Amazon and Wasteful Packaging

I stick of lip balm; that’s all I got in this box from Amazon today:

Lip balm

This was part of another order, whose items came in other packaging, and I had expected that, at a minimum, if it couldn’t go into the same box, it would go into one of those cardboard envelopes they use.

This isn’t new; I’m sure everyone who orders things from Amazon regularly has had similar experiences. But still, this is probably the most egregious example of waste I have seen.

Amazon says:

Amazon has developed a software program that determines the “right-sized” box for any given item to be shipped to a customer, based on that item’s dimensions and weight. As a result, the number of packages delivered in a wrong-sized box has decreased dramatically, significantly reducing packaging waste and transportation costs.

In 2009, Amazon launched its Packaging Feedback program, which allows customers to provide direct feedback on the packaging of their Amazon.co.uk order and to upload images of their Amazon.co.uk packages. Their feedback is used to improve product and Amazon packaging. Learn more at www.amazon.co.uk/packaging.

Alas, they have removed the ability to upload photos of wasteful packaging.

I ordered this from Amazon because it was about £1.30 less than from my supermarket. But I won’t order any small items from Amazon again. This is simply disgraceful.

Amazon to Introduce Celebrity Voices for Alexa: F*ck Yeah!

Among Amazon’s other product announcements yesterday was one that surprised me. Not the announcement itself, but the fact that it’s taken so long for a company to do this. Amazon is introducing the Samuel L. Jackson celebrity voice for Alexa. At only 99c (introductory price; it will cost $5 later), you can have Samuel L. Jackson talk back to you from your Amazon Echo.

I think there could be a huge market for this. Imagine getting some more A-list celebrities, especially those with recognizable voices, to do this; it could sell a lot more of these devices.

As for me, I want Bob Dylan to give me directions in CarPlay.

Thoughts on Amazon’s New Echo Speakers

In this week’s episode of The Next Track podcast, Chris Connaker, Doug Adams, and I discussed the odd idea of Amazon announcing a lossless and high-resolution music streaming service. We mocked the idea of listening to this music on an Amazon Echo, but, somehow, none of us thought that this improved audio quality was the prelude to new Amazon Echo speakers.

Yesterday, Amazon announced an All-new Amazon Echo (3rd Generation), a $100 speaker with “premium sound.” And they also announced the $200 Echo Studio, with “Immersive sound – 5 speakers produce powerful bass, dynamic midrange, and crisp highs. Dolby Atmos technology adds space, clarity, and depth.” Like Apple’s HomePod, the Echo Studio “Adapts to any room – Automatically senses the acoustics of your space, fine-tuning playback for optimal sound.”

Echo studioAmazon is pricing this to compete with the Sonos One, and to undercut the HomePod. Amazon says:

Dolby Atmos technology turns stereo tracks into a multidimensional audio experience, adding space, clarity, and depth. Echo Studio also plays new music formats that have been mastered in 3D.

Given the setup of the speaker, it’s possible that this does produce stereo sound, with left and right tweeters, unlike the HomePod, which is a mono speaker. It has a front, whereas the HomePod is designed to work regardless of which way it points. (Oddly, that slot looks like it’s designed to hold a CD, but it is just a vent for the bass to flow from the speaker.)

One positive point is that both of these speakers have a 3.5mm / optical line-in jack, which the HomePod and the Sonos one do not have.

On the podcast, we discussed how audiophiles probably would not see Amazon as an appropriate source for music, and that there are other alternatives, though not that many offering lossless streaming. But these new speakers are an attempt by Amazon to elevate their Echo line from the tinny speakers they have long had, and it’s great for consumers to have more competition in this area.

I would expect Apple to release a less expensive HomePod in the near future, in order to compete with Sonos and Amazon, and the many other hi-fi companies selling standalone speakers of this kind. This is clearly a growth market for audio, as fewer people own stereo separates, and as the idea of listening to music without a lot of gear has become the norm.

Amazon under fire for new packaging that cannot be recycled – The Guardian

Amazon has been criticised by environmental groups and customers after introducing a range of plastic packaging that cannot be recycled in the UK.

While supermarkets and other retailers have been reducing their use of single use plastics, the world’s biggest online retailer has started sending small items in plastic envelopes, seemingly to allow more parcels to be loaded on to each delivery truck.

This started a few weeks ago. I’ve had several deliveries in these non-recyclable envelopes, most of them for items that barely fill one-tenth of the available space. I’ve decided that I will refuse delivery of any such package from Amazon in the future.

Source: Amazon under fire for new packaging that cannot be recycled – The Guardian

Book Review — The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

Four companies are at the top of the pyramid for technology and digital media: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Each one is very different, but there are many similarities that have helped these companies become so dominant.

