Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Welcome to the Jungle

"Welcome to the jungle we've got fun and games
We got everything you want honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find whatever you may need
If you got the money, honey we got your disease"
Guns N Roses, "Welcome to the Jungle"

It is a jungle out there, indeed, and many apologies for the exceptionally unoriginal and punny title for my thoughts about Amazon - the company and the drama about it at this time, thanks mostly to Trump's criticism of it.  I'm not so interested in the political aspects of this story, though I understand the concerns some have about the President "picking on" any company in particular.  I tend to see Trump's approach of agitation as similar to shaking up a snow globe.  It upsets things but eventually they all fall back into place but sometimes in a better arrangement.  But I'm not really here to talk about Trump.

The first time I ordered books from Amazon they included a little logo sticky-note pad and bookmark as thank you tokens.  It was nice.  A lot of the early e-commerce sites did that.  I had ordered a pan from cooking.com around the same time and received a cute set of magnetic measurement conversion charts that are still on my fridge while that company is long gone - probably a victim of Amazon's better business as it expanded its product offerings.  I do enjoy shopping on Amazon and have been a regular customer since 2000 (according to my account profile but I want to think I actually first ordered things before that, but I'm not sure).  I'm not a Prime member, yet, but my oldest son is and he uses it all the time.  He's more into the streaming video and stuff than I am and actually uses more of the Prime benefits than I would.  I'm old school and like my directv, even though it's ridiculous expensive.  I like turning on the TV and channel surfing.  It's a generational thing.  When I was a kid we only had three channels to choose from on the best days, and only one on the worst and just had to watch whatever was on.  I like the serendipity of finding a good show to watch.  There's something about having to be happy with what you're offered as opposed to always getting exactly what you want.  

The online shopping experience is like that too.  It's hard to imagine that brick and mortar stores will disappear completely because it's pretty fun to go shopping just to see what they've got and finding that awesome impulse buy.  If you hadn't looked around you would have never found it.  And I'm a tactile person.  Sometimes I buy something just because of its texture or because of its cute, clever, or high quality packaging - things not often conveyed on an electronic screen.  However, several years ago online retailers figured out that shoppers like that surprise/impulse/discovery experience so they started those daily "flash" sales where you had to be invited or sign up by email to participate.  At first they were pretty exclusive with only high-end designer items, but as their popularity exploded so did the variety of flash sale sites and the products offered.  Even Amazon started their own called My Habit.  I was "invited" by Amazon to join and boy, did I.  Some of my favorite buys were the Versace and Missoni scarves I got for $99.  I never would have bought those in person because the kinds of stores that sell them make me uncomfortable because I'm not a fancy or rich-looking woman and I don't like the pretentious people who work in those stores because they either ignore me or look at me like I don't belong in their world.  Online it didn't matter what I looked like or wore, and the prices were attractive enough to justify some indulgence.  In those few years I bought so much from My Habit that I was surprised and disappointed that Amazon discontinued it a couple of years ago.  But most of those sites are now gone.  Retail is a hard business.

I'm not sure why Amazon was named Amazon in the beginning, but it certainly has grown into this huge ecosystem around the "river" of product movement within a jungle of producers and sellers.  You can find pretty much anything you want or need, and they seem to have done fairly well at weeding out any unscrupulous sellers.  I'm sure it's a constant battle, but in the many years I've been a customer I haven't had any fraudulent experiences.  Part of that is probably my own being rather suspicious and cautious about things too.  Online security is a huge issue these days and I am curious about the extent of Amazon's efforts to protect customer and seller data.  I'm guessing it's pretty extensive.  It seems there have been problems in the past with hacks into Amazon's system but I don't recall hearing of any recent massive breaches there like the Equifax and Facebook issues within the last year.  Honestly, I just don't know why people are so much more upset about Facebook's data vulnerability than they were about the Equifax breach which has resulted in my own and many of my friends' credit cards being hacked.  Luckily my little local credit union flagged and stopped the fraudulent charges before they went through, but my friends who use bigger name brand banks weren't so lucky.  

