Amazon

We Shopped at Amazon’s Chicago Bookstore: Here’s What It Was Like

22 July 2017

From Nasdaq:

Many have lauded the recent opening of Amazon.com’s eight brick-and-mortar stores in the U.S. as a death blow to independent bookstores. Since its launch in 1995 as an online retailer of books, Amazon has been blamed for the closing of bookstores nationwide because thanks to its wide-selection and low prices.

In an act of irony, the online retail giant has decided that its next step in its massive growth is to open brick-and-mortar bookstores where consumers can buy products in person. Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in 2015 in Seattle and has since opened seven more, including one in Chicago’s Southport Corridor this past March.

As an avid book reader, and a lover of independent bookstores, I had my trepidations about visiting the new Amazon Books in Chicago. To see what kind of competition Amazon Books poses for bookstores in the Second City, I decided to head up to the Lakeview neighborhood and witness this new phenomenon for myself.

. . . .

As the first Amazon Books in the Midwest, the Amazon Bookstore is a blend of a bookstore, electronics store, and a coffee shop. The bookstore was sleek and modern, but it felt impersonal-like an airport gift shop. In some ways, the store felt like the Amazon website had come to life.

Jennifer Cast, a vice president at Amazon Books, said that Amazon wanted to embrace its roots as a bookseller with these new stores. “We also realized we had an opportunity to create a new kind of store and create a different experience in a physical world. Our special sauce is knowing the reading habits and passions of a city through our Amazon.com data,” Cast said.

. . . .

The books are organized by the common literature genres, but the store also has special categories meant to appeal to Amazon customers. One of my favorite shelves was “Page Turners: Books Kindle Readers Finish in 3 Days or Less.”

. . . .

The most important feature about Amazon Books wasn’t the books, but the company’s Prime membership.

The store clearly made the shopping experience worthwhile for anyone that currently subscribes to a Prime membership for $99-a-year. Throughout the store, price check machines stood ready. When I tried one book, it showed me the difference in price based on whether I had a Prime account or not.

A Prime member could also obtain exclusive Amazon Prime Day deals at store locations. This year, Amazon had its most successful Prime Day yet. At its eight bookstores, it offered special deals on Microsoft MSFT Xbox Ones, Joule Sous Vide Precision Cookers, Osmo Genius Kits, and Philips Smart LED bulbs.

. . . .

Many people go to Apple stores and Best Buy in order to test out new technology before making expensive purchases. With this new testing site, Amazon is clearly trying to encourage consumers to commit to its voice-activated, Alexa-enabled devices that can play music, control home devices, make phone calls, and more.

A few workers constantly roamed the store and offered to help me try out the devices as I looked at them. The store also offers “Flash Course,” 5-7 minute tutorials on how to use the technology, every Friday through Sunday.

. . . .

And if anyone should be worried about new Amazon bookstore, it won’t be indie booksellers.

Readers who are willing and able to pay for the price and experience of independent bookstores will continue to do so. Chicago favorites, like Women and Children First in Andersonville and Myopic Books in Wicker Park, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. At least, not because of Amazon’s physical bookstores.

Link to the rest at Nasdaq 

PG predicts that if the author visits a B&M bookstore in a year, she’ll have about the same experience as she would today, but a visit to an Amazon bookstore next year will result in some new and innovative experiences.

PG is certain he’s not alone in his enjoyment of visiting and revisiting museums, but he tends to seek out new experiences more frequently.

Speaking of museums, PG took the following photo when he visited a museum with his posterity a few days ago. He processed it so it looked a bit more ominous than the original and showed it to selected older progeny, who thought it was wonderful.

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Amazon isn’t technically dominant, but it pervades our lives

20 July 2017

From The Seattle Times:

Amazon is already a huge part of many people’s lives. And its $13.7 billion deal for the organic grocer Whole Foods will likely bind its customers even more tightly.

“It kind of feels like they’re taking over so much commerce in our life,” said Erica McGivern, a Whole Foods and Amazon customer who lives in Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. “It’s intimidating.”

The acquisition could easily hurt both Amazon’s existing rivals and future startups that might one day challenge it. Yet experts don’t believe U.S. antitrust regulators will oppose the deal. That’s largely because it doesn’t create anything resembling a traditional monopoly.

