After the better part of three weeks, Amazon and I have arrived at an uneasy peace. They’ve stopped repeatedly trying to get me to pay for an item that’s already been paid for (and one that’s already been returned) and I’ve grudgingly accepted that Amazon has become an almost indispensable purveyor of “stuff” for my household.
The fact that it took a last gasp, hail Mary email to Jeff Bezos to grab a human being’s attention and get them to override the automatically generated email loop from hell I was trapped in still doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence.
I spent a fair amount of the last three weeks looking at and ordering from other online retailers, so I know there are alternatives to Amazon. What those alternatives don’t provide en block, are free shipping and access to the same exhaustive product list that Amazon does, so I found myself replacing one company with perhaps half a dozen in order to cover the same retail territory.
With that experience, I will admit that when Amazon is working well, they’re a hard act to beat… but when they freeze you out, they freeze you all the way out. I was, despite becoming increasingly aware of the inconvenience, prepared to stay frozen out indefinitely, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that in the end.
Amazon is never going to be a company I love, but in the end they are a company I can do business with – at least when it comes to ordering things that can stand to be badly packaged and beat to hell and back in transit. As it turns out, achieving peace in our time doesn’t mean I’m going to stop calling them out for that at every possible opportunity. You could have probably guessed that.
1. Storming Area 51. The media has been caught up on stories of people who are “planning” to storm Area 51, or the US Air Force facility at Groom Lake, Nevada. I like to think most people have signed on as a lark, maybe because they want to feel like a part of the latest internet sensation. The internet is full of stupid, of course, so I have very little doubt that at least some of them are really “planning” to cross into the facility on or about the appointed date and time. It also seems likely that the type of people most likely to attempt this are the ones least likely to be prepared for what they’ll meet… miles upon miles of some of the most inhospitable terrrain in the United States, almost no services – including hotels, gas stations, and water, and some very irate and serious guards should any of them happen to actually stumble, sunburned and dehydrated, into the restricted area. Planning. I have deep reservations about whether that word means what the internet seems to think it means.
2. Prime day. Every year feels a little more like Prime Day is just an amazon garage sale. It’s certainly a “so what” event from a book perspective. I miss when amazon was a bookseller. Of course I’m still locked out of my Prime account anyway so it doesn’t really matter.
3. Water. The universal advice when getting over a cold is to “drink lots of water.” I’m increasingly convinced that no one who gives that advice has ever actually tried to do it themselves. Water, even the fresh, pure stuff coming up from the well on the homestead starts tasting disgusting after you reach a certain volume of throughput. That’s if you can say it really “tastes” like anything at all. All I’m saying is that if experts want you to flood your system with something, they should make it something that’s reasonably good tasting, I mean where’s the advice to drink lots of hot chocolate or good rye whiskey?
Lawyers. I’ve been running one annually recurring project for the last six years. For five of those six years we plugged along, meeting leadership intent, and getting the job done mostly by convincing a bunch of other organizations to play nicely in this particular sandbox. The key, mainly, was in finding ways to make it easy for all of these other organizations to say yes when we asked for something. Enter the lawyers. This year, we seems bound and determined to create roadblocks where there were none before and actively seek out ways to get to “no.” It seems to me there’s a difference between cautious and diligent and being just another toad in the road. I miss the cautious and diligent advice we use to get.
Amazon. Today I talked to Amazon’s customer service line for the 3rd time about getting my account un-suspended. That’s after spending a few hours pinging tweets back and forth with their Twitter customer service team. Current status is that no one is apparently able to tell me why the people who manage charge back issues haven’t and/or aren’t able to resolve this. I’m told the issue has been elevated to the next support tier… and I should hear “something” in the next 24-48 hours. That’s all well and good, I suppose, until just after that conversation, when Amazon sent me another email claiming that I haven’t returned something they acknowledged I had already returned several weeks ago, so that will be a separate, unrelated fight with my favorite online retailer as soon as our primary issue is resolved. I’m expecting that to be some time in December based on the current rate of progress.
High water. There’s a tropical storm headed for New Orleans. The city is already flooding. Grand total of things that we have collectively learned about living on the low ground since Katrina: Zero.
As a result of the fraud found on one of my credit cards a few weeks ago, the credit card company “charged back” a series of purchases made on the same day as the fraudulent charges. Several of them were legitimate charges that I authorized. One of those legitimate charges was to Amazon.
