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June 21, 2022

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Amazon and other platforms that host third-party sellers have been a bit less than vigilant in keeping scammers off their platforms.

One scam I've seen in a couple of places is one and two TB USB drives for improbably low prices. The drives' firmware has been diddled so that when they are plugged into a device, a capacity of 1TB or 2TB is displayed. But maybe only a hundred or so GBs can be copied to them.

This USB drive on Amazon is likely to be an example. The link to the ratings connects to ratings on an item other than the drive.

"Amazon has been around for more than two decades, and as we all know, it has become the largest online retailer by a mile. But a recent Wall Street Journal investigation of 4,152 items on the site found that what you see isn’t always what you get. Not all Amazon sellers are on the up-and-up, and the products you’re purchasing may be unsafe, mislabeled, banned, or just not at all what you were originally promised. In fact, that study found more than half of those items were problematic for a variety of the aforementioned reasons."
13 Signs an Amazon Seller Can’t Be Trusted: Not all Amazon sellers deserve your trust or your business. Here are the smart steps you can take to avoid getting scammed.

And not just customers but honest sellers get ripped off by scammers too.

@CharlesWT:

Yes, absolutely, and the platform is vulnerable in other ways, too.

I'm the copy editor and technical helper for a self-published writer who sells books on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and other platforms. Scammers figure out a way to game the system, Amazon picks up on it and plugs the hole, only to have the scammers figure out a new way to cheat.

As for cheap USB drives, I don't go to Amazon for cheap prices, I go for the convenience (especially during Covid), especially for items that I can't get at all, or easily, locally. So if I see a price that looks too good to be true, I generally assume that it is. Plus, these days -- because of the scammers -- whenever I can I buy from reputable, recognizable vendors. "Visit the Fisher-Price store" -- sounds good to me.

Amazon us evil, e.g.:

https://www.bookforum.com/print/2801/amazon-s-role-in-american-inequality-24382

But it's hard to avoid these days.

My current complaint with Amazon is my new shoes, which were ordered four weeks ago, and I was assured Prime delivery would be in two days. Several apologetic e-mails later, they arrived today. National name brand, they fit properly and are everything I expected as shoes. You'll never convince me that between Amazon and New Balance's logistics computers, they didn't know four weeks ago how long delivery would take.

Could be part of the logistics chain problems. Are they made in China, Vietnam, ?...

Even if they are, it's not like the software isn't keeping track of where the inventory is. If anything, foreign sourced stuff is easier to track because it's at sea so long.

Michael Cain -- did they ever give you the option of cancelling? I ordered some toys and books for the grandkid a few weeks ago, and 9 out of 10 items came as promised, the tenth they said would be late, and gave me the option of cancelling. I didn't cancel, but when they pushed it back again I did.

I have made the opposite choice in the past: if I really want the item, I'll tend to wait for it. There's so rarely anything I'm in a blazing rush for these days.....

Where the unpredictability comes in is the ports. The Port of Shanghai is the largest port in the world. Things haven't been going very well there lately. And smaller upsets than the pandemic would have put the US west coast ports into disarray.

If the delay is in Shanghai, you know weeks in advance that delivery will be delayed. If your inventory os backed up at a west coast port, you know that far earlier than two days before scheduled delivery.

Not to say those aren't problems for anyone trying to get merchandise to customers. Just that they aren't last minute surprises for a promised 2 day delivery.

It could have been due to a truck wreck somewhere. Or any number of other relatively small mishaps that happen to impact that order. Or they may be trying to fudge an overloaded system hoping they don't annoy too many customers.

Btw, thanks to novakant for the link to that article. Depressing as hell, but I'm glad to have the info.

Okay, two bits of (non-Amazon) experience: when ordering audio equipment from a consumer-facing outfit, always CALL them and ask "is it IN STOCK right now? Can you ship it TOMORROW?" It cuts out a lot of the lying happy-talk.

When ordering from electronics parts distributors (non-consumer-facing) they are generally much more honest about stocks and delivery times, but when their system says "delivery in 90 days" it means "infinity".

YMMV.

Snarki's comment reminds me of a story....

A pal at work told me a few years ago that he likes to buy electronics from Newegg. I bought a few things from them over the years and was happy enough with their speed and service. Prices slightly higher than Amazon’s, but hey, as novakant's article implies, there are reasons not to do business with Amazon, so I was happy to spread a bit of mine around.

