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Almost everything on Amazon is becoming an ad


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Amazon is the third largest advertising company after Google and Meta. Its ad revenue is $32B (and growing fast, the run rate is $40B). That is half the revenue of AWS, which is worth 70% of Amazon's market cap. The inescapable conclusion is that Amazon's advertising is worth the remaining 30% of Amazon's market cap and Amazon's e-commerce arm is deemed worthless by Wall Street, its only purpose being to support the advertising business, just what Google Search is to Alphabet.

Think on that for a moment. The other inescapable conclusion is that whenever the quality of the shopping experience on Amazon and the needs of Amazon's advertising business clash, advertising will win (just as it has on Google). That's an even more foregone conclusion since Andy Jassy took on the top job, he's from AWS and owes no special allegiance to the historical e-commerce business.


> The other inescapable conclusion is that whenever the quality of the shopping experience on Amazon and the needs of Amazon's advertising business clash, advertising will win (just as it has on Google).

Saying that the e-commerce arm is worthless isn't really the right way to think about it - the ads business only exists to due the e-commerce product. Both Amazon and Google are well aware that their ad revenues depend on their having users, who will ultimately leave if the product (ecommerce and search, respectively) isn't compelling. Both of them know that long-term success requires them to prioritize user experience.

Do they make bad decisions, either due to misaligned incentives internally or due to simply making mistakes? Undoubtedly. But it's also worth considering that they probably get the tradeoff right a lot of the time and most people simply aren't bothered by ads nearly as much as you'd like them to be.


Obviously Amazon's e-commerce division is not worthless, but it often happens that conglomerates are worth less than the sum of their parts. Many activist investors have been calling to split AWS from, but the ad business can't be split from the store that brings it eyeballs.


> less than the sum of their parts

At least with e-commerce and advertising it's clear they're worth more together. Without advertising the profits would be thin, and without e-commerce the advertising couldn't exist.


> it's also worth considering that they probably get the tradeoff right a lot of the time

How did we arrive at this conclusion? No argument or evidence was put forward!

My persobal experience on both Google and Amazon has declined to the point where I now prefer aliexpress - most of the time its the exact same item but cheaper




Hard to know what fmajid means - although mentioning revenue is a serious black flag. Google’s search is a cost-centre and their advertising is a profit-centre. You could say Amazon is similar because in 2021 AWS made all the income and e-commerce made zero income[1].

I would be interested to see an analysis of income per business sector*, including their advertising sector, for Amazon. fmajid would need that information to be able to make the conclusions they drew.

From article: “After selling $31 billion in ads last year, Amazon became the third-largest online ad company in the United States”

Hard to know what this means, since we can’t know how much it “cost” Amazon for those ads (especially the cost of consumer dissatisfaction as the article mentions, and what is opportunity-cost?)

* and ideally assets per sector as well, plus a metric for internal capital reinvestment (VC style).

[1] Amazon unfortunately seems to only report on their segments: North America, International, and AWS.


> Both of them know that long-term success requires them to prioritize user experience.

Of course user experience is prioritized: below advertiser experience.

Prioritization doesn't just mean things are on top, for everything but the top item it means things are below other things.


> Of course user experience is prioritized: below advertiser experience.

I’m not sure how much you’re into the Google ads world, but they have screwed the pooch on that recently as well (e.g., by gimping “exact match” keywords).


Excellent perspective. Organisations are similar to individual human minds in structure, but scaled. They will make mistakes, just like people do, but also correct themselves over the long haul so that they can survive.


Sorry, but can you share some source for that?

Like, on first page I've found in Google ( it says: AWS – ~17B Ads – ~9B Online stores – ~66B

I actually wouldn't be surprised if I'm misunderstanding something and you're right, but can I ask where you got these numbers?

Edit: On second read I realized the source I sent was misleading – the title talks about annual revenue, but hidden in the text there's a note saying that sub-headings actually show quarterly revenue. I'm still not sure about AWS-to-sales ratio, but my apologies for earlier confusion.


Yea no I'm also left scratching my head. I've never heard of a methodology to attribute market cap portions to business units; eager to hear some clarification too.


It is a well-established concept called A company's value is estimated on net present value (npv) of its projected, discounted future cash flows. If a company has a large, stable subsidiary that is growing slowly but is cash flow positive and a very fast growing but money losing subsidiary, it makes more sense to value parent company as if both subsidiaries were separate companies than the average of the two. A famous example was AWS within Amazon before it became noticeable in the bottom and top lines.


This is done all the time when pieces of businesses are bought and sold. It gets a little complex when the businesses are related (like Amazon Advertising and e-commerce, as opposed to Amazon e-commerce and AWS which are more fully independent of each other).


When Amazon had a market cap of $1.7T, $1T of that was from AWS. I don't remember what the source was for the estimate.


For AWS, 3rd quarter revenues alone were $20B, so $80B annual. I don't know where that other source of yours finds $17B, unless they are talking profit.

For the ads business, from The Information, but it's paywalled.

the info is in the second paragraph. The conlusions are entirely mine.

The WaPo article does mention $31B for last year.


It’s an accounting trick. Retail is profitable via ads and more. Retail also pays huge infrastructure sums to aws. It’s all a trick to make amazon stock pump


Not merely accounting.

Cultural as well, it forces the e-commerce coders to take infra cost seriously and alleviates cost center toxicity from infra teams.


This reminds me that as far as wall street is concerned, it is actually an afterthought that airlines operate airplanes, all the money is in the credit cards.


I think it was the CEO of American Airlines, which owned the Sabre computer reservation system at the time, that if he had to choose between keeping the airline or the CRS, he'd go for the latter. In any event. Sabre was spun out in 2000.


Making and selling TVs is similarly an afterthought for TV manufacturers now that smart TVs have been commodified, the money is in the analytics platforms.


