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Amazon: Artificial Intelligence or Natural Stupidity?

image credit: The Kansas City Star

updated by Chand Bellur
March 26, 2023 at 3:05 p.m. PST
  • Founded in 1994, online mega-retailer Amazon is now ranked number nine on the Fortune Global 500 list.
  • Amazon gathers virtually every possible data point about shoppers and service subscribers, providing a more relevant experience and increasing sales.
  • Many aspects of the Amazon experience remain unrefined and unreliable, as grossly inaccurate shipping information and counterfeiters undermine consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

2023 UPDATE: Amazon Got Smarter

I wrote this article about two-and-a-half years ago, and since then, Amazon has changed. I don’t think it’s because of me or my article. The problems outlined in this piece plagued many customers. They also complained, and Amazon fixed it.

Amazon is well known for its customer-focused experience. The company has improved at eliminating counterfeiters and bad actors in the past few years. It’s difficult to accomplish this goal and have a free market for third-party vendors. Amazon has to trust a vendor first, then revoke their privileges if they abuse customers. Amazon has always fixed every problem I’ve had with shady vendors.

I’ve seen fewer poor-quality products manipulated into best sellers and “Amazon’s Choice” through false reviews. Amazon seems to have improved its ability to rapidly detect and eliminate malicious vendors.

To thwart package theft, I started having my packages sent to a nearby Amazon Locker. At first glance, driving to a store to pick up Amazon packages may seem inconvenient. I found it to be more convenient than having them delivered to my condo building.

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If Amazon delivers a package to my building, I must stay home and monitor the tracking all day. Sometimes, even if I rush down to the lobby as soon as it’s delivered, the package is gone, as the thieves live in the community. With Amazon’s lockers, I can let packages accumulate for a few days and then pick them up before they’re sent back.

If I can’t get to my locker by the deadline, I can extend the time before Amazon returns my packages. This came in handy after I was vaccinated and could barely lift my arm. I called Amazon’s customer support and told them I could not pick up my package by the last day. They quickly and easily extended my pickup time, so I could get my packages when I felt better.

Overall, Amazon is an excellent retailer with high regard for its customers. I’m looking forward to the day Jeff Bezos regains the crown as the world’s wealthiest man, which he earned through merit. Unlike most technology executives, Bezos has merit.

The Princeton valedictorian with perfect SAT scores is one of the few examples of Americans succeeding through merit and hard work. I’d rather fork over my money to Amazon than some old-money family that earned their wealth through slavery and other ill-gotten gains.

Overall, Amazon Makes Life Easier

Amazon is a universe of consumer possibilities. Virtually every product in the world is available on Amazon, and you don’t even need to leave your davenport. If anything, there’s so many possibilities, one undergoes option paralysis. Usually, designations such as “best seller” and “Amazon choice” guide shoppers to better deals.

For the busy and lazy, Amazon is a dream come true. Online shopping with the Seattle-based megastore isn’t always a breeze, however. All too often, a product that one needs in a few days ends up arriving in weeks. With a purchase made based on incorrect information, shoppers must cancel the order or send it back in some cases. Furthermore, far too many products, even those with “best seller” and “Amazon choice” designations, are counterfeit.

As convenient as Amazon may be, I often wish I just went to Target or Best Buy. I had to do just that today, as ordering a simple USB C cable proved impossible on Amazon. An order that was supposed to get here five days after being placed ended up being pushed out another 11 days. I don’t live in the remote wilderness of Alaska. It shouldn’t take 16 days to purchase and obtain a simple USB C cable. I went through this same ordeal two weeks ago with a MacBook power adapter.

I subscribe to Amazon Prime, and I like the company. There’s room for improvement; however, its strategy seems to be indifferent to reliable consumer messaging and counterfeit, used, and defective products. Amazon is orchestrated anarchy. Although it works more often than not, about one-third of my Amazon orders are frustrating or disappointing.

Amazon Customer Messaging Needs Improvement

Jeff Bezos is a data scientist. He’s famous for repeatedly asking people their SAT scores, as he feels they’re indicative of intellectual capacity and other qualities. As someone who scored a respectable 1320/1600, I’m well aware that some of the smartest people I worked with never took the SATs, because they’re not from this country.

Bezos is a genius. He’s a billionaire and expected to be the first trillionaire by 2026. As with all intelligent people, he’s a bit myopic, but it might not matter. Amazon is mostly about price and convenience. However, the latter seems to be eroding due to inaccurate messaging and bad actors in the marketplace.