A few months ago, I ordered something from Newegg (I forget what) -- $5 more than the Amazon price, and not a small percentage of the overall price (say $25 instead of $20), but hey, maybe they pay their employees better, right?

The item came ... in an Amazon box. With someone else's Amazon order # on a little slip of paper. (No name.) I thought the companies might like to know about the mixup….

The Newegg rep on the chat line was one of those people whose first impulse when they hear about a problem is to make sure to start establishing that it’s incontrovertibly *YOUR FAULT*.

She basically said: You got your item, the warehouse just had a mix-up, why are you complaining (I wasn’t) about what box it came in?

She was so snotty that I told Newegg I'd never shop with them again. If they were going to send me stuff in an Amazon box and be pissy about it to boot, I'd shop at Amazon and get the lower prices after all. I actually thought Newegg might care that their merch was being shipped as if it was from Amazon. (“Newegg might care” – who am I kidding?)

I can't remember if I tried to tell Amazon -- after all, I got someone else's order, so what did the someone else get?

Which makes me wonder – maybe there was a warehouse glitch, and Michael Cain’s shoes took a detour to Maine, and some nice person sent them back to Amazon, which then sent them along to Michael….

Because incontrovertibly, shit happens.

I think Amazon does fulfillment for a lot of other companies. So could be you bought from Newegg and they passed the order along to Amazon to send it to you.

Amazon is kind of the poster boy for Robert Bork's argument that, if monopolies (or near-monopolies) provide better service, what's the problem?

Google, Facebook, and the other tech monoliths, likewise.

@russell -- There was, after all, someone else's order slip in the box. And everything else I've bought from Newegg was in Newegg packaging. I was picturing one warehouse that did fulfillment for more than one online company and got two orders crossed up.

Yes, Amazon does fulfillment for a lot of companies, but in my experience you usually know that somewhere along the way -- either you are on Amazon's site and you can see the mechanism, or you go onto some other vendor's site and when you try to buy something you see that it's going to come via Amazon.

Now let me tell you about Best Buy....

(j/k, maybe later)

There was, after all, someone else's order slip in the box.

haha, OK, that is a tell!

apologies for less-than-careful reading of your post.

FWIW, I've gotten in the habit of doing online shopping other than through Amazon whenever that is practical. Books, electronics, music gear, odd hobby stuff like wood finishing products. I don't think I've paid any more than I would have paid on Amazon, however things typically do take longer to get to me.

There's an Amazon distribution center about 2 or 3 miles from my house, so some stuff gets here remarkably fast - I've had some Amazon orders get here the same day. Literally order in the morning, have the item by dinner time.

But there aren't that many things for which an extra day or two or three of delivery time makes that much of a difference.

I think, for at least some vendors, shopping directly with them means they get to keep a little more of the $$$$. So there's that. And it's always nice to help the little guys when you can, IMO.

In general, I think we've been conditioned to over-value convenience. Two years and counting of pandemic life has also made online shopping a lot more attractive. It's not hard to see the appeal of Amazon.

Low prices are also nice, but if the difference is minimal - single-digit percentage of the total price - I'm not sure the net benefit is always worth it.

Agree with all of that, russell. (Except there's no warehouse near me. ;-)

I've been trying to spread my online buying around as well. The hesitation is often because of shipping costs, which vary wildly. I had 25 pounds of the heritage wheat flour that I use shipped from Illinois for a lot less than I could get 10 pounds shipped from Skowhegan (an hour away).

I've never signed up for Amazon Prime, I just wait until I have $25 worth of stuff to buy to get the free shipping. Even so, when I can get something elsewhere, I often do pay the shipping for the reasons you mention.

Newegg is also hosting third-party sellers. And it's not entirely obvious. At least not to me when I ordered something I thought was from Newegg and got burnt.

If your order was with a third party, they may have been running a price arbitrage on Amazon prices. They would take your order and place it with Amazon keeping the difference in price.

Low prices are also nice, but if the difference is minimal - single-digit percentage of the total price - I'm not sure the net benefit is always worth it.

I suspect that, for most people, the (slightly) lower prices aren't the main attraction. It's avoiding the hassle of finding another vendor for the same product. Not unlike what, in our youth, made department stores attractive: they had it all, in one place.

FWIW, may I suggest:

Books
Electronics, including audio
Music gear of all sorts, if that's of interest

Most consumer items can also be bought directly from the manufacturer. Just bought a pair of Vans from... Vans.