Similar to how vizio makes more money spying through their tvs than selling them in the first place.


The same can be said for airlines, which are often worth less in total than their loyalty programs:

Of course, these loyalty programs would be worthless without the airline itself as rewards.


What rationale is behind comparing revenue with market cap? I thought price is rather judged against earnings, eg by looking at the P/E ratio.


Market cap is based on p2e. Profit can be subdivided into different revenue streams for a company


> AWS [...] worth 70% of Amazon's market cap

I am curious, how did you figure out this 70% number? Why not 60%, not 80%?


My process for getting usable results on Amazon (, presumably the others too):

1. Search for thing

2. Filter by department (necessary for 3)

3. Filter by Seller: only Amazon

4: Filter by reviews: 4 stars+

5: Sort by price, Low > High

6: (Further filters as appropriate)

7: Look at only products with a high number of reviews

8: For every product, "See all reviews" and filter on "Verified purchase only" and "Show only reviews for {the product variant you're actually looking at}". Closely scrutinise 1 and 2 star reviews.

But sometimes even this _still_ doesn't get me quite what I want, because when an item is sold both by Amazon and a 3rd-party it can be sorted based on the non-Amazon price.

It does feel just a little like Amazon's goals might not be perfectly aligned with those of the customer.


You can skip steps 2 and 3 by using to search or by appending a certain string to the URL which I forget now. I'm not affiliated with that site (and it DOES use affiliate links) but I've found it useful.


Just tried it, doesn't appear to work. It does redirect me to search results on, but some of the results are items from third party sellers.


I had to buy a replacement USB cable in a pinch the other week. Probably the first time since pre-COVID where I could justify next day delivery (where I would normally be happy to just wait however long it takes from a more local retailer).

I knew exactly the kind to look for but I couldn't just search for that and pick the first item on the list. I could have easily bought the wrong thing in one click and not known it.

Instead I had to spend about 30 minutes tweaking my search query, scrolling through SEO-spam listings ("NEW iPhone 14 Galaxy S21 MacBook Pro Windows 95 SE USB 2.1A cable 6cm!") and other listings which were all just the same listing but with a different no-name logo laser printed on the casing. Was on Google cross-referencing some of them to see if they'd actually be legit, since I'd trust a post in a niche forum over a review on a marketplace.

It took me longer to verify what I was buying than it did to go through checkout. Reminded me why Amazon stopped being my go-to.


Pro Tip: never get chargers or cables from Amazon or eBay or AliExpress. It is better to get the one from official store or if there is absolutely no option get Anker or other reputable brand and even those could be sold as a fake with all the craziness that is going on in Amazon.


If I'm buying USB cables now I pretty much only go with anker unless it's something that doesn't need to be a necessarily good (like a printer usb cable).


Monoprice is excellent as well


For small things like that monoprice has been my go to.


what's wrong with getting the Amazon Basics version of whatever commodity?


Because Amazon Basics is the bottom of the barrel. Their cables do not last. You can buy Anker cables for around the same price. Their batteries are also terrible. It’s not like Costco’s Kirkland signature.


Outside of a couple of specific products, I've found Amazon Basics products to be pretty awful. I avoid them now.


I got a bunch of AmazonBasics cables last Christmas, but this year they don't seem to be available anymore. Don't know what the point of Amazon is in my local economy if they don't have those products anymore, since there's at least some market economics alive here.


My process for getting usable results on Amazon is to simply not use it. For any item you can think of there is an online shop dedicated to the specialty that is:

- cheaper

- easiest to search

- do not sell knockoffs, counterfeits and fake products

I know some people will raise the "you need to create another account for it annoyance" but it is not that annoying when you are using a password manager and the additionnal time spent could even be considered a feature to avoid compulsive buying.


I thought thus was the way to go into I ran into bad shipping schedule and bad return policies, esp the latter. Now I never order anywhere except Amazon. I learn this lesson every time I try to follow your pitch.


It depends. LL Bean for instance has amazing return policies.


Where do you find cheap, good quality printers? I found Amazon pricing to beat my local Microcenter website.


The printer in staples/fedex/local print shop down the road. Unless you print a lot (like business/university department amounts), or have some high levels of paranoia about your documents, you're way better off letting someone else deal with the capital costs of the printers.


I applaud anyone who leaves a non 5 star review, gets contacted by the company with bribes to make it 5 stars, and updates their review to report the company doing that.


I've left negative reviews and they tend to get removed.

I was once even warned by Amazon that my account could be deactivated for violation of the ToS after posting a review that pointed out all of the other fake reviews on a particular product. Apparently the ToS allow fake reviews and disallow shining a light on it.


Yep, same experience here. Everytime I reported, my updated review was deleted.


Amazon Vine is a thing, so of course they encourage fake reviews of free products.


I left a non 5 star review of an inexpensive Pixel 4 case. The case was too close around the flash resulting in the flash reflecting off the case resulting in absolutely awful pictures.

I was offered a refund and replacement of a newer version of the case in return for a better review.

The phone case was simply not fit for purpose as it was and the review fairly (I hope) highlighted this.

I accepted the replacement newer version and agreed to a more flattering review once the improved case was seen to indeed be improved. If the flaw had been fixed then it would be fair to reflect this in my review.

The improved case was no different and my review remained unchanged, except for an update reflecting the bribe.


They don't need to bribe anymore. Negative reviews get removed pretty easily. It's happened to me.

It's the new normal. Airbnb is even worse, they used to (and still might) actually have customer service edit reviews. Your review will get removed with no notice, Amazon will let you know.

If you remove some or most negative reviews but leave positive ones, what do you get.


I have noticed this for negative review on products from big and well known companies. About technical flaws. Like a gaming computer mouse where pressing left and right click together wouldn't work. Until you update the firmware of the mouse (yep... yep you wouldn't think a mouse should be buggy nor firmware updateable).