Instead, it merely extends Amazon’s long quest to make shopping so convenient that consumers won’t even think about stepping away from its embrace. The more successful that strategy, the more Amazon can monopolize the attention and shopping dollars of its customers — which, of course, is perfectly legal.

. . . .

Amazon is just one of several major tech companies — such as Google and Facebook — facing new scrutiny over their market power, which doesn’t map neatly onto traditional notions of monopoly.

When a company dominates a market, it typically pushes up prices to boost profits — something U.S. antitrust law is geared to prevent. Amazon, however, has a track record of keeping prices low and locking customers in to sell more stuff. For instance, the company typically sells gadgets like its tablets for little or no profit — but then pushes people to buy digital movies they can watch on the tablet.

“Amazon’s strategy has always been a volume strategy, not a profit strategy,” said Lauren Beitelspacher, a marketing professor at Babson College in Massachusetts.

In a traditional sense, Amazon still faces lots of competition. Walmart remains the leading retailer overall, with more than three times Amazon’s retail revenue. Even with Whole Foods, Amazon will have less than 3 percent of the U.S. market share in groceries, according to Kantar Retail. Walmart is the leader, with a 22 percent share last year.

And while Amazon is the clear leader in e-commerce, 90 percent of worldwide retail spending is still in brick-and-mortar stores, according to eMarketer.

Rather than dominate in market share, Amazon dominates “in reaching into customers’ lives,” Gartner retail analyst Robert Hetu said.

. . . .

The ease of Amazon deliveries may evoke goodwill among consumers, but it has hastened the decline of several brick-and-mortar retailers — in particular, bookstore chains.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

PG suggests that the OP’s observation that Amazon’s “market power . . . doesn’t map neatly onto traditional notions of monopoly” translates to “Amazon is not violating U.S. antitrust laws.”

Disappearing retailers are a feature (not a bug) of life in a competitive capitalist economy. Customers vote for their favorite retailers with their dollars, particularly online where geographic location is irrelevant.

Wikipedia has a helpful List of defunct retailers of the United States to provide some context about the history of declining and disappearing brick-and-mortar retailers. There are separate entries for List of defunct restaurants of the United States and List of defunct department stores of the United States respectively.

 

 

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Scammers Break The Kindle Store

15 July 2017

From David Gaughran:

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the problem wasn’t quite as bad as I was making out, and that this stuff never hits the charts and remains largely invisible to customers.

I explained in detail how none of those contentions were true, that readers are leaving angry reviews under these books, which regularly hit the charts, and further that KDP has singularly failed to act on 18 months-worth of complaints.

. . . .

Developments since then have made a mockery of the claim that this stuff doesn’t hit the charts as a book titled Dragonsoul by some unknown writer called Kayl Karadjian hit #1 in the store yesterday. The paid store, not free. Paid.

Authors immediately expressed skepticism – and for good reason. I don’t want to give a playbook on how to spot clickfarmed books, but this was a particularly obvious case. Dragonsoul had very few reviews. It had been out for 9 months with little or no sales history. There was no promo footprint either – it didn’t have ads on BookBub or elsewhere.

There was no Facebook campaign, the author only has 57 likes on his Facebook Page. In fact, the author seemed to have no platform at all – just a few dozen followers on Twitter, and no other discernible internet presence aside from a blog with 9 subscribers and a Patreon with no patrons.

Earlier yesterday, before its great leap forwards, Dragonsoul was languishing at #385,841 in the Kindle Store – meaning Kayl Karadjian was selling roughly one copy every fortnight or so.

And then he suddenly appeared at #1.

. . . .

As I explained in my post last month, unscrupulous authors and publishers are now adopting scammer tactics, and it’s pretty obvious this guy used a clickfarm to artificially borrow his book. Those fake borrows are equivalent to a sale for ranking purposes. A few thousand of them at the same time can be enough to put you at the top of the charts.

. . . .

Another author – who has been engaging in various shady tactics for years with impunity – has gatecrashed the Top 10 four times in the last six weeks using clickfarms. His books tend to immediately slink back to around 100,000 in the charts and don’t have Also Boughts weeks after publishing (meaning that he didn’t manage to rustle up 50 genuine sales yet – borrows don’t count towards Also Boughts).