Amazon contacted me a few days later, asking to get paid. Since it was a valid charge, I provided an alternate payment method and we all moved on. Or I thought we moved on… until last night when I received a notice that my Amazon account was now suspended, pending payment of this same charge (you know, the one that I’ve already paid).
Everything in my account is currently being held in purgatory, apparently – ebooks I purchased, purchase histories, wish lists, ebooks published and linked to that account, including access to tax statements generated by sales on Amazon’s platform. It seems there’s no way known to man to access that material again unless I pay Amazon (for the second time) $225 and assorted cents.
As I commented on Amazon’s Twitter feed yesterday, this isn’t a process to resolve account disputes, it’s good old fashioned extortion. Either you comply with their demands or years worth of your online presence is obliterated.
So I guess I’m at war with Amazon now thanks to their decision to act like third tier thugs instead of one of the world’s largest corporations.
I’ve always wanted to like Amazon. A million years ago they were a place where you could find all sorts of reading material that your small local bookshop didn’t carry or that they didn’t have much interest in getting for you. Time passes. Things evolve. Amazon is now all things to all people – literally where you can go to but everything including the kitchen sink, listen to streaming radio, or find a bit of in-house produced “prestige television.”
The more Amazon has grown, the larger their catalog of merchandise has become, the worse the overall experience of dealing with them is. Over the last 12 months I’ve received more damaged items and made more returns to them than I have in my entire time as an Amazon customer up to this point. It’s a pity, because Amazon is just so damned convenient.
I won’t go so far as to say I’m parting company with Amazon – but I can go out of my way to make them a vendor of last resort. Even if that means a bit more inconvenience and expense for me, I’m just petty enough to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve cancelled my subscriptions and know that means spending extra time to find books coming from Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, or searched out from individual used book shops. It means either shlepping out to the local Petco for dog and cat food or finding more consistent online sellers. It means getting use to paying for 2-day shipping in some cases.
Sure Amazon’s customer service is always quick with a refund or offering up a replacement, but being johnny on the spot with those things shouldn’t be the norm. If they’re not interested in delivering a product not beat to shit or spewed open inside the carton during shipment, they’re not interested in hanging on to at least this one customer. Sure, losing a couple thousand dollars a year in revenue isn’t going to break Amazon, but it’s the one voice I know capitalism understands when echoed by enough mouths… and all because the world’s greatest retailer can’t be bothered by a bit of proper product packaging.
I want to like Amazon’s new series about the life and times of Jack Ryan. In fact I didn’t just want to like it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to wrap myself in the well-known and comfortable embrace of the Cold War. I have a long history of being willing to read or watch anything if you slap Tom Clancy’s name on the package and this new show isn’t an exception.
The problem isn’t really with the show per se. If you’d have called the lead character Bob Smith it would have made compelling television if you’re a fan of the terrorist hunter genre. My real problem is I’m steeped in the Jack Ryan backstory. Where they’ve changed it to fit this new universe feels jarring – Like the young Ryan having an economics degree and coming out of a big city financial firm instead of a history degree and landing at the CIA by way of a professorship at the Naval Academy or Cathy being an infectious disease specialist in Washington instead of eye surgeon at Hopkins. They’re messing with details I’ve lived with in book and film for decades now.
For me, Jack Ryan and the universe he inhabits are and ought to be products of the Cold War. He should be fighting Commies instead of tracking terrorists through every third-world hell hole we’ve ever seen on the news.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a fine show. I’m going to watch it and probably enjoy it instead of shunning it like some kind of disgruntled fan boy. Good as it may be, though, it’s not the Jack Ryan I’d hoped to see on the small screen.
I have a standing order with Amazon to deliver dog food, cat food, and litter on a monthly basis. It hasn’t been an altogether satisfying relationship thus far. Two out of the last three orders have been what I’ll just call “defective.” Today’s order included a bag of cat food in fine shape, a box of cat litter in fine condition, and a bag of dog food with a blown out corner that emptied half the bag’s contents out into the shipping box.
Look, the dogs loved the fact that I schlepped this 50 pound box through the middle of the house trailing kibble behind me, but it wasn’t the kind of experience I’d have paid for if given the opportunity. I’m a simple guy who just wants things to arrive undamaged. I don’t feel like that’s really an unreasonable position on my part as the consumer.
