Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Should You Be Buying From Amazon ?

In the last 18 months I've probably bought more from Amazon than from any other online retailer, as it's overtaken my previous top site of ebuyer (the house now has 5 PCs built from Ebuyer components plus two 'bought-in' boxes, so my purchases there have diminished). Admittedly a single Ebuyer order might have been for £150-odd compared with my average £30-40 on Amazon, but the family between them have probably spent getting on for £500 this year, including Amazon gift vouchers.

Following the revelations in the Sunday Times about the way Amazon UK treats its staff, I'm wondering if I shouldn't diversify - maybe look to Borders for the books and CDs and elsewhere for the electronics. They're getting too dominant in the marketplace anyway.

An investigation by The Sunday Times at Amazon’s enormous warehouse in Bedfordshire has found that workers were:

– Warned that the company refuses to allow sick leave, even if the worker has a legitimate doctor’s note. Taking a day off sick, even with a note, results in a penalty point. A worker with six points faces dismissal.

– Made to work a compulsory 10½ hour overnight shift at the end of a five-day week. The overnight shift, which runs from Saturday evening to 5am on Sunday, means they have to work every day of the week.

– Set quotas for the number of items to be picked or packed in an hour that even a manager described as “ridiculous”. Those packing heavy Xbox games consoles had to pack 140 an hour to reach their target.

– Set against each other with a bonus scheme that penalises staff if any other member of their group fails to hit the quota.

I'm surprised the sicknote stuff is legal. Anyone out there got good ideas for Amazon-replacements ?

There's another thing. My son is waiting for the delivery of his new Acer netbook, sourced from Amazon. While awaiting I did a quick bit of googling for the delivery company Amazon use, Home Delivery Network.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

HDN tracking system said they had 2 failed deliveries, and had left cards each time. Funny how I was working in my hall the whole time, and never saw or heard a vehicle, no ring or knock at the door and certainly no cards. Amazon apologised and said they would "follow it up". Its difficult to NOT use HDN with Amazon, as they use it by default on many items, and you have no choice unless you upgrade to much more expensive shipping options. The lack of contact details of ANY KIND on their website just confirms their incompetence, as they obviously have far too many complaints to afford staff to man the phones or email relies. Avoid if you can...

In over 10 years of shopping online I have NEVER had to deal with a shower such as this company! I finally gave up on the call centre and phoned my local depot after the website was updated showing I had missed a delivery for the FOURTH time despite me being in all day.

08/03/2007 00:00:00 Customer Parcel Data Received
08/03/2007 19:30:01 Sort Centre - Shaw, Oldham Sorted
08/03/2007 23:42:00 Leeds Depot Received
09/03/2007 06:36:42 Leeds Depot Loaded onto vehicle
09/03/2007 09:40:02 Leeds Depot Unable to Deliver Carded
09/03/2007 13:48:23 Leeds Depot Received
09/03/2007 13:49:09 Leeds Depot Unable to Deliver Carded
12/03/2007 06:31:17 Leeds Depot Loaded onto vehicle
12/03/2007 14:06:28 Leeds Depot Received
12/03/2007 14:08:43 Leeds Depot Unable to Deliver Carded

I rang them and the guy on the other end was very unhelpful. making out like I had missed them and they would be trying again on Monday. Of course he wouldn't listen no matter how much I insisted no attempt was made to deliver the parcel and the same thing is going to happen on Monday.

I had been in all day and had no cards and heard nothing.

Well, you know what's coming. The beastie was recorded as leaving the depot for delivery at 7 this morn. No further update (and my son stayed in all day) until nine tonight, when finally the Amazon 'tracking' page updated.

Apparently the driver was 'unable to deliver' at 8.20 this morning - when I was still in the house and would have heard any delivery vehicle arriving. No one rang, no-one left a card. I get the impression the drivers have too much stuff to deliver and end up inventing 'failed deliveries' for those households they don't get round to. We stayed in till 7 tonight and left a note for the driver when we went out. We were wasting our time. Why wasn't the site updated in real time ? Don't they carry little digital, mobile-linked tablets to record failed deliveries as they happen ? Or do they wait till the driver's returned to the depot (having had plenty of time to think up plausible non-delivery scenarios) ?

There's a fortune to be made for the person who devises a decent delivery/tracking system, although nothing will avail if the company are screwing their drivers with too much work and the drivers are returning the compliment by lying about 'failed deliveries'.

Most of the delivery companies are incompetent to a greater or lesser degree. I must at this point give due to one of the senior guys at Initial Citylink. When my son's birthday present didn't arrive I phoned head office and actually got through to (I think) the sales director. He put me through to a regional manager - with the result that the manager of the depot where my son's gift was ended up putting it in the boot and delivering it personally on his way home ! He didn't look too chuffed about it either ...

Anyway, what think you ? Where can an ethical(ish) consumer turn to as an Amazon-alternative ?


Unknown said...

I've also been reducing my Amazon usage recently. I've tended to replace them with but I couldn't say whether or not they are more "ethical". Just that I had never had a problem with them - unlike Amazon.

