in the modern economy. We cannot cognize the potential harms to competition posed by Amazon’s dominance if we measure competition primarily through price and output. Specifically, current doctrine underappreciates the risk of predatory pricing and how integration across distinct business lines may prove anticompetitive. These concerns are heightened in the context of online platforms for two reasons. First, the economics of platform markets create incentives for a company to pursue growth over profits, a strategy that investors have rewarded. Under these conditions, predatory pricing becomes highly rational—even as existing doctrine treats it as irrational and therefore implausible. Second, because online platforms serve as critical intermediaries, integrating across business lines positions these platforms to control the essential infrastructure on which their rivals depend. This dual role also enables a platform to exploit information collected on companies using its services to undermine them as competitors.
Is Amazon getting too big? (Steven Pearlstein, WaPo)
It’s not just Amazon, however, that animates concerns about competition and market power, and Khan is not the only one who is worrying. The same issues lie behind the European Union’s recent $2.7 billion [≈ cost of B-2 bomber] fine against Google for favoring its own services in the search results it presents to its users. They are also at the heart of the long-running battle in the telecom industry over net neutrality and the ability of cable companies and Internet service providers to give favorable treatment to their own content. They are implicated in complaints that Facebook has aided the rise of “fake news” while draining readers and revenue from legitimate news media. They even emerge in debates over the corrupting role of corporate money in politics, the decline in entrepreneurship, the slowdown in corporate investment and the rise of income inequality.
Amazon owns a whole collection of secret brands (Mike Murphy, Quartz)
After decades of selling products—and knowing exactly what people are buying, and when they are buying it—Amazon has started cutting out the middle-man by selling self-produced items. Through its AmazonBasics house brand, it sells all sorts of small items, from iPhone chargers, to batteries, power strips—even foam rollers, backpacks and washcloths. It’s the sort of stuff that you might not be too brand loyal over—who really minds whether it’s a Duracell or a Panasonic battery? Amazon sees that a product is selling well, and may decide to work with manufacturers to make the product itself—it’s a tactic that is already worrying vendors, and can’t bode well for partnerships in the long run. But those are the obvious instances. Now, Amazon is selling products across a wide array of categories, using a host of brands that do not exist outside the confines of amazon.com and do not make it clear that they are Amazon-made products.
Amazon found an ingenious new way to undercut its competitors ahead of the holidays (Alison Griswold, Quartz)
Lots of stores have price-matching policies. Target promises to match prices on identical items found for less at Target.com, certain online competitors, or in local print ads for up to 14 days after a purchase. Best Buy matches prices against a handful of online retailers and local competitors. Walmart will price match one item per customer per day, if a customer finds a lower price from one of 30 online retailers.

There’s also a common exception to those policies: Stores tend not to match prices on items sold through an online marketplace, or by third-party sellers.

That might sound like a technical distinction, but it’s critical to a new discounting technique Amazon is deploying ahead of Black Friday and the holiday season. “Discount provided by Amazon” lets the company subsidize goods sold by third-party merchants on its online marketplace, making prices even more attractive to customers.[…]

The discounts will help Amazon lure customers away from ultra-low-cost rivals such as Walmart and any of America’s many dollar store chains (considered among the businesses most resilient to Amazon).
Amazon's Last Mile (Bryan Menegus, Gizmodo)
Who delivers Amazon orders? Increasingly, it’s plainclothes contractors with few labor protections, driving their own cars, competing for shifts on the company’s own Uber-like platform. Though it’s deployed in dozens of cities and associated with one of the world’s biggest companies, government agencies and customers alike are nearly oblivious to the program’s existence.[…]

Near the very bottom of Amazon’s complicated machinery is a nearly invisible workforce over two years in the making tasked with getting those orders to your doorstep. It’s a network of supposedly self-employed, utterly expendable couriers enrolled in an app-based program which some believe may violate labor laws. That program is called Amazon Flex, and it accomplishes Amazon’s “last-mile” deliveries—the final journey from a local facility to the customer.

While investigating the nature of the program, we spoke to 15 current or former independent drivers across nine states and two countries whose enrollment spanned between a few weeks and two years, as well as three individuals attached to local courier companies delivering for Amazon. Their identities have all been obscured for fear of retribution.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (56 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
i stopped buying things from amazon earlier this year. their scale just kinda creeps me out. but i do appreciate their search engine and product reviews.

i notice that many people i know who avoid places like walmart but have no problem with amazon (and google and facebook for that matter)...
posted by danjo at 1:31 PM on November 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

I used to work for the 'Zon on their Kindle products. The average career there was about 1.5 years. A really stressful and corrosive work environment at the low and middle levels.