Apparently Airbnb will delete any review that criticizes a property for something the property owner can't fix. Loud traintracks with trains blasting by at 3am every morning? That's not the property owner's fault, so that's a bad review.

As if reviews exist only to give constructive feedback to property owners, rather than to warn other renters away from a bad experience!


I'm sure people do it, the bribes are probably not very good. Sadly the company can probably get Amazon to take down the review in that case.

Reviews for sellers themselves are a joke too, I was looking at some earlier today, via black friday deals. The number of reviews with a line through them and "Amazon takes responsibility for this fulfillment-related experience" was hilarious, when those reviews were things like "the motor doesn't work". I guess those then aren't included in the "90% positive" statistic.


The seller could argue that it was damaged in transit. The whole thing would probably be luck of the draw in how their first level support in India chooses to apply guidelines.


2. Filter by department (necessary for 3)

3. Filter by Seller: only Amazon

This is harder and harder to do, especially on the app. I’ve started to use walmart instead. They also have this third party seller garbage but at least they make easier to filter out.


I've bought and seen crap with good reviews. On Amazon.

You have a good chance to end with some chinese crap if you rely only on Amazon.

On some product, I prefer finding a specialized seller (that isn't dropshipping). Or find a real blog (tends to be hard with all those fakes websites listing top 100 products, but they nmask hemselves when all products are chinese crap on Amazon). Reddit also work to get advice from peoples.

What's more. I make research on the compagny producing the thing. LinkedIn helps with that. Only commercials on a tech product ? Get out.


eBay is actually legit a good source for quality items. You can see actual seller ratings, how much the seller sells and specific item feedback. The returns / refund process is dead simple and flawless as well. The only issue is that none of the processes are as quick as Amazon. Shipping is slower and if you need to do a return it can take like 3 days to get the label.


> I've bought and seen crap with good reviews. On Amazon.

Have you heard of ?, If not, give it a try, I use it regularly and it does as advertised.


I do similar but actually prefer the product with the lower amount of reviews as IMO a product with 200 reviews is more likely to have real reviews than one with 20k reviews, they just look fake to me.


Fair and balanced. My last several purchases with amazon have been a breeze, and i will continue (especially as local shops are taking full advantage to up their prices for seemingly no good reason except 'there'sa crisis') I regularly kill cookies. Perhaps it's a .com thing as I'll take the healthcare route and search through .nl, .it, .de, for the same item. And then pay from where i have my account.


It’s refreshing to see this in the Washington Post, owned by Bezos. Tiny beacon of hope going out into the darkness.

Search ads on shopping websites are just capitalism taken to the natural end. Hopefully degradation of user experience will curb it somewhat. Our only other option is some sort of new Internet Bill of Rights being passed and I’m not optimistic lobbyists would ever allow it. We need some sort of fund for humanity that hires lobbyists with greater funds. We need voters that vote for candidates that would support the human right to freedom from manipulation from corporations.


> We need voters that vote for candidates that would support the human right to freedom from manipulation from corporations.

Donate $3 to the Presidential Election Fund every year on your US taxes. It costs you nothing, is a single checkbox, and redirects $3 of your taxes into the fund.

Candidates that take money from the fund have additional (mostly good) limits placed on their spending.

It's not perfect, but it's free to do and creates an alternative to lobbyist funding.


> Candidates that take money from the fund have additional (mostly good) limits placed on their spending.

From the "Public funds received 1976-present" on this page[0], usage of these funds has steadily declined, likely because "To be eligible to receive public funds, the presidential nominee of a major party must agree to limit spending to the amount of the grant and may not accept private contributions for the campaign".



Yes. The last campaign that took them was apparently McCain.

But better to be a part of a solution, if the opportunity cost is $0.


I will do this, thank you!


> Hopefully degradation of user experience will curb it somewhat.

Sometimes the ads even betray themselves. Like I, as a rule, hate ads. I block them where I can, and where I can't, I do my best to ignore them. But then you get instances where the ad _is_ what you're actually looking for. Like if you search Amazon for "iPhone", you get official first party iPhone stuff from Apple, but they're sponsored listings. My proclivity to skip ads would make me scroll right past the only quality products on the whole page, into a slew of AliExpress level garbage.


I generally look at aggressive ads as a detractor to the product. Money spent trying to bait me into making the purchase is money not spent on improving the product. I'll always pick the non-sponsored product with the highest (written) reviews. I agree that we'll need to be even more aggressive than advertisers, as their boundaries are pretty much nonexistent.

For example, I'm an avid Sonic fan, but no amount of fan service could get me to sit through the constant advertising woven into the script. I'm going to just skip this franchise entirely. Whatever happened to just slipping a sign in the background?


They have to buy their own keywords so that others aren't first in the listings right? They don't want Samsung to be the first thing you see. Hilarious and sad at the same time.


Yeah, it's one of the things I hate most about the ad ecosystem. The pro-ad argument is "they give the little guy a kick at the can", but that's tremendous bullshit. Try an example: Turn off adblock and search "Lejiled Wallet" (a very small French company which makes nice leather wallets). You'll get ads for much bigger companies (Fossil and Belroy) in the sidebar, and those ads will follow you all around the internet for months.


IMO the only thing that separates this from racketeering is that it's technically legal.


The future is booking ads for other brands so they catch the ire of the customer.


If you walk into a store and say "I need a cat bed," and the store directs you to the most profitable cat bed ... is that a violation of your proposed law? How do you legislate around that? There are a thousand cat beds! They are all the same! The store that doesn't take bribes to hype certain brands goes out of business! And all we have left is Amazon! I mean, I guess that's already happened, so ... what more do they want? Does Amazon have no shame? What if they used their monopoly to sell stuff honestly? Would their whole business collapse?


We don't see what they are not reporting.


