Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Everything on Amazon is Amazon

John Herrman, New York Times:

In the nearly 10 years since AmazonBasics arrived, the company has manifested an alternative brand reality, one both far more comprehensive and yet less conspicuous than those of its brick-and-mortar predecessors. (A family could mostly sustain itself on Kirkland products, but it would be abundantly aware it was living in Costco’s world.) This effort is broadly understood to have been a success, generating up to $7.5 billion this year and potentially $25 billion by 2022, according to analysis by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey.

Amazon-affiliated brands are promoted in search results on the site and inflated by reviews from Amazon’s Vine program, in which users receive items in exchange for their feedback. And, compared to better known competitors, they tend to be priced aggressively. In creating its own brands Amazon is indeed like any other large store. But Amazon isn’t any other large store. It’s Amazon: the world-historical logistical experiment that happens to call itself a store. It has unlimited shelf space and a boss with an eye on global domination. It tends to try a lot of things at once.

I’ve noticed that when I’m looking for something very specific — a refill pack of the exact heads my Oral B toothbrush requires, or a copy of the Gun Club’s “Mother Juno” LP — Amazon is a great place to comparison shop. Ideally, it’s less expensive and I don’t need the item, like, now; often, it’s about the same price as any store here and I do need the item, like, now.

But if I’m browsing more generally than that — if I’m looking for some kind of LED lightbulb, or a new sweater — Amazon is impossible. There’s lots of apparent choice, but it’s repetitive, overwhelming, and often from a brand I’ve never heard of at a suspiciously low price. It’s not long before I feel like I’m browsing the bin behind a factory that exclusively makes counterfeits. And there’s no indication that we want this much choice. It would be like if Apple Music advertised itself as having over a hundred million songs, but didn’t mention that eighty million of them are drunken karaoke performances of “Mambo No. 5”. It feels like a scam.