Prime Hypocrisy

I was going to start with the ironic, but somehow I think it is less that, and just hypocrisy.

As my family was texting this morning, I was watching what’s left of my bike race. Multiple riders and staff tested positive on yesterday’s rest break; today two entire teams are gone from the race.

But it was really less about what I was watching than how. I am watching a channel (I guess that’s how we refer to it in this Bold New World of Television) called FloBikes, for which I am paying about 11 times more than I anticipated. (But it did also give me access to a high school cross country race in Alaska, filmed with only one camera stationed at the start/finish, so it was less the race and more the scoreboard, which I feel is well worth the elevated cost.)

I was watching this channel on my TV with the aid of an Amazon FireTV Stick.  I don’t understand what this is, never mind how it works, but you plug this cigarette-lighter-sized deal into the back of your TV, and suddenly the world is your oyster — although most of it comes with a price.

Some of the content, both rerun and original, comes from Amazon, but a lot of it must be third parties, like FloBikes, presumably paying Amazon to deliver their content in a manner designed to reach more eyeballs.

I could watch my race without Amazonian assistance, but that would have to be on my computer, and I frankly find it much easier to watch it on the TV, freeing up my computer for other multi-tasking activities.

So there I was, watching my race thanks to Amazon, when one sister texted her two siblings and mother a CNN article suggesting you not shop on Amazon for their “Prime” Day, which is now two days, instead opting to support your local small businesses.

Amazon — its stock is up 77 percent over last year, CNN reports — is attempting to tug at your heart strings, both in its TV advertising and when touting Prime-o-Rama. “Shop with our small businesses,” it cajoles, but if you happen to buy something from Amazon itself along the way, well, they won’t try to stop you. And never mind the 30 percent kickback they get when you shop with their small merchants.

There was a commercial, a few years back, that completely missed its own irony. (I feel like I have already told this story to you. Sorry if it’s a repeat.) A barber looks out his window to see a national discount hair-cutting chain setting up shop right across the street, and he believes he is going to be ruined. But he hits upon an idea, and with aid from his friendly — here comes the irony — giant national office-supply chain, he makes signs telling people he fixes bad cuts from the hair-cutting chain. Business increases, and he’s a happy small-business owner. Thanks not to his local office supplies that could have provided him the same signs, but to the giant chain. Let’s hear it for the little guy!

So now Amazon, amorphous giant amoeba that is swallowing us all whole while we don’t even try to scream and run away, wants to champion “the little people” by having you shop at Amazon. That is soooo thoughtful of the company!

A company, I might add, that is singularly bad about offering good benefits or even a livable wage to many of its workers while enriching its shareholders and the world’s richest man 77 percent more. (What do you suppose would happen to Jeff Bezos’ personal finances if he gave his workers one or even two billion of his 200 billion dollars? What do you suppose would happen to his workers’ finances with even a couple hundred extra bucks?)

When I worked at the bookstore with Kara’s mom, one of our good customers was my doctor (since moved). One day he came in and announced he had found this great site on the World Wide Web (as we called it back then) where he could browse for books and order them at his convenience. He seemed to think we ought to be as happy as he was that he had found this, and maybe we should have been, except that was the last time I ever saw him in the bookstore.

I did recognize right away the convenience this offered our formerly reliable patron, and tried devising any number of ways to make shopping in our bookstore more convenient. All of them would have required a substantial investment, and customers would still have had to come into the store during business hours to scroll through our computer. And then they would have had to come back to pick up their order. Not that this used to be a chore, but in today’s world it certainly seems like it.

Convenience is a hard factor to compete with. A national company sells its screen printing service with a cute octopus logo. For whatever reason, customers no longer do this nearly as frequently as they once did, but we used to have several, trying to shop locally, who would bring in the design they had done on this national company’s website, along with the quote. Without trying, our quote beat the national company every single time. No discount, no special favor: our prices were simply lower, which made those who made the effort happy. But who knows how many customers we lost along the way who never bothered to check prices with us because it was so much more easier to sit at home in pajamas, put their own designs together and press “submit”?

We bought what to me is horrendously expensive software that was devised as an effort to allow small shops to set up competitive websites. We use the software for a number of things, including sending design proofs to our customers and providing those who want it with an online store to sell their shirts (which we print upon demand), but the one aspect I’ve never managed to make work well is the piece that tries to replicate the national company.

Pricing alone — one of my several friends named Karen spent hours of volunteered time on the phone and watching tutorials, trying to figure out how a customer could design a shirt and then get an accurate price quote, and it just doesn’t work. If the distributors change their prices, we have to go in manually and change all our matrices. I can’t get it to work the way the software company intended.

While I would like it if, for Prime Day, shoppers skipped their Amazonian/Faustian bargains and instead patronized small, local companies who have tried — trust me, I’m not the only shop owner to read the tea leaves and try what I can to compete — to make shopping as convenient as our pocketbooks will allow, I am under no illusion that shoppers will drop their ease of convenience in favor of supporting their friends and neighbors.

I am aware of that even as I am too busy watching a service provided by Amazon to text my family back today.

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