I know. It is so convenient. Two clicks, and you have all your various and sundry household needs shipped in two days. Your time is very valuable. Your sanity is important. Busy families really enjoy Amazon’s quick and responsive process. There are some definite upsides to shopping with Amazon, including Christmas. I mean, let’s face it, if I can get my holiday purchases completed and shipped in a short afternoon, I am over-the-moon happy. I mean, with gas prices, I have saved more than time. We will not discuss the quality of these gifts at this point. That is a separate discussion. So, we all agree that the sheer time-saving aspect is a big win. Amazon feels like a need for a lot of people and has become a staple in the global consumer’s diet. It’s here to stay, right? It has expanded into far more than shopping and is a model business for being innovative and flexible, for shaking up known corporate culture. It’s the world’s warehouse. Yes? Here comes the big BUT..

CUSTOMER SERVICE. It seems to me that customers have begun to take a back seat to the bottom line. I have had a few occasions when an order never arrived, and I was refunded immediately. “How is this a bad thing?” you retort. I had one or two instances where an order was so late, I thought it was lost, but it showed up after the refund came to me. Did the Amazon want it back? Did the Amazon want to charge me? Nope. Keep it. Consider it a gift. “Still waiting for the negative on this…” you reply. Well, I will tell you the problem. In reality, rather than thinking of these instances as kindness or goodwill, the cost to transport said items via return mail is the main reason the items are gratis. And who picks up the tab for these free orders? Not Amazon. Have you noticed that the Prime membership cost keeps edging up? And the customer service experience is ratcheting down? Friend, I have noticed.

THE HUMAN ELEMENT. In recent times, I have watched a great chasm appear between good customer service and Amazon. Have you ever tried contacting Amazon customer service? It is now one of the great mysteries of the universe. If you look carefully, you may find the chat option. I have used the chat feature to resolve order issues just because it is convenient (and because I cannot find any other way to contact the behemoth.) It is a very difficult thing to cut and paste multiple order numbers into a chat box because some HEATHEN PORCH PIRATES stole my Christmas orders. (Ok, I don’t have a porch; it’s more like a container near a bush, but it was a fine package-receiving system until this year. And yes, to Amazon’s credit, I was refunded. Good. But who is really paying for this? See reason number one, above.) Moving on– what if I need to talk to a human? Good luck finding a phone number. It will take around five clicks and several scrolls to find an 800 number. And even then, a professional-sounding, helpful person is not always on the other end of the wire. As a linguist and globetrotter, I am all for the global marketplace. I love the whole world. I love people, quirky people, people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. But, the last couple of customer service representatives I have actually spoken with over the phone are likely not receiving my call with enthusiasm because English is not their best language. I get it. We need bilingual, trilingual, polyglot people in customer service, but could you just be sure they love people, and maybe practicing the English language, as much as they love their paycheck, Amazon?

That isn’t even the true problem, though. I hear you, “So what’s your point?” My point is that I believe Amazon’s representatives are less and less professional in tone and nature, with fewer optimal outcomes for customers. Many of Amazon’s service calls are taken from someone’s home, from a remote work setting. That is also fine by me. I love remote work. Vive la révolution! However, Amazon, please make my problem as your customer important enough that your representative works away from their barking dog (sorry puppies!), away from traffic, away from distracting ambient noise, in a home office space where my problem can be attended to in a pleasant, sane, professional manner. It’s important.

