Posts Tagged ‘Amazon’

Service of Caveat Emptor: Amazon Shoppers, Watch Out for the Splash of Dumpster Divers!

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

Photo: theplaidzebra.com

I love bargains but after reading Khadeeja Safdar, Shane Shifflett and Denise Blostein’s Wall Street Journal article “You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon—Literally,” my instinct to be choosey and on alert about where I find good deals set off alarms.

The reporters wrote: “Just about anyone can open a store on Amazon.com and sell just about anything. Just ask the dumpster divers.”

And I know dumpster divers exist because when I had a garage sale a few years ago I offered wonderful things, chucking stuff not appropriate for sale in a dumpster that was near the garage. I found several people in that dumpster sorting through my garbage!

Photo: en.wikipedia.com

Back to the topic. Safdar and colleagues reported: “They are an elusive lot. Many The Wall Street Journal contacted wouldn’t give details about their listings, said they stopped selling dumpster finds or no longer listed them as new, didn’t respond to inquiries or stopped communicating. Some said they feared Amazon would close their stores.”

The reporters found “a stencil set, scrapbook paper and a sealed jar of Trader Joe’s lemon curd” with expiration date of May 2020 in dumpsters in New Jersey and set up a store, DJ Co. “’Sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s high bar for product quality,’ an Amazon spokeswoman said. Examples the Journal presented to Amazon of dumpster-sourced listings ‘are isolated incidents,’ she said. ‘We are investigating and will take appropriate action against the bad actors involved.’” No comment re. the Journal’s store. When Journal staff submitted items for their store they weren’t asked about sell-by dates or origins.

“After a later dumpster dive, the Journal was able to go through almost all of the listing process with salvaged breath mints, sunflower seeds, marmalade, crispbread, fig fruit butter, olives, a headband and a Halloween mask—stopping just short of shipping them to the Amazon warehouse, which is required for an item to appear for purchase on the site.” And “To list a sunscreen lotion, Amazon asked for a safety-data sheet. Attempts to list a protein powder, a pea-powder dietary supplement and a face sheet mask—all from the dive—elicited a request from Amazon for proof of purchase.”

Amazon recently changed its policy: No items taken from the trash could be sold nor could items a manufacturer, vendor, retailer or supplier identified as unsalable. The company says it’s not responsible for what’s sold. A former employee who oversaw the department that handled logistics for third-party sellers until 2013 told the reporters: “We had an internal saying: Unless the product’s on fire when we receive it, we would accept anything. Ultimately consumers are the police of the platform.” Amazon denied this and said “it requires sellers to provide government-issued identification and uses a “system that analyzes hundreds of unique data points to identify potential risk” and “we proactively block suspicious businesses.”

Photo: pinterest.com

One of Amazon’s online merchants fills his Amazon and Ebay stores with clearance items, stuff abandoned in storage units and dumpsters. He cleans blemishes so the stuff looks new and gets the shipping packaging from the trash.

One Amazon merchant said he wouldn’t sell salvaged food but “Amazon’s not going to ask ‘Where’d you get it from? Did you get it from a dumpster?’ ” A Connecticut merchant who sells his items as “used” trolls bins behind GameStop, Michaels and the town dump for videogames, toys, electronics and trinkets.

A former [until 2017] quality assurance inspector based in Florida said he ignored broken things “more often than not.” Staffers were asked to scan hundreds of items in one hour. Productivity over precision was required. So as to avoid a complicated process to dispose an item some inspectors changed expiration dates.

“To see if Amazon customers shared such concerns” [about dumpster items], “the Journal analyzed about 45,000 comments posted on Amazon in 2018 and 2019. It found nearly 8,400 comments on 4,300 listings for foods, makeup and over-the-counter medications with keywords suggesting they were unsealed, expired, moldy, unnaturally sticky or problematic in some other way.”

The reporters continued: “About 544 of the 4,300 products were promoted as Amazon’s Choice, which many consumers take to be the company’s endorsement. Amazon’s website says the label reflects a combination of factors such as ratings, pricing and shipping time.”

Have you bought food or cosmetics from stores on Amazon? Are you surprised about the dumpster allegations?

Photo: youtube.com

Service of Second Hand Clothes: Good Enough to Give

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

Photo: medium.com

I wrote about J. C.  Penney’s second hand clothes department in “Service of Second Hand Clothes: Thrift in Unexpected Places.” At Poshmark, his online business, Manish Chandra has added cachet to used clothing.

Chandra told Charity L. Scott in The Wall Street Journal: “We expect this to be a marquee year for secondhand items being gifted. I remember, a few years back, you might try to hide that you bought it on Poshmark. Today, it’s actually fun to say, ‘I bought it on Poshmark,’ and it’s something that people are even sharing shopping tips on.”

