The Tyranny of Amazon Ratings

Those of us who have ever ordered anything online from Amazon are familiar with Amazon’s demand that you rate their service and product.  I understand the need to know if an item ordered was delivered on time and without damage.  If one’s business depends on the condition and timeliness of delivery then one needs feedback.  Of course UPS will provide tracking so as to insure that time standard but it rarely says much about the condition of the good that was delivered.  And another aspect is whether the good purchased was the good as represented online.  Did you order an article of clothing and find that the size ordered was not the size that fit (this is a complaint often heard of women’s clothing) but the quality was sadly lacking.  One might stop and ask why Amazon would ship anything that was below standard?  Ah, there’s the rub.  Often times the shipments are originated by the various suppliers.

Items such as books are sold by individuals or organizations and warehoused on their premise and not in Amazon’s warehouse.  The same applies to a great many products listed by Amazon on its internet site.  What this means is that Amazon has become, for the most part, a middleman.  But that middleman usually matches buyer and seller.  The goods that Amazon actually ships from its own warehouses are the ones that they have either bought but not necessarily paid for or ones that the seller ships in bulk to the warehouse for distribution.  Of course Amazon collects a percentage or flat fee, depending on the type of good for sale.  The savings to the customer is that there is no sales tax (more states are demanding the collection of sales tax from the customer and thus eating into Amazon’s profits) and that the good may be priced lower than one could obtain locally (taking into account the cost of gasoline and such).

Some might argue that this business model was the new insight and a result of the internet age, but one would be wrong.  It is merely a variation of the history of merchandising in america and to some extent, Europe.  Back around 1820, a good many manufactured made similar goods and were located in various parts of the country.  There were furniture makers in the larger cities where one could buy the furniture one wanted and then have it shipped to one’s home thirty, forty, or even a hundred miles away.  A teamster with a heavy wagon would be contracted to deliver the goods.  There were some manufacturers who had catalogs printed and distributed.  The catalog may be printed every year or every five years, depending on inventory turnover and product change.  As the railroad extended to greater reaches in the country it became possible for the logistics of delivery to change.  Railroad Express Agency came into being because of the demand for speedier delivery and their ability to coordinate rail traffic to rail terminal.  One would have to travel to the closest REA depot to pick up the goods ordered but rather than deal with the railroad freight office, one had a “one stop shop” with REA.  Wells Fargo was another of the logistic forwarders.  In fact, there were many who sought the retail freight forwarding business.

Then came the next idea, why not offer that middleman service to retail customers?  Sears, Roebuck, Montgomery Wards, and others who had started retail stores in the largest of cities recognized that if they published a catalog and and guarantee satisfaction they could make a nice profit.  And rather than try to establish large brick and mortar stores in small cities and large towns they could put a catalog order office in these small bergs while promising quick delivery.  And of course the complaints were handled locally and resolved locally.  Later on one would find these catalog offices growing is size and stocking goods with appreciable turnover rates.  These shops competed with the general stores of the area and survived because the corporate headquarters could buy in greater bulk, thus reducing prices.  One of the great values of our age was Craftsman Tools.  If a tool broke it was replace at no charge.  If you insured your tools against loss and they were Craftsman, you received full value.

Yes, these mail order companies often asked for feedback on their goods and services but it was never required.  On the other hand we see that with Amazon feedback seems to be a business in itself.  In particular, the book review is a big deal.  The motivation behind this is that the more five star ratings a book receives the more sales it will generate.  After all, those books that make the New York Times Book List report high sales.  If your book didn’t attain that list, well, sorry, no matter how good an author you are your sales will not make the high figures and that income you desire as a writer.  Of course being recommended by Oprah is tantamount to being assured a Pulitzer Prize and million volume sales.  And if you think you are the next coming of (fill in the blank) as a writer then Amazon has a deal for you.  Where Barnes and Noble dabbled in the new author printing business where you fronted the money, Amazon had the deal for the revival of the vanity press in all its glory.  Submit your manuscript and upon demand your book will be printed for each copy ordered.  Thus you must first get your family and friends to buy your book and give in glowing reviews and five stars.  And if you belong to a writers group, so much the better.  Most of these organizations seem to consist of members selling their services on how to write, workshops, and so forth while providing a pool of “I’ll buy your book if you buy mine” members.

Actually, the most honest reviews are to be found in the three and two star ratings.  Those who write an honest review and rate upon merit rarely get free books.  And if you wish to keep on getting free books then you must continue the five star ratings and inane comments.

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