Amazon vs. Brands
December 6, 2018 5:15 PM   Subscribe

An Amazon revolt could be brewing as the tech giant exerts more control over brands. The next time you buy a PopSockets cellphone grip from Amazon, be forewarned: It likely won’t come with a manufacturer’s warranty — because it won’t be coming from PopSockets or one of its authorized sellers. That’s one of the trickle-down effects of a power move that Amazon recently made against PopSockets and other brands that sell their goods through the largest online store in the U.S. Amazon is taking more control over where and how product manufacturers can hawk their wares on Amazon.
posted by MovableBookLady (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's like making myself push a boulder uphill, but I've been trying to buy things more often in brick and mortar stores, especially when it's something like a pop socket that is easily found. I'm also trying to group purchases that wait together so that I don't end up with a mountain of Amazon boxes.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 5:34 PM on December 6 [14 favorites]


As I was reading this, I had a realization. I suckered myself into believing that Amazon was somehow different--I didn't think it was a saintly company, but they do such a good job of targeting the middle class consumer with offerings like Prime that I still gave them slack I wouldn't give a shitty company like Walmart.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I think it's a classist issue--Walmart is shitty and preys on the poor and vulnerable, while Amazon just has 'problems' which I can rationalize away because I identify them with my class of people.

Really though, it's every bit as shitty as Walmart, a company at which I've refused to shop for years.

I have to talk to my wife about canceling our Prime membership.
posted by Ickster at 5:36 PM on December 6 [54 favorites]


Ive been consciously trying to avoid amazon purchases in recent months, going brick n mortar where possible or just buying direct from vendor online. Bezos does not need my money. Nevermind that my husband does enough amazon shopping for four...
posted by supermedusa at 5:39 PM on December 6


Prime though, thats hard...
posted by supermedusa at 5:40 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


Got prime when I was injured and couldn't walk without a walker, and couldn't drive. Thought I'd use it to get groceries, but I didn't; friends and family took care of that. I had it, though, and I wanted Grand Tour episodes, so I kept it for a few years.

Then I realized I was buying a lot more than I normally would, and that the Prime deals weren't so great, and their shipping guarantee was meaningless, and I wondered why I was paying for it, so I stopped...and went back to not buying as much. Not using Prime has been -- for me -- as easy as using it, but I have more money and fewer things. Convenience isn't always a net positive.
posted by davejay at 5:56 PM on December 6 [10 favorites]


This warranty issue isn’t a real issue, in my opinion. I’ve bought way too much from amazon over the years and they have never not refunded or replaced something for me. Even months after the final return date. That’s their hook: their excellent customer service. They exploit their vendors, but their customer is royalty. So... if this article trying to get customers to think twice about ordering from Amazon, the lack of warranty- of something like a popsocket, which isn’t even meant to last more than 9 months, just isn’t the right thing to warn us about. There are many other scary things about them.
posted by greermahoney at 6:00 PM on December 6 [5 favorites]


I didn’t see anything in the article about random third-party counterfeiters. This seems like a countermeasure, by cutting out a lot of the Marketplace resellers and fake resellers. Maybe they’re just afraid to admit in public that their platform sells fake stuff.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:06 PM on December 6 [19 favorites]


Eh. If this was about customer experience they might do something about the counterfeit products shipping under prime. I mean, maybe they are, but this looks more like WalMart type tactics to exert control over manufacturers and vendors.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:07 PM on December 6 [14 favorites]


I’ve bought way too much from amazon over the years and they have never not refunded or replaced something for me. Even months after the final return date. That’s their hook: their excellent customer service. They exploit their vendors, but their customer is royalty. So... if this article trying to get customers to think twice about ordering from Amazon, the lack of warranty- of something like a popsocket, which isn’t even meant to last more than 9 months, just isn’t the right thing to warn us about. There are many other scary things about them.

You do know they do this by screwing over the resellers right? I've "returned stuff" under warranty and about half the time they don't even ask for it back. The resellers just end up eating the cost because the logistics are too expensive.
posted by srboisvert at 6:31 PM on December 6 [12 favorites]


You do know they do this by screwing over the resellers right?

