Follow us:
  1. Home
  2. News
  3. Tech News
  4. Amazon News

Amazon and Kindle News

Recent Articles

Sort by:

Amazon gives the green light for more Amazon Go stores

Seattle, Los Angeles are the next moves in the company’s cashier-less experiment

The plans for Amazon Go, Amazon’s revolutionary convenience store, just ramped up further with up to six more storefronts expected in 2018, according to a Recode report.

The company will keep its brick-and-mortar experiment close to home, adding more in Seattle where the first location opened, last month, with the next stop likely being Los Angeles.

Amazon Go is another peg in the company’s effort to flip the way people shop. With its sights set on a piece of the $550 billion U.S. convenience store niche, the move builds on Amazon’s jump into the grocery world’s fray with its purchase of Whole Foods, as well as the rollout of 13 physical bookstores.

True get-it-and-go

In what may sound like The Jetsons-meet-shoplifting, Amazon’s Just Walk Out Technology allows shoppers to scan their phone when they enter the store, grab what they want, and walk out without having to stop at a cash register to pay.

Artificial intelligence charges the customer’s credit card every time an item is picked up. If you change your mind and put it back on the shelf, the software removes it from your account.

Amazon doesn’t see this ingenuity of Amazon Go as another competitor to full-service stores like Wal-Mart but rather an automated convenience store stocked with snacks, ready-prep meals, day-to-day basics, and beer & wine.

Still, it won’t be putting its toe in this water alone. Kroger announced that it has plans for its initiative called Scan, Bag, Go at 400+ locations by the end of 2018.

While Kroger’s move seems like Amazon is entering a dogfight, the plans for Amazon Go are a little more deliberate with the goal of finding out if a cashier-less experience is even viable. The company’s announcement to expand implies initial trials are going as planned, but those have all been in Amazon’s backyard in Seattle. Greenlighting metros outside its comfort zone appears to be a move toward finding out how the rest of the world will react.

Are jobs at risk?

As of 2016, there were more than 3.5 million cashiers in the United States making an average of $20,180 per year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics had already projected that about 30,000 of those would go away by 2026, but digital shopping forays like Amazon’s and Kroger’s may grow those numbers higher if the technology behind Amazon Go catches on.

However, Amazon’s thrown a towel over that crystal ball, saying Go’s technology won’t eliminate jobs, but rather change jobs its employees do. “We’ve just put associates on different kinds of tasks where we think it adds to the customer experience,” Gianna Puerini, the executive in charge of Amazon Go, told the New York Times.

Those job tasks will likely shift toward restocking Go’s shelves and assisting customers with any technical issues or pointing them in the right direction. Although the store’s concept is “cashierless,” someone will be needed to check I.D.s before taking beer or wine home.

The plans for Amazon Go, Amazon’s revolutionary convenience store, just ramped up further with up to six more storefronts expected in 2018, according to a...

Amazon to offer perks to Prime members who shop at Whole Foods

The Amazon Prime credit card will give members 5 percent back on Whole Foods purchases

Since purchasing Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon has made several changes to the way the high-end grocery retailer does business, including slashing the prices of some Whole Foods bestsellers and offering free two-hour delivery to Prime members in select cities.

Now, Amazon has announced that Prime members will get 5 percent back at Whole Foods when using their Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature credit cards. Customers with the non-Prime version of the card will earn 3 percent back.

The cashback incentives are already available at Amazon.com. The perks were launched in the hope of encouraging spending on Amazon and fueling purchases of Amazon’s $99 per year Prime membership, as well as encouraging Prime members to shop at the Whole Foods.

Extending the perks to Whole Foods shoppers will be the first time Amazon has offered 5 percent back on purchases made outside its website.

Amazon’s latest move since acquiring Whole Foods falls in line with CEO Jeff Bezos’ ultimate vision for Prime, which he has previously said is to make its selection of rewards and offerings so plentiful that it simply becomes “irresponsible” for consumers not to sign up.  

Amazon cardholders who earn rewards at Whole Foods stores can choose to convert them into a statement credit or redeem them online to make purchases on Amazon or other eligible sites.

Since purchasing Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon has made several changes to the way the high-end grocery retailer does business, including slashing the prices...