On the same day that this clickfarmed book hit #1 on Amazon, KDP announced yet another drop in rates for Kindle Unlimited authors – and rates have been steadily dropping for some time now.

They are lower again in markets outside the US – countries like Australia, Germany, the UK, and Canada.

. . . .

Could these phenomena be linked? A huge uptick in scamming and a drop in KU payouts? Gee, I wonder.

. . . .

There is one thing puzzling to me, though. The secret sauce of Amazon’s success was always the store. While Amazon’s competitors raced to build flashier devices, Amazon’s genius was in understanding that if they had the #1 buyer experience and the #1 recommendation engine they would trounce the competition.

Amazon has spent millions and millions of dollars and man-hours in building the most trusted recommendations in the world. The charts themselves are massively popular discovery tools for readers – as any author will tell you who has appeared in the charts and enjoyed the sales spike that this visibility brings.

The sales rank that powers those charts feeds into the recommendation engine tons of ways, so that if you can engineer a sales spike, Amazon’s system will start selling your book for you.

But now Amazon is recommending scammer crap – undercutting the years and years of work it did building up customer trust.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Lucy for the tip.

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Amazon’s Alexa Has A Data Dilemma: Be More Like Apple Or Google?

15 July 2017

From Fast Company:

Devices like Amazon Echo could someday turn into a treasure trove for developers that make voice assistant skills, but first companies have to figure out where they draw the line when it comes to weighing data sharing against consumer privacy.

Now that dilemma is heating up: Citing three unnamed sources, The Information reported this week that Amazon is considering whether to provide full conversation transcripts to Alexa developers. This would be a major change from Amazon’s current policy in which the company only provides basic information—such as the total number of users, the average number of actions they’ve performed, and rates of success or failure for voice commands. Amazon declined to comment to The Information regarding the claims, but the change wouldn’t be unprecedented. Google’s voice assistant platform already provides full transcripts to developers.

The potential move by Amazon underscores how it is caught between two worlds with its Alexa assistant, especially in regards to privacy. By keeping transcripts to itself, Amazon can better protect against the misuse of its customers’ data and avoid concerns about eavesdropping. But because Alexa already gives developers the freedom to build virtually any kind of voice skill, their inability to see what customers are saying becomes a major burden.

. . . .

With Google Assistant, developers can view a transcript for any conversation with their particular skill. Uber, for example, can look at all recorded utterances from the moment you ask for a car until the ride is confirmed. (It can’t, however, see what you’ve said to other apps and services.) Google’s own documentation confirms this, noting that developers can request “keyboard input or spoken input from end user” during a conversation.

For developers, this data can be of immense utility. It allows them to find out if users are commonly speaking in the wrong syntax, or asking to do things that the developer’s voice skill doesn’t support.

. . . .

In terms of sharing data with developers, Apple’s Siri voice assistant is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Google. Developers who work with SiriKit get no information about usage from Apple, not even for basic things like how many people use voice commands to access an app, or which voice commands are most commonly used.

. . . .

But keep in mind that Siri’s approach to third-party development is entirely different from that of Google and Amazon. Instead of letting developers build any kind of voice application, Apple only supports third-party voice commands in a handful of specific domains, such as photo search, workouts, ride hailing, and messaging. And instead of letting those apps drive the conversation, Apple controls the back-and-forth itself. The apps merely provide the data and some optional on-screen information.

Because these apps don’t communicate with users directly, there’s no need for them to have conversation transcripts in the first place. Instead, Apple can look at what users are trying to accomplish and use that data to expand Siri on its own.

The downside to this approach is that Siri just isn’t as useful as other virtual assistants.

Link to the rest at Fast Company 

If PG lived in China, he would be inclined not to use Alexa.

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Why the Post Office Gives Amazon Special Delivery

14 July 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

In my neighborhood, I frequently walk past “shop local” signs in the windows of struggling stores. Yet I don’t feel guilty ordering most of my family’s household goods on Amazon. In a world of fair competition, there will be winners and losers.

But when a mail truck pulls up filled to the top with Amazon boxes for my neighbors and me, I do feel some guilt. Like many close observers of the shipping business, I know a secret about the federal government’s relationship with Amazon: The U.S. Postal Service delivers the company’s boxes well below its own costs. Like an accelerant added to a fire, this subsidy is speeding up the collapse of traditional retailers in the U.S. and providing an unfair advantage for Amazon.