Thankfully there are many other news organizations who aren’t owned by Bezos.


Those are noble goals, but have close to zero chance of happening, and they won't address the root of the problem.

> Search ads on shopping websites are just capitalism taken to the natural end.

The issue is not just with search ads or shopping websites, but advertising in general. It's the primary business model of the modern web, and the main revenue stream for most Big Tech corporations. Considering their symbiotic relationship with governments, neither side has much incentive to change the status quo. Some change is slowly happening, but I suspect it will become much worse until it gets better.

We're lucky that ads are still somewhat blockable. Wait until browsers become WebAssembly interpreters, so that this isn't possible anymore, or for XR to become mainstream, allowing adtech to do much more invasive tracking and advertisers to buy a chance to deliver ads straight to your eyeballs. Label me a pessimist, but I don't see how any of this will be unavoidable in the near future, other than by becoming a luddite.


I opened the page and immediately got paywalled... Maybe that's the intention, create such a terrible enemy that the thought piece becomes mute.


I recently had to buy something mundane - a light bulb, with a specific lumen and color temperature spec. Weeding out all the junk listings, ads and clearly fake reviews, I ended up spending an hour trying to get to the one I wanted to buy.

Had a very similar experience for another product as well.

At this point, I hesitate to look up stuff on Amazon just considering the time it takes to find stuff. I much rather prefer a curated list of products so someone else has done the weeding out.

It seems like Amazon’s philosophy of having the widest set of options for every product is actually not that useful in practice, at least for me.

The only reason I still keep going back is that they deliver many products on the same day to the neighborhood I live in.


> a light bulb, with a specific lumen and color temperature spec

Sponsored links are always useless and should only be scrolled past on Amazon.

Typical disappointing Amazon experience:

Search for LED 8W. First result, sponsored link to an 11W bulb. Then a sponsored link to a fake marketing 21 watt bulb with fake lumen marketing. Then a sponsored link to six pack of 14W bulbs. The 4th link returned is a sponsored link to a 8W designer clear glass thing which is at least not off topic.

Not all searches are as toxic as LEDs. If you search for "oil 5w-30" only 10% or so of search results are totally wrong (like 10w-30, or 5w-40)

Another hilarious search term "chocolate almond milk" most of the results are bulk almonds, some milk-product made of bananas, several oat milk results, chocolate almondmilk pudding (OK, close enough, but weird), protein bars made of almonds, some soy shake drink, starbucks frappuccino vanilla, pea-protein fake milk, admittedly at least 1/3 of results are on topic.

I just searched for "4-40 SHCS" (a SHCS is a socket head cap screw, like to fix a car part). About 2/3 of the results are on topic, but then Amazon throws in "D'Moksha Small Short Thanksgiving Holiday Navy Table Runner Or Dresser Scarf (14 x 36 Inch)", what? Some of it is just bizarre. I specified 4-40 size so I get a search result for 5/8-11 machine bolts. OK then.

Its getting hard to buy stuff on Amazon, like they're actively trying not to sell what you ask for.

I do EE type stuff at work and home and I am spoiled by professional sites like Digikey, if you search for a 1K resistor they present you with a parametric search result of 1K resistors, not random assortments of 74HCT logic chips or teddy bears or rolls of solder like Amazon would.


Shopping on Amazon has been painful. Just takes so long when a few years ago it seemed as if I can trust what is sold on Amazon and search is a lot more relevant that I don't have to scroll a few pages to find what I want.

Yet I still buy almost everything on Amazon, and I still go through the pains of navigating around the sponsored products. The checkout, shipping, and returns experience is why I still use Amazon - not sure how long that lasts


Ugh, McMaster, Grainger, Digikey and Mouser are such a treat compared to Amazon.


> I ended up spending an hour trying to get to the one I wanted to buy.

As someone who has been in the same situation I just go to my local Lowes/Home Depot now. The lighting section actually shows you what they look like turned on which is nice.

After doing some competitive price shopping it is rare that amazon's prices are competitive. I guess not having to go to the store is convenient?

> I much rather prefer a curated list of products so someone else has done the weeding out.

With amazon's commingling of inventory this isn't a workable solution.


The dreaded comingling of inventory is just the cherry on top. A curated list is there opposite of Amazon Marketplace. For years I wished that it was easier to just keep all the marketplace offerings hidden permanently since I want to buy from Amazon and not someone I've never heard of. At this point it's all such a blurred mess.


For most products, at least in Europe you can get the same cheap junk of Amazon listings from eBay at 20-40% lower prices, and usually (slightly) higher quality one from brick and mortar stores at the Amazon price.

I avoid Amazon in principle since many years (unless I _really_ need a product there), but that has never been hard, considering that most smaller stores always offered me more convenient prices, less hassle in searching, and the relief of not giving money to such a controversial giant.


This + the eBay sellers in the UK use Royal Mail so goods are delivered by my postman, who already walks past my house every morning anyway


As someone who dislikes eBay and prefer to deal with companies, rather then individuals, the UKs preference for eBay is interesting. Working for an eCommerce site we noticed that customers would prefer to deal with a lady in Scotland over us, for certain types of products. She just posted our product on eBay, added a few £ to the price, ordered them from us, typed in her customers address in the shipping fields.

Worked out for everyone, given that her customers would rather order on eBay and pay a little extra, compared to dealing with us. We got the price we wanted, plus we didn't have to deal with customer service.


It's the same thing in Canada. It's easy to identify the mass produced Chinese products. You search for an item on Amazon and find 30 different "companies" with random names selling the identical product with different logos. The prices will range from $10-30. I know if I go to eBay I can buy the same product for $2 with free shipping from China. I only have to decide if I want the product delivered tomorrow through Amazon or in 1-2 months from China.


