Do you know your UPS driver’s spouse’s name? If so, you might be part of a quiet revolution in the most American of activities: shopping. While many people still insist on traveling to other places to purchase mostly unneeded consumer goods, more than half of all U.S. households have become Amazon Prime members, and move no farther than to their back step to pick up their regretted purchases from a delivery van.
For those of you who have not succumbed to this slothful approach to commerce, let me explain. Amazon is an enormous company that sells things—apparently all the things in the world—online. Their main sales tool is a website that is deviously effective and demonstrates every evidence of being able to read your brain waves. Taping over the camera lens on your screen for privacy won’t help either, in case you’re wondering.
Their latest tactic is to convince people who won’t pay $10 for a local newspaper subscription to cough up $99 per year for Prime membership. This value-added proposal, as you must say when discussing e-commerce, is as simple as it is devastatingly successful: free shipping. There are other benefits, such as free TV content for downloading to occupy the remaining 20 seconds of your day when you’re not on Facebook, but the mind-altering gimmick is “free” two-day shipping. It should be noted that in rural America two days will get it to your local post office or UPS warehouse just after your route driver leaves, so we all know two days equals three days in the country.
Lest you think this is an urban elitist affectation, poll your neighbors about whether they are members. My guess is market penetration in farm country is as high as 30% already. In fact, when I mentioned this retail change on “U.S. Farm Report,” I discovered I was already behind on the e-commerce curve. Apparently, there is a gray market out there for items from used farm electronics to beer coasters that’s financed completely with Amazon gift certificates.
While Amazon has always had the offer of free shipping dangling carrot-like in front of us, it used to only be available on purchases above a certain amount. Buyers learned to accumulate family buying and conduct it in lumps of more than $75. In fact, yelling out to family members, “Anybody else need anything on Amazon?” became eerily similar to hollering “Anybody else need to go?” before flushing during a drought. In both cases, it was a habit embarrassingly hard to break.
After being assimilated into the Prime Collective, you can tap the buy-with-one-click button for the most trivial items, which accurately describes many of my impulse purchases. This might not qualify as addiction, but since we can tell from the sounds a mile away when a substitute driver is in the UPS van, in our case retail abuse can’t be ruled out. Regardless, when you come to your senses while ordering Kleenex online, you know you have a problem. Or not, depending on the price.
Interestingly enough, Amazon doesn’t make much profit, despite being the darling of investors. Their management has shown remarkable patience while waiting for the last citizen to surrender. Once fully integrated into every central nervous system, its malevolent goal will become clear: transporter delivery directly to the couch you live on.
Phones will auto-correct “stores” to “stories.” Parents will bore children with suspect tales of slogging uphill through snowy malls looking for socks and eating butterscotch pretzels. New homes will feature discreet delivery portals into mini-warehouses. Squirrels will literally dodge extinction by evolving the instinct to cross roads after vans hurtle by.
Already this retail revolution has spawned downstream effects. You can read about it in my upcoming book, “Fuel in the Mail: Heating your home with Amazon boxes and woodworking catalogs.” It will be available on Amazon, of course.