Amazon was built on solid customer service, generous return policies and a shopping experience designed to help you select the right product with the least amount of effort. But don't be fooled by any of that into thinking that the company cares about you. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos views customers as little more than direct conduits to credit cards -- and if customer service aids the extraction of cash, he's all for it. But if he has to hurt his customers in order to fatten Amazon's bottom line, he's all for that as well.
That has been made abundantly clear over the past several months, through the company's mean-spirited fight against the publisher Hachette, and through its recently unveiled Android-based Fire phone. Both instances reveal a callous disregard for customers' best interests.
Let's start with Amazon's beef with Hachette. The publisher has a variety of imprints, including Little, Brown and Grand Central Publishing, and its well-known authors include Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, David Foster Wallace, David Sedaris and Robert Galbraith (a pen name of J.K. Rowling). Amazon and Hachette are embroiled in antagonistic negotiations over e-book prices and fees that Amazon wants the publisher to pay for a variety of services.
As a way to force Hachette to agree to its terms, Amazon has taken a variety of punitive actions. And what it has done doesn't just hurt the publisher, but Amazon's own customers as well. Amazon has removed "Buy" buttons from some Hachette titles -- visitors to Amazon.com can read about those titles, but they can't buy them. It has listed some Hachette titles as being out of stock, even though Hachette says it immediately restocks books with Amazon. Amazon is not giving customers the same big discounts on Hachette titles as it gives on books from other publishers. And it's delaying shipping many Hachette titles. Here's just one example: Rowling's best-seller The Cuckoo's Calling (written with the Galbraith pseudonym) is listed as taking between two and four weeks to ship, as is her new title, The Silkworm. Elsewhere on the Web, such as at Barnes & Noble, both books ship within 24 hours.
By doing all this, Amazon is using its customers as pawns in its fight against Hachette. All Amazon customers are being hurt, but especially Amazon Prime subscribers, who pay $99 a year for, among other things, free two-day shipping -- not free two-to-four-week shipping.
Amazon shows a similar disdain for its customers with its new Fire phone. Most of the phone's specs are relatively standard fare, such as a 4.7-inch screen with not-very-impressive 1,280-x-720-pixel resolution, a 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, and a 2.1-megapixel front-facing one. On the upside, there's a 3D interface that's getting some generous hype. And there's the Firefly app, which can scan QR codes and even physical objects, identify the products, and then let you buy them through Amazon. Amazon apparently wants you to go into a brick-and-mortar store, compare items you want to buy, scan them using Firefly, and buy them using the Fire phone. It's a quick and simple way to kill off stores, and make your neighborhood a less interesting place to live.
That's not where Amazon's real disdain for its customers comes in, though. The problem is that even though the Fire phone is built on top of Google's Android, you can't use Google Play and its hundreds of thousands of apps. Instead, you're forced to use Amazon's smaller app store. And if you want to use any official Google apps such as Gmail, you'll be out of luck, because Amazon instead makes you use its own apps. It's another instance of Amazon forcing you into less choice, not more, if you buy into its ecosystem.
Amazon was originally built on the premise of offering as much choice as possible, because that was the way to expand its customer base. Now that it's become an Internet behemoth, its newest tactic is limiting choice. All this makes clear that Jeff Bezos is not your friend.
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