I ordered something from Amazon a few weeks ago, and didn't check the shipping time. I turned out that the thing was sent directly from China and took 2 weeks. The tracking that Amazon provides did not even work properly. There is really almost no reason anymore not to order the stuff on Aliexpress for 20% lower prices.


What I do sometimes is search the websites of the manufacturers of the product. Like for SD cards I'll search, for hard drives, for light bulbs maybe, etc.


More is less. Decision fatigue, terrible comparison shopping experience, nearly indistinguishable products. I think about this at the grocery store every time I look at yogurt or toothpaste, by the way.


For household stuff i started using Grainger and large hardware store more often, than amazon. It might be more expensive, buy i endup spending less time on a purchase.



Even when I have to resort to amazon, I usually end up using that info to find non amazon sites to purchase from. Why support a fake goods laundry service?


amazon choice and most popular tend to do a lot of the sifting you want.


Amazon's Choice is bullshit.

> The company applies the “Amazon’s Choice” badge to some products that are unsafe, mislabeled and violate its own policies, a Wall Street Journal investigation has found. The label appeared on dozens of products that were banned, didn’t meet safety standards and featured fake safety certifications. It was also applied to controlled substances, like steroids and marijuana products, the Journal reported.

> In other cases, “Amazon’s Choice” listings were manipulated with specific keywords that would ensure they’d be included in the recommendation engine. The Journal discovered some third-party merchants have developed ways to game the algorithms that help determine which products are featured, by pushing consumers to buy an item, which artificially juiced sales and made it appear more popular.


I’ve seen questionable reviews on Amazon Choice products as well. I vaguely remember reading that the labels are gameable since they are automated.


Is most popular actually legit or does that get gamed as well?


Plenty of complete shit get labeled as "Amazon Choice."

For example, "Amazon Choice" for "high security padlocks" is a poorly made Chinese knockoff that can be raked.


I worked on ad load optimization and founded a company that specializes in ad load optimization, here's an explainer video:

The cynical comments here align with my experience: when leadership demands now revenue, there is an iterative game where the only correct answer is "increase revenue now." If you run enough A/B tests and ask this question enough times over a large enough organization, more ads and 3p always result.

Most companies are trying hard to produce a great user experience. However, it's hard to measure subtle degradations to buyer experiences, especially when those degradations happen after the purchase or quality metrics corrupted by motivated sellers or advertisers. This is one reason obsession with A/B testing drives this poor user experience: it's hard to measure. Revenue now is easy to measure.

Another aspect you may not see as a buyer is that when the market is down, sellers are SCREAMING at their platforms to fix the problem. Same iterated game: give boost (discount, ad credits etc.), less screaming (for that team right now). What you see as bad as a buyer may be trying to appease sellers.


I worked for Amazon on a team that touched this, and I can confirm this is basically true.

For recommended products, Amazon's algorithm prefers widgets that generate more revenue (which sponsored products has a huge advantage with), and thus those products typically get ranked higher.


Amazon is unusable at this point, and I don’t get how they have so many customers. Free and fast shipping is no longer exclusive to them, and there are others out there with far nicer websites and no shitty ad listings.


I only need to buy something online every couple months, maybe once a month at most. I hate shopping so I'll be damned if I will spend 1 more second thinking about the process than I have to. Amazon always has the thing, ships it in 2 days, I can be relatively sure I'm not getting ripped off by more than +/- 25% and that's good enough for me. I've never had any issues with fakes that HN complains about all the time.

I think Amazon lives off the backs of folks like me, or maybe people that shop slightly more than me but not much. If I was the type of person shopping for things everyday I'd imagine I would branch out. But for the vast majority of folks consistency is king.


> I can be relatively sure I'm not getting ripped off by more than +/- 25%

I think this is the only thing keeping them afloat. How are you so sure you’re not getting ripped off? Did you know counterfeits can be sold under the “sold by” branding because of co-mingling?

I used to have the same view as you until I started getting shoddy products consistently from brands that were otherwise high quality if I purchased in store. Then I realized I had no way to tell if what I was purchasing was real, and I started questioning why the lack of toothpaste I bought tasted different than normal and had off-color printing.

I’m just increasingly finding it not worth the worry, especially for things I put I my body.


> Did you know counterfeits can be sold under the “sold by” branding because of co-mingling?

I have also had a bad experience with "Sold by" so I'm not questioning the veracity of what you are saying. But how does this work? How can someone get a counterfeit product under this umbrella?


I mean literally the next sentence after your quote says "I've never had any issues with fakes that HN complains about all the time" so I'm pretty positive they do know about it.


> How are you so sure you’re not getting ripped off?

If you do not _feel_ you've been ripped off, does it matter?


>" I hate shopping so I'll be damned if I will spend 1 more second thinking about the process than I have to. Amazon always has the thing, ships it in 2 days, I can be relatively sure I'm not getting ripped off by more than +/- 25% and that's good enough for me."

My experience before I got rid of Amazon years ago started out similar but then I found that the process of shopping took longer and longer - trying to compare 50+ versions of the same thing, filtering out dubious looking sellers and brands etc. I actually started to feel like the experience was worse than just going to a store and carrying the the thing home. I also started to think the prices weren't really all that great because they became the same or or often slightly more expensive that what I could find in a brick and mortar store. Couple this with a general decline in Amazon's last mile delivery which seemed to be a whole other shit show where the contracting parcel service would mark them as delivered even though they hadn't actually been deliver yet and it just became a really miserable experience. Should you need to contact customer service and speak to someone you can pretty much dispense with another half hour of your time.

>"But for the vast majority of folks consistency is king."

For me there was very little consistency in the Amazon experience. It was hit and miss. From reading this article though it sounds like the thing that is consistent is an increasingly worse experience.


For me it's the fact that they have literally _everything_ on their store.

I'm not going to go out and make 3 different accounts on sites that aren't Amazon, when I could save time and buy anything ranging from auto parts to PC parts to groceries on the same website.