The CEO, Jeff Bezos, is really good at ruthlessly exploiting weakness. Not so great for mankind at large, but really great for himself and his stockholders.
posted by pdoege at 1:42 PM on November 23, 2017 [9 favorites]

I sort of want them to eat everything just so I can go to free marketeers "Happy now, are you?" until they admit regulation is okay. Then we hit them with Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism.
posted by Damienmce at 1:49 PM on November 23, 2017 [50 favorites]

this is a very well done and timely post, thank you.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:20 PM on November 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

“Can you imagine anyone ever saying, ‘oh lord this Amazon personal lubricant is just so sexy?'” DiMassimo asked.

In every universe but the ones in which Bezos named his company Amazon, that statement is a lot more plausible.
posted by acb at 2:49 PM on November 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

I've been a steady shopper for a very long time, but I didn't receive my last 6 orders that were all delivered through their own shipping van. Every time they lose an order, I get a refund and some type of gift card.

If they don't get this shipping issue fixed, it's going to put them out of business.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:11 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Actually it's not going to put them out of business because nobody else is in business and they don't have to care about stupid things like "lost orders".
posted by dilaudid at 3:46 PM on November 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

The company’s lobbying budget ballooned to $11.4 million in 2016, a six-fold increase over 2011, reports the Washington Business Journal. Amazon now retains at least 77 lobbyists, two of them former heads of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division during the Obama and George W. Bush Administrations,

Such a drop in the bucket of their operating expenses. Amazon, like Apple or Google or whatever, is the example of how the private sector enhances our quality of life so much better than those fat cats in Washington can. Yay capitalism!

But when they are able to so easily write the laws that regulate them, there’s no check on the infinitely rich. As always, the answer lies where ordinary citizens and their elected representatives should provide a fail-safe check to protect the public good. Go ahead, try and make me the very best widget the market forces can make, but there should be strong measures in place to prevent you from harming employees, or putting the national economy at risk with the decisions of a few ultra-wealthy people on Amazon’s board.

Getting the corrupting influence of unlimited money out of the political process is the most important issue facing humans in 2017.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:51 PM on November 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

I largely curtailed my buying from them years ago because of their business practices, but sometimes the price difference and availability of products tempts me to order anyway.

But, EVERY book order (sold and shipped by Amazon, not a marketplace seller) i’ve done in the last few years has had shipping damage because they can’t be bothered to pack for shipment as well as they used to. Ten dollars off retail price for an expensive art book becomes less attractive when you know that the book will be at least a little scuffed compared to ordering it from a local bookstore or even from Powells (which has been using higher-quality padded envelopes).
posted by D.C. at 3:57 PM on November 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

I used to work for the 'Zon on their Kindle products. The average career there was about 1.5 years. A really stressful and corrosive work environment at the low and middle levels.

I live in Dublin where they have a ton of devs doing AWS stuff. What I hear is people go in knowing it's going to be rough but they're going to learn a lot that they can use later in better jobs, and quit after a year.
posted by kersplunk at 4:05 PM on November 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

this is a very well done and timely post, thank you.
posted by the man of twists and turns

thank you, sensei

posted by Johnny Wallflower at 4:59 PM on November 23, 2017

Funny, I've pretty much given up ordering things I know won't be delivered by a Flex driver or USPS because UPS hates my neighborhood. FedEx would be fine, too, but it's been a long time since I've seen Amazon use them here.

Ironically, everywhere else I've lived, UPS has been by far the best for me.
posted by wierdo at 5:02 PM on November 23, 2017

Who delivers Amazon orders? Increasingly, it’s plainclothes contractors with few labor protections, driving their own cars,

Yesterday I saw rental van stopped next door, it was a driver (poc) sorting packages. Sorting on the street. In a rental. This is not going to go well for some populations.
posted by sammyo at 6:39 PM on November 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

Getting the corrupting influence of unlimited money out of the political process is the most important issue facing humans in 2017.

Americans, surely? Yeah, there are important trickle-down effects for the rest of us, but it is not like the whole world is experiencing this same USA style political capture?
posted by Meatbomb at 6:40 PM on November 23, 2017

“Can you imagine anyone ever saying, ‘oh lord this Amazon personal lubricant is just so sexy?'” DiMassimo asked.