This arrangement is an underappreciated accident of history. The post office has long had a legal monopoly to deliver first-class mail, or nonurgent letters. The exclusivity comes with a universal-service obligation—to provide for all Americans at uniform price and quality. This communication service helps knit this vast country together, and it’s the why the Postal Service exists.

In 2001 the quantity of first-class mail in the U.S. began to decline thanks to the internet. Today it is down 40% from its peak levels, according to Postal Service data. But though there are fewer letters to put into each mailbox, the Postal Service still visits 150 million residences and businesses daily. With less traditional mail to deliver, the service has filled its spare capacity by delivering more boxes.

. . . .

In 2007 the Postal Service and its regulator determined that, at a minimum, 5.5% of the agency’s fixed costs must be allocated to packages and similar products. A decade later, around 25% of its revenue comes from packages, but their share of fixed costs has not kept pace. First-class mail effectively subsidizes the national network, and the packages get a free ride. An April analysis from Citigroup estimates that if costs were fairly allocated, on average parcels would cost $1.46 more to deliver. It is as if every Amazon box comes with a dollar or two stapled to the packing slip—a gift card from Uncle Sam.

Amazon is big enough to take full advantage of “postal injection,” and that has tipped the scales in the internet giant’s favor. Select high-volume shippers are able to drop off presorted packages at the local Postal Service depot for “last mile” delivery at cut-rate prices. With high volumes and warehouses near the local depots, Amazon enjoys low rates unavailable to its competitors. My analysis of available data suggests that around two-thirds of Amazon’s domestic deliveries are made by the Postal Service. It’s as if Amazon gets a subsidized space on every mail truck.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to Morgan for the tip.

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Critics say Whole Foods deal would give Amazon an unfair advantage

14 July 2017

From Reuters:

While antitrust experts expect Amazon.com Inc’s bid for Whole Foods Market Inc to win regulatory approval, some critics argue the deal should be blocked because it gives the online retailer a nearly unstoppable head start toward domination of online grocery delivery.

They argue the Whole Foods acquisition will give Amazon an unfair advantage over traditional grocers and new players that might emerge in the market, potentially grounds for the deal to be blocked for antitrust reasons.

“As a matter of policy, should this be blocked? …There should be a challenge to this because there should be a strong presumption against growth by acquisition and in fact there is supposed to be such a presumption in our law. It’s what Congress intended,” said Chris Sagers, a professor of antitrust law at Cleveland State University.

Amazon declined comment. Sagers and other critics urge regulators to prevent dominant firms from buying a major foothold in an adjacent industry.

. . . .

 Critics believe Amazon’s strengths in logistics, its scale and leverage with suppliers could enable it to dominate groceries as it did with bookselling. Antitrust experts who represent deals being reviewed by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission said the transaction will be approved because Amazon sells few groceries and Whole Foods is a minnow in the grocery market with 444 U.S. stores compared with 4,692 for Wal-Mart.

. . . .

 “Competitors can be expected not to like a merger that puts more pressure on them. If their share price goes down, it’s a sign they’ll be under more competitive pressure,” said Alden Abbott, antitrust expert at the Heritage Foundation.

Link to the rest at Reuters

 

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There are two kinds of companies

12 July 2017

There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less. We will be the second.

Jeff Bezos

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Prime Members Enjoyed Biggest Global Shopping Event in Amazon History this Prime Day

12 July 2017

From the Amazon Press Room:

On a day with incredible deals reserved exclusively for Prime members, sales on July 11 surpassed Black Friday and Cyber Monday, making it the biggest day ever in Amazon history. With hundreds of thousands of deals, this year’s Prime Day was too big for 24 hours – so Prime members had 30 hours to shop. The Prime Day 2017 event grew by more than 60 percent compared to the same 30 hours last year, and sales growth by small businesses and entrepreneurs was even higher. More new members joined Prime on July 11 than on any single day in Amazon history. Tens of millions of Prime members made a purchase on Prime Day 2017, more than 50 percent higher than the prior year.