Um yeah. That’s why I said “they exploit their vendors, but their customer is royalty.” My point was not that “Yay, this is great!” but that the article is taking the wrong tack with the “no warranty” scare-mongering.
posted by greermahoney at 6:44 PM on December 6 [7 favorites]


Never bought anything from Amazon. Stopped going to Whole Paycheck before it moved into the Amazon domain. There are.smaller fish than I, but you would need a microscope...
posted by Oyéah at 7:04 PM on December 6 [2 favorites]


I let my Prime membership expire in late November. I honestly expected to miss it more. I paid a little more for a couple of hardcover book Christmas presents from my local indie bookstore, but its worth it.
posted by COD at 7:28 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


Lest we all descend into purile crazy talk... you know that upon completion of the second season on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Jeff Bezos will now forcibly make Rachel Brosnahan deliver your next 50lb pound of dog food or kitty litter to your house... I mean, that perk has to mean something to you heathens... Stop worshiping at the altar of Bezos? Are you mad? Are you actively looking for the delivery drones to start out in 'Customer Retention or Kill' mode?

Note: this is not actually a perk yet and is meant as satire...
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:35 PM on December 6 [4 favorites]


Amazon isn't doing anything in this case that every other retailer, big or small, doesn't do. That doesn't mean there's not something broken here, because there is. But we should be clear what's broken.

Presenting this kind of problem with Amazon as if it were qualitative and not quantitative is misleading. It makes it seem as if Amazon is "breaking the rules", formal or informal, and that if they played by the same rules as everyone else, things would be okay.

But (aside from the sales tax thing, which largely isn't the case anymore) Amazon is playing by the same rules and everything isn't okay.

This is a problem of scale. Practices that are normal and acceptable when there is more power equity become exploitative when the power balance is very unequal. This is why we have anti-trust laws.

I think being clear on this matters because this is more a political problem in the domain of regulatory oversight than it is a "bad people doing bad things" sort of thing. Thinking and talking about this in moral terms places the spotlight on individual people, whether they're an Amazon executive or a consumer, and away from the decisions we must negotiate and make politically to further the best interests of the polity.

When one company so dominates an economic sector that its mere presence alters the landscape to its excessive advantage, that's when it's emphatically a regulatory matter.

It's actually to Amazon's benefit if the framing is that they're a bad actor because they can much more easily defend themselves on that basis than on their enormous market power. What they really don't want want is the framing that says they're so big that we need special rules just for them.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:01 PM on December 6 [36 favorites]


Worked in a warehouse arranging pallets for shipment to AMZN for FBA (Fulfilled By Amazon). It was a nightmare. They are very automated in their distribution centers so I appreciate they have some exacting size of pallet parameters, but we got rejected even when they where within the guidelines. They also would sent us back damaged goods that were clearly from a different seller. Maybe all large retailers do this to their vendors, but they treated us like shiite. We were a large vendor. We lived in fear of being shut down by Amazon. By the time the guy out on leave I was stepping in for returned, I had successfully convinced the company to create their own online retail presence and to limit what they sold on AMZN so that they would not be so reliant on AMZN. We found that if people liked our products, if we only sold say 40% of them on AMZN, they would search for our company website and purchase there.
posted by AugustWest at 10:15 PM on December 6 [12 favorites]


I've been finding lately that the consumer experience of Amazon is also much worse than it used to be. For example, I thought about buying a board game today (Thursday) from Amazon, and even with "2 day prime shipping" the package wasn't going to arrive until Tuesday (5 days from now!). I had the option of paying $6 extra to obtain "1 day prime shipping" so that it would arrive Monday. I wonder whether Amazon is clamping down on all sides of the experience -- both pressing harder on venders and degrading quality for customers.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:07 PM on December 6 [6 favorites]


The exact same thing has happened with Birkenstock shoes. Counterfeit Products are beoming a big problem on Amazon, "being able to return it" is not a great solution for me, if I want to buy a real product.
posted by Lanark at 12:50 AM on December 7 [4 favorites]


As a U.K. Prime customer my husband and I have been wondering what Prime actually does these days. Didn’t it used to mean free next day? But these days more often than not, products with a Prime label only qualify for standard shipping and sometimes it’s not even free.

Prime now seems to mean you get other Amazon services included like Video. Prime video is our least used streaming service. We’re pretty covered with our digital channels and Netflix. And the other stuff, music and whatnot? meh whatever.

I don’t think we’ll stop using amazon completely. With a new born it’s been a lifesaver. But we may just let Prime membership lapse when it expires if only to prompt us to be more conscious of our spending choices.