Amazon reports strong fourth quarter, with sales up 38 percent

A profitable holiday season and Alexa led the way

In a press release issued yesterday, Amazon reported details of an exceedingly strong fourth quarter. The company announced that its 12-month cash flow increased seven points to $18.4 billion, up more than a billion from the same period a year ago.

While that -- and the fact that Amazon shares have surged more than 20 percent this year -- seems like a home run, there are financial strategists who are looking at the company with a different point of view.

"It's very similar to what you'd seen back in early 2013, also in early 2016. When you got this far extended usually there was some sort of setback and a healthy correction that took place," Craig Johnson, Piper Jaffray’s senior technical strategist, told CNBC on Thursday.

Amazon is no stranger to value resets. At the beginning of 2013, its stock was trading at 160 times forward earning. But the company took a 5 percent hit in April 2013, followed by an additional 7 percent one in August. Similar dips and peaks happened again in 2014 and 2016, but there was always recovery.

Only time will tell what 2018 holds for Amazon, but its investment in outside-its-box initiatives like healthcare will no doubt be watched with a careful eye by the financial world.

Has Prime hit its ceiling?

There’s also some concern that, despite a strong holiday sales season, Amazon’s Prime membership program is showing signs of a slowdown in growth, according to a survey by Morgan Stanley.

While Prime membership has captured 40% of U.S. households, there’s been no forward movement in that metric for a year, partly because its higher income customers are maxed out and penetrating lower-income households and the seniors market may be a difficult task.

One hurdle Amazon will have to overcome with its untapped Prime market is the price of membership. In January 2018, the company increased the monthly price of Prime from $10.99 to $12.99, but kept the annual fee at $99 if a customer pays it up front.

The emergence of Alexa

Also on Thursday came the news that Amazon plans on hiring 10,000 new employees in 2018 on top of the 566,000 it already has on its payroll.

Some of that surge in Amazon’s workforce will no doubt ride on the back of their Echo devices with Alexa, its speech recognition system.

Tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices sold worldwide between Black Friday and the end of the 2018 holiday season, giving that product category its best holiday segment ever.

Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote hit the top of Amazon’s charts, both in the the company’s own device category and the list of top-selling items from any manufacturer in any category across all of Amazon.

Alexa’s skill set has elevated the virtual assistant game, with the Alexa Skills store now offering more than 30,000 skills. In what has the makings of a personal broadcaster, Alexa users can create playlists of news stories, ConsumerAffairs alerts, podcasts, and music, not to mention interactive games like The Match Game and the History Channel’s Ultimate History Quiz.

“We’ve reached an important point where other companies and developers are accelerating adoption of Alexa,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO. “There are now over 30,000 skills from outside developers, customers can control more than 4,000 smart home devices from 1,200 unique brands with Alexa, and we’re seeing strong response to our new far-field voice kit for manufacturers.”

In a press release issued yesterday, Amazon reported details of an exceedingly strong fourth quarter. The company announced that its 12-month cash flow inc...

New Amazon service places online orders in your home

Amazon Key is available in select U.S. markets starting November 8

Amazon has changed the way consumers buy things, and now it wants to change the way those items are delivered. Instead of leaving boxes on your doorstep, Amazon has created a new service called Amazon Key that will allow deliveries to be safely deposited inside your home, even when you aren’t there.

The service, which is currently only available to Amazon Prime members, requires consumers to install an Amazon Key-compatible smart lock on their front door, the company’s new Cloud Cam inside their home, and the Amazon Key app on their phone or smart device. When the time comes for a delivery to arrive, a courier will be able to remotely unlock the front door and place the package inside.

In the video below, Amazon explains how the service can be used for receiving packages or for providing scheduled access to family, friends, or other services like cleaners or pet sitters.

Secure access

Of course, not just anyone will be able to gain access to your home through the service. To gain entry to a customer’s home, a delivery driver requests access through an encrypted authentication process that determines if the driver is at the right address with the correct package.

After receiving all the necessary confirmations, Amazon then sends a signal that unlocks the door and initiates the Amazon Cloud Cam to start recording. The driver never receives an access code and the customer is alerted so they can view the delivery in real time on their smartphone or watch a recording later.

