Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Ousting the 600 Pound Gorilla

I am no longer going to have affiliate links with Amazon.

There are three reasons:

1) Amazon has proven over the years that it treats its employees terribly;
2) I have had awful experiences there recently; and
3) Amazon's approach to the knife and gear business is antithetical to what I want to support with this site.

This will not be easy.  Expect a reduction in the number of reviews and review samples (many are purchased through Amazon with their affiliate checks).  Amazon's affiliate commissions are sometimes the highest of the affiliates for this site in a month, despite the fact that I rarely link to them.  This is because they have a ton of stuff and they give the biggest percentage to affiliates.  But this site is not about making money.  It is about being a voice for the consumer.  With that mission I can't support Amazon.  So...well...screw them.  I am done with their stupid shit.

Let me go into more detail about why I have made this decision.  It has been a long time coming.  When I did the analysis of Optics Planet, I had a twinge of guilt because I had an Amazon affiliate.  They are the Wild West of the Internet--anyone with anything can get a listing and sell stuff.  Hucksters and hoaxes abound, from the $50 "damascus" knives to fly-by-night operations.  The accountability is basically zero.  But I reasoned that everyone else had an Amazon affiliate so it was okay.

But its not.  Crowd morality is simply insufficient a justification for me.  Others do it and that's fine, that's their personal decision.  I am not going to tell them they are wrong, but I am not comfortable supporting Amazon anymore.  I wish I had the means to excise their malevolent bullshit from my entire life, but they have literally unbeatable deals on baby products and at the rate we go through diapers, it is a financial necessity.  But here, on the blog, in this slice of my life, I have had it.


You cannot treat people the way they treat their employees.  You simply can't and expect there to be no ramifications.  It is true that we live in a free society and have essentially a free market, but while you can make deals anyway you want, eventually you'll piss off too many people.   The stunt in Pennsylvania, where they opened a distribution center without AC and instead paid paramedics to be in the parking lot was something out of Upton Sinclair's Jungle, not 21st century America.  It was cruel, inhumane, and revolting.  People treat their pets better than Amazon treats its employees.

But that was not the end of it.  This Sunday, the New York Times, in a rare display of actual journalism (not for them, they always do a good job, just for the media as a whole), did a take down of Amazon's corporate culture.  The people-as-widgets experiments of the turn of the last century, with things like social Darwinism (for all its misappropriation of Darwin's ideas) and work analysis, has returned, this time with the muted bloodletting of anonymous performance reviews and forcing people to work just after a miscarriage.  Amazon sounds like what happens when kids from the Stanford Prison Study go to business school.   Meet your boss--a conniving, passive aggressive, psychopath that thinks he is as smart as House so he can get away with being an asshole.  Well, Amazon, your folks aren't that smart and even if they were, there are more important things in life than being the smartest person in the room.

Strike 1.

Corporate abuses of employees, as sad as they are, are surprisingly common place these days.  Even with greater awareness, we still see things like factories where iPhones are made with netting around them to catch workers trying to commit suicide.  So in that regard Amazon is not unique, just especially stupid about how it abuses people (at least Apple has plausible deniability--its subcontractors were the problem).  

Another real problem for me regarding Amazon is the way their business model has shifted.  It used to be that you bought stuff FROM AMAZON.  You wanted a book, you bought the book, and it came from Amazon.  Not anymore.  Amazon Marketplace allows all sorts of folks to list items for sale on Amazon and the quality of these vendors varies significantly.  

My recent experience with the Nitecore EC-11 has been dreadful.  The vendor, Eastshine, has been awful to deal with, and my experience is emblematic of a larger problem.  I ordered the light about two months ago.  It arrrived and was decent.  Then, without warning, it stopped working.  I switched batteries, recharged batteries, tried batteries out in different lights, all to no avail.  So I contacted Eastshine.  They said that I needed to take a video of the light not working and send it to them.  I told them I would just send them the light and they could see it not working.  They refused to take it claiming that they were just the vendor, but Amazon actually fulfilled the order.  Eventually they changed their mind, but it was a hassle.  All of this run around, in the form of the worst written emails I have ever seen, is impossible to avoid.  Even if I complained Eastshine could just change their name and do the same thing to someone else.  There is very little the consumer or Amazon could do to stop them.  

