During lockdown, I’ve been doing my very best to support local businesses and shop locally. However, sometimes the thing you want is simply too specialist to be carried by any emporium within a reasonable distance so inevitably I’ve fired up the browser and hopped on over to see what’s available at world’s largest online retailer, Amazon.
And it hasn’t always been a great experience. Too much of the market seems to be given over to sellers with company names full of consonants selling identikit products at similar prices. And there’s no way that the reviews are authentic: some of the products have hundreds of reviews but I very much doubt that they’ve sold that many items.
Take these ring LEDs…there are fifty three pages of sponsored products alone – that’s 367 items. Yes, there are variations based on ring size, accessories and so on but it’s obvious that many of the products are the same unit.
Some product categories are worse than others, but I’m quite sure everyone has seen this problem, whether with electronics, cookware or home furnishings. You can understand why companies are so keen on getting good reviews to bump their rankings to the first few pages.
In contrast, traditional bricks’n’mortar stores have a much more limited product range selected by the owners or a buying team who decide the best fit for the people coming into the shop. In this example, you could imagine a selection based on ring size but you’re probably choosing from three or four products at most. Not 367.
Brands are very relevant in these crowded markets too. I can’t be bothered to root through every single example and often rely on a brand name to help make the selection. Over the years, I’ve gathered my own selection of favourite go-to brands for preferred products and I’ll choose those over no-name clones every time.
Amazon does label goods as “Amazon’s Choice” as if this is the best product, whatever best might might be. My understanding is that these are only curated by algorithm and there’s no one behind the scenes checking, reviewing or testing.
There are consumer organisations like the UK’s Which? which provides advice and guidance on products in different categories. It’s a subscription service at just under GB£10 per month but perhaps worth considering if you are buying big ticket items. As an independent organisation it’s trusted and respected.
A tempting solution would be for Amazon to provide a similar service to Which? for its Prime members where real people test a range of products in a category and recommend the best. But would anyone trust Amazon’s recommendations? I’m not sure I would given some of the recent revelations about Amazon Basics.
There’s no doubt that Amazon has profited during the pandemic, but I’m seriously beginning to wonder if Amazon is allowing too many vendors with too many similar products. I know that I’m increasingly looking to other stores and branded products rather than going straight to Amazon. This week I’ve one delivery from Amazon but two from other online stores.
What about you?