Agreed that convenience is attractive, but it's not that much of a leap to browse a different URL.

Not hating on Amazon, I use them all the time, and they're really, really good at what they do. Which is mostly a matter of technology and logistics.

But it's nice to spread it around.

Yes, they're really, really good at what they do, and one of the things "they" do is concentrate wealth. I don't know if anyone clicked the link in the OP, which is called Wealth to scale. But it's enlightening. It also offers links to more material, like an explanation of how paper billionaires aren't really made of paper (which novakant's link implies in a different way).

PS russell, thanks for the links.

Off to town.....

Amazon get some of my business, sure, but I try to buy my books and graphic novels through the local(ish) independent SF bookstore and my gaming stuff through the local(ish) game store. Music stuff is usually either Sweetwater or Elderly Instruments. Clothes either through REI or direct from Patagonia (where I buy used when possible). Recorded music from Bandcamp for all artists/labels that have a presence there.

And I never click the ads or the sponsored listings if possible, and try to break the chain for any tracking of "impressions."

All quixotic like.

(Also, given our collective discussions about writing and grammar in other threads, just wanted to note my appreciation of the subtle comma in the title.)

I've gotten burned by Newegg "third party sellers", and also bought a lot of good computer gear from direct from Newegg.

One of their really good distinguishing features is the search filtering (and product info) that makes it straightforward to make sure that THIS motherboard will work with THIS processor and THIS memory, etc.

Electronics parts distributors, at least the major ones, also have great search/filter capabilities that puts Amazon to shame. I'm reminded of that every time I try to search for something somewhat obscure on Amazon, and find tons of shit that had nothing to do with what I was searching for.

I never click the ads or the sponsored listings if possible

My rule of thumb (not just with Amazon) is to only click on those things when it is a company that I seriously dislike. And then not buy anything. Just run up their clicks, for which I believe they get charged, whether or not they actually sell something.

one of the things "they" do is concentrate wealth.

kind of the purpose of a monopoly, seems to me.

which gets into the whole "why do you care if a tiny number of people own half the world, if you get your stuff delivered to your door for a reasonable price?" question.

which gets into a whole lot of other questions.

did they ever give you the option of cancelling?

By an amazing "coincidence", the shoes arrived a couple of days before the "now you can cancel" date.

My current supply chain issue is still the Raspberry Pi single board computer. It remains impossible for a hobbyist to get one without paying a scalper ten times the list price. The Raspberry Pi Foundation, through which the supply flows, says that they are now receiving boards at the same rate they were before the supply-chain crisis hit. The only problems are that (a) there is an ongoing backlog of orders and (b) demand has grown considerably since then so the backlog is growing. They are, understandably, routing supply first to firms who can demonstrate they are actually shipping products based on the Pi.

(Also, given our collective discussions about writing and grammar in other threads, just wanted to note my appreciation of the subtle comma in the title.)

You fill my heart with gladness. ;-)

I am constantly entertaining only myself with silliness like that. It's fun to have someone else notice.

Speaking of which, I had occasion to say to someone today, "I was asleep at the wheel" (only metaphorically, thank goodness). It made me wonder what idiomatic expression people used in order to express that thought before there were automobile steering wheels to make the metaphor work.

The immediately preceding idiomatic expression was asleep at the switch.

CharlesWT: Ah, excellent!

which gets into a whole lot of other questions.

Like ... "What do you care about other people's lives, as long as you're not inconvenienced by the horrors of mask-wearing?"

I have been saving for another post, but I can use it twice. I think it answers some of those questions quite nicely. Indirectly, anyhow.

It made me wonder what idiomatic expression people used in order to express that thought before there were automobile steering wheels to make the metaphor work.

It looks like the phrase "asleep at the wheel" dates back to at least 1850, in testimony before Parliament's Committee on the Mercantile Marine. I suspect it was used well before then, and was quite possibly a capital crime in some situations. The Royal Navy has never taken kindly to running one of their expensive toys aground. Some early automobiles had tillers; I have sometimes wondered if the steering wheel displaced those for the same reasons the wheel replaced tillers in anything much bigger than a boat in the early 1700s.

Oh, ships too, I didn't think about that. Thanks, Michael.

While "asleep at the switch" would be a railroad term, I'd guess.

Snarki -- that's what I assumed Charles meant.

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