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Amazon Prime members are well aware that two-day shipping doesn’t mean you get your order in two days. It takes some time to process the order. Amazon provides an estimate, and about 70% of the time, it’s accurate. Too often, Amazon’s misinformation forces me to wait for a package only to learn that it will take several more days to arrive. When its something I desperately need, like a power adapter or cable, the deception is frustrating.

I needed a new power adapter for my Mac Pro. I ordered it on Amazon, and I got a message that the courier delivered it. I went down to the lobby and couldn’t find it. Calling customer support, Amazon informed me that sometimes they send a message that an item is delivered, but it will take a few more days to arrive. ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!

This poor communication is frustrating because I live in a large condominium building with a shared mail facility. If I leave packages in the lobby, they may get stolen. Without accurate package tracking, I must go to the lobby several times a day to check for my package. I ended up canceling the order and picking up the adapter at BestBuy. I had to work without a computer for five days because of poor customer communication. I should have just gone to BestBuy in the first place.

More recently, I purchased a new phone requiring a USB-C cable for charging. I figured it would be easy to buy on Amazon. I ordered the cable, and it was set to arrive in five days, then, days later, its delivery is pushed out another 11 days. Once again, I went to a brick and mortar store, betrayed by Amazon’s dishonest messaging.

Are they misinforming customers so they purchase online instead of going to a physical store? Given the mega-retailer’s cutthroat tactics, it’s entirely possible. It’s also possible that their AI technology isn’t up to snuff. Other flaws in Amazon’s customer experience reveal that the tech giant may not lead the pack when it comes to artificial intelligence.

Counterfeiting is a Big Problem for Amazon

Anyone in the world can sell just about anything on Amazon. While this may seem like a capitalist’s dream, it also provides a haven for bad actors. Counterfeiters, merchants selling used products as new, and manufacturers of unsafe products have all found a home on Amazon. It seems to be getting worse every day.

Amazon’s counterfeit problem is so bad, when I type “counterfeit pr” on Google, it autocompletes with “counterfeit problem Amazon”. Searching the web, people seem to be wondering why they’re getting these strange, fake products that cost as much as the real McCoy.

In my personal experience, I’ve purchased quite a few fugazis on Amazon. My mom needed a new battery for her flip phone, and I bought one with the “Amazon Choice” designation. It was used and couldn’t hold a charge. Scuffed and worn, this item could actually be a fire hazard.

Other shoppers’ purchases are even more frightening. Some Amazon customers acquired counterfeit “Ove Glove” oven mitts, resulting in injury. Amazon customers are sometimes sent expired baby formula and other dangerous products.

Amazon is relatively opaque, so it’s not exactly clear why this happens. Most customers will stick with Amazon, even if they’re defrauded on occasion. It may be too costly to combat counterfeiting. Considering that victims, including me, continue to use Amazon, there’s little incentive for change.

Artificial intelligence should be detecting fraud, and Amazon may be employing technology for this purpose. The reality may be that Amazon’s AI is simply not up to snuff. Some experience with Amazon products seem to support this notion.

Amazon: Artificial Intelligence or Stupidity?

Amazon’s infiltration by bad actors is not the result of human intervention. If Amazon employees carefully scrutinized vendors, they’d be able to find the counterfeiters. It appears as though Amazon’s ineffective AI may not be able to detect fraud.

Counterfeiters and deceptive vendors use fake reviews to make products seem appealing. After getting burned a few times, I learned how to spot fake reviews. A counterfeit product often features hundreds or thousands of reviews that were evidently written by a few people. Read the most positive reviews, and if they’re too similar in style and concept, it may be a counterfeit, used, or poor-quality product.

Amazon could employ AI to detect market fraud. They may be doing this, but their AI just isn’t advanced enough.

Alexa isn’t the most competent or intelligent personal digital assistant. Having used Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa, I can honestly say that the former two are much better than Amazon’s offering. Alexa has trouble with basic tasks, such as playing an album on Amazon Music. It’s better than Bixby, but lags behind Apple and Google’s tech.

Amazon Music HD is a service I both love and loathe. The music quality sounds fantastic, especially breathtaking ultra HD recordings. Unfortunately, it’s a poor-quality, low-rated app, riddled with defects. If one adds albums to a playlist, for example, the song order shuffles without user intervention. Sometimes it can’t play downloaded albums in offline mode, which forces the user to burn through cellular data. With HD music, this can be quite expensive.

If Amazon struggles with a music player, it’s hard to believe they will lead the AI revolution. Alexa is the weakest AI helper. Amazon’s smartphone completely flopped. Amazon is an excellent company for those who hate shopping, but it’s not high tech. Amazon is a medium tech company, outclassed by their peers when it comes to artificial intelligence.

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