Prime members’ most popular purchase was the Echo Dot, which was not only the best-selling Amazon device this Prime Day, but also the best-selling product from any manufacturer in any category across Amazon globally. Prime Day 2017 was also the biggest sales event ever for Amazon devices in the U.S. and around the world, including record sales for Echo, Fire tablets and Kindle devices.

. . . .

Top sellers from around the world, excluding Amazon devices, included:

  • U.S.: Instant Pot DUO80 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker; 23andMe DNA Tests for Health + Ancestry
  • U.K.: TP-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug, works with Alexa; Sony Playstation 4
  • Spain: SanDisk Ultra Fit 64GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive; Moto G Plus (5th Generation) Smartphone; Lenovo Ideapad 310 Laptop
  • Mexico: AmazonBasics Apple Certified Lightning to USB Cable; Nintendo Switch
  • Japan: SAVAS Whey Protein; Happy Belly pure bottled water
  • Italy: Finish All in One Max tablets; Caffe Vergnano 1882 Espresso machine
  • India: OnePlus 5 phone; Seagate Expansion 1.5TB Portable External Drive
  • Germany and Austria: PlayStation Plus Membership; Soda Stream
  • France and Belgium: PlayStation Plus Membership; Game of Thrones – The Complete Season 1 to 6 Blu-Ray
  • China: Fisher Price Soothe and Glow Seahorse; A brief history of humankind+ A brief history of tomorrow set
  • Canada: Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, 8 Qt; AmazonBasics AA Rechargeable Batteries (8-Pack)

. . . .

Prime Day 2017 was another record-breaking success for small businesses and entrepreneurs worldwide who participated in the event. Feedback from small businesses and entrepreneurs includes:

“We’re absolutely thrilled – our daily sales increased by over 500 times on Prime Day. Within the first six hours, Furbo Dog Camera shot up to the No.1 Best Seller in four categories including the highly competitive pet supplies and home monitor category,” said, Victor Chang, Furbo Dog Camera, Bellevue, Washington.

“Prime Day was a huge success for us. We had a massive lift in sales last night compared to an average Monday night, and our deal sold out almost as soon as it went live. The level of demand far surpassed our expectations,” said Caron Proschan, Simply Gum, New York, New York.

“Prime Day has been another amazing success this year! Both Monday and Tuesday (Prime Day) were record days in sales for our business. It’s great to have the additional sales boost during these traditionally slower summer months,” said Tyler & Courtney LeCompte, Confetti Momma,Lafayette, Louisiana.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

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When Does Prime Day End?

11 July 2017

While many of the individual Prime Day deals expire after a few hours or after all stock is sold, Prime Day itself lasts for 30 hours this year.

Amazon Prime Day ends at 3:00 a.m. ET on July 12.

PG is unaware of any formal Amazon rules on how much you can procrastinate your last Prime Day purchase, but a couple of independent web sites that provide commentary on Amazon’s practices recommend that you stop putting things in your Amazon shopping cart and start your checkout 15 minutes before Prime Day Ends.

If you click here to go to Amazon, PG receives a small affiliate commission on any of your purchases. Your cost is not increased by clicking on the link. You can also click on the Amazon links you’ll find in the right column to do the same thing.

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Amazon customers are shopping at ‘record levels’ on Prime Day

11 July 2017

From CNBC:

Amazon Prime Day deals prompt discounts as top products sell out  3 Hours Ago | 01:40
Amazon customers are shopping at “record levels” worldwide this Prime Day, Amazon said Tuesday morning.

The 30-hour event began Monday night at 9 p.m. ET. By 4 a.m. Tuesday, Amazon said that millions of Prime members globally had already shopped the website for bargains and “lightning deals.”

. . . .

In the U.S., the Amazon Echo was the best-selling item by 4 a.m., Amazon said. The Echo was selling for $89.99 on Prime Day, half the usual price. Other best-selling deals include those for Amazon’s Echo Dot, a 23andMe DNA test and Amazon’s Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa.

. . . .

“This [day] is really about seeding the market,” Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson told CNBC. “Discounting the Echo devices, discounting grocery … is driving future growth.”

By getting so many Echo devices into homes across the world, Amazon is going to be “light-years ahead of the competition,” Olson said. “This differentiates [Amazon] from Wal-Mart.”

Link to the rest at CNBC

If you’re experiencing #primeobsession, click here.

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