Yesterday I went online and bought a Wallet Ninja. I hadn’t realized I needed a Wallet Ninja until a week ago, which is when I read that it’s among Amazon.com’s 10 best-sellers. When a company that lists some 565 million products in the U.S. market announces that the Wallet Ninja (imagine a credit-card-shaped Swiss Army knife) is a runaway hit, count me in. Gotta have one.
Does that suggest I am an easy mark or weak or lazy? Yes. Especially the lazy part. Like millions of others who routinely shop at Amazon’s sprawling website, I am complicit in its takeover of America and all we proudly stand for: unbridled consumerism.
Everyone I know seems to be an Amazon patsy (aka customer). Devotees cut across every religion, political affiliation, and lifestyle. (Some argue that shopping at Amazon is a lifestyle.) The upshot is that Amazon is the least exclusive club in the country but, in some ways, among the most powerful.
To the chagrin of authors, lawyers, and visibly agitated consumer advocates, Amazon has grown into a corporate behemoth. By helping set prices for its vast array of merchandise, it can influence consumer trends as well as broad cultural preferences. And indeed there are potentially dangerous social implications in this. No other web retailer has that kind of clout. Walmart.com claims less than 4 percent of the e-commerce market in the U.S., to Amazon’s nearly 50 percent. Amazon is truly the octopus that swallowed our civilization whole.
Amazon is truly the octopus that swallowed our civilization whole.
Because the company admits it is almost insanely focused on numbers, let me share a few: It did $258 billion in sales in 2018. It’s on pace to become America’s largest clothing retailer by 2021. A year later, the company’s private-label brands are positioned to reach $25 billion in sales. Its annual Prime Day is now tantamount to a national holiday, with more than 100 million products sold to Prime members over a 36-hour period. (Employers take note: 60 percent of that shopping is done from work.)
The truth is that Amazon dominates online sales not only because it’s got everything you could ever want just a click away, but rather because — well, yes, it’s because of that just-a-click-away thing. It’s what in the biz they call “frictionless.” If I want a box of metal paper clips, I can pick them up at any stationery store. But what if I prefer them in teal? Am I going to drive around searching for those? Ain’t gonna happen. I’ll order from Amazon — maybe not at a great price, either, because teal-colored clips are, y’know, scarce. But I’ll have them in a few days. One click.
That means that a store somewhere in my ZIP code has lost a sale, right? Actually, no — because that store probably no longer exists, thanks to Amazon. Retail shops across the country have been slaughtered by the company Jeff Bezos created.
Adding insult to injury, Amazon is now devoting some of its huge cash pile to building its own stores — actual physical buildings in places where there had once been locally owned establishments. Amazon Books, for example, is rolling out as I write. If this sounds to you like dancing on a grave while selling the deceased’s funeral program for profit, you get the point.
But wait, there’s more! The company is currently launching two specialty marts: Amazon 4-star and Amazon Go. An Amazon Bank is rumored. The secret sauce in each instance is extreme convenience, playing to our desire for pampered lives. Amazon Go locations will not even have sales clerks. Or checkout registers. Or scanners. Just stroll out, thief-like, with your bagged goodies. Sensors will invisibly collect codes and bill your account.
Disgusting. No human contact. No warmth.
In the last issue, Neuhaus wrote about his actual neighbor, Mister Rogers.