“Amazon Key gives customers peace of mind knowing their orders have been safely delivered to their homes and are waiting for them when they walk through their doors,” said Peter Larsen, Amazon's vice president of delivery technology.

Designed for Prime members

Amazon says the service is designed specifically with Prime members in mind, since these consumers not only buy a lot of things from Amazon but tend to be busy and not at home when important deliveries are being made.

To use the service, Prime members will have to buy the Amazon Key In-Home Kit -- which includes the smart lock and Amazon Cloud Cam -- for $249.99. Consumers can choose to install the equipment themselves or have Amazon professionals install it for them at no extra cost.

Currently, there are no extra charges applied to Amazon Key deliveries; eligible shoppers simply have to select the “FREE in-home delivery” option when checking out items on the site. The service will be available starting November 8 in 37 U.S. markets.

For more information on Amazon Key, including a list of frequently asked questions, consumers can visit Amazon’s site here.

Amazon has changed the way consumers buy things, and now it wants to change the way those items are delivered. Instead of leaving boxes on your doorstep, A...

Amazon to hire 50,000 employees today at job fairs across the U.S.

Applicants will be shown tours of the facilities and may get an on-the-spot job offer

Following up on its promise to create 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018, Amazon will today be attempting to hire 50,000 workers in some of its largest operation hubs around the U.S.

According to a Fortune report, the online retailer will be hosting job fairs in cities like Baltimore, Maryland and Buffalo, NY to fill full-time and part-time vacancies at its fulfillment centers. The fairs will be taking place from 8 a.m. to noon, with company officials giving prospective employees tours of warehouse facilities, interviews for available roles, and maybe even an on-the-spot job offer.

Amazon first announced the job fairs last week and said that most of the available positions will involve picking, packing, and shipping Amazon products. Around 10,000 jobs will be designated as part-time, with the remaining 40,000 or so being full-time positions. The company says that full-time positions include medical benefits and some tuition pre-payment options upon start-up; however, some of those same benefits will be available to part-time employees after 90 days on the job.

Consumers who are interested in attending one of the job fairs are asked to bring proper identification and to dress accordingly; applicants must wear flat, closed-toe and closed-hell shoes, long hair must be tied up, and beards must be trimmed to three inches or netted. Any extraneous jewelry, drawstrings, or other accessories that pose a safety risk will not be allowed.

Facilities that are participating in the job fairs include the following cities:

  • Romeoville, Illinois
  • Whitestown, Indiana
  • Hebron, Kentucky
  • Balitmore, Maryland
  • Fall River, Massachusetts
  • Robbinsville, New Jersey
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Etna, Ohio
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Chattanooga, Tennessee
  • Kent, Washington
  • Kenosha, Wisconsin

For more information, including individual links for each job fair, you can visit Amazon’s site here.

Following up on its promise to create 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018, Amazon will today be attempting to hire 50,000 workers in some of its largest op...

Amazon hires tech experts to provide consultations and in-home installation services

The initiative caters to the growing interest in smart-home technologies

For some time now, consumers who needed a certain kind of service – ranging from automotive needs to computer and electronic assistance -- could visit Amazon and check out listings provided by third parties. Now, the online retailer figures it’s time to start offering services of its own.

According to a Recode report, Amazon will now be hiring and maintaining its own tech expert employees to assist consumers with setting up and installing smart home systems and other electronic gadgets in their homes. These employees will also be available for free 45-minute Alexa smart-home consultations, where consumers can ask questions and receive recommendations based on their needs.

The new offering caters to a growing interest for in-home services and smart home electronic features. Amazon will be charging $99 for installation services on products like the Ecobee4 – an Alexa-enabled smart thermostat – but multi-device setups and installations that take longer than an hour may be more expensive.

Experts point out that the new initiative finally brings it in line with services provided by other retailers. Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” has been around for nearly 15 years and similarly offers free smart-home consultations and paid in-home installation services.

The in-home services are currently available in seven markets in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Orange County, Calif. Consumers who want to browse Amazon’s services and schedule an appointment can do so through the company’s website here.

For some time now, consumers who needed a certain kind of service – ranging from automotive needs to computer and electronic assistance -- could visit Amaz...