I dutifully fired up Amazon’s customer service chat and to their credit they immediately offered to ship out another bag of food or give me a refund. The Amazon business model is a real wonder of the modern – as it seems it’s cheaper for them to replace every fourth or fifth thing I buy than it is to spend a few extra cents on proper packaging for their products.
Amazon isn’t the only game in town, but they are generally the most convenient for setting up recurring orders so I’ll keep using them. They’ll keep sending out items in piss poor packaging. I’ll keep sending for replacements. And the whole machine will keep on working. Somehow, though, it feels like there could be a better way.
After getting my notice of another Amazon Prime subscription price increase, I’m realizing that I either need to start using it for more than watching 10 episodes of The Grand Tour a year or get rid of it. I signed up way back when Prime’s major benefit was two day shipping on books. Although it offers many more features now, I find I’m barely using it for any of them. With many of items I’ve bought from Amazon recently not making the 2-day shipping window and/or being damaged to some degree in packing or transit, it’s starting to feel like less of a bargain overall – especially when Amazon has opted to push it over the $100 price point.
I’m well aware that arguing over the value of $21 per year increase is patently ridiculous on its face, but there’s just something about that three-digit bill that really sets me wondering just what the hell I’m paying for and if it’s actually worth it. In all likelihood I’ll just go along letting apathy and inertia carry it along, but don’t let that in any way be confused with my willingness to bitch and complain every year when that $120 bill shows up in my list of financial transactions… because I still want my dented and damaged crap showing up in two (or three or four) days.
I supposed that’s what Amazon has been counting on all along.
1. Brain fog. Perhaps worse than actually being sick is the pharmacologically induced brain fog that comes from trying to stave off the more obnoxious effects of the human condition. It makes everything happen just a little bit slower and makes it well near impossible to craft well formed and coherent sentences. Don’t even ask how badly it tends to mangle spelling and grammar usage, which isn’t a particularly strength of mine to begin with. Despite the annoyance, I’ve got a few more days of self medicating left before letting the stuff work its way out of my system. Until then I’ll continue to be the poster boy for short attention spans.
2. Two months. We’re still two months from the 2016 presidential election. I usually like this stuff, but I think at this point I’d rather take a jackhammer to the side of the head than listen to another day of the back and forth.
3. Afternoon television. It’s something I only notice the once a year or so that I find myself home and otherwise unengaged between the hours of noon and 4:00 pm, but there really is absolutely nothing on television on a typical weekday afternoon. Which makes perfect sense when you consider that most of the people who have jobs to earn disposable income are at their jobs earning disposable income instead of home watching television. Still, I’d like to note how wonderful it is to live in an age of Netflix and Amazon Prime. They saved me from endless hours of crap programming on the networks and cable providers this week.
1. Priorities. So here’s a little friendly advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff: When everything is the most important, absolutely nothing is important. All claims of being able to multi-task aside, it’s been my professional experience that when you’re trying to give equal attention to three things at once, all there of them are going to end up being half-assed at best. Want to do a good job on something? Go ahead and focus on that one thing until it’s finished or at least until it’s at a logical place to pause and then go work on something else. Repeat this process as needed until everything is done. Jumping randomly from this to that with no actual planning or thought behind why you’re doing what you’re doing is mostly guaranteed to end badly for everyone involved. In those cases where you can’t take this advice, be prepared to apply a large helping of “I told you so” when things go to hell in a handbag.
2. The happy customer… 12 hours later. About 12 hours after singing the praises of Amazon Prime and Amazon customer service, an email landed in my inbox informing me that the price of membership is going up $20 a year. Sure, it’s probably just a fluke, but it feels an awful lot like this Amazon just decided that since I like them so much, I won’t mind paying an additional 25% premium for it. This is clearly what happens when you say something nice. Therefore in the future, I’ll try to remember to only raise criticism and keep the kudos to myself. From here on out everything sucks and is bad, regardless of how much I like it.
3. Situational awareness. Snap judgements aren’t always right, but I’ve got a pretty decent talent for looking at where things stand and knowing when there’s a bad moon rising. I almost wish I didn’t. I’d probably be a happier human being if I wandered around not particularly aware of what’s likely to be over that next rise. Some days having decent judgement is a gift, but lately it’s felt like a real curse.