Unknown said...

That is seeing as blogger seems determined to mess up the link.

Anonymous said...

I use Play a lot; they are pretty good, and very competitive on price.

Anonymous said...

"the company refuses to allow sick leave".
Heaven forbid that a man should have to work in order to get paid. Is punishing staff sickies less ethical than expecting your customers/taxpayers to pick up the tab?

"a bonus scheme that penalises staff if any other member of their group fails to hit the quota"
I thought your advocacy of religion was all about social control via group dynamics. Have I been reading the wrong blog all these years?

I have been thinking about changing from Amazon because I buy too much damn stuff from them, but you may have changed my mind. I wonder if their HR manager wants a job in public sector.

Anonymous said...

"Is punishing staff sickies less ethical than expecting your customers/taxpayers to pick up the tab?"

When you're ill, do you crave punishment?

The Refuser said...

I have also had some bad experiences with HDN. Comes back to the old adage when you pay peanuts you tend to employ monkeys.

paul ilc said...

I have never had any problems with Amazon, and their customer service has been excellent. However, I make a point of never using any online retailer anywhere near Christmas!

As for the Sunday Times' "revelations", I'm with anon 10:26. Moreover, the article doesn't make it very clear that these conditions apply to casuals, who, as I know only too well, can be a difficult group to manage as they know they can walk at any time.

Martin said...

Anon 10:26

"Is punishing staff sickies less ethical than expecting your customers/taxpayers to pick up the tab?"

Which gospel was that from: Smith, Schumpeter, Friedman or Hayek?

Unknown said...

Martin if you disagree with what I said then say so, and justify yourself. Don't be snarky.

Anonymous 12.11
Of course I don't crave punishment when I am sick. I want a hug and sympathy and looking after just like everyone else. But I don't expect my employer to pay for it. I expect my employer to pay me for my work. When I am sick I want my family to provide the TLC and my savings and my insurance company to pay my bills.

Once upon a time the working class used Friendly Societies to tide them over when they were sick. Now we use other peoples money.

Laban can I recommend that in your next order from Amazon you include a copy of Kipling's Complete Works.

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

from "the Gods of the Copybook Headings"

and you might also try some Boyd & Richerson to explain some of Amazon's other HR practices.

Honestly, you read someone for years thinking they should be the next prime minister and then this! I'll have to seek salvation in another blog

anon 10.26

Laban said...

Dawn (if you're also the anon) - there's a hell of a difference between disapproving (as I do) of people who play the sickie system - and disciplining staff who fall ill.

Everybody gets ill sometimes. Even the self-employed (one of the bonuses of self-employment is that if you're off sick they know you must be ill).

There's also IMHO a difference twixt a megacorp like Amazon and Fred with five staff for whom one malingerer could wreck the firm. I think most employment laws apart from health & safety (some of which could also go) shouldn't apply to companies with less than say a dozen employees. Excessive regulation imposes a disporoportionate cost on small firms (or is a tilting of the field towards the big ones).

As for Kipling, you must have missed my post a year or so back called 'The Gods of the Copybook Headings'. The smooth-tongued wizards are withdrawing even as I type.

Anonymous said...

"I expect my employer to pay me for my work."

So no paid annual leave either?

Unknown said...

Laban - "Taking a day off sick, even with a note, results in a penalty point. A worker with six points faces dismissal." Sounds about right to me. 6 strikes and you're out... possibly.

But I guess if it's not to your taste you don't have to work there, or shop there, just like you don't have to watch Sky TV (but you do have to pay for the BBC) ...but then you know this. I can't understand why you are taking this line. Too much Christmas good will to all men? I am surprised that I should have to limp up to explain it once more.

Anon 11.31
Please don't play semantics. Your annual leave is as much a part of your remuneration as your salary, car parking space and luncheon vouchers.

Martin said...


I wasn't being snarky. Two of my pet beliefs are that while we weren't looking, a wormhole opened up and transported us back in time 200 years (of course, I don't really believe that but it's a relatively good hook for getting your attention), and that economics should be considered a religion. Punishing ill people for being unable to work is a business practice more suited to 1808 than 2008. In 1808 the cognoscenti, steeped in the Brave New World of Tom Paine, Voltaire and 'The Wealth of Nations', spoke of 'surplus population'; we are breezily dismissive of the human wreckage left by the creatively destructive' interplay of politics and business we label the 'underclass'. In 1808, legislators didn't really break much sweat about educating children - later in the century, the great English liberal John Bright rigidly opposed any reform to the laws on child labour because it would give the ones in his factory ideas above their station. In 2008, allegedly modern comprehensive secondary schools churn out tens of thousands of sullen, lumpen teenagers unable to read or write to any degree of proficiency, fit only to work in repetitive and unfilling rote work of the kind which their ancestors might have recognised; of course, that's before some economist comes along and bleats about globalisation and free markets, and their jobs go to Asia because an economist has said so.