Amazon’s reach is extraordinary, with 64 percent of people in the United States being subscribers to Amazon Prime. Apple, while far from being the leader in smartphones, commands one of the highest profit margins in the tech sector, currently around 38 percent. Facebook has two billion users, and four of the five most popular mobile apps are owned by the company. And Google owns 92 percent of the search market.

Much has been written about the successes of these companies, and of the unique qualities of their founders: Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page. And much has also been written about how these companies strategically created or took advantage of sectors where they could disrupt existing companies.

Scott Galloway, professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, and longtime entrepreneur, looks at these “four horsemen,” as he calls them, in his book The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. In his book, he highlights many of the negative aspects of their business models, and their effects on society.

Read the rest of the article on The Startup Finance Blog.

Apple pumps up its Amazon listings with iPhones, iPads and more – CNET

Amazon has signed a deal to expand the selection of Apple products on its sites worldwide.

The world’s largest e-commerce company said Friday it’ll soon start selling more Apple products directly and have access to Apple’s latest devices, including the new iPad Pro, iPhone XR, iPhone XS, and Apple Watch Series 4, as well as Apple’s lineup of Beats headphones. The Amazon-Apple deal encompasses the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan and India, with the new products hitting Amazon sites in the coming weeks.

Only Apple-authorized resellers will now be allowed to sell Apple and Beats products on Amazon’s marketplace.

Currently, many of these Apple products are either unavailable on Amazon or are on sale only through its third-party marketplace at varied prices and conditions. Amazon does already directly sell some Apple devices, such as MacBook laptops and Beats headphones.

This is a good thing. Amazon is full of spurious listings for Apple products. I recently wanted to buy my son AirPods; he’s in Paris, and I’m in the UK, and, since they were cheaper on Amazon.fr, I wanted to buy them there rather than from Apple. I sifted through a dozen listings, from all sorts of third-party sellers, before I could find one that was sold and shipped by Amazon. Many of the reviews for the AirPods spoke of counterfeits, and the only way to be certain was to get them from Amazon.

I hope, however, that Amazon doesn’t prevent people from selling Apple products used. I’ve sold a couple of iPods, and a first-gen Apple pencil on Amazon, and it’s practical to be able to sell there, as it’s often less of a hassle than with eBay.

Source: Apple pumps up its Amazon listings with iPhones, iPads and more – CNET

Amazon’s ad business is both alluring and dangerous – Recode

Amazon’s business unit that primarily consists of advertising revenue registered another booming quarter this summer, growing to nearly $2.5 billion in sales during the three-month period, as Amazon announced yesterday in its third-quarter results.

The ad division’s fat profit margin — analysts estimate it could be as large as 75 percent — is a big reason why Amazon posted its largest quarterly profit ever in the third quarter. It’s also a big reason why the slowing growth of Amazon’s core online retail business isn’t a giant story in tech right now.

But Amazon’s ad business, for all its glitz and hype, does not come without significant risk: Namely, that an over-reliance on ads will ruin the Amazon shopping experience.

It’s already ruined. It’s been some time since search results on Amazon are helpful. If I search for, say, an author, I get one or two of their books, then ads for random self-published romance novels, then another book by the author, then more ads. If I click one of the books to view its page, I see more ads on the page. It’s the same for all types of products. When I look for something on Amazon now, I have to know what I want and by what brand. They’re killing the site.

Another example: I just searched for baking powder on Amazon UK. I wanted to buy some in bulk because it’s cheaper. The first two results are sponsored results for “Matcha green tea powder,” nothing at all what I’m looking for. They’re probably looking for “powder” as the keyword, which is, quite simply, stupid. Further down the page I get “No Egg (Egg Replacer),” then stevia, then face powder and silicone ice cube trays. Also lots of bicarbonate of soda, which, while close, is not what I’m looking for. Out of 22 results, only ten match my search. (Here is a link to the page; I’m not sure if everyone’s search results will be the same, or whether some of this has to do with my Amazon purchases.)

Source: Amazon’s ad business is both alluring and dangerous – Recode

How to Spot Fake Product Reviews

When Amazon allowed customers to post reviews of the books they bought in 1995, it changed the way people chose what to buy. Reviews had long been the provenance of gatekeepers: at that time, the newspapers and magazines that published book reviews. As Amazon branched out into other products, these customer reviews took the place of those in print media that covered specialist subjects such as computing, photography, and more.

Now, reviews are everywhere and most people seem inclined to put at least some faith in them. How many times have you seen a product on Amazon or another site, or a restaurant or hotel, with four- or five-star reviews and been disappointed by it after your direct experience?