Amazon gets set for Prime Day

Toys R Us counters with 20% off for 36 hours

Amazon's third annual Prime Day is Tuesday, but just like Black Friday, things get started early. Sales available exclusively to Prime Members in 13 countries get started tonight.

Meanwhile, other retailers aren't just standing idly by. Toys R Us has announced all customers -- and its press releases emphasizes "all customers" -- will get 20% off the list price when they order online over a 36-hour period.

The sale, at Toysrus.com and Babiesrus.com, coincidentally, starts at 6pm ET tonight, three hours earlier than Prime Day, on thousands of products.

Walmart is not running any special promotion designed to go head-to-head with Prime Day, but its website is promoting a big sale on electronics, with savings of up to $30 on Google products.

The same is true for Best Buy, which is simply running its normal weekly specials on its website, including $150 off on an LG 55-inch 4K Ultra HD television set.

Preview of Prime Day deals

Meanwhile, Amazon has taken the wraps off some of its featured Prime Day deals. On Amazon products, you can save 50% on an Amazon Echo and get $15 off the smaller Amazon Dot.

Deals on TV sets include the newly released Element 55-inch 4K Ultra HD smart LED TV for $399.99; 25% off select TCL smart TVs, starting at $119.99 for a 28-inch model; $99 for a 32-inch 720p TCL TV; and a 40-inch 1080p TCL TV, for $199.99.

Other offerings include:

  • 40-50% off on Prime Exclusive clothing, handbags, and more

  • 30% off on select clothing, shoes, and more for men, women, kids, and babies

  • One carat diamond stud earrings for 499.99 or ½ carat diamond stud earrings for $239.99

  • 70% off on select Samsonite two-piece spinner sets

  • 40% off on select furniture, mattresses, and rugs

  • 20% off on nursery essentials

  • $100 off on the Bissell multi reach cordless stick vacuum

The deals are only available to consumers who are members of Amazon Prime. The company says last year's Prime Day was its biggest single sales day ever, eclipsing Cyber Monday.

Amazon's third annual Prime Day is Tuesday, but just like Black Friday, things get started early. Sales available exclusively to Prime Members in 13 countr...

Amazon's Prime Wardrobe program lets consumers try before they buy

Prime members can order clothes and send back what they don't want at no cost

Amazon has been hard at work with releasing new programs to attract customers. Previously, the company unveiled its new Prime Reload program and announced that those living on government assistance programs could get a 45% discount on its Prime service.

Now, the online retailer is offering consumers the chance to try clothes on before buying them under Prime Wardrobe. Under the new program, consumers will be able to order clothes and try them on for size at home. If they like them, then Amazon will charge them for the clothes they keep. If they don’t, then they can send the items back using a preprinted shipping label and the container that the order came in at no charge.

“Prime Wardrobe is a new service that brings the fitting room to you, so you can try the latest styles and find your perfect fit before you buy,” Amazon says on its company site.

Trying it on for size

As the name implies, Prime Wardrobe will only be offered to eligible members of Amazon Prime, a program that costs $99 per year for most consumers and comes with a host of other benefits and services.

There are no additional fees associated with Prime Wardrobe, and Amazon boasts that it has “over a million eligible items across women’s, men’s, girls’, boys’, and baby clothing, shoes, and accessories.” The company says that consumers will have seven days to try out their new outfits before they either have to return them or buy them.

To further sweeten the deal, members who decide to keep three or four items from their order will receive 10% off of their purchase. Keeping five or more items increases the discount further to 20%.

Prime Wardrobe is currently in its beta stage, but consumers can sign up to be notified when the program launches. For more information, you can watch the video below or visit Amazon’s Prime Wardrobe web page here.

Amazon has been hard at work with releasing new programs to attract customers. Previously, the company unveiled its new Prime Reload program and announced...

Amazon drops its unlimited data storage plan

Users of Amazon Drive can now choose between a 100 GB plan and a 1 TB plan

Consumers will no longer be able to take advantage of unlimited cloud storage plans under Amazon Drive.

Now, instead of paying around $60 per year to store as much data as they want, users will have a choice between two plan tiers: a 100 GB plan for $11.99 per year or a 1 TB plan for $59.99 per year. Additional data storage space can be purchased up to a cap of 30 TB for an additional $59.99 per terabyte.