Scott reported: “Poshmark looks and behaves much like Instagram, incentivizing sellers to give and receive comments and ‘likes’ and allowing users to follow their favorite sellers. Similar to eBay, sellers take photos of their own items and sell them directly. Poshmark takes a 20% cut of many sales.”

The company added home goods to its offerings. In eight years, it says it paid “more than $2 billion in sale proceeds to its roughly seven million sellers.” Chandra said “Our mission is to empower anybody to become a retailer, [so] we want to keep the playing field super level.”

Chandra said “We think of Marie Kondo” [responsible for the trend to de-clutter] “as a specific moment in the evolution of reselling and re-commerce.” Kondo is the Japanese organizing consultant and author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” [2011].

Would you give a second hand item as a gift? Have you sold or bought something on Poshmark or any of its competitors such as Mercari, eBay, Etsy, Tradesy, Amazon or Wish? Do you browse and buy from thrift stores?

Photo: inform.com

Service of Mi Casa es Tu Casa–Come on In!

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Photo: tierrafina.com

Daily we hear of hacking that’s happened either to a friend, big corporation or organization. It’s a form of break-in. I think it may have inured the public to the normalcy of loss of privacy that gorges on volunteer personal intrusions. Think such smart speakers like Alexa and Amazon Echo.

Photo: wired.com

Maybe that’s why Walmart and Amazon have or are about to introduce a new wrinkle to their delivery services. In select markets, both will or do arrange for access to a customer’s home to put food in the fridges of the former and leave packages in a home, garage or car trunk in the latter.

Citizens of Kansas City, Mo., Pittsburgh and Vero Beach will be the first to officially invite Walmart delivery staff to put perishables in their refrigerators through a program slated for a fall launch called Walmart InHome. [The system was tested in New Jersey.]

Photo: commons.wikipedia.org

In “Walmart Wants to Put Groceries Into Your Fridge,” Sarah Nassauer wrote “The workers will wear a body cameras [sic] clipped to their chests, allowing customers to watch live streams of deliveries being made while they aren’t home.” She reported in her Wall Street Journal article that they’ll have access to homes via a smart lock that connects to the Internet allowing a door to unlock remotely. Wallmart sells the device.

Delivery staff for the service must have worked for the company for at minimum a year. “Not everyone embraces the concept at first, but just as people have gradually accepted renting out rooms in their homes through services like Airbnb Inc, ‘people are very quickly comfortable with it,’ said Marc Lore, head of Walmart’s U.S. e-commerce business.”

Photo: gate labs

The Amazon service, Key by Amazon, wrote Nassauer, is for Prime members in 50 cities. Fresh groceries aren’t involved. In another program Via Prime Now customers get orders from Amazon’s Whole Foods division on doorsteps.

Not every delivery business received the mega company’s stamp of approval. Sebastian Herrera reported last week in the Journal that Amazon is deep sixing its restaurant delivery service.

Would you be comfortable inviting strangers into your kitchen or your home, garage or car trunk when you’re not home? Do you think comfort level for this kind of trust may be higher in some parts of the country than others? Have privacy-breaking services like Alexa and Amazon Echo paved the way? What if you’re in a meeting or otherwise inaccessible when you need to unlock your front door remotely with no time to watch while the delivery person with body camera drops off your perishables? Do you think that this person—or the staffer who packs the order–will be trained to leave foods like tomatoes and bananas out of the refrigerator and on the counter?

Photo: orchardestates.com

 

Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Photo: aldridgeonline.com

If you routinely visit a grocery store that’s being remodeled, you know your shopping expedition will take longer than usual while you search for the milk, favorite cookies or pasta. One of my favorite stores also keeps switching things in the meat department even though its renovations are over. There must be a good reason, other than to hope I become tempted by other items while looking for what’s on my list.

Expecting to pick up a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter at a grocery chain? Soon some will have freezer cases placed in front instead. Heather Haddon wrote about the motivation behind major product location shuffles as stores prepare for increased orders placed online for in-store customer pickup. They hope these customers, as they wait for their order in the front of the store, will add a few major items–an ice cream cake, a few frozen dinners or bags of fries and veggies–rather than a pack of gum or a candy bar. She wrote about the displacement of impulse items and other anticipated changes in her Wall Street Journal article “E-Commerce Reshapes Grocery Stores.”

Photo: supermarketnews.com

Americans spend $800 billion a year on food and drink, she reported, and supermarket chains don’t want too big a chunk going to Amazon and other giants. Haddon wrote: “E-commerce represents less than 5% of U.S. grocery sales currently, but food and beverage sales are growing far faster online than in traditional supermarkets. Forrester Analytics predicts that by 2022, the U.S. online grocery market will total $36.5 billion, up from an estimated $26.7 billion this year.”