Also I 100% agree with AugustWest. Just these past two weeks I have gone directly to a brand website but through discovery on Amazon. For one of the products it ended up being cheaper on their website and they offered reasonable next day delivery, a shipping option not even available as a choice on Amazon.
posted by like_neon at 2:39 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


For a lot of manufacturers, ones that have a distinct brand rather than just fly-by-night no-name places that are run out of a factory somewhere in China, I do think a solution is to sell directly through their own websites. I always try to buy this way if I can, but a lot of e.g. hiking gear manufacturers don't seem to do this. Hiking gear isn't actually a great example because Campmor, Sierra Trading Post, REI, L.L. Bean, etc. are all good sources of gear (much of Bean's stuff is just rebranded from lesser-known manufacturers) but if I'm buying something a little more significant than a pack of USB cables or whatever, I do tend to seek out the manufacturer directly. They just don't always have a way for me to buy directly from them.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:56 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


ThermoWorks, maker of the Thermapen instant read thermometer has never sold on Amazon. I love them even more now that history shows them to have been right all along.
posted by mikelieman at 2:57 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


... they have never not refunded or replaced something for me.

You are fortunate. More than once, I have had to argue with AZ because a product I'd bought from them did not have the feature their product description claimed it did, which feature was the reason I'd bought. it. I did not always get my money back. I started avoiding AZ in earnest when their abusive warehouse-employee-treatment practices surfaced. Sometimes it's difficult.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:45 AM on December 7


I saw an article recently by an undercover reporter about working conditions at Amazon. That was the thing that really put a damper on my spending. I think this is it:

They treat us like disposable parts

Amazon warehouse workers skip bathroom breaks to keep their jobs, says report

Accidents at Amazon: workers left to suffer after warehouse injuries

I'm buying less and going to more brick and mortar stores.
posted by bunderful at 5:22 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


This seems like yet more non-issue Amazon fear mongering. If it's difficult for a manufacturer, or anyone else, to deal with Amazon, there are alternatives. It isn't difficult to find good competitors to Amazon. A simple google search will let you find them. It's pretty seldom I can't find an item anywhere but Amazon. More and more, the alternatives are surprisingly competitive. Which is why anti trust nonsense is exactly that.

If you as a consumer have access to Amazon, you also have access to the greatest marketplace ever, known as the internet. You're no longer held hostage to the local brick and mortars, the mom and pops. Nor are you held hostage to Amazon. Amazon is huge. But they are not, by far, the only game on the internet.

If you want to make a public declaration of virtue by explaining how you refuse to use Amazon (or Walmart, or whatever evil company of the day), it's your prerogative. But then you're in the position of proving Amazon is uniquely shitty. They're uniquely big, which makes for easily found examples. But uniquely shitty? I mean, have you ever worked for a brick and mortar or mom and pop retail place? If you want your shittiness to be locally sourced, then I guess you've got an angle to pursue.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:37 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


Maybe all large retailers do this to their vendors, but they treated us like shiite

I managed the WalMart account for an office products manufacturer in my first job out of college, and WalMart was doing this crap to us way back then in the early 90s. So treating vendors like shiite is definitely not new or special to Amazon. I think it's SOP for any company large enough to believe they can get away with it.
posted by COD at 5:48 AM on December 7 [2 favorites]


This seems like yet more non-issue Amazon fear mongering. If it's difficult for a manufacturer, or anyone else, to deal with Amazon, there are alternatives.

This is interesting, because I used to see the same articles 15/20 years ago, by companies who wanted to supply to Walmart. Endless stream of complaints about Walmart's policies, shipping/packaging mandates (RFID was why I was watching them IIRC).

Essentially, they are all crappy - for some companies there is a sweet-spot during their initial growth period, but ultimately they end-up actively becoming malignant... Walmart was once a nice, manageable chain of supermarkets... Amazon was a great online bookseller, Apple has been through many cycles of anti-third-party and consumer lock-in, Google... hell they actually dropped "don't be evil"... Microsoft "embrace, extend, extinguish"...(How is that going to play with the replacement of the in-house Edge browser engine with "Chromium"... but, OTOH they do seem to be playing better in the open-source ecosystem these days)...

Some cycle back ... but most do not.

Once a company gets "too big to fail", they definitely begin to act like it...
posted by jkaczor at 5:56 AM on December 7 [5 favorites]


You're no longer held hostage to the local brick and mortars, the mom and pops.