“Amazon is now providing options for customers to choose the storage plan that is right for them,” the company said in its announcement.

Plan changes

The change will be rolled out starting today, June 8, but customers who have not yet reached the expiration date on their current unlimited service plan won’t be forced to switch until their subscription runs out.

However, when that expiration date does arrive, customers who have the auto-renew subscription enabled and 1 TB or less of data will be renewed into the 1 TB plan for $59.99 per year. Those who don’t have auto-renew enabled, or who have more than 1 TB of data stored, will need to go to their account’s “Manage Storage page” to select one of the new plans.

Users will have a 180-day grace period to delete or bring their total content within the free quota if they choose not to renew into one of the new storage plans. But after that period, the company says that content over that limit will be deleted, starting with the most recent uploads first.

Amazon Prime members will still have access to unlimited photo storage as a part of their membership, and the company is offering 5 GB of additional storage for non-photo content like videos and documents. However, if the amount of non-photo content exceeds 5 GB, then Amazon will delete the most recent content until users are under their data limit.

Consumers shouldn't be too surprised by Amazon’s decision to eliminate unlimited data storage. The service was initially launched back in 2015 in an effort to compete with the likes of other services like Google Drive and Dropbox, but the creation of the two-tier system will undoubtedly be more lucrative in the long-run.

Consumers who want to learn more about the change and their options can do so by visiting Amazon’s FAQ section here

Consumers will no longer be able to take advantage of unlimited cloud storage plans under Amazon Drive.Now, instead of paying around $60 per year to st...

Amazon to add 30,000 part-time positions over the next year

Flexible positions in warehousing and virtual customer service are being added

Back in January, Amazon promised that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The announcement was partly a reaction to President Trump’s stance on promoting domestic business, but already the company seems well on its way to achieving its goal.

In February, the company announced plans to build a $1.5 billion cargo airline hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, a venture which would reportedly create 2,700 positions, with 600 being full-time. At the same time, the company said that it was looking to open more warehouses in Texas, Florida, California, and New Jersey, which would also require more workers.

Now, Amazon has announced yet another plan to create 30,000 part-time fulfillment center and customer service jobs, according to Business Wire. If brought to fruition, the move would increase the company’s part-time work staff by approximately 75%.

Flexible conditions

The majority of the part-time workers will be stationed at warehouses and distribution centers across the U.S., but the company said that 5,000 workers will have the opportunity to work from home as virtual customer service agents.

Those who secure one of the latter positions are guaranteed benefits – including disability, life, dental, and vision insurance – if they work at least 20 hours per week. For those seeking an education, Amazon’s Career Choice program will also pay 95% of tuition for courses related to in-demand fields, even if those skills don’t apply to relevant jobs at the company.

Tom Weiland, Amazon’s vice president for worldwide customer service, points out that these part-time positions can be ideal for those who need adaptable work conditions that fit their lifestyle.

"There are lots of people who want or need a flexible job — whether they're a military spouse, a college student or a parent — and we're happy to empower these talented people no matter where they happen to live," he said.

“We’re finding that roles with Virtual Customer Service are particularly attractive to military spouses who want to continue working and parenting, even if their spouse is deployed or the family is relocated, as often happens with military families. Wounded, injured or ill military veterans and others with mobility challenges are also enjoying these opportunities to work from home with Amazon. Both active duty and retired service men and women support our country and we are happy to support them.”

Amazon has stated that all 30,000 jobs will become available over the next year. Consumers can find a job with the company by visiting its website here.

Back in January, Amazon promised that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The announcement was partly a reaction to President Trump’s...

Amazon drops appeal of unauthorized charge case

Parents of kids who made in-app purchases in line to get refunds

After a year of appeals, Amazon is finally ready to accept a federal court's finding that it is responsible for in-app purchases made by children.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that the end of the appeals process will mean parents whose children used apps to make unauthorized Amazon purchases will receive refunds.

It was a year ago that a federal court ruled that Amazon charged consumers for in-app purchases made by children who were using mobile apps like online games, downloaded from Amazon's app store.