Amazon Marketplace is the Wild West.  I have seen stuff for sale that would NEVER be sold on Amazon--such as Festool stuff at a discount (Festool guards their MSRP with a ruthlessness that would make Atila the Hun blush).  There is next to zero accountability.  Its just a giant shell game cloaked by Amazon itself.  

Strike 2.

Listening to Derrick from Knives Ship Free on The Modern Neanderthal Podcast persuaded me that Amazon's business model is ultimately not good for the gear industry or consumers.  We need to take the long view here--27 cents off a Spyderco Persistence compared to what it could be at a non-Amazon retailer is probably not worth the discount over time.  Sure, you might run into an Eastshine that bilks you, but even if you don't there is a bigger problem.  

Derrick spoke about how Amazon uses its market share to cripple its suppliers.  Here is a hypothetical that illustrates Derrick's point.  A small company like Spyderco sells stuff on Amazon.  The exposure is huge, and they move tons of units.  Spyderco's sales explode and Amazon becomes something like 25% of their entire market.  Over time that number creeps upward and Spyderco and Amazon become more intertwined.  Once Amazon is confident they are essential to Spyderco's survival, they go to them and demand lower prices.  Spyderco has two options--try to ween itself from Amazon's flow of money or produce a lesser product to meet their price demands.  

This isn't just Amazon though.  Lots of companies do this.  My problem is that Amazon does this to companies that I care about.  KAI USA is part of a massive company, but even KAI is a drop in the bucket compared to Amazon.  If anyone could muscle them into making lesser stuff, its Amazon.  But its worse than just hitting producers.   Folks like Derrick and Blade HQ have a hard time competing.  Derrick mentioned that Amazon is selling Spydercos for less than he pays for them from Spyderco itself.  That is obviously not something small sellers can endure over time.

Amazon's business model hurts both the companies we like that make stuff we enjoy and it hurts smaller businesses.  But with the Internet, it is just as easy to shop at Blade HQ or Knive Ship Free as it is to shop at Amazon.  It may cost a smidge more to do so, but that 27 cents savings just isn't worth it to me.  Support the companies we like, that listen to consumers, that make stuff we enjoy.  And support the retailers that are committed to good customer experiences instead of helping sham sellers like Easthine make money off us.  

Strike 3.  Amazon is out of here.

Its time we support folks like Derrick and Blade HQ.  Their prices are more or less competitive. They have stuff that Amazon doesn't bother carrying.  And they want customers for life.  Amazon wants to churn and burn us.  Its time that we, the consumers, ween ourselves from Amazon.  


  1. Interesting...

    Derrick's modern neanderthal episode (as well as some interesting conversations I've had on forums/Reddit) had already convinced me to make my next knife purchase on either bladehq or knivesshipfree. Up until now, I have exclusively bought knives from amazon. But his discussion about spyderco should really scare customers from buying knives there just to save a few bucks.

    I am not ready to denounce them to the extent you have because I haven't done a ton of research on the other aspects. I have known more than one person who worked for them (both on the corporate side and in the warehousing side). Conditions didn't sound great, but they weren't as bad as what we're hearing in the news lately. If anything, their corporate culture just seems indicative of corporate culture in general in this country at the moment. Maybe buying from smaller retailers is a way to combat that, and this post as well as the modern neanderthal podcast you mentioned should at least get some of us (like me) thinking about the problem more critically.

    For anyone who hasn't heard that episode - Derrick also got me to form a more balanced opinion on something I thought I hated - MAP pricing. I definitely get the pros of MAP from a retailer's perspective, and I'm at least willing to consider that it MIGHT be good for the consumer over the long run.

  2. You make a lot of sense T. And I wasn't aware of these issues, so I thank you for bringing them to light. A friend of mine is a programmer for Amazon and he likes working for them, but he's a fairly recent hire.

    We have a prime account and use it a lot for baby stuff too, although I haven't found their diapers as cheap or good as Costco ones (esp. when they put them on sale).
    But I haven't been buying much on Amazon lately since eBay often has it for less and I get 1% back in eBay bucks.