PROTECTION FROM FRAUD. My coworker, Tara, has gone through a literal nightmare. She was the target of a sadistic, aggressive, unrelenting hacker. All her accounts (and I mean all of them) were being used for purchases without her consent. Her email, Amazon account, Paypal, Facebook, bank account, all of it was compromised. The hacker sent her threatening emails, extortion, asking for cash, or pictures of Tara watching porn would be sent to all her social media contacts. (Tara was scratching her head at that one. She was voted least likely to have a libido after an unhappy marriage.) In Tara’s case, she started with calling her bank. She reported the trouble to Amazon. She couldn’t log into her account, but her account was saved and open on her browser. She could see that the hacker was adding things to her Amazon cart, a $700 Nintendo system for starters. The account was still pulled up on the computer, so although she could not log in because the password had been changed by Hacker from Hell, she could sit and click the “trash” icon every time the hacker tried to add something for purchase. While this was occurring, she finally found a phone number for Amazon service and got a real human on the line. Guess what the human said? Reading from a script, he stated that he could not freeze or close her Amazon account. She would have to wait 24 to 48 hours to have her fraud complaint processed. Tara nearly screamed into the phone, “So, you’re telling me you can’t stop this person from making purchases with MY Amazon account? Because the information on the account no longer matches all of my information? Well, of course it doesn’t!” The miscreant had already changed the address and phone number on the account so that he or she could procure said Nintendo system with Tara’s saved payment card. Tara tried again and called to see if a different Amazon human would help. No such luck. She even asked to talk to a supervisor. She did begin getting texts (in the middle of the night) from Amazon asking if she was trying to purchase items. She could at least respond in the negative. She also went to her computer to see if she could mess with the hacker by trashing the purchase on her browser before it was completed. “This is outrageous!” you say, “Amazon should close the account. Where are the fraud police?”

I am not sure Amazon has fraud police, but you can contact the FBI if you get into a situation like Tara. Go to ic3.gov and submit a fraud complaint. The FBI do their darnedest to chase these subhuman evil-doers. They can usually find them, but if the hacking is being done outside of the U.S., it is really difficult to stamp them out, to have them punished, to prosecute. Not all countries are serious about fraud protection. Corruption is a problem at the highest level in many governments. Some countries which are unfriendly to the United States just don’t care. Protect yourself with highly complicated and weird passwords. And yes, even though it is a pain in the rear, enable two-factor authentication on all of your highly sensitive accounts and information. (Don’t know about two-factor authentication? Ask your teenager or resident computer geek. It’s too much to go into right now.)

PERSONAL CARE ITEMS AND THEFT. I recently read that an unknown number of the beauty and personal care products on Amazon are lifted from drug stores in cities across the nation. Yes, that CeraVe lotion that is way cheaper on Amazon? Probably stolen. The designer perfume at a discount? Yep, it’s hot. Any small cosmetic item that can be easily pocketed is a likely candidate for resale on Amazon. The drug problem is so sad and barbaric in some areas of the country that the addicts make a Walgreen’s run, take as many small, high-priced cosmetic items that can fit into a bag, waltz out and get a small amount of cash for their trove from a pawnbroker or other less reputable contact. So, Amazon customers, we are part of the problem. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is. Look at the seller information and statistics. Be an awesome consumer and refuse to buy products which are suspect either because of price, location, or seller.

PRODUCT QUALITY. Global is great, to an extent. As I have explained, I love our global marketplace. We have so much choice now, products from all over the world at our fingertips, partly through businesses like Amazon. This is a wonderful positive to globalization. I think you know the downside. We are funneling money to countries that don’t worry so much about lead paint, toxic chemicals, overuse of plastics, I could go on. I am not so much worried about buying products made outside of my country. I don’t think I am helping too much in the outsourcing of jobs. That happens anyway with the free market and price versus cost. What I object to is shoddy workmanship, overconsumption, and products that are a danger to humans and our environment. I think there are lots of products for sale on Amazon that would fall into that category of dubious value. Here’s my alternative. If you love a global economy with lots of choice, maybe support some global, industrious creators at Etsy. Not all the products there are handmade, true, true. But, I think there are way more “real” people on Etsy with creative, interesting products being shared from around the world which are also safe and well-made. It’s also an option that bends us away from monopolies. I am just saying, monopolies are not usually good for you, unless you own one. And even then, monopolies create more problems than they solve. Spread your consumerism around.

WAS THAT FIVE? Yes. I think it was. These are just five reasons why we should begin to think outside of the box, or the behemoth. I am as much to blame as you are. Really. I am pointing my finger with three fingers pointing back to me. I need to be better. I need to demand great customer service from businesses, expect quality products, buy fewer new items and consider used alternatives, open my eyes to corruption, and care more about people than about things. And when the expectations of great service and a caring company are not met, I need to speak with my wallet. I challenge myself to buy intelligently, buy less, care more. I challenge you to care.

That’s right. You know the drill. Buy more locally, think about monopolies, beware of the too-good-to-be-true, care for others, know the true cost of those free items, and for pete’s sake, be careful out there on the wild, wild web. It’s not just Amazon, it’s a jungle out there.


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