The court found that Amazon received many complaints from parents about surprise in-app charges incurred by children. The judge in the case said what Amazon disclosed about the possibility of in-app charges within otherwise “free” apps was not sufficient to inform consumers – especially children – about the charges.

The FTC says that because Amazon has dropped its appeal, the refund process will begin “shortly.” The agency says parents stand to get more than $70 million, which was the amount of in-app charges made between November 2011 and May 2016.

“This case demonstrates what should be a bedrock principle for all companies — you must get customers’ consent before you charge them,” said Thomas B. Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Consumers affected by Amazon’s practices can now be compensated for charges they didn’t expect or authorize.”

The FTC previously took action against Google and Apple, related to unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children. Those companies ended up making refunds.

Details on how to secure a refund will be announced soon, the FTC says, so parents should stay tuned.

After a year of appeals, Amazon is finally ready to accept a federal court's finding that it is responsible for in-app purchases made by children.The F...

Amazon proposes brands bypass brick-and-mortar retailers and bring their products online

The company has invited executives to a meeting to discuss the possibility

In a move that would secure its place in the $800 billion food and packaged goods market, Amazon is trying to convince some of the world’s biggest brands to start shipping their products directly to online shoppers and bypass notable chain stores like Wal-Mart, Target, and Costco.

The company has sent invitations to the executives of prominent packaged goods makers, asking them to come to its headquarters in Seattle in May to hear its proposal, according to a Bloomberg report.

“Times are changing. . . Amazon strongly believes that supply chains designed to serve the direct-to-consumer business have the power to bring improved customer experiences and global efficiency. To achieve this requires a major shift in thinking,” the invitations read.

Delivering straight to doorsteps

If successful, Amazon would topple the current structure that packaged goods makers have with brick-and-mortar retailers and completely change the way that many products are designed, made, packaged, and shipped.

Manufacturers would no longer have to worry about making sure the product stands out on a grocery aisle shelf, since consumers would no longer have to stroll those aisles. The Bloomberg report points out that many items could be packaged according to new shipping needs; laundry detergent could come in sturdier, leak-proof containers and food items could come in durable and simpler packaging. Supply could also be controlled by plants that produce items based on individual needs instead of just filling trucks with inventory.  

Experts have pointed out that online grocery sales have mostly floundered in recent years, but such a drastic move could represent a big change in the way that manufacturers sell their products and consumers shop for their essentials.

“Most of these people haven’t been interested in e-commerce because e-commerce has been such a small piece of their overall sales,” says Melissa Burdick, vice president of e-commerce at The Mars Agency marketing firm. “But we’ve reached a tipping point. We’re at a time when companies are ready to start figuring this stuff out.”

Fear of missing out

So, how likely is it that packaged goods companies will be onboard with the idea? While it might be understandable to think that companies might want to retain the status quo, many might be loath to dismiss Amazon and then miss out on any future success.

"There was a big perceived penalty for missing the boat, fear of missing out on growth," says Jim Hertel, senior vice president at the marketing firm Inmar Inc. "Fear, more than anything else, may compel these companies to pay attention," adds analyst Ken Cassar.

Of course, brick-and-mortar retailers aren’t likely to go down without a fight. Many chains have already elected to provide online shopping options to blunt the impact of online shopping sites like Amazon, and it’s easy to point out that the proposal hasn’t yet addressed who will ship all of items (though Amazon does have the means of fulfilling those services.)

Regardless of how the plan shakes out, it’s at least worth noting that the idea of innovation in the industry isn’t dormant. What that means for shoppers remains to be seen. 

In a move that would secure its place in the $800 billion food and packaged goods market, Amazon is trying to convince some of the world’s biggest brands t...

Amazon announces plans for a $1.5 billion cargo airline hub

The move may help cut costs and guarantee greater delivery speeds

There were a few raised eyebrows earlier this month when Amazon announced that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The widely popular online retailer had plans to open additional warehouses in Texas, Florida, California, and New Jersey – but another initiative may bring thousands of jobs to Kentucky.

The company announced today that it will be building a cargo airline hub in the northern part of the state at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Estimates show that as many as 2,700 people may be employed at the location eventually, but officials say only 600 full-time positions will be initially available. The created jobs are expected to include positions in personnel, piloting, ground support, management, and maintenance.