It is interesting to see this play out from my vantage point of one of those hostage-taking mom and pops. There is a tremendous amount of churn in the ownership of the major brands in my field (art supplies) and none of them seem to have a great handle on how to deal with Amazon. I think that brands that are part of large consumer conglomerates (Prismacolor, for example) are going to mostly disappear at the brick-and-mortar level as they optimize their product mix to what sells on Amazon and whether that's 24-piece colored pencils sets, Calphalon pans, or Yankee candles, it's all just dollars to the conglomerate. Dealing with small retailers and selling individual pencils is something they'd really rather not deal with. (But as the article points out, Amazon could then just decide to pick off SKUs by creating an Amazon Basics version.)
posted by jimw at 6:11 PM on December 7 [2 favorites]


fwiw, I was a business partner in a reseller among the first round of third-party merchants on Amazon umpty-jillion years ago. I was repeatedly headhunted by Wal*Mart and during these amusing conversations I learned that Amazon was understood to be actively headhunting and sniping among Wal*Mart's executive corps. My understanding of it was that Amazon was interested in transplanting Wal*Mart's exec-class DNA. Nothing over the subsequent decades has demonstrated any particular falsity in this osmosed impression.
posted by mwhybark at 8:50 PM on December 7


Quoted from the article (emphasis mine):

> If that wasn’t bad enough, it also became clear to Barnett that unaffiliated sellers of his merchandise — merchants with whom PopSockets does not have any relationship — would still be allowed to sell on Amazon. Goods sold by these sellers do not come with a manufacturer’s warranty, nor have they gone through PopSockets’ quality assurance program, the CEO said.

My comments are prefaced with, I very much understand Amazon has a counterfeit problem, much more so since they began allowing Chinese manufacturers to sell directly through Marketplace.

That said, there's no indication of counterfeit here, implicitly or explicitly. The CEO is claiming these unaffiliated sellers will be moving "his" items, but somehow they haven't gone through his company's QA program.

Did they fall off the back of a boat between here and China? Either the items were manufactured by his company, in which case, how did they not go through QA before being sold on to these resellers, or they are not his items, in which case, they're not, you know, his items and he needs to clarify he's talking about counterfeit/lookalikes.

The warranty is one thing it's a goddamn piece of grippy plastic for your phone, if you really want to be so petty as to penalize your users that bought from "unauthorized" resellers (most likely unknowingly), fuck you, too but he's just talking utter bullshit about the "QA" program.

(What exactly does that consist of, anyway? "Yep, Bob, it sure looks like a round piece of plastic with some sparkly paper in it." "I agree, Chad. Oh, wait, this one isn't sparkly enough. Halt the production lines!")

Amazon's...whatever. Customer service isn't what it used to be. Price was never really that great. But it's mostly easy and I can't stomach actual shipping costs anymore, so there you go.
posted by tubedogg at 9:17 PM on December 7


If you work for a major retailer at the corporate level, you will be courted by other retailers because your experience is directly transferable. If you work at one, eventually one of the others will approach you. Working in Big Retail gives you specific experience about scaling, marketing and selling to a huge audience, it's really one of the best real-world laboratories you can find.

Amazon has two problems. One, they have a huge problem with counterfeit products, and they've done a lousy job of getting a handle on it. Two, they're a huge pain in the ass to deal with as a company. Apple started the trend of being a huge pain in the ass, making special and burdensome demands of their partners, being super micro-managing yet shockingly unhelpful, and generally acting like everyone else is obligated to put up with their shit. (Example: having design requirements that are specific to the pixel, but instead of providing completed, ready-to-go assets that will work with a partner's CMS, the partner is expected to design it themselves and then submit for multiple rounds of approval...it's routine to be up until 2-3am in a clean room for a 6am launch because of their confidentiality requirements.)

Amazon decided they get to behave the same way. But when they fail to address the fact that a customer is alarmingly likely to receive a counterfeit item when they purchased a real one, or a clearly used item when they paid for a new one, then confidence in their integrity is going to fall. People want convenience and to be able to count on the quality of service. They don't want to have to wonder if they're going to get ripped off. Or go through the hassle of returning an item once or twice. Amazon currently solves the problem by throwing money at people when they have a negative experience, but that is a very expensive solution.

This is actually a recurring problem with having third-party resellers on your platform. A number of retailers gave up on it because it's too hard to guarantee quality, and to give customers a compelling reason to buy from you instead of the third party. It dilutes your brand and makes you compete with yourself on your own site.

A company like Amazon is betting that by capturing the market and strong-arming third party sellers, they can make up the money they lose from counterfeits and returns. And they probably can for a while, but it will give them a reputation for selling junk and being bad for business...just like Walmart. And just like Walmart, by being the dominant, sometimes the ONLY option, some customers won't have a good alternative to shopping there. But that won't last forever, it never does. At some point their profit margin will be so thin that they'll be spending an enormous amount of time and money just to keep market share. People eventually get hype fatigue when there stops being a clear value to them in exchange for what they spend. Apple is going through the same thing.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:00 AM on December 8 [3 favorites]


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