Yes, a lot of it is rebadged Ali junk, but guess what, sometimes that junk actually does the work it's supposed to. If I'm buying a plastic towel hook for the bathroom, I really don't care where it comes from or if it's 50c cheaper on another website.


>I can be relatively sure I'm not getting ripped off by more than +/- 25% and that's good enough for me.

Look at Keepa for historic prices


Yeah, I've been weaning myself off Amazon for a while. Now if I'm shopping for something my general approach is to a) look for neutral reviews (e.g. Wirecutter and Consumer Reports), b) see if I can buy it from whoever makes it, and c) search on to look for reasonable prices from some other vendor.

This is undeniably a little more work that just searching on Amazon and buying the first option. But it's about the same amount of work as using Amazon properly (skipping the sponsored listings, filtering out the dubious non-Amazon sellers, figuring out which reviews are fake, trying to tell whether the nominal maker is a real company versus some weird algorithm cloner or re-reseller, worrying over whether Amazon's inventory-mixing means I'll get a fake, etc).

I still end up buying some things from Amazon, but it's fewer and fewer, and I'm usually happier with the total outcome now.


I started doing the same 1-2 years ago! Felt bad about giving Jeff Bezos so much money.

At first I thought it was gonna be an impossible effort, but since I'd take Google over Amazon any day (although also not super happily), I do a lot of the last mile (finding a good/non-shady offer for a specific product I've already decided to buy through reviews) there. And usually I find it cheaper with equally fast shipping. For stuff I commonly buy, there are really strong competitors (at least in Germany) that I buy from by going directly to their website.

Had to first realise that a lot of the stuff Amazon was at first unique for, is now pretty much a commodity. And their offering certainly hasn't improved in the last years in my eyes.


For sure. Other places have gotten better, and Amazon has gotten worse for me. The way I interpret it is that Amazon started out with a really strong customer focus, but they've shifted more and more toward revenue maximization at my expense.


My shipping has deteriorated massively in the last couple of years. What used to be 2 day shipping as a prime member is now often as much as 10 days. That, plus all the knock-offs and bad product quality, has made me stop using Amazon for much.


anecdotally, it seems really bimodal for me. Either I can get something same day/overnight, or it'll take a week or more


They've built out small, local distribution centers that stock the more commonly ordered items. When you're in an area with one and pick the right item, it comes same or next day.


Main reason I still use them is 100% hassle free return policy. I don’t stress about buying something crappy, as I know I can return it, in very convenient ways.


Similarly, if the parcel service marks it as "attempted delivery not home" (even though I or someone else was home all day) and drops it of at a pickup on the other side of town (even though they have a branch around the corner) I can just order it again and count on amazon to refund the first order (and perhaps demand the delivery service be less shit). For a smaller seller a) I probably need to contact them to get a refund at all, b) more than likely they want me to eat the delivery fee for sending it again and c) even if they cover it they don't have any leverage with the delivery service to be less shit.


For some reason that changed for me lately and they no longer do free UPS pickup for returns. I have to go mail them myself, which tips the balance of the return convenience scale for me.


I rarely have to return things, but when I do have to return something purchased on Amazon it's basically: couple of clicks, get a QR in email, walk into the local UPS store with the item and hand it over, quick scan of the QR and done. Yeah it would be nice if they just sent someone to the house to get the item, but it doesn't surprise me that the economics of that don't work out.


I have Whole Foods, UPS drop off points, Amazon locker and Kohls all on the routes I frequent. And TBH, I prefer those over UPS pickup as making sure I’m home and running to the door when they arrive is not convenient for me. YMMV.


Will their return policy rebuild your house when a faulty power adapter burns it down?


And that’s relevant how?

I don’t buy unknown Chinese brands for stuff like that. And that’s getting harder. But that’s a separate issue.


I heard that if you return too many items, they threaten to prevent future purchases. Has anyone hit this? What is the return/purchase ratio?


I suspect it's more about value of returned items than the quantity. I have returned ~half of the items I purchased in the last year


tbh, just used Newegg this week...

2 day shipping costs more, they didn't even get it here in 2 days, they split my order into 8 orders, each tracked and emailed separately. I've been boycotting Amazon almost 5 years, but their competition really sucks to the point I'm thinking of going back. At least I've been able to avoid a lot of frivolous purchases for a while...


NewEgg rather infamously scammed Linus Tech tips and thousands of stories of them doing similar came out (myself included). I don't know why anyone buys from them. They will commit outright fraud and steal money from you.

Amazon at least maintains the fig leaf of plausible deniability and part of that is no questions asked returns.


Likewise. I ordered 2 sets of batteries for our cordless landline phone from NewEgg. They sent me one set. I emailed customer service and they charged me for 2 more sets and sent nothing. Never doing business with them again.


Newegg has cloned the Amazon strategy. They also do marketplace stuff. It’s really just another example of the same thing.


I look down on Newegg more for its marketplace strategy because it distracted from a niche it served well. By the time Amazon was doing its marketplace, it was already selling everything, so I didn't notice.


Try B&H next time. AFAIK they still ship everything themselves and don’t have marketplace sellers like Newegg or Amazon.


I've always been impressed with B&H since they had customer support actively monitoring in days of old.


And they have the Payboo credit card that gives you back the sales tax.That's significant especially for higher priced items like laptops or cameras,


Not like I always get two day shipping anyways. They now shuffle things between warehouses so they can say it shipped in two days (from the closest warehouse) but the effective shipping time can be longer.


Are you sure? I tried at least 4 other online shopping recently, the experience is horrible compared to amazon. There are bunch issues about return that eventually easily cost me more than what prime cost me for one year.


Are you sure? I tried at least 7 other online shops recently, the experience is amazing compared to amazon.

Returns are as easy as scanning a barcode at the post office. Product reviews are meaningful and don't have bi-modal distributions. Spam and knocks offs are non-existing.

