(Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Founded in 1994, Amazon sells everything from couches to baby toys, with 85 million people visiting its site each month. Now, it’s partnering with other companies and taking over key parts of their businesses, like shipping orders and customer service. But Financial Times reporter Barney Jopson says there’s a dark side to that rapid growth, and that Amazon has a number of hidden practices that could hurt small businesses and brick-and-mortar stores. We talk with Jopson, who ran a five-part investigative series on Amazon for the Times. It’s now an eBook called “The Amazon Economy.”

Guests:
Barney Jopson, U.S. retail correspondent for The Financial Times

  • Fred

    I’ve bought items from Amazon that turned out, when they arrived, to be pre-used. Like a flash drive with somebody else’s music files on it. A scale with somebody else’s carpet fibers on it. And so on. Don’t even think about buying clothing on Amazon: You’ll be lucky if the color is the same and it will always be crappy compared to what’s in the online photo.

  • Mark

    COUNTERFEIT PRODUCT!!!

    Amazon is the biggest propagater and profiteer of the counterfeit product primarily being manufactured and distributed by Asian countries, China in particular. Their efforts to help legitimate US companies combat this is minimal at best. This illegal online activity steals millions of $ and jobs from us companies.

    • Rufus

      On the other hand, many of these “counterfeit” products are made in the same factories as the “real” ones. The only difference is company logo, if even that is different.

  • ck

    Amazon in many ways is even worse than Walmart They employ next to no one in the local community. and to add insult to injury, have almost no corporate giving.

    • Beth Grant DeRoos

      Amazon does corporate giving in Seattle where they are based. They also gave millions to help get same sex marriage passed in Washington state.

  • People get confused between Amazon products and Amazon vendors.
    Usually when you get a defective or used product or poor shipping, it is because you have purchased from an Amazon vendor, not Amazon itself.
    When I purchase from Amazon itself, service is awesome and shipping is amazingly quick and dependable.

  • Mark SF

    Best thing about Amazon is the reviews of the products.

  • Amy

    I love Amazon for three reasons:
    Excellent prices
    Always find what I want and need
    Amazon Wish Lists, which allow me to keep track of things I plan to buy, and it helps my whole family when it comes to gift giving.
    With two small children at home, it’s hard to get to the store so I really depend on Amazon.

  • Alex

    I live in Germany and have to admit that I use Amazon to buy many things due to the convenience factor (even without a “Prime” membership things often arrive overnight). I am truly amazed by Amazon’s selection here in Germany – it even seems to rival that of its US branch. Recently Amazon.de added an “English Books” section to its menu and it seems to be that nearly every English book title can now be bought online in Germany through Amazon and delivered overnight. Has Amazon massively invested in Germany and Europe in general in recent years? Any comments regarding Amazon’s business model (e.g. if and how it differs from that of its US branch) would be appreciated.

    Thank you,
    Alex in Freiburg, Germany

  • Amanda

    I use Amazon to find books that are similar to one I have read and liked. I then go to my library for the book. I try not to buy books. The Marin County library is one of the best in the state.

  • Vicky Chang

    With sales tax now being charged in CA, the Amazon incentive to save a nice chunk of change on a $1000. item is greatly lessened now. However, what Amazon does offer me is one place to search for hard to find items like sneaker paint, e.g. With a general google search, the store selling sneaker paint simply won’t be listed in google’s search results because the small store hasn’t managed to tweak its search words. So Amazon provides a location for the small store to appear on my radar. I do want to patronize local businesses, but too often they don’t have things in stock.

  • Bob Fry

    We can whine all we want about the Amazons and Walmarts ruining small businesses, but it has and will continue to happen. In the next couple of decades, as “intelligent” automation and robots displace tens of millions of semi-skilled workers, the unemployment problem will get far worse. We will come to grips with the whole problem (of surplus workers) in our usual way, trying everything else before settling on some solution.

  • Chris

    Death by a million undercuts.The race to offer the cheapest price for a product is further undervaluing the resources that make things.

    When will we consumers accept responsibility for our insatiable consumption of goods, and give the earth some reprieve? I don’t use or like Amazon, but is only partly to blame in this tragedy.

    • Rufus

      And yet, a shirt that costs $0.50 to make still sells for $25.

    • Paul

      However buying from Amazon can provide exactly the opposite consumer benefit. While Walmart or Sears or Home Depot may only stock the cheapest possible plastic version of a consumer product, Amazon gives you a choice to “buy-up” —meaning a higher-quality longer-lasting item can be acquired instead of something that breaks or falls apart a week later. Additionally, many very unique items are offered, that fit the exact need, which are not available at brick & mortar retailers.

  • cwhittle

    I shop online for most everything, because we are a two-career family with young kids and little time. Shopping is something I do at midnight in pajamas if I can. Some things are the same across retailers (toliet paper, toothpaste), but for more unique items I look around online. Those items are more likely to be from “third party sellers” anyway. Amazon has been around for a while, so its got name recognition and a broad product base, but I’ll shop online even for other stores that have brick and mortar locations. There are also many small online businesses as well, and new online shopping marketplaces are coming for those businesses as well (think Etsy, startups like Storenvy).

  • RB

    I am a regular Amazon Prime customer, in addition to being an Amazon shareholder. I love shopping on Amazon.

    Regarding Amazon’s customer service how does Amazon deal with lost gift cards? I faced a frustrating situation this month when I called Amazon back with the number of a lost gift card that I had just purchased. I still had the receipt and had dropped the card in the farmer’s market. I was told by an curt customer service associate that she couldn’t do anything about it and that I had to go back to the retailer who sold it to me. I drove back to the retailer. The retailer, the local Lucky grocery store turned me away saying that they needed the card back to refund the money and could not do anything else. (Interesting, because I had just mentioned that the card was lost). I called Amazon back and this time I fortunately had a courteous service associate who helped me out by offering me a credit for the lost card.

    Amazon needs to have a more efficient system to handle lost or stolen gift cards. Since I had the number of the card on the receipt, there needs to be a system to void or invalidate that stolen or lost card.

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    All my Amazon items come via the USPS and this is efficient for us since we live off the grid, in a rural area of the Sierras between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. I also appreciate that they support social causes like same sex marriage and donating books to schools.

    Their website also shows what they are doing environmentally
    http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=13786321

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