Why is economics a religion? It is predicated on the belief - not the fact, mind, but the belief - that all human beings act rationally at all times in their own interests. This makes it a particularly vile and Satanic religion, because that proposition is sufficiently tempting to weak minds to make them think it might be true. It means that the economist, like the Freudian psychologist, becomes detached from God because their beliefs deny the existence of such phenomena as grace and providence. As John Maynard Keynes, who was to classical economics what Arius or Pelagius was to the early Church, put it, the actions of every man alive are dictated by the writings of some long dead economist. You can opt into or out of religious belief - you have no such leeway with economics.

After 200 years of wars, revolutions, philosophy and unspeakable human tragedy, the dogs have returned to their vomit; we are neither a richer nor a beter people for it.

Anonymous said...

"all about social control via group dynamics."

Pseuds Corner gobblydegook will not disguise shabby behaviour on the part of an employer.

Punishing people for things they haven't done wrong is unjust and no amount of academic name-dropping will change that.

"I am surprised that I should have to limp up to explain it once more."

Probably because the points you have made barely attain the level even of incoherence.

"Once upon a time the working class used Friendly Societies to tide them over when they were sick. Now we use other peoples money."

'We'? Pull the other one.

Anonymous said...

Martin, you have it completely the wrong way round if you believe that "the actions of every man alive are dictated by the writings of some long dead economist". If you think it requires the influence of "Smith, Schumpeter, Friedman or Hayek" to believe that an employee will take advantage of his employer's sick policy unless there are sanctions, then you have obviously never worked in local government.


Anonymous said...

anon 9.32

I am sorry if you can’t follow my argument. I promise you any lack of clarity is entirely due to my own shortcomings rather than the rationality of those whose ideas I am trying to advance. If you will allow I will try one more time.
It has been proposed that culture, and specifically religion(from Latin 'religare' meaning 'to bind'), has been evolved to allow large numbers of individuals to act as a unified group: large cooperative groups having an obvious advantage over small family groups when it comes to warfare, agriculture, civilization building, trade, you name it. I hope you can join the dots up from there to “social control…group dynamics” but if not then google “multi level evolution culture”.
And if you still can’t see how groups are adept at controlling the aberrant behaviour of individuals, for the good of the individual as well as the group, then maybe you did not grow up on a tight-knit, gossipy council estate In the 60s.

Anonymous said...

Laban- I am genuinely surprised by the animosity stirred up by my comments. Your Guardianista outreach project is clearly working.
My view, shared by the Amazon HR dept, is that the road to Hell begins with a single sickie. You appear not to agree. Ok, but you can’t denigrate us as unethical because we don’t buy in to your ethics.
Whilst individuals might reasonably hope that members of their community will voluntarily come to their aid, they have no right to demand it unconditionally. False compassion has led many good people down the path to dependency and degeneration. I thought that was your schtick. What else keeps the respectable Working Class respectable?

Martin said...

"False compassion has led many good people down the path to dependency and degeneration."

There will be a movie on this week that I would recommend you watch. It's called 'A Christmas Carol'.

Anonymous said...

Maybe you don’t realize, but there is a Scrooge codicil to Godwin’s law just for Christmas week. To give your flippant comment more attention than it deserves, I think you will find my voluntarist approach is at odds with Scrooges more statist attitude: Poor Laws, prisons and such.
I had no idea that these comment threads were such a refuge for CiF standards of debate. Get stuffed in one line of argument, then, without an acknowledgement of defeat, switch to another.
Anyway, it's been fun. Happy Christmas, and as Tiny Tim would say, “God bless us, every one”

Anonymous said...

If Amazon is such an abominable place to work, then presumably nobody will work for them and they'll have to change their ways.

As for deliveries, round here it's always Citylink (do these companies carve up the country amongst themselves, I wonder?) and in fact they do a pretty good job.

The only time they goofed, I called at the depot in Cambusland and the manager there could not have been more helpful. He called the driver en route somewhere and gave alternative instructions verbally, which were followed to the letter. Impressed. They may be a bunch of rough weegies but they do a good job.

Martin said...


Nice try at invoking Godwin's Law; but I know enough about the nature of blog commentors to know you'll be back to read this.

I suspect that your knowledge of early 19th Century British history is quite weak.

The gold standard piece of social legislation from that era was The Poor Law (Amendment) Act 1834. Full-blooded Benthamite utilitarianism become law, PLAA was passed explicitly in order to make conditions in the nation's poor houses as bad as they could possibly be, to turn them into instruments of fear, to inspire dread amongst those at danger of taking up residence in them. As the atheists might say, it was intended to put the Fear of the Sky Fairy into them, so that they would send their children out to take those 14 hour a day jobs in the factories owned by the Manchester School's leading lights.

It was most certainly not 'statist' in the sense you understand it. To use an adjective from one era to describe the phenomena of another almost always leads to error. Read what I wrote about John Bright in my earlier comment. Scrooge was a brilliant depiction of a particular type of 19th Century man from a man who was well before his time.

As for your invocation of 'Tiny Tim', I don't suppose you were to know that I'm a diminutive cripple, and also a 'Tim' - a Roman Catholic from the west of Scotland. Cheers.