The only downside is that I pay slightly more for shipping but arguably I am biased to believe that logistics couriers should have a living wage.


Amazon is the worst of the places I've tried. They were even terrible when I had to return an item that arrived broken. I ended up without the item and without a refund.

I can't think of a single reason to recommend Amazon to anybody.


Yes, the proliferation of stuff being sold by six letter Chinese sellers is incredible. It’s basically Ali Express but with faster shipping.


As I mentioned above, Amazon now also lists products that are shipped directly from China and take weeks. They have the tracking info from Yanwen shipping on the site, so this must be officially supported.


Why is that a problem if the items work for their intended purpose?


They often don't, like the extension cord I bought that flips my breaker when I plug it in. I don't want garbage products that were sourced from the dumpster next to a Chinese factory after they make a defective batch.


Poor quality and potentially unsafe.


> Amazon is unusable at this point, and I don’t get how they have so many customers. Free and fast shipping is no longer exclusive to them, and there are others out there with far nicer websites and no shitty ad listings.

I only started using them in 2017 and I still do use them sparingly. But typically only for stuff I buy directly from the brand's store on Amazon.

There are a few brands I still trust. They may all be going downhill at some point and the "official store" may actually be some front for cheap copies that stole the brand name, I don't know... But so far it looks okay to me.

Anker, Osram, Makita, S.T. Dupont (for refills), etc.

Last thing I bought from Amazon from some random brand was a box of 200 firelighters, supposedly ecological. I don't know if the brand is "true" or not, I don't know if they're actually ecological or not (they look like but it may all be a scam) but... They were cheap and they do actually help greatly lighting the fireplace.

So far Anker stuff looks like it's actually Anker stuff. Makita tools do look and feels like Makita tools, etc.

That's why I keep using them.

Now I do find the experience painful and I'm 100% sure that all these identical products but branded different when I search on Amazon for, say, 316L stainless steel are stuff that are going to rust in six months.

So I'd say that people using it because even if Amazon broken, it's still convenient to find all your usual brands in one place.


> I only started using them in 2017 and I still do use them sparingly. But typically only for stuff I buy directly from the brand's store on Amazon.

Does this work? My spouse recently purchased some 3M N-95 masks directly from 3M’s Amazon store. They’re supposed to arrive in a box that has a code on it which you can enter into 3M’s website to verify it’s real and not a counterfeit. Instead they arrived in a clear plastic bag with no printing on it. There’s no code so I can only assume they’re either fakes or were pull from a larger box (which means potentially handled inappropriately). Given my spouse’s immune condition, that’s not a chance we really want to take so we’re going to throw them out.


If you have the time/effort (which I appreciate you may well not -- there's a limit to how much it feels worth trying to tilt against megacorp windmills) it would be better to return them to Amazon, because otherwise it looks to Amazon like a successful purchase. Amazon do at least make returns less hassle than some other e-commerce places I've used.


I manufacture and sell one unique product. I started with direct sales, doing okay, but it was clear that Amazon is where the real action is, so I tried to sell there. Getting the listing up was a slow and painful experience due to horrible seller service (this is typical). Finally it's listed. Around 15% of revenue is fees. That's with me doing my own fulfillment! Hardly any sales at first, so I had no choice but to advertise. It looks like another 15% of revenue will end up going to amazon ads. Amazon will probably end up making more money than me, just for being the middle man. That's if I'm lucky, because sales are still just a trickle, and I'll probably have to up my ad spend to get any real traction. It seems like the system is designed to put comparable products competing against each other and the one that rises to the top is he one that Amazon can squeeze the most blood out of, unrelated to what the user might benefit from. It's if you're curious.


Amazon will promote sellers who use their fulfilment service over those who DIY.


How is that not a violation of antitrust laws?


They've been fined for it in Italy. But yes, the law struggles to catch up with Big Tech's brazen violations of antitrust. The reason why is because you'd be surprised how short-staffed antitrust departments are worldwide, even in the US and EU. Big Tech, on the other hand, can afford armies of lawyers to stall, deflect and obfuscate, and when the fines eventually come due, just pay as a cost of doing business.


What law do you think this specifically violates?


Laws are just words unless they are enforced.


Frankly, you're probably better off learning some SEO, writing some articles in your niche, and waiting for a while (6-12 months) for your website to show up in Google results for as many keywords as you can.

Use a tool like Ahrefs (you can get 7 days free iirc, or just use it for a month and then cancel) to find keywords people search for in your niche and start writing. When you're selling stuff on the internet, keyword data is illuminating!

Use keyword data to think about why people want a Geiger counter (I see you have a survey!) and the kinds of problems they have, then show them how yours fixes their problem.


Watching my parents get duped by Amazon results is maddening. They’re used to being able to trust a retailer or at least some consequences for scams and poor quality. People less scam-savvy than myself get understandably confused by “Amazon recommend” or a slightly lower price. But the minute I search for something on Amazon a dread comes over me of “here we go”. My danger center kicks in and I have to keep your wits about me. It’s a symptom of our (American at least) obsession with getting “the best deal” no matter what and it’s just awful.


I visited my family the other month and my mother was searching for a product. I told her it's likely available on Amazon and opened the website. When I started scrolling she started commenting on the prices and how she can buy some of the products for 10x less in the store. I then explained to her that unlike a store, Amazon prices are mostly meaningless, and the site will have the identical product selling at 10 different price points.

People don't have to worry about that problem when they walk into a Walmart. They know the pricing has been carefully reviewed before the product touches the shelves. They know they're not going to see two identical products at Walmart with different stamped logos selling for $5 and $30. There's a level of trust you can buy any item and it's a fair value.