The problem with this statement is not the Amazon branding...
posted by Dysk at 6:49 PM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Just wait till Amazon buys a fast food chain, probably pizza. That's when everything gets freaky.
posted by Beholder at 6:55 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recently heard a talk by the chief science officer of a major international food products company which does tens of billions of dollars of sales annually worldwide. He thinks that Amazon's purchase of Whole Foods will turn out be the most significant thing to happen in the food sector since the arrival of the transcontinental railroad.
posted by Numenius at 7:14 PM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dunno. In my area, UPS delivers and it works okay. I just have two profligate gift givers in my life and they both love Amazon, sooooooo... OTOH, despite it's quirks, I love and use my refurb'd Asus ZenPad orders of magnitude more than my Kindle Fire (which I named Scheherazade, since she tells me stories in the bedroom (she hasn't left the bedroom/night stand in weeks.))
posted by Samizdata at 8:18 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sears Catalog was the same, only 115 years earlier. We'll be okay folks, promise.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 8:24 PM on November 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

i notice that many people i know who avoid places like walmart but have no problem with amazon

Walmart codes as low class whereas Amazon runs most of the class spectrum.
posted by MillMan at 8:41 PM on November 23, 2017 [8 favorites]

Lumpenprole I know "avoid places like walmart but have no problem with amazon".
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:54 PM on November 23, 2017

I try to avoid Amazon. (I own a brick & mortar retail store, so they are a competitor, in a way.)

It’s surprising (and not) how bad some of the alternatives can be. I tried purchasing an external hard drive online from Fry’s and they authorized the charge about eight times on my card without successfully competing the order. I had to call in to place the order. Placing another order today, I tried to use a diffferent credit card and now I see they authorized that one another eight or so times so now I have to wait for those to expire before I can use that card again. The alternatives for buying electronics online aren’t great. Brick and mortar alternatives aren’t much better since it’s all big box stores or small stores selling off-off-brands.

There is one company”s products which anyone can buy cheaper on Amazon than it is available to my store through the standard distribution channels. I don’t know if it is still the case, but another company’s products were available for less on Amazon because third-party sellers from Japan could resell it more cheaply than the official US distributor would allow.

There’s a lot of strangeness out there in the marketplace that I think Amazon may be helping to squeeze out. But a lot of businesses and people are going to get squashed in the process.
posted by jimw at 8:55 PM on November 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

There was a thread going around at work about how unreliable Amazon deliveries have gotten with their new Flex service, I assume, and I was just like, "have you thought about buying less stuff?"

But I am a young person who deliberately chooses hobbies that don't really need equipment and has no dependents, etc etc.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:59 PM on November 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

The average career there was about 1.5 years.

I only lasted like three months. Every day I was leaving with a headache, so I went to my supervisor to ask him what I was doing wrong, because obviously I must be doing something wrong. Except for a plain desk and a white board the only thing in his office was a bottle of Excedrin on the desk. I quit shortly later.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 9:10 PM on November 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

Except for a plain desk and a white board the only thing in his office was a bottle of Excedrin on the desk.

so basically the worst Dilbert comic ever, except it's not even trying to be funny. This is how the world ends, with neither bang nor whimper, but a low, brooding headache unto oblivion.

cue: big ironic laugh, which slowly crossfades into something like this.

Happy Holidays.
posted by philip-random at 11:14 PM on November 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

We here in Australia are getting Amazon in the next week or so. I know it's problematic, for all the reasons above, but I'm still kind of excited.
posted by lollusc at 4:21 AM on November 24, 2017

It annoys Gerry Harvey, at least.
posted by dumbland at 5:23 AM on November 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I strenuously dislike the Amazon Flex deliveries. With FedEx or UPS or the post office, the truck is liveried and you can call a local office and complain. With Amazon Flex, a random white van with no connection to anything pulls up at my house.

This is silly, but it feels kinda threatening. Most vehicles that come to my house unscheduled are badged and liveried and the drivers are uniformed. UPS, FedEx, USPS, all liveried and uniformed. There's a number I can call to complain. The same driver serves my route every day. The electric company, the gas company, the water company, the town workers, taxis, school buses, vehicles are clearly marked and liveried and answerable to someone, and if their people come to my door they're uniformed. Even plumbers, lawn care guys, etc., they all say who they are on the side of the truck (and in their case don't show up unannounced).

Amazon Flex, and the third-party white-van couriers they use, just pull up in random cars or unmarked vans to my house, guys in regular clothes jump out, and run to my door. Sometimes they ring the bell, sometimes they don't; sometimes they throw the package, sometimes place it nicely. It's always different drivers. Sometimes they're very unprofessional and it's a little scary. They're always anonymous and there's no local office to contact, no way to know who they are.