But let's get back to Amazon's huge river of product movement.  One of Trump's complaints about Amazon is that he thinks they are taking advantage of the US Postal Service.  Well, I don't know the details of the deal between Amazon and the Post Office so I can't really know if it's a "bad deal" or not.  I think we all realize that the postal service has struggled for decades and even more so with the advent of email.  Amazon's use of the postal service has surely helped it survive and evolve, and now it even offers Sunday deliveries.  My son has had many of his Prime orders come on Sundays.  But, I do want to emphasize that I do not know the details of the Amazon/Postal Service agreement, so I have to acknowledge that it is possible that it is not the best deal for the Post Office.  This is something I've noticed about Trump's method of bringing about changes.  He shakes up that snow globe and sometimes even knocks things out of place, and then people lose their minds and have fits and foam at the mouth in fear of imminent disaster.  But then somehow, out of sight of the hysteria, negotiations are happening that end up making things better.   I think Trump is looking at Amazon as this big, healthy, wealthy youngster taking advantage of the old poor man of the neighborhood by paying him as little as possible to run from house to house to deliver the newspapers he's supposed to be delivering.  Trump sees Amazon as exploiting the weaker and poorer business, and since he as President represents the interests of government agencies he would like to see a more "fair" deal in which Amazon pays the postal service more for its services.  I'm not convinced that would be a bad thing.  Amazon could afford to pay more.  Its stock price has basically doubled in the last year and is so high that it looks kind of greedy and stingy, especially since Amazon has never paid any dividends to its shareholders.  Yes, it has created this awesome, enormous technological and logistical ecosystem, and I understand that shareholders get more from their investment than just dividends, but let's be objective and fair and not let our love and admiration of Amazon cloud our perception of its lesser qualities and actions.  And let us not allow our distaste for Trump's manners and methods to cloud our ability to be reasonable and logical.  

I am a Trump "supporter" and do not especially appreciate the constant negativity in response to his every move.  I feel like people just don't know how to take him.  They don't understand the method to the madness.  They are used to the scripted and practiced and artificial.  Trump is real and gritty and unscripted and sometimes yucky, but he is that guy who's forcing people to see what they don't want to acknowledge.  We elected him for that reason, not because of all the other bullshit garbage about race and whatever other low imaginations the elitists come up with.  I don't always agree with him, but I also try to step back and observe and give things some time to settle.  So much of the instant reaction to every tweet is just wasted energy.  I would recommend anyone who does not understand Trump to watch a bunch of the old James Bond movies, the ones from the 1960s and 1970s.  (I'm sure Amazon sells them!)  He is a baby boomer man, and the ways and manners of those men has become rather unpopular and misunderstood by our society.  That James Bond character was a role model for that generation of men and his ways influenced those men whether they realize it or not.  That early James Bond character would in today's world be condemned as a male chauvinist, sexually predatory asshole, but at that time he was the epitome of masculine strength and virility.  Just go watch some of those movies and you'll see how he "man-handles" the women and how he forces himself on them (they resist only because they were expected to resist due to that time's expectation of feminine coyness) and how he forces issues and resolutions.  I'm just trying to put some perspective into the way he is.  I grew up hearing about Trump's exploits and successes and failures.  I remember Marla Maples and all the tabloid sensationalism.  I have long known he is a man who loves women and fame and has a certain kind of abrasive personality that takes chances.  Those things don't really bother me.  I don't care how many porn stars he was with before he was President.  As long as he's not sexing it up with White House interns in the Oval Office then it's none of my concern.  

So back to the jungle, there are always going to be changes and evolution, and we have to expect that within our financial and social networks as much as in the natural environment.  I'm not a big investor or expert in market machinations, but I like to understand the way things work overall.  I suspect that Amazon is going to be very resilient and important for quite some time even with these small "attacks" upon it.  We should be careful not to put any company or entity so high upon a pedestal to be isolated from criticism or correction.  We should be as willing to see the faults of our favorite investments as we are our least favorite politicians.  After all, in the jungle the howler monkey might be loudest creature but it's far from the most deadly.