Over the last few years Amazon has been overwhelmed by Chinese goods and over time the search results has become similar to aliexpress. I would have never heard the manufacturer’s name and will never remember them either. All of them have close to 5 star rating and there is no way to even judge if they are any good. You buy if you accept that. Feels like it’s time for this to be disrupted.


When it came to shopping I used to blindly trust Amazon. Wouldn’t even check prices anywhere else.

Now, it’s always the choice of last resort. I really don’t like it when I have to shop on Amazon.

It feels like a combination of AliExpress and eBay. Delivery times are getting worse by the day too.


I used to trust them a whole lot more, too. But of late it seems Amazon is leaning toward a cesspool of price gouging, and I've noticed a lot more of the presented results are "Sponsored".

Along with that, I stream movies on my TV, running clients, usually Netflix or Prime Video, on my xbox. Increasingly the Amazon prime video client wants to present me with options to "Rent or Buy" instead of free offerings (I am a Prime subscriber after all, and seek to take advantage of the free streaming offerings), sometimes a page of results will contain nothing but pay-to-play offers.


The iPad or browser version offer a "free to me" option. Unfortunately they also count their ad-infested service as "free to me".

In my experience Amazon has the best streaming service now. There's nothing on Netflix I want to see and I'd have cancelled the service a long time ago if it were not for my wife and 10 year old daughter.


Came to say this. Some locations must still have it good, but where I live in the US, delivery dates are 7 to 8 days. Almost every retailer is way faster than Amazon.


Aliexpress products aren't bad. And although they're very cheap at the source, I'm willing to pay a gigantic markup to get it in 2 days with free refunds rather than 2 months.


I've had recourse to AliExpress customer service in cases where what was sent didn't match the product description or was lost in transit. It was also slow because they have this weirdly procedural arbitration process that feels like the judiciary, but they reimbursed me.


At least to Europe shipping times from Aliexpress continue to get better, I often get stuff after a week now, mostly within 3.


I buy my electronics from B&H Photo, or cut out the Amazon middleman and get the Chinese stuff from AliExpress if it's not time-critical. AliExpress customer service is also slow, but fair in my experience.


And 8 other identical looking products listed under a different manufacturer.


The article speaks of a tipping point and has aided in pulling it forward.

Unlimited greed is what eventually sinks a company. We saw it with AltaVista in the '90's (when the search results were all ads) and Google is slowly repeating this opening a space for a competitor to jump into.


> Unlimited greed is what eventually sinks a company. We saw it with AltaVista in the '90's (when the search results were all ads) and Google is slowly repeating this opening a space for a competitor to jump into.

I'm not sure this is a helpful characterization. Greed is also what helped the same companies get where they were before they went to shit.

The problem is that you can only grow so far in a market before the only way to keep the appearance of growth is to make your product worse, either by producing it cheaper (like Toblerone) or by monetizing it harder (e.g. ads in paid video subscriptions).


There are always people working in these companies that are trying to get a good product to a customer. These are slowly replaced or overruled by A/B testers who want to maximize profit. I think that process shifts the company from actually doing a service, to greed.


I dont think this is the whole picture. It is generally true that selling products and making a profit is the goal for both.

Optimizing the best result for each query can result in a terrible result for the minority of shoppers for that query. More importantly, it can lead to a terrible result for the majority of shoppers across many queries.

The problem is other considerations that A/B testing metrics often leave out (Satisfaction in the long term, in searches that dont lead to sale, and across multiple changes)

That is to say, on average most shoppers might want cheap shit for a given search. but sometimes, they might want a different/better product and get frustrated.

If you over optimize for the typical use case, you might still lose the typically user because they not typical in every way and every day.


And the problem is that the the snake has now reached its tail.

Maybe there are specific conditions, like it might help laundering or help deter competitors from entering their website, whatever that this scheme has a net positive gain for them, but this is insanity.


I would describe it as the company has changed its priority from customer acquisition to customer monetization. When the company starts tuning by touching only its monetization knob, it slowly starts descending into death spiral. Depending on the competition it can take weeks or decades.


There's been a shift in our culture over the past century or so (though mainly, I think, since the 1980s) in how we look at the purpose of a company.

It used to be that a fairly normal, mainstream company's purpose and goals were along the lines of "We make a product or provide a service, and doing that well enough/better than our competition makes us decent money."

Nowadays, it seems to be almost expected that the way a company operates is closer to "We are here to make as much money as we possibly can. If that means we have to make a product or provide a service, OK, but that's a necessary evil to the process of making absolutely ungodly amounts of money."

Google didn't get where it was before it went to shit because of greed. They got there because of genuine technical prowess, and a willingness to sacrifice possible revenue to provide an improved experience, with things like the bare-bones main Google page (as compared to things like Yahoo!, Altavista, and Infoseek when Google first appeared, which were laden down with all kinds of crap).

When greed took over, they shifted from the former mindset to the latter, and that's when things really started to go downhill.


Well, the difference would be "we find a niche and make a bank on it by being best at it" vs "we make a ton of money on the niche, how we can make even more?". I.e. being happy that you "made it" and continue to make the as good product vs trying to squeeze everything out of it to deliver investor returns.

Theoretically being too greedy like that should open niche for competition with better product that's less exploitative but that is really hard if the near-monopolist on market is big enough or the product is hard enough.


Sure, greed is good. But unlimited greed will eventually drive away customers as Amazon is illustrating very conveniently (and AltaVista before it).

Google too needs to be vigilant that it's decreasing utility isn't driving away users to a competitor.


No innovation got them where they were


Greed = Capitalism


My spending on Amazon has diminished significantly due to the flood of Chinese copycat brands and products on there.

Wish there was a way to filter out products by their country of origin. Is there any alternative out there?


Amazon has actually been requiring vendors to supply this info for a few years now. They have it in their database, but refuse to expose it. The Indian government forced them to, mostly because they are in a cold war with China and want to wean themselves off from Chinese goods.