Tag Archives: Amazon.com

The Amazon Scam

The Curmudgeon likes shopping on Amazon.com:  he likes the selection, he likes the prices, he likes the convenience, he likes how easy it is to do business with Amazon even when you’re not happy with a product you purchased.  He’s aware that Amazon is reputed to pay and treat its employees poorly and sometimes questions his repeated patronage but, just like shopping at Walmart, he generally feels that he can’t fight every fight and this is one he’s choosing not to fight.  (The Curmudgeon will revisit his willingness to support the low-wage, ill-treated employees of Amazon and Walmart when they grow spines, stand up for themselves, and at least try to unionize.)

Amazon is known for its data and how well it uses it to its own business advantage, which is certainly the company’s right, but he’s also heard about how it can use that data to the disadvantage of its customers and recently experienced that first-hand.

So The Curmudgeon thought he’d share.

The Curmudgeon does not have the best digestive system in the world and there are three products he uses that he orders from Amazon several times a year.  One of them he’s never found in a traditional retail store – and The Curmudgeon lives in a virtual retail heaven – and the other two cost about half of what they’d cost in a traditional retail store.   Together, it means Amazon is the best place for him to buy these things, and buy them he does – generally, every two to four months, depending on how much he buys at once and how quickly he uses them.

Yes, he buys them regularly – and the folks at Amazon, with all of that data they amass, understand this.

So almost every time The Curmudgeon goes to buy more, the price is higher than it was the previous time.

And we’re not just talking about ordinary, modest price increases; after all, the price of most products rises over time.  No, he’s talking about meaningful increases in prices almost every time he buys them.

When he first noticed this it happened when, instead of doing a fresh search for the product he wanted, he went back into his past orders, found the item, and ordered it again.  After a few times doing this he found that the re-order was always – always – more expensive than the order he placed just a few months earlier.

Wise to this maneuver, he started doing fresh searches instead and found that the price then was still higher – higher than the previous order but not as high as when he clicked the “order this again” link.

So he was onto something.  In not one way but two, Amazon was taking advantage of its awareness that this is something The Curmudgeon buys regularly to try to sell it to him for an inflated price.

For a few months and reorders The Curmudgeon tolerated this, but then he had an idea:

“What if I check out a product on another computer – my work computer – on which I’m not logged in and Amazon has no way of knowing it’s me doing the search?”

And the first time The Curmudgeon did this the results were clear – and startling:  the product was much less than it had been the last three or four times he bought it.

“J’Accuse, mon petite fromage!  (With bonus points for those who know where the non-French-speaking Curmudgeon got this phrase.)

Now much wiser, The Curmudgeon copied the URL of the lower-priced product from his work computer, emailed it from his work email account to his home account, hit the link, and made his purchase for much less than what Amazon insisted it was.

So the moral of the story is this:  use Amazon if you wish, like Amazon if you wish, love Amazon if you wish, but don’t trust Amazon for a minute because if you let them they will be happy to fleece you without a hint of hesitation or remorse.







In the past, The Curmudgeon has written glowing reviews of his experience using an e-reader – specifically, his Kindle.  He just loves the gizmo, loves reading on it.  He also is generally a very enthusiastic customer of Amazon.com because everything’s there, the prices are good, and the service has always been impeccable.

Still, despite his Kindle love, he rarely purchases e-books from Amazon.  Many of the books he wants to read are not available in e-book form, so he is still heavily invested in regular books, many of which he borrows from the library, purchases at library used book sales, or purchases used.  When he reads books on his e-reader, they are almost always library books.  As avid a reader as he is, he is seldom willing to pay the rather considerable amount of money that a new book costs, so he usually waits for it to come out in paperback, waits to find it used, or waits for it to become available electronically from the library.

But when The Curmudgeon goes on vacation he likes to have something special to read, and this year, that something special, he decided, was to be a new book about inside Washington, D.C. called This Town:  Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital.

Consequently, The Curmudgeon went to Amazon.com to make his purchase.

Now a major part of the premise of e-books, in addition to the convenience of carrying your books around with you in a very small and convenient package, is that e-books always cost less than regular books.  That seems only natural:  there’s no shipping involved, no printing and production, no art work, no bookstores for publishers to bribe for prime shelf space.  E-books are naturally less expensive.

But not in this case.  At the time The Curmudgeon went to make his purchase, the Amazon.com price for the Kindle version of  This Town was $12.74.  For the hardback?  $10.85.  Now the difference is a little less than two dollars – not exactly a great deal of money – but still, it’s the principle of the thing, right?  So The Curmudgeon sent a quick note to Amazon.com customer service, suggesting that the company and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, go do something that most people agree is anatomically impossible.

This is what happens when one company’s success gives it a virtual corner on the market.  As a long-time user of Apple computers, The Curmudgeon should be accustomed to this kind of corporate arrogance by now, but still, this one was a real shocker:  the e-book cost more than the real book.

Amazon can act all Apple-like now because it helped kill Borders, it helped kill countless mom-and-pop bookstores, and it now apparently has Barnes & Noble on the ropes.  When a company kills off most of the competition and has the field to itself, that’s how you end up with an e-book costing more than a hard-copy version.

Somehow, someone needs to come along and give Amazon some competition, because otherwise, the company’s going to turn its lack of competition into a lack of interest in serving its customers.  For years Amazon’s been killing its customers with kindness while it killed off its competitors, and there are plenty of retail fields left for Amazon to conquer.  If it succeeds, it will no longer feel the need to kill its customers with kindness.  By that point, when it’s the only game in town, it will be able to kill us, too.