Amazon Kind Of Sucks And We’ve All Just Come To Accept It

I hate writing this article because I’ve loved Amazon forever. I still remember my cousin telling me about it back when I was in high school. He was staying with me while my dad was out of town. We were browsing the web on our old Compaq (Intel 386 baby!) via AOL dialup (it was a different time, don’t judge) and I wanted to buy a book. He told me about this new site selling them online. It was so much cheaper than bookstores at the time, which had a markup somewhere between excessive and violating the Geneva Convention.

Over time they came to sell more stuff and I started buying it. When they announced Prime, I signed up right away and have never looked back. Yeah, their Netflix and Spotify competitors are pretty mediocre. The UI on everything Amazon does looks like it was designed by Helen Keller. You’d think a company with $90b in revenue could hire one decent UX and one decent UI guy. They’re ugly but they get stuff done.

And maybe that’s part of the charm. It’s like walking into an Aldi. You don’t expect to see reclaimed wood floors and exposed beam ceilings. If you want that, go pay twice as much to shop at Whole Foods. The place looks cheap because it is cheap, and cheap’s sometimes what you want. 

Except the problem with Amazon is, it’s not cheap. In fact, it’s quite expensive. Yes, Amazon prices are still great on some things. Things that have a high dollar density, meaning the ratio of their cost to their shipping weight and size is high. But for anything else, forget it. I was joking with some friend about how I bought a $5 roll of tape there and something else much more expensive, and of course the $5 roll of tape came in a big bubble-wrap filled box, while the expensive electronic item just had a label slapped on it. And my friend said “you know that roll of tape is like $1 at Home Depot right?” Which killed the joke, but turned out to be true.

I started looking around, comparing prices, and found that this is not unusual. Pretty much anything Amazon sells that is also sold at your local big box store costs much more. That wasn’t true a decade ago when I started ordering paper towels and the like. I mean, it certainly makes sense. They’re cheap but large, so the cost to ship them alone is probably close to what you buy them at Costco for.

I’m willing to put up with the fact that Amazon, despite having some of the best programmers in the world, can’t do a simple price sort. Seriously, pretend you just want the cheapest iPad that’s currently made. Go there, type in “iPad”, and search from lowest to highest. I’m too lazy to figure out which page the first one pops up on, because I gave up on page 12. Even if you sort by Apple as the manufacturer, you get a bewildering array of crap that isn’t what you’re looking for. Walk into an Apple store or Best Buy and you can figure it out in seconds.

And half the time, their price sort doesn’t even manage to sort by prices! I think it has something to do with the fact that one item can be sold by multiple vendors at multiple prices. Whatever the reason, it’s confusing.

On top of that, returning stuff to Amazon sucks. Here’s the Amazon return process.

1. Go to site, fill out a form to get a shipping label.

2. Print said form. That’s pretty much all I use my printer for because it’s not 1998 anymore. I even upgraded to a wireless one so I don’t have to plug my damn laptop into it every time I want to return something.

3. I probably threw away the Amazon box. Gotta dig up a suitable one from the pile of spares I have in the attic just for returning stuff to Amazon.

4. Print packing slip, insert in box.

5. Now I have to bust out the old packing tape. You know that stuff always comes out of the little guides on the side no matter how careful you were, so you have to un-stick it. Do so while seething in rage that nobody has yet invented packing tape that doesn’t stick to itself.

6. Shellack that damned label to the box with tape. I don’t have shipping labels for my printer because what am I, FedEx? So I cover it in like 8 strips of tape.

7. Go to whichever shipping service Amazon sent it from because unless you ordered a tiny USB cord, it’s too big to fit into their drop box. It could be USPS, FedEx, or UPS, all of which are located next to the Best Buy where I could have just dropped the damned thing off in way less time and without having to fight a roll of packing tape.

This isn’t Amazon’s fault really. I don’t know what they could do better on the return angle. Maybe they could make a deal with UPS, so people with returns can just come drop the product off in a bin at any UPS store, without having to repackage, and not have to deal with it? Perhaps that’s excessive, I just know that if something isn’t at least $20 I’m probably just going to throw it away due to the hassle.

I’m willing to deal with the fact that a lot of searches are far harder than they need to be because Amazon lets a bunch of sellers list things as iPads that are either iPads so ancient nobody could possibly want them, or iPad accessories. I’m willing to deal with the fact that when I search for something and try to filter by Prime Only, I get lots of results that are in fact not Prime only, despite the fact that Amazon has some of the world’s best programmers but a CS101 student would be failed for that. I’ll even very grudgingly accept the returns process because I don’t know what they can do better, and how often do you return something anyway? They once took back an expensive remote my dog chewed on, so the issue isn’t their customer service policy.

But when everything they sell costs substantially more than I could get it for somewhere else, I start re-thinking my options. Nowadays I just order it from Home Depot or Best Buy or Sam’s Club online and pick it up the next time I’m near one. If you live in suburbia, that’s never long.

