Am I the only one who has been getting more and more frustrated with the inability to tell what Amazon itself sells (and conversely, what one of their partners sells) until you’re way too far into your search? Over the past two or three weeks, I’ve spent quite a bit of time on Amazon, and I have yet to find a way to perform a search for something (say, iPod accessories) and see, in the resulting list, which products will actually be sold and shipped by Amazon. For example, follow this link to the CD player category and tell me how you know which products are being sold by Amazon — you can’t, at least without clicking on each and every one of them and hunting for the “Availability” section.

To me, the difference between buying stuff from Amazon and from one of their partners is pretty big. For one, my Amazon Prime membership only entitles me to free two-day shipping on products sold and shipped by Amazon itself, so by enticing me into a Prime membership, Amazon has given me a tangible interest in preferring them over their partners. In addition, Amazon’s own listings have reasonably reliable in-stock information, and if I have any problems, I’d be dealing directly with Amazon for the replacement or return. Contrast that with my experience with a few of Amazon’s partners over the past year, partners who couldn’t care less about my Prime membership, who have generally unreliable in-stock information, and who make it variably difficult to contact them when there’s a problem with my order.

In the end, I’ve found myself visiting other online retailers a bit more this year than I did last year; the free shipping promotions most ecommerce stores are offering during the holiday season take some of the value out of my Amazon Prime membership, and the difficulty of figuring out who’ll be fulfilling my order takes a bit more value out of a visit to Amazon. Maybe they’ll figure this out over the next year, and Christmas 2006 will be a different story.


This is probably because Amazon does not want to necessarily be the Wal-Mart of the web, which would require billions of dollars of investment in fulfillment systems, warehouses, inventory management, trucks and a lot of other overhead.

They would rather just be the virtual storefront for everyone else on the web, which has a much lower overhead cost for them — and they still get to take their percentage of each transaction, a pretty attractive revenue source with low overhead.

A smart and rich friend once told me, “if you want to make money in this world, figure out a way to be the person or company that holds the position between the points where money exchanges hands.”

Banks have figured this out. Companies like Ticketmaster have figured it out. It appears that so has Amazon.

• Posted by: Cameron Barrett on Dec 19, 2005, 12:17 AM

What irritates me is that I can’t find out if they’re shipping UPS or not with the “partners” until it’s too late and they’ve already put the package into the mail.

I loathe UPS and every time I get a package shipped by them, I have to cut work and spend the entire day trapped in the house waiting for UPS to come. I do my damndest to NOT order from companies that ship UPS. And with Amazon, I can’t find out. It’s so irritating.

• Posted by: Jennifer on Dec 19, 2005, 2:03 PM

A more basic flaw than all of the above: try to find the freakin account log-out button! lol

Amazon is a usability nightmare. Surely they’ve made enough money by now to give their web presence a new facelift, as in, hire some IA and some real developers??

• Posted by: Jim Amos on Dec 24, 2005, 8:39 PM

I agree. The main frustration I have with Aamazon Prime is the inability to determine what will ship free and what won’t.

• Posted by: Peter McGovern on Jan 4, 2006, 4:55 PM
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