This is because the review system on Amazon (and other websites) has been gamed. In this article, I’m going to tell you how you can spot fake reviews and I’ll show you a couple of websites that can help you sort the real reviews from the bogus.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Amazon UK’s Subtle Pro-Brexit, Pro-Trump Bias

Amazon UK runs a lot of deals on Kindle ebooks. There’s a daily deal, where there books are offered, usually for £0.99, there are other occasional daily deals, and there’s a big monthly deal, with hundreds of books ranging from £0.99 to a few pounds. Lots of people take advantage of these deals to pick up books they might not have read at bargain prices, or often to begin or complete a series of books, such as mysteries, fantasy novels, etc. I check the list every month, and often find books that I’d been wanting to read; for a pound, it’s a no-brainer to buy them.

Among these deals are non-fiction books. This month, Amazon’s selection is surprisingly political; not that there are a lot of political books in the lot, but that most of them are pro-Brexit, pro-Trump, and anti-Corbyn (Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour party). Here’s what you can find this month in the monthly deal selection.

This one’s thesis is very clear from its title: the EU is bad:

Kindle1

Here’s a biography of Jeremy Corbyn. It might not be biased, but the title is clear. It’s published by Biteback Publishing, which is owned by Michael Ascroft, former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party:

Kindle3

Here’s another one attacking the Labour party. Coincidentally, also published by Biteback Publishing:

Kindle4

In fact, it looks like Michael Ashcroft’s publishing house has quite a deal with Amazon this month. I wonder why? Perhaps because it’s likely that there will be new elections in the UK soon?

Kindle5

This one is also pretty clear; another from Biteback Publishing, as are all the rest of the books I cite below:

Kindle2

Here’s a memoir from the person who led the Leave.eu campaign:

Kindle6

A book “written” by Nigel Farage:

Kindle7

Here’s Ann Coulter’s pro-Trump screed:

Kindle8

And another pro-Trump book:

Kindle9

Another pro-Brexit book:

Kindle10

And one more for good measure:

Kindle11

It’s not uncommon for a publisher to offer a bunch of its titles at a discount to Amazon. (It’s worth noting that the first book above, The Great Deception, is from a different publisher, Bloomsbury, who is a generalist, not a propagandist.) But having this many books that clearly lean in a specific direction politically is dangerous. People who scan the sale titles will see these books, all clearly ideologically biased, and not see only other options at these low prices. A publisher funded by an ideological politician is selling books at bargain prices in order, perhaps, to try to sway public opinion at a time when the UK is in crisis. I think this shows Amazon’s bias as well.

How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews – The Washington Post

On Amazon, customer comments can help a product surge in popularity. The online retail giant says that more than 99 percent of its reviews are legitimate because they are written by real shoppers who aren’t paid for them.

But a Washington Post examination found that for some popular product categories, such as Bluetooth headphones and speakers, the vast majority of reviews appear to violate Amazon’s prohibition on paid reviews. Such reviews have certain characteristics, such as repetitive wording that people probably cut and paste in.

Many of these fraudulent reviews originate on Facebook, where sellers seek shoppers on dozens of networks, including Amazon Review Club and Amazon Reviewers Group, to give glowing feedback in exchange for money or other compensation. The practice artificially inflates the ranking of thousands of products, experts say, misleading consumers.

Amazon.com banned paying for reviews a year and a half ago because of research it conducted showing that consumers distrust paid reviews. Every once in a while, including this month, Amazon purges shoppers from its site whom it accuses of breaking its policies.

But the ban, sellers and experts say, merely pushed an activity that used to take place openly into dispersed and harder-to-track online communities.

It’s tough, with some items, to separate out the fake reviews from the real ones. Amazon does indicate which reviews are for purchases – you can post reviews even if you haven’t purchased an item from Amazon, at least for some product categories – but the way the review-for-sale system works is the sellers “sell” the item for free, or for a nominal fee (such as 1 cent).

I know about this, because I have long posted reviews on Amazon, and am a Vine Voice on Amazon.com, and a top-1000 reviewer on Amazon UK. For a while, I would allow companies to contact me to request reviews, and I did review a handful of products like this, but I stopped, because most of them were crap. I reviewed some electronic product once and gave it one star, and the vendor got really angry at me because they had sent me the item, and expected a five-star review.

I no longer accept unsolicited items, but still write review of things I buy; mostly books, music, and DVDs, but also some other items, if I have an urge to write something when Amazon emails me.

As the article points out, there are certain product categories where this is more of a problem. No-name Bluetooth headphones, diet supplements, even Apple Watch bands; these are the areas where cheap Chinese brands try to game the system. For more expensive products, you can generally trust reviewers, at least if the product is a verified purchase. I look at reviews for audio equipment, camera accessories, and even books, and find them to be, for the most part, honest.

But the system is flawed. You can generally trust those well-rated reviewers, but a former number one reviewer on Amazon.com, who reviewed thousands of books, turned out to have been a fraud, so you never know.

Source: How merchants use Facebook to flood Amazon with fake reviews – The Washington Post