This isn’t a placement ad. I promise. No, I’ve just been musing on the genius of Amazon. It’s become the new hypocrisy to have a stab at the company for allegedly destroying local businesses while simultaneously relishing its next day delivery service and limitless merchandise.
While I’ve never been unsympathetic to the decline of local shops, it’s a haphazard equation to correlate internet convenience with the decimation of small enterprises. Indeed, it’s an even braver soul who stands up and makes a case for an outright assault and curtailment on services like Amazon or Netflix.
Whatever the logic, it’s an undisputed pleasure and ease of the age we live that what we want can be delivered to our door. That’s unless you’re living, as I am now, in the Balkans where Amazon’s long arms have yet to touch (incidentally, businesses here ebb and flow, too, with fewer Internet scapegoat to point at).
It’s only when such taken-for-granted expediences like Amazon are removed that you appreciate how much of an integrated lifestyle dependence they are. In many ways, as well, they’re also the sole means of advertising and making available things that otherwise never might have been sampled.
Let me give you an example. Over the last six months, I’ve gotten really into comic books. When living and working in Spain, getting one every few weeks has become something of an ode to relaxation. I get excited by their arrival and, in our family home, they represent something of a reward and much-needed diversion from everyday stresses.
I would never have bothered getting a comic in the first place had it not been for an online convenience like Amazon. They were always so expensive in shops, indeed too much so just to take a punt on. Now, I say again – this isn’t an ad – it’s a thought. Amazon, in Spain, has a variety of English language items that surpass the waiting time for things being sent from Scotland to alleviate homesickness or just to be enjoyed in my native tongue.
The ease with which I can get my comic books, and expand my collection, represents more than a lazy habit, but rather a borderless connection to my mother language. When you live and work abroad, this is perhaps something that takes on a greater significance. When you go further afield, like to Macedonia, the ingenuity of it becomes apparent when it’s not so easily accessible.
This, of course, represents the change in consumer expectations across the board: Netflix, Spotify and Amazon are all symptomatic of shopping practices that now place a higher value on access than on property rights. Amazon, in this respect, will forever need to tap into what products are worthy of stocking when most people prefer to play music to owning albums, watching films to displaying DVDs and reading to shelving books.
I digress. My point is this: to blame outlets like Amazon and Netflix for the collapse or companies like Blockbuster is based on a false supposition about motive. There may indeed be a correlation, but I think it’s less direct and certainly not as malicious as some commentators suggest. Customers prize the ability to see, listen and get things easily; sometimes that means not even owning the former. The tangible has, in many cases, become outmoded by the accessible.
For years I’ve loved comic book stories; I’ve indulged their incarnations on screen and only ever flirted with the source material on Wikipedia. I’d occasionally, nervously browse the comic sections in bookshops but was so out of my depth, I had a constant shuffle like a would-be shoplifter (I wouldn’t know what to steal, anyway).
The mind never really stops, and if you don’t find an outlet, the body takes the hits of stress and takes them badly. Over the last year, I’ve suffered nearly unendurable bouts of body pain due to a herniated disk that has, from time to time, left me unable to walk. Access to services like Amazon cheered me so; I got a ‘pick me up’ straight to my door and continue to enjoy Batman comics as a central component of my need to heal and relax.
In any event, you may be thinking this piece is a meandering talking point. It is. I freely admit I’m condensing my thoughts on two different things but, in my life, they’re linked. When Amazon seems to get increasing derided as the usurper of some kind of standard economic order, I think it’s worth remembering that it’s a service like any other. It’s rooted in a simple truth: it operates because people use it, and understanding who the customer is, what they buy, and their demographic is a much more complicated process than pointing a finger saying ‘that’s why your local shop’ closed.