According to Haddon, Walmart and Kroger are “spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire digital-ordering technologies, implement home-delivery systems and build thousands of store pickup points for online orders. Kroger, the U.S.’s largest supermarket chain, has hired or assigned nearly 19,000 workers to run an estimated 1,400 pickup sites for online orders, covering roughly half of the company’s stores.”

Photo: edgylabs.com

Haddon identified risks for the chains from the enormous upfront investment to irritating traditional customers who compete for goods whisked off shelves to fulfill online orders. Currently, supermarkets don’t have warehouses as Amazon does, though they may in future.

Meanwhile, “Clerks fulfilling online orders can clog aisles and checkout lanes or pick over the best produce, customers and grocery consultants say.” Haddon concluded “Through it all, grocers are struggling to find a balance between encouraging customers to place orders online and drawing customers into their stores.”

Do you shop for your groceries online? Are you tempted? It must be a time-saver to simply show up at a store and drive away minutes later with packages of groceries. Does the concept work for cities where people don’t usually own cars? Would you miss seeing what’s new in categories such as ice cream, frozen food, bakery and yogurt? Do you ever pass an aisle, see something like mustard or strawberry jam which reminds you you’re about to run out? How will internet ordering gain such purchases without irritating customers with popup suggestions?

Photo: petco.com

Service of Subscriptions: A Winning Business Model—Sometimes

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Photo: Tundra Restaurant Supply

Before Amazon customers buy a toothpick, its 100 million Prime subscribers have handed the company from $77.88/year to $119/year, representing the cost to students and everyone else respectively. [Some may be grandfathered at $99.99.] Nobody outside the company seems to know the breakdown so you can’t do the math but 100 million paying $1/year would represent a tidy sum.

Subscribers get benefits such as free fast shipping for eligible items, shopping deals, streaming films and TV shows.

Photo: videoblocks.com

According to Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post, “The real money, though, is in the buying power these shoppers wield: Prime members reportedly spend an average of $1,300 a year on Amazon, compared with $700 for its customers who are not members.” And it seems that many of the former don’t comparison shop.

The subscription model works for others such as Netflix, which Siegel reported has 125 million members. Health clubs too—which count on people paying for a year and not returning after a few months.

Photo: What’s-on-Netflix.com

On the other hand, MoviePass has had trouble calculating its fee and benefits–a shame as the concept originally served a purpose, especially for customers in cities where one movie ticket costs upwards of $15. Its monthly fee will soon increase to $14.95 from $9.95. According to Nishant Mohan in The Wall Street Journal, “MoviePass, which has more than 3 million members, lost $98.3 million on $48.6 million of revenue in the quarter ended March 31.”

Tuesday’s Journal reported that the company would limit subscribers from one movie a day to three a month. Ben Fritz wrote that the company had forecast 5 million subscribers by December 2018 which chief executive Mitch Lowe admits might not happen quite that fast. He told Fritz: “Ultimately, I believe this is a 20 million-subscriber business over the next three to four years.”

Meanwhile, it’s trying to stay afloat. It has competition such as AMC Entertainment Holdings with 175,000 members with a monthly $19.95 charge to see three movies a week at its US theatres. MoviePass “plans to limit the availability of first-run movies opening on more than 1,000 screens during the first two weeks.” It also has had technical glitches. One recent day its app featured showtimes for e-ticketing theatres, only, and none others.

I’ve noticed disgruntled customers gripe on social media. One subscriber wrote on Facebook: “I’m unable to cancel my account. They say you’re liable for a year. It’s crazy. You have to go thru their app for customer service and that took more than 2 hours.”

Have you had trouble getting out of a subscription? How many times can a company stumble and succeed in the end?  Are there some subscriptions you endorse? Any you don’t?

Photo: crisistimes.com

Service of Where Is Everybody? Looking for Help at Retail Today

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Photo: blog.shelving.com

Are there longer lines when you check out in large retail stores these days? Have you had a hard time finding anyone to answer a question or direct you? The Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Kapner offered reasons in “Stores Slash Staffs and Watch Lines Grow.”

Since 2008, she reported, Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers–full and part-time in stores, warehouses and at headquarters. During the same period at J.C. Penny, “workers have disappeared twice as fast as department stores,” now 112 per store down from 145.

Photo: blog.linelogic.com

“Retail staffing hasn’t kept pace with growth in the broader economy or population gains in the past decade. The number of salespeople at retailers grew by 1.5% over the past decade, even though the population served by each store has increased 12.5%, according to government data. At clothing and accessories stores, the number of cashiers is down more than 50% from 2007.”