As a mom at home alone with little kids during the day, and there aren't very many other people home during the day on my block, I really HATE it when random men in unmarked cars come to my door unannounced. It makes my heart pound every time. Like, I would be willing to get slower deliveries if Amazon would guarantee they'd use a regular delivery company. I know that in reality the difference between UPS drivers and Flex drivers is basically nothing, but the lack of transparency and accountability really bothers me. Who do I call if something frightening happens? And clearly there's no quality control -- if you manage to make a complaint to Amazon, they just fire the drivers who got complained about, they don't adjust delivery schedules or driver training or anything to fix a systemic problem.

(And while I was typing this I got an Amazon third-party courier delivery and for the first time ever I had a woman dropping the box, which actually did not trigger my fear response! Also the courier van had the courier company name on the side -- pretty small, but it was there -- which often isn't the case, and the driver had a vest on saying the company name. Vast improvement.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:16 AM on November 24, 2017 [18 favorites]

AMZN "secret" brands are no secret. The retail and wholesale practice --across industries-- of ordering "white label" (or "store brand") product lines from an OEM whose branded products the retailer also represents for sale is as old as dirt. Both sellers profit by clearing sales at every price-point of feasible market for a particular commodity and its substitutes. This arrangement is subject to legal sanction to the extent that tying is a condition of the transaction between producers. That is one type of antitrust violation --related to "pricing theory"-- that critics of monopoly market power must prove either
(i) directly restrains trade between producers or between sellers and buyers
(ii) or indirectly restrains trade between producers or between sellers and buyers.

Waving at AMZN ebook pricing in an antitrust lawsuit ("price fixing" by title publishers) to which AMZN was not a party --US v. Apple, et al.-- precisely because Bezos refused to collude does not instantiate a "shift" in DoJ applications of Sherman, Clayton, or FTC Acts.

Moreover, plaintiffs often need to demonstrate that a monopoly position (vertical or horizontal) contravenes the interests of the state. US gov certainly has been known to permit some trusts and combinations ostensibly, rhetorically in order to "protect" consumers' purchasing power.

Bork and Posner (Sunstein's former BFF) have opined on that "secret" too.
posted by marycatherine at 9:48 AM on November 24, 2017

Reuters: Workers at Amazon's main Italian hub, German warehouses strike on Black Friday
Like the rest of Europe, Italians in recent years have embraced the U.S. tradition of Black Friday, a day of heavy discounting by retailers on the day after Thanksgiving.

Unions said in a statement more than 500 Amazon workers at the Piacenza site in northern Italy had agreed to strike following a failure to negotiate bonuses with the company.

Workers have also decided not to do any overtime until Dec. 31, covering the peak season for the online retailer which hires temporary workers during this period.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:55 AM on November 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Eyebrows -- I know that in reality the difference between UPS drivers and Flex drivers is basically nothing...

The UPS drivers are unionized and are treated and paid a fair bit better than the Flex drivers.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:15 AM on November 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

"The UPS drivers are unionized and are treated and paid a fair bit better than the Flex drivers."

Well, yes, absolutely -- but I mean there's basically no difference between them in their likelihood of murdering me, and that my fears about Flex drivers are pretty unfounded, and that going to all the trouble of becoming an Amazon Flex driver and passing the background check and driving packages while tracked by an app in order to murder random suburban housewives is clearly the dumbest crime spree idea ever. AND YET I am not a fan of random men in unmarked vehicles approaching my house unannounced when I am home alone with the baby. (I would bet money "unmarked residential delivery by randos" was a man's idea, to whom it doesn't occur to be afraid of random weirdos popping up at their door when they're home alone.)

In terms of actual real dangers -- a few years back during the Christmas delivery season, one of the UPS extra holiday drivers they added had a route that took him down a residential street in front of a school right as school let out, and he was going 45 mph, in what was a 30 mph zone normally and was a 20 mph school zone. It was TERRIFYING. I called UPS because this guy was driving twice the speed limit with a shit-ton of kindergarteners walking home and it was icy and dark because December, and they made him slow down, and he did slow down for a week, and then sped right back up, so I called the city, who set up on the street and ticketed the driver and clocked his speed, and then called UPS and said, "Yo, do not do this," and the local UPS hub changed the route around so it didn't go past schools right at dismissal and assured the city they would make sure drivers had adequate time to make deliveries safely and didn't have to speed. (Whether they did or not, I don't know, but the city cranked up enforcement against delivery trucks that Christmas so they probably had to.)

