Monday, August 27, 2007

Ah-ha! Not So Fast, Amazon.com!

I decided to order a new release from a really obscure artist, and naturally I figured the most likely place to have it would be Amazon.com. If it were a heavy metal CD, I'd probably try The End Records' Omega Online Store first because I prefer their prices and service, but they would highly likely not have this album. I found it on Amazon for a decent price, so I added it to my cart and proceded to check out.

Now, bear in mind I haven't actually used Amazon.com to buy anything for years because I'd discovered that they're not the only, and by far not the best, place to buy anything online anymore. Mostly what I've used Amazon for over the past several years has been research, which leads to a baffling assortment of recommended items as most of the stuff I look at on the website is stuff that would never actually interest me. Sometimes I just need to view a tracklisting, figure out who sings a song I hate, or get a sample of an artist someone recommended. Therefore my recommendations range between death metal and country so anyone who might happen across my recommendations would probably think I'm musically illiterate or functionally retarded.

Not having used Amazon for years, though, I was surprised to see that not only did I somehow remember which email address and password I'd last logged on with, but also what they've decided was a fair and accurate shipping charge now. One CD, standard shipping, is $2.98. Two-day shipping is $6.98. Overnight is a whopping $11.98. Bear in mind that this is someone who is used to having his items shipped for free from another online merchant, and that is including multiple items.

It's pretty much pointless to say that I was reluctant. I'd decided that if I was going to pay upwards of $18 anyway to get it in a week, I'd rather at least see if I could get it from one of the local music specialty stores in the area first. No luck, as I suspected, so I'd have to get it online and wait for a week. I shopped around for other online vendors and found that Tower Records was offering the same album cheaper and they charged as much for expedited, two-day shipping as Amazon was charging for standard three- to five-day shipping. Then Amazon informed me that they raised the price of the album, without shipping a dollar while it was in my cart, (probably because it was in my cart), and that was the final straw. I ordered the CD with two-day shipping from Tower for fifty cents more than Amazon was charging for just the CD. Fuck Amazon.com.

Amazon figures their shipping in a bizarre way that is different from pretty much any other online retailer I've come across in that it has almost no basis in reality. They charge a flat-rate, and then tack on another charge for each item in the package. Normally, the flat-rate is supposed to cover the first item in the shipment, and I can accept a slight increase for each additional item because more items means a larger package and heavier weight. However, in Amazon's eyes, it's a flat rate just for the priviledge of using them to buy your item, and they charge you extra to ship even the first item. The prices I listed above is just for CDs, too. If you want to buy books, a video game, or a toy, it gets even more outrageous. One small toy would cost nearly five dollars to ship, even if it weighed no more than your average CD. One time, I ordered two Transformers Alternators from Wal-Mart's website, and both of them together cost me no more than three dollars to ship, via UPS. They would have cost me nearly seven to ship from Amazon.

Of course, me being naturally suspicious, I can't help but wonder if all these other online retailers charge so much less for shipping, what is Amazon doing with the extra money they're charging? If they knock off three dollars from the cover price of a CD and then charge you three dollars for shipping before they even charge you for shipping the actual item, is it really a discount? Of course, there's Amazon Prime with their free Super Save Shipping, but I'd have to buy another CD to get that and I didn't really want anything else at the moment. After shopping around a little, I realized: Why am I going to spend fifteen more dollars to save three? I have a real aversion to paying fees I deem are unnecessary. I don't pay to get my money out of ATMs that charge me a two dollar fee unless absolutely necessary, and I would rather not pay an extra several dollars to ship a CD. Tower Records offered two-day shipping for the same amount as Amazon was charging for standard, so they got my business.

That's really the problem, though. You might read this and suggest that if I don't like what they're charging, that I go someplace else, which is exactly what I did. Why am I bitching? That's exactly the point. Amazon.com is by far not the only online retailer anymore, and if they're going to charge questionable shipping rates, then people are going to go elsewhere. Like I said, I haven't used Amazon for years because I've found other stores I prefer over it with the same selection, often better prices, and much more sensible shipping charges, (although I do wonder how The Omega stays in business, but I'm not going to argue with free shipping), and it looks as though I'm going to continue not using Amazon for years to come.

If only there was a way to leave a user feedback rating on the website itself.

np: Simple Minds - "Book Of Brilliant Things"

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