Thursday, January 21, 2010

The New Consumer

I used to have a rule about shopping as much as possible in my hometown on the grounds that it was short-sighted not to support your local businesses even if you had to spend a few $$ more to do it. It is in our best interest to keep our communities vibrant and diverse and prosperous because that environment bleeds down to the rest of us. I felt (and still feel) the same way about buying American cars. Yes, I know they are often assembled in other countries but presumably, more of the dollars those sales generate stay here versus going, say, to Japan.

Then Walmart came and sure enough, a lot of small stores went out of business just as had been predicted. Now there are items you can buy nowhere else in town, at least, not unless you patronize another large chain like Walgreen's or Dollar General. In addition, our Walmart expanded last year so now you can do one-stop shopping there, buying your groceries (more competition for our food stores) at the same time you pick up underwear for the kids and buy the new pair of earrings you've been wanting as well as a video game and a fishing pole and a lamp...all while they change the brakes on your car. Not to mention, do your banking, fill your prescriptions, get your hair styled and take a pizza home for dinner.

I grant you the gargantuan entity that is Walmart creates a lot of (not very good) jobs on the front end but it takes away more (good) jobs at the back end by outsourcing its vendors to low-wage, low-quality countries, like China.

I go to Walmart as seldom as possible but what I do now is even worse as far as having an impact on my town. I do most of my shopping on-line, the bulk of it at Amazon.com. Amazon offers some advantages no other place can match.

1) Amazon makes it amazingly easy to buy. I began as a book customer. Once I'd filled out my information, it was saved and I was able to make purchases through Amazon's "one-click" feature. I see what I want and click one button. Done. I receive an instant message saying my order has been placed and then a confirming e-mail. I usually receive my purchase in one to two days.

2) Amazon rewards loyalty. I bought John an Xbox for Christmas (at a cheaper price than I found anywhere else). I promptly received a $60 rebate which I took advantage of when I bought Lisa's Christmas necklace, and then got another rebate for that.

3) Amazon's customer service is outstanding. I first started using Amazon because my taste in reading material had changed. I didn't want to read mysteries that included recipes or little old lady detectives or mysteries disguised as love stories or any book by an author with "Patterson" in his name. I developed a taste for darker, graphic mysteries, with heroes who weren't quite heroes, many written by authors from Ireland or Scotland or England. These were books not often found at the library or Barnes & Noble.

Furthermore, if I discover an author I like, I can also order his or her old books. By going to the author's Amazon page, I can see every the book the writer has written. And I can buy used copies for cheap through Amazon's affiliate outlets (often less than $5, even with shipping and handling).

The kind of books I like are labeled "Noir" so Amazon suggested I join a Noir discussion group. Through the group have found several new authors I love.

Amazon tracks what I buy and makes recommendations based on what I've previously purchased. And I don't have to take a wild chance because I can go to the review section to get a feel for what a book is about and what others thought of it. Amazon sends me notices when any of "my" authors come out with a new book. I can pre-order it and have it in my hot little hands as soon as the libraries and bookstores.

They have reviews for non-book items too. When I bought my digital camera, I went to the discussion board and said I was a novice who wanted a quality camera that would be easy to operate. They gave me advice and I've been pleased with what I bought. John worried when he found out I'd bought him an Xbox because there are different versions and he was sure, in my ignorance, I'd pick the wrong one. But I didn't just take a swing and hope for the best. I consulted the Amazon people and got the one John would have chosen for himself.

You can get an Amazon credit card or a Kindle or become a Gold Premiere customer. I haven't done any of this so I can't recommend them but presumably, they come with additional perks. I also haven't had occasion to return anything but from what others have told me, Amazon makes it convenient and replacement comes with no questions asked.

So there you go - for all these reasons, I patronize Amazon.com more than any store. I guess I've become a 21st century consumer.

FYI - my current most loved author is Andrew Vachss, author of the Burke series, which are wonderful.