With these Flex drivers and random couriers, there's no incentive to fix those kinds of systemic problems -- in fact there's every incentive for a contract delivery person to drive as fast as possible and to cut corners on safety, and there's every incentive for Amazon to require delivery loads to high to be accomplished safely, because there's no cost to Amazon when Flex drivers get ticketed for driving too fast; Amazon can just fire them for getting tickets, or fire them for not delivering enough packages; the drivers can't push back because they have no organized power. At least UPS can push back and say, "No, our trucks are not going to do 45 in a 20 because you want unreasonable package delivery times." (Or their union can do the same.) Those are definitely problems that are helped by regular employment, accountability, and a union.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:57 PM on November 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

One of the things I noticed with the Black Friday deals this time were that I recognized basically nothing that showed up under women's apparel. Everything there was from Chinese companies. Invariably, in the reviews for these products: the quality is poor, and it requires a ton of guesswork to figure out that you need to order a 3XL or a small even though you ordinarily wear a large in US major brands. But people still give things 3-4 stars because, hey, it was only $10. And then you look at the product recommendations and there's 30 other brands selling exactly the same shirt except they don't even all seem to have the same sizing errors.

I don't think what Amazon's doing is great for the US economy generally, but if I were high-up at Amazon, I'd be a bit worried, looking at that. The big box stores import tons of stuff; the importing isn't the problem. The problem is that the big-box stores did quality control. It's cheaper for Amazon to do nothing, but it only takes a few purchases to have some really terrible experiences that are going to leave you thinking of Amazon not as a brand for moderately-affluent young people but a brand selling cheap crap for people who thought Walmart was too upscale. Is that the market they really want to be in? I'm not sure. If the only way they can keep going is to sell progressively cheaper stuff and cut margins further and further on deliveries, eventually there's a bottom there where I'm not even going to buy a shirt if it's $5 if the last three shirts I got for $5 were unwearable and immediately fell apart in the wash. Electronics, housewares, it's all like this now. 4000 options, 3995 of which are obviously terrible.

I find it interesting that even Amazon's house clothing brands still can't manage to post specific sizing information and get complaints about inconsistencies. It's almost like clothing's harder to do than they thought it was going to be.
posted by Sequence at 5:38 PM on November 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

I hear so much moaning and groaning about Amazon but like... what are y'all ordering that you can't get in person? In the last year, I ordered UDAP bear spray, which I couldn't find at the local REI or similar (no grizzlies here). And honestly, I could have just waited until I got to Wyoming.
posted by AFABulous at 7:44 PM on November 24, 2017

Clothing is the #1 thing I refuse to buy from Amazon. I'm already a hard to fit size and the few times I did try something from Amazon out of desperation it was always a bad experience. I usually order my clothes from Walmart, since pants for me are impossible to find in-store.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 9:55 PM on November 24, 2017

AFABulous - Things I've bought recently from Amazon: CDs (yes, I prefer my music that way), a shoe horn, a specific kind of pillow, cat food, huge bottles of shampoo/conditioner, mattress topper. I don't know where I can buy most of this locally. Cat food yes. Shampoo/Conditioner I can probably find (it is a specific brand) and if not buy directly from the company. But I live in a small city area and honestly have no idea where I'd find a medium to long shoe horn, an egg crate mattress topper (Bed Bath & Beyond is probably only place to get that sort of thing and their selection is very limited). No way I could get that pillow anywhere but online.

Maybe if you live in a larger metro area shopping in person isn't that big of a deal, but when you live in a small place it isn't so easy. (I have WalMart, Costco, BB&B, a small Sears, a small Macys, Best Buy, some local places. And I'm lucky as most of the state has nothing.)
posted by evening at 7:00 AM on November 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

AFABulous: I spent yesterday afternoon hitting up every local hardware store and garden center (we have a total of three in the nearest town) for a set of calipers and a plastic compost bin. No luck on either front, so I returned home and bought them on Amazon. (And these are both things I thought would have been easy to find, too!)

I'm agree with evening that if you live in a metro area, there will be enough brick-and-mortar stores that can fill your needs that you can do without Amazon. Out in the country, though, Amazon has already killed everything except supermarkets, gas stations, and hardware stores; and they'll only stock the things that'll sell easily.