I think that’s why is doing what it does. If you follow tech news, you’ve probably seen a lot of people laughing about $500m being given to a company that appears to be selling things at a loss.

Amazon’s real advantage, though, and why their pricing has crept up so high, is that they’re the internet’s everything store. People are skipping Google and going straight there. If you spend some time Googling, you can find almost any product Amazon sells sold somewhere else reputable for cheaper. And it’ll ship to you freely and quickly too, they just don’t call it Prime. But Amazon has gotten to the point where people don’t spend time Googling anymore. They just search for stuff they want to buy there.

A legitimate competitor might change that. If Amazon had to face the idea of people looking elsewhere for general purchases, they would be forced to be more price competitive. And maybe they could write a functioning price sort too.

To get from nowhere to an Amazon competitor is going to be very tough. It’s going to require building out a world-class distribution system. It’s going to require spending a lot to get customers in the door. I don’t know that is burning $50m a month because they’re doing things the right way, and it’s entirely possible they’ll crash. But I think that if someone does become a serious challenger to Amazon, it’ll have to look a lot like this at the start. 

I sure hope someone gets there, because Amazon has grown to kind of suck, and I’d love to have another option than just accepting it.

9 Responses to “Amazon Kind Of Sucks And We’ve All Just Come To Accept It”

  1. Good insight. I agree about the sorting, pricing, cheaper alternatives and that a competitor would be helpful to have.

    My return experience has been great, though. I save the original box for a few days. If I need to return the item, I just pop the item in the original box, print out the label, and hand the box and the label to the UPS Store guy, and head out. Done. The UPS Store guy tapes the box shut and tapes on the label.
    My only difficult return was a foam mattress that expanded upon opening and wouldn’t fit in the original box. The UPS Store guy grabbed a bigger box (which I paid for) and took care of the rest. I IM’d Amazon customer service, and they immediately credited me the $30 for the box, no questions asked.

  2. Nohemi Feltl Says:

    I disagree conpletely, some items are expensive but mostly because of the sellers , sold by amazon and fulfilled by amazon is usually cheaper. Also the new Prime Now app is very good, have not found any food item that is not cheaper than Target or other local retailers and with free shipping. There is a tip charge but it is minimal for someone with an extremely busy life or who lives somewhere where it is winter half of the year like me. I think yes the UI could use some improvements on they website but the apps are amazing.

  3. “Now I have to bust out the old packing tape. You know that stuff always comes out of the little guides on the side no matter how careful you were, so you have to un-stick it.”

    You need to invest in a tape gun.

  4. Gee, so they’re charging reasonable rates for small products that dont ship well, what a shock! I thought they’d be selling everything at a loss until the end of time! Gee, when I search for “iPad” I get lots of weird knockoff products other than iPads, how horrible and completely different from internet shopping in general!

    If the search utility is showing you stuff other than what you expect, don’t you think that’s more likely to be a non-obvious feature desired by Amazon than a failure of basic engineering? No, you don’t think that, you think that Amazon’s interface is too ugly to be good anymore, because you’re less useful than a cs101 student.

  5. I disagree also. A lot. I just bought an item yesterday at Pep Boys for $22. When i got home looked on Amazon and it was $10.88 Prime. I have bought thousands of items on Amazon (yes thousands) and found what this author is saying to be ass backwards.

  6. I live in a rural area with little to no “big box” stores. I can’t drive 3 hours one way to checkout every little thing I’m interested in a normal, city retail environment that everyone else seems to take for granted. Thank Heavens for Amazon! I have choices and they deliver!

  7. You are so wrong. I compare prices and Amazon is almost always cheaper. Plus I usually get delivery in 2 days. I think you must have a personal grudge

  8. This is the US perspective.

    Beside that Amazon has never failed me in customer support, when other did.

  9. Amazon sucks now. The cart view is garbage. It’s difficult to realize what you’re buying, how many, the shipping type, etc. Everything used to be clean and easy. Now it sucks.

    You have to used saved credit cards. Dumb. I didn’t use Amazon for 1-2 years, came back early this year and the changes are just dumb. It took me 45 minutes to buy an album and realize how to get that from the cpu to my phone. It was saying it was bought but it wasn’t on their music “cloud” etc. Dumb.

    Now I’ve ordered a handful of things that shipped this week. AND I CAN’T TRACK THEM! They dumb it down to the most worthless page ever. Then that page doesn’t match up with your order page. It used to send you an email with the UPS tracking number. You go there and see every step. Not anymore!!! On the shipment “tracking” page, it doesn’t even tell you what order you’re looking at. It just has a tiny thumbnail picture of the item. On one of my orders not even that shows up! What a joke Amazon has become!

    I don’t know why they’ve gone down this route, but I won’t be using it much anymore. If at all. I used to use it a ton, stopped buying “stuff” altogether for a couple years and now come back to this awful awful website.

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