Breaking up with Amazon…

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 know Jack…

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.

Two out of three…

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.

The virtue of Prime…

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

What Annoys Jeff 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.

The happy customer…

As much as I know they’re just another example of Big Data distilling me down to bits and bits based on my shopping, I generally like the service they provide. Having been a Prime member longer than I can remember, I’ve gotten use to my deliveries showing up amazon-prime-logono more than two days after I click the “buy it now” button.

My latest order was an exception. It’s guaranteed delivery date was yesterday, but the package was a no show. It wasn’t anything particularly important, but a guarantee is a guarantee in my simple mind. Mostly, I logged in to Amazon’s customer support chat feature this morning to let them know that I’m watching them while they’re busy watching me. I wanted to at least let them know that I was paying attention.

Without being asked anything more than the order number, the CSR immediately apologized for the inconvenience on behalf of the company and credited my account with a free month of Prime. No questions asked, they addressed the issue by providing compensation that I felt was more than fair. They didn’t make me chase my tail to feel satisfied with the experience.

By giving me something that effectively is no cost to them, Amazon left this customer happy. Other retailers, both online and brick and mortar, would be well served to take a lesson. Even if they are Big Data bent on controlling the universe, I’m once again a happy Amazon customer. Job well done.