We're starting to transition to structuring our lives around driving to the nearest city every few weeks and stocking up on things we need in quantity. (This is more to reduce our carbon footprint than anything else, but avoiding Amazon is a nice side benefit.)
posted by ragtag at 7:24 AM on November 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Danny Westneat, Seattle Times: This City Hall, brought to you by Amazon
There’s rising worry that corporations are taking over America. But after reviewing a slew of the bids by cities and states wooing Amazon’s massive second headquarters, I don’t think “takeover” quite captures what’s going on.

More like “surrender.”

Last month Amazon announced it got 238 offers for its new, proposed 50,000-employee HQ2. I set out to see what’s in them, but only about 30 have been released so far under public-record acts.

Those 30, though, amply demonstrate our capitulation to corporate influence in politics. There’s a new wave, in which some City Halls seem willing to go beyond just throwing money at Amazon. They’re turning over the keys to the democracy.[…]

Example: Chicago has offered to let Amazon pocket $1.32 billion in income taxes paid by its own workers. This is truly perverse. Called a personal income-tax diversion, the workers must still pay the full taxes, but instead of the state getting the money to use for schools, roads or whatever, Amazon would get to keep it all instead.

“The result is that workers are, in effect, paying taxes to their boss,” says a report on the practice from Good Jobs First, a think tank critical of many corporate subsidies.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:18 PM on November 25, 2017 [7 favorites]

"Example: Chicago has offered to let Amazon pocket $1.32 billion in income taxes paid by its own workers. This is truly perverse. Called a personal income-tax diversion, the workers must still pay the full taxes, but instead of the state getting the money to use for schools, roads or whatever, Amazon would get to keep it all instead."

This is a massive and routine giveaway in Illinois, called the "EDGE" tax credit, and it's being given away by the millions upon millions to massive companies who clearly don't need it -- Caterpillar, Allstate, CVS, John Deere, DeVry, General Mills, Kaplan, JP Morgan, Keebler, Kellogg, Kraft, McGraw Hill, Mead, Mitsubishi (who closed the fucking facility despite the massive tax credits), Nestle, PetSmart, OfficeMax, Sears, Sherwin-Williams, US Cellular, Tyson, Walgreens, Yahoo!, Wrigley -- and who are already in the state and just threatening to move business elsewhere. Amazon already receives EDGE credits for its warehouses in Illinois. At least Amazon would be legit bringing new jobs in and not just shaking down the state by threatening to move, pro-football-team style.

So, yeah, most major employers in Illinois, you're actually paying your taxes, or a big part of them, to your employer. On the one hand, money is fungible, it does actually cost less to just let them keep your taxes instead of remitting it to the state and the state returning it to them. ON THE OTHER HAND, it's really fucking galling to be paying state taxes to your employer, especially when the state is broke, and especially since these are some dumb fucking tax credits and as a matter of policy these kinds of tax incentives are TERRIBLE (but we're all stuck in a race to the bottom now).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:19 PM on November 25, 2017 [6 favorites]

My town is throwing millions of dollars at Costco to build a new store there, so it's not just Amazon.

if you live in a metro area, there will be enough brick-and-mortar stores that can fill your needs

That depends on your needs, I think. In my experience, this is no longer true.
posted by Rash at 11:25 PM on November 25, 2017

If you genuinely can't get something in person, y'all know there are other websites to order from, right? And many brick-and-mortar stores will order things for you. You can't simultaneously support something and complain about it (except health insurance, we're all fucked yet we have to have it). I guess every major company is some degree of evil, but Amazon pretty much corners the market (no pun intended).
posted by AFABulous at 8:21 AM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you genuinely can't get something in person, y'all know there are other websites to order from, right?
Could you, like, tell me some? (That you trust and consider reliable, etc.?) Because I would love to know about them.
posted by ragtag at 8:39 AM on November 26, 2017

ragtag: off the top of my head, places that might have calipers and composting bins: Farm and Fleet, Fleet Farm, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menard’s, Ace Hardware, True Value Hardware, Sears.

Search Google for the product and click the “shopping” tab. That will give you a list of places you can order from. And also tell you if it’s available nearby.
posted by AFABulous at 10:15 PM on November 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Who do I call if something frightening happens?

Introducing Amazon Warrior, the company's home security service! Just say,"Alexa, I need backup!" and a Fire Team will be delivered right to your door. Each member of our Fire Team goes through a full background check and four weeks Amazon Basic Training. Prime members get one free call a month!
posted by FJT at 8:27 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

You want to know why people just order shit from Amazon rather than going to a store? First, though this is admittedly less valid then in years past, even if their website and inventory system claim something is in stock, it often isn't. Second, even if it is in stock and you can find the product, you may still have trouble.