    I do like BladeHQ and KSF, but so far, not a big fan of Massdrop, just because the products tend to be pretty cheap and discounts not so big after shipping.

  3. Amazon is the walmart of e-commerce. Walmart isn't even a retail store anymore; it's real estate that is loaned out to its vendors who have to pay what walmart wants for access to walmart' customers. Amazon is the same.
    The issue for me sometimes is the difference in price between Amazon and BHQ and others is very large and it's difficult to be able to justify it when you're trying to squeeze every bit of value out of your gear-buying dollar. But I've bought more knives from BHQ and local retailers than Amazon because it's just better for everyone.
    @Mark The issue with Massdrop is when they are selling gear that has an inflated MSRP that is then discounted by vendors(See Spyderco). Massdrop often is getting a "discount" from the manufacturer but it's not necessarily better than what BHQ would get, for example. If an item is not from a manufacturer like that, often smaller makers, then you can get cool stuff at a nice discount. Otherwise yeah, it's pointless. The idea is sound but the logistics sometimes cripple it.

    1. Your Massdrop analysis is on point, I've noted the same pattern.

      With knives, it often comes down to a couple bucks difference between Massdrop's price and the lowest-priced retailer.

      But when it comes to items like the KeyBar, Tactile Turn pens, Karas Kustoms pens, Bastion's quick release belts and other smaller makers you end up seeing some of the lowest prices ever offered on those items.

  4. I'm eager for this blog to return to actual reviews of affordable EDC gear and not philosophical commentary.

    1. Point taken. Reviews coming Friday/Saturday.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. (Sorry, deleted my earlier post accidentally.) Some of us like the philosophical commentary!

    4. Philosophy + reviews = what makes TS's EDCom great.

  5. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm happy to make an occasional small donation to the site if that's something you'd be willing to accept.

    I find tremendous value in your reviews and feedback on the community.

  6. I have never really associated buying knives with amazon. When it comes to pricing I have always found that Cutlery Shoppe is the best for Spyderco. And I have never thought that the Amazon pricing for folders was very good in general. One benefit of knife/gear specific dealers is that some have comment sections for the order. I usually ask for them to give a knife a quick look for blade centering and an even grind. You can't do that with amazon and after buying one folder from them I decided that it wasn't worth it even if I had a gift card. Though I'll admit that most if not all of my multitool/SAK purchases have been through Amazon and this article is making me reconsider continuing that.

  7. Talked w/ my friend who works for Amazon. He thinks the NYT article exaggerated the bad and ignored the good. He recommended a rebuttal by an Amazon employee:


    He also thought people should go straight to Amazon customer service, which he thought would have settled things immediately.

    1. Wow, that's a great link. And it sounds way more realistic than the NYT article. I encourage everyone to check it out (it's a long read). Thanks for that!

  8. ^Just FYI. I don't know much about the issues.

    @Patrick, thanks for the Massdrop thoughts.

  9. My fiancee pretty much won't buy anything online except from Amazon. Exception being the S110V manix she bought for my birthday last year from a small online knife shop (name escapes me...)

    Reason being the customer service. When you get in touch w/amazon customer service they'll pretty much bend over backwards to fix whatever issue you have. But it has to be things fulfilled or sold by amazon, not one of these other dealers, which is best to avoid at all costs.

    1. I remembered right after I hit post. It's Howe's Knife Shop: him and his wife run the thing. Very nice folks.


  10. I agree with Tony in theory but i think there has to be a middle ground. For example, the Spyderco Rubicon is $259 on Amazon and $301 at Blade HQ. I think some of the issue is Spyderco's policy. I can't blame a company for offering a more substantial discount to a retailer who is ordering thousands of a model versus a few dozen. There needs to be a balance but I still support Amazon for some of their pricing. Many of my friends started buying knives from Amazon because it was a small financial risk. Now they buy CRK, ZT, and some mid techs from Blade HQ, New Graham, etc. the smaller companies have a niche that Amazon can't/won't fill - it just may not be with Spyderco or Kershaw.

    On the issue of working conditions, I only know one Amazon employee. He works in logistics and really likes his job. I asked him about the article and he said that it didn't mirror his experience. However, both my friend and I dislike the NY Times so our opinions may be biased.