tue 04/08/2020

The Truth about Amazon, Channel 4 review - buyer beware | reviews, news & interviews

The Truth about Amazon, Channel 4 review - buyer beware

The Truth about Amazon, Channel 4 review - buyer beware

Helen Skelton and Sabrina Grant lift the lid on the retail monolith's dark secrets

Get smart with Helen Skelton and Sabrina Grant

Amazon had already been declared the world’s most valuable public company before COVID-19 struck, but under the current stay-indoors regime, its online retailing and streaming entertainment services have been given an astronomical extra boost. The now-ubiquitous Amazon Prime delivery boxes would probably stretch to the moon and back if laid end to end.

In the USA, surveys have shown Amazon to be more trusted than the government, the police and even Tom Hanks, but is it all too good to be true? In this Supershoppers special (Channel 4), presenters Helen Skelton and Sabrina Grant set out to find the chinks in the mighty Amazon monolith, and did an alarmingly good job.

For a start, they cautioned, beware the popular myth that Amazon is automatically the cheapest place to shop. It trades on convenience and its enormous variety of products (120 million of them, allegedly), but its advertised prices are carefully massaged.

If you get smart and use apps such as Keepa or camelcamelcamel, you can track the wild price fluctuations and see how a sudden price hike then allows Amazon to trumpet a dramatic discount. Shoppers can also hit back by using Amazon’s own price-matching app to challenge high street retailers to undercut them (assuming any high street retailers survive, that is). Additionally, a visit to Amazon sites in Germany or Italy may pay instant lower-price dividends.

But maybe Amazon is growing too vast for its own good, and is becoming unable to rein in its controlling urges. Its creepy “virtual assistant” Alexa is Big Sister-ism writ large, and may be recording and analysing far more of your household conversation than Amazon claims. Again, the sheer scale of the operation means that quality control procedures sometimes fail to weed out sub-standard products (we saw children’s toys that fall to bits, and some apparently counterfeit cosmetics), and the company’s boilerplate assertions that it won’t tolerate Amazon policy violations seem miserably inadequate.

Nobody quite accused Amazon of breaking any laws, but, in the case of the plague of bogus reviews plastering its sites, they must be close to the line. It’s routine for sellers to pay punters to write glowing eulogies, but a more devious “black hat” practice is for rival sellers to post so many fake five-star raves that Amazon’s algorithms get suspicious and shut down the product in question.

It was enough to make you think twice before hitting that oh-so-tempting “Buy Now” button. As Abby, one of the show’s featured customers, put it, “I’ve learned to not just blindly trust Amazon.”

US surveys have shown Amazon to be more trusted than the government, the police and even Tom Hanks

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