Take a visit to Home Depot to buy a trash can, because why would you ever order something like that online, right? I hate shitty trash cans, so Target isn't an option, so I check the website, which thankfully has an actual quantity in stock indication and it says 38 in stock, so I'm fairly confident I'm not wasting time and money on the project. So I go fetch a ZipCar from down the street and head over there (what, you think I'm carrying that on the bus?!) and within 5 minutes or so I find what I'm looking for. All is well. Except that precisely zero indoor trash cans they sell have permanently attached lids. That's fine, but despite there being 36+ bins sitting there, there are zero lids of the appropriate type to be found anywhere. All the other kinds have them in the bins or otherwise easily findable. Damn. So I go find a person and ask for help. This person proceeds to dig through the entire aisle looking for it with no success. I tell him not to worry about it after a good long while and move on. A few minutes later I'm passing back by and the guy is laying on a shelf 5 feet off the ground digging around when he yells "AHA!" Yes reader, that is where all of the lids for this particular bin were located. So thanks to a particularly helpful employee I got what I wanted in the end, but that was far more hassle than it should have been. The part after that was my own fault, being a cheap bastard, but I still managed to get the car back in its spot with 30 seconds to spare.

I could have just ordered it and the rest of my list on Amazon and saved $7 worth of car rental and an hour's worth of time for the low price of waiting up to two days for the stuff to be placed on my doorstep. And probably would have gotten the stuff cheaper anyway. It's pretty hard to say no when brick and mortar retailers insist on providing a mediocre experience at best.
posted by wierdo at 11:35 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

So why not order it from any of the billion other online retailers who sell trash cans? Home Depot has a website. Container Store has high quality trash cans and from what I've heard has a generous return policy.

I mean if it's down to "what is the absolute cheapest I can get this for" then fine, you've made your moral decision, but you can't use Amazon to save a few bucks and simultaneously complain about them when there are many other options. (Yeah, Home Depot probably kicks puppies or whatever but we're not discussing them right now.)
posted by AFABulous at 1:35 PM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know the feeling, wierdo. I've been ordering grocery delivery directly from Safeway, because I'd rather support having employees over contractors like Instacart does. However, my latest delivery had, like about 50 percent of the recent deliveries, an entire bag of items gone missing (I had the driver check, it wasn't on the truck at all.) Which was mildly annoying.

What was crazy-making was that I discovered on trying to email them for a refund for those items (an email link that was IN MY ORDER CONFIRMATION) that they had discontinued email support and told me to call the phone line instead. Which after nearly half a hour on hold (with no information about where in the queue I was) I gave up.

So I'm not likely to be using Safeway delivery again, which means I'll be using Amazon or Instacart and that sucks.
posted by tavella at 3:58 PM on November 28, 2017

So I'm not likely to be using Safeway delivery again, which means I'll be using Amazon or Instacart and that sucks.

Albertson's owns Safeway, and both are owned by Cerberus, a private equity firm, which is always a bad sign. Sales are down, debt is up. I honestly think old supermarkets might go the way of bookstores and video rental in the next decade. They're getting attacked from all sides: Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Costco, Trader Joes, Sprouts, and 99-Cent stores all sell some or all of what a supermarket offers. Also, ethnic supermarkets like 99 Ranch are doing quite well, both because they serve growing minority communities and long term food trends have made people that are not of those backgrounds more comfortable with shopping there. Amazon probably jumped on Whole Foods because they're seeing something similar.
posted by FJT at 10:31 PM on November 28, 2017

Ain't nobody going to make me feel bad for using Prime Now or Fresh. Everybody involved in the process is working in climate controlled conditions most of the time and getting paid reasonably well. (And aside from the flex drivers, are all employees)

Why Amazon continues to use shitty contract labor arrangements (aside perhaps for seasonal work around the holidays) in their regular warehouses I can't understand for the life of me.

And why not buy the trash can from someone else? Everybody else wants $30 to ship it thanks to dimensional weight.

I'm happy to spend an extra couple of dollars to support companies that are either employee owned or treat their workers well. Beyond that, I'd rather have money left so I can buy my next meal, thanks.