In the lead, Kapner attributes the “assault” from Amazon while others blame cuts at headquarters, smaller stores, do-it-yourself checkouts, more full-time workers reducing the number of part-timers and “shelf-ready packaging that they say makes existing workers more productive.”

To redress overzealous cutbacks, Kroger grocery store is adding 11,000; Dick’s Sporting Goods plans to add 10 percent and Macy’s will bolster staff in fitting rooms, dress, women’s shoe and handbag departments “for the most impact.”

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Applebaum told Kapner:  “If brick-and-mortar retailers can’t compete on price in an online environment, the only thing that allows them to survive is to provide a positive in-store experience.”

Kapner reported that “Over the past 12 months, 86% of U.S. consumers say they have left a store due to long lines, according to a survey conducted by Adyen, a credit-card processor and payment system. That has resulted in $37.7 billion in lost sales for retailers, Adyen estimates.”

Saks flagship store NYC Photo: complex.com

According to a Saks employee on the job 24 years, sales associates in the NYC flagship “process returns, restock shelves and fill online orders which takes them away from selling.”

Is there a solution? Kapner wrote: “Retailers typically set staffing as a percent of sales, but a growing body of research suggests it should be based on foot traffic. The problem is twofold: Many retailers don’t track traffic and even if they do, they are reluctant to add labor, which is already among their biggest costs.”

A Florida chain installed cameras and noticed that even though one store was packed during the afternoon, sales were down at that time because staff was overwhelmed. Sales increased when management added two people during the busy hours.

Do you frequent major retailers? Have sales personnel been distracted or nonexistent? Are there other answers to fighting behemoth amazon.com and online venues that don’t shoulder a retail rent expense? Do people have shorter patience when waiting for help or to pay in a department store than at a discounter? Are there other businesses that, like retail, use financial models from a different time that no longer apply?

Macy’s Oakbrook Center. Photo: cspaksco.com

Service of Reading the Fine Print and Your Emails: Amazon’s Subscribe and Save Program

Monday, September 26th, 2016

terms and conditions

I’m not a fan of automatic anything. When I buy OTC items from a drugstore website, I’m asked if I’d like a monthly order of shampoo, toothpaste, vitamins or makeup. No thanks.

So I didn’t know about Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program where people sign up to get repeat orders of staples like coffee or trash bags. It should be called Subscribe and Sometimes Save. It’s a great example of people signing up for something they haven’t looked into carefully and being duped into thinking they are always getting a good deal.

toothpasteAccording to Brian X. Chen in his New York Times article, “Subscribe and Save on Amazon? Don’t Count on It,” the company’s pricing model doesn’t always work out in the customer’s favor. “Any sticker shock, analysts said, may be the result of Amazon’s complex pricing system coming into conflict with consumer expectations of a traditional subscription.”

He wrote that Amazon “frequently adjusts item prices based on a sophisticated set of variables like supply and demand, time of day and prices offered by competitors.” He shared the insight of Jared Wiesel, a partner at consulting firm Revenue Analytics. It “is the company’s way of making it look as if you are always getting the best deal.”

chewing gumChen identified one customer who paid $10 for gum when signing up and was charged $100 on the repeat. “Prices of most items, including dishwasher soap and toilet bowl cleaner, changed frequently. As often as weekly, prices rose, dipped and rose again like a roller coaster. In extreme cases, prices for items like instant coffee and napkins jumped between 90 and 170 percent.”

  • A 30.5 oz tub of Folgers ranged from $6.64 in June to $12.50 in August.
  • Vanity Fair napkins moved from $7.94 in May to $21.46 in June/July and $15.36 in August.
  • More high/lows include an air purifier filter and humidifier filter, $18.06 to $33.24 and $$4.67 to $11.27 respectively.

Participants are given a chance to opt out. Amazon sends them an email 10 days before a delivery with the price they’ll be paying and they can cancel. I suppose not everyone reads them.

The trouble with the concept, according to Wiesel is: “I think they’ve violated the psychological concept of a subscription with their customers in changing prices like this. When people think of a subscription, they think of locking in a set cadence of receiving a good.”

Chen offers a solution: “If you truly want to save money on Amazon, one approach is to sign up for price alerts on Camel Camel Camel to get an email when a price drops to a desired amount. When that happens, manually reorder — yes, that’s an extra step — your instant coffee, toilet cleaner or lint rollers.” [Camel Camel Camel is an Amazon price tracker Chen explained.]

Why should Amazon change an eyelash on this or any other of its programs? In the last 17 months its stock price closed at a high of $800, more than doubling in 17 months.

Do you automatically receive anything from Amazon or any other company? Have you fallen for a deal that seemed great only to learn it’s more complicated—and not as great–as you first thought?

Camel

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