Monday, July 18, 2016

Amazon, quality control and brand erosion

Amazon is the everything store for me and so many people, which is why it's such a problem that you can't trust their product listings to match what they say they match, or to distinguish between different editions or even different translations of a book.

It's a total mess. They aggregate the reviews as if it's the same book, so people criticize one translation in a review, and it's interpreted as a critique of a different translation!

And of course that means it's a gamble to order a used book... often Amazon hasn't even told the seller which edition you thought you bought. Then you're faced with the prospect of punishing the seller for something that's the platform's fault.

More broadly, Amazon has had a problem for many years with the fidelity of suppliers' items. You can't review a partner seller Amazon is in bed with, or report that they fraudulently pulled a bait and switch, only return the item at your own time expense. So plenty of these second-party sellers build up a few reviews by selling the real thing, often through the Amazon trusted reviewer program, then shift to knockoffs. Amazon makes it very easy for them to give Amazon extra money for this process, then makes it hard to resist that you're being sold a lower quality item than the one on the website.

I think it's a mistake to let their brand erode like this for nickels and dimes... I stopped buying much on eBay when it became clear that their PayPal fraud guarantee was designed to not pay you back even when eBay and PayPal admit your money was stolen. I'm much more cautious about buying on Amazon these days if there are multiple editions of a book, or there's any hint of fraud in the comments (which is startlingly often).

FWIW, the bookstore Schoenhof's in Cambridge MA is an excellent place to buy, and ask about, books in languages besides English. (I recommend reading Harry Potter in translation--it's a great way to improve at the intermediate level!)

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