One thing I think often gets lost in these discussions is that it isn't for us as consumers to deal with abusive behavior. That is what regulation is for. It's a political problem and should be dealt with as such. Allowing it to be otherwise (on this and many other issues) is a large part of what has enabled the rise of the far right. Hopefully the DSA will continue to see success and soon be in a position to help move the needle on this and so many other pressing issues. I'd like to think the Democratic Party will get on board at some point, also.
posted by wierdo at 1:47 AM on November 29, 2017

On Albertson's, by the way: Prior to being purchased by SuperValu in 2006 or so, it was a fairly decent company to work for from what I could tell. Fairly average as far as grocery stores go in terms of general niceness of the stores and variety of products, but the employees were fantastic and helpful. All the other stores in town were primarily staffed by disinterested teens at the time. (Tulsa is in many ways 10 years behind the rest of the country, until recently having been relatively divorced from the overall business cycle most of the time)

Why was it so? A union. See, gentle reader, Albertson's was a union shop. An experienced cashier in Tulsa made around $15 an hour plus benefits, which is enough to live a decent life in a low cost of living location like that. That was great for customers since nearly every cashier could fly through an entire cart in no more than a couple of minutes. Needless to say, almost all of the employees left rather than take a 50% pay cut, so things quickly went downhill after the purchase.

Last I heard, the store I used to frequent closed not too long after I moved in anticipation of going to basically zero sales when Whole Foods announced a new location was going in a couple of blocks away.

The post-purchase history of the chain's stores in Oklahoma actually provides a great example of how deeply bizarre the entire grocery industry is, actually, but I'm not going to get into it now. Suffice it to say that all those notionally independent stores exist in a superposition of independence and centralized control. Also a good example of how large companies can sometimes be better corporate citizens than the smaller ones.
posted by wierdo at 2:06 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Jessica Bruder, Guardian: Living in cars, working for Amazon: meet America's new nomads
Since 2009, the year after the housing crash, groups of such workers had migrated each fall to the mobile home parks surrounding Fernley. Most had traveled hundreds of miles – and undergone the routine indignities of criminal background checks and pee-in-a-cup drug tests – for the chance to earn $11.50 an hour plus overtime at temporary warehouse jobs. They planned to stay through early winter, despite the fact that most of their homes on wheels weren’t designed to support life in subzero temperatures.

Their employer was Amazon.

Amazon recruited these workers as part of a program it calls CamperForce: a labor unit made up of nomads who work as seasonal employees at several of its warehouses, which the company calls “fulfillment centers”.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 10:17 AM on December 2, 2017

CamperForce was a recent FPP.

They planned to stay through early winter, despite the fact that most of their homes on wheels weren’t designed to support life in subzero temperatures.

*squints* It's in Nevada. Oh, zero celsius. Still, I have lived in an RV when it was -20. As long as you insulate the pipes and have access to electricity or a generator, keeping the inside warm is not a problem. The unpleasant part was emptying the tanks in 30-40 mph winds.

posted by AFABulous at 12:49 PM on December 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Patrick Hatch, Sydney Morning Herald: Happy day for retailers as Amazon fails to live up to the hype
Australian retailers have breathed a sigh of relief and enjoyed a healthy bump to their share prices after their worst fears about Amazon outgunning them on price and service failed to eventuate.

The American e-commerce giant sent its Australian website live with "millions" of products for sales on Tuesday, offering next-day deliveries and discounts of up to 30 per cent on popular toys, kitchen appliances and fashion brands.

But retail analysts said Amazon's prices were not as aggressive as expected and was unlikely to spoil Christmas for local retailers.
Be strong, my antipodean mates!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:54 PM on December 5, 2017

Reuters: Amazon launches subscription-based Prime service in Singapore (in its entirety)
Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday launched its subscription-based Prime service in Singapore that provides access to fast shipping, streaming and gaming, intensifying competition with incumbent rival Alibaba-backed Lazada in Southeast Asia.

FILE PHOTO - The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics center in Lauwin-Planque, northern France on February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
In July, the e-commerce giant made its biggest push into Southeast Asia by launching a free two-hour delivery service in the city-state, marking its first head-on battle with Chinese rival Alibaba Group Holding. (bit.ly/2AakmBO)

But in what was seen as the first step toward developing a major footprint in the fragmented region of 600 million people, some customers were underwhelmed by its initial limited product categories and it faced tough competition from rivals, such as Lazada.

Now Amazon, which had been offering its two-hour delivery service Prime Now for free on a S$40 ($29.70) minimum purchase in Singapore without any membership fee, will start charging S$8.99 per month after a limited introductory period.

While introducing the membership, the online retailer more than halved the threshold for free international shipping to Singapore and also cut delivery times, hoping the deal will attract more shoppers to its platform that will now give access to more than 5 million items from Amazon U.S..

Lazada had launched its own subscription-based customer loyalty program LiveUp in Singapore in April.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 12:26 AM on December 7, 2017

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