“As we considered places for the long-term home for our air hub operations, Hebron quickly rose to the top of the list with a large, skilled workforce, centralized location with great connectivity to our nearby fulfillment locations and an excellent quality of living for employees. We feel strongly that with these qualities as a place to do business, our investments will support Amazon and customers well into the future,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations.

Greater delivery speeds

It’s no secret that Amazon has been trying to create its own air transportation network. After revealing its first branded cargo plane last August, Clark commented that doing so would “[expand] our capacity to ensure great delivery speeds for our Prime members for years to come.”

The Hebron hub received approval to lease 900 acres of land, and it would eventually house 40 Amazon Prime planes that would transport packages between warehouses. The Cincinnati Business Courier estimated that the project would cost approximately $1.49 billion, with Amazon standing to receive as many as $40 million in tax incentives from local government.

The move may prove to be beneficial to consumers across the U.S., who may experience faster delivery times after the hub is up and running. Amazon should also be able to cut some of its costs associated with working with third parties, although the company says its cargo planes are only meant to supplement cargo carriers.

Analyst Colin Sebastian estimated that the company will see a $400 billion-plus market opportunity for delivery, freight forwarding, and contract logistics. However, it has not yet announced a start date for the hub.

There were a few raised eyebrows earlier this month when Amazon announced that it would be creating 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018. The widely popular...

Amazon vows to create 100,000 U.S.-based jobs by mid-2018

After earlier criticisms, CEO Jeff Bezos says President-elect Trump's plan to create jobs could pay huge dividends

One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Commander in Chief’s ire while he was on the campaign trail, but a scuffle between Trump and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was notable.

The president-elect accused Bezos in a May interview of buying the Washington Post in order to influence the political landscape. Later on, Bezos fired shots at the businessman, saying that Trump’s behavior “erodes democracy around the edges.”

Nevertheless, it seems that Amazon will be doing just what Trump wants in the coming years by creating more U.S.-based jobs. The retailer announced on Thursday that it has a plan to create over 100,000 full-time jobs in the U.S. by mid-2018, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Expanding and creating jobs

Amazon says that many of the new jobs will be located in Texas, Florida, California, New Jersey, and other areas where it is creating additional warehouses. During the third quarter of 2016, Amazon built another two dozen warehouses, bringing the total global number up to 150.

Additionally, the company brought on around 120,000 seasonal workers during the holidays in the U.S., many of which are staying on to fill expanded positions, the company said. Other than warehouse staff, Amazon says it will also be filling positions in engineer and software development.

“Innovation is one of our guiding principles at Amazon, and it’s created hundreds of thousands of American jobs,” said Bezos.

Change of tune

In a bit of reversal, Bezos has also shown some support for Trump and his plan for creating jobs after meeting with him in December. During the meeting, which featured a number of Silicon Valley executives, Trump promised to work with tech companies to create fair-trade deals and help foster innovation.

“[Trump’s plan] would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere,” said Bezos in a statement.

One of the primary campaign points for President-elect Donald Trump was creating jobs and keeping businesses in the U.S. Many companies caught the new Comm...

Shoppers increasingly turning first to Amazon, study finds

Forget about stores, Amazon is even nudging out search engines

For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it online instead of simply picking it up at the store.

Showrooming is certainly commonplace these days, but it's often because so few stores are actually able to sell the items consumers are looking for. There may be a single item on display but it's increasingly difficult to be able to make an actual purchase.

I was reminded of this the other day when I stopped into the neighborhood Lowe's to pick up a battery-powered hedge trimmer. The vast garden department had a shelf full of trimmers, ranging from simple plug-in models to the large gas-powered variety favored by professionals.

I found one that looked suitable, hefted it around a bit, and decided it would be fine. But in the section where the boxed units were stored, the model I wanted was nowhere to be found. Looking closely, I discovered there were no battery-powered units at all, only a few plug-in types and only two gas-powered models.

"We don't have it"

"If it's not there, we don't have it," a friendly Lowe's employee shrugged. I bought $10 worth of mulch, went home and ordered $200 worth of hedge trimmer, battery, and charger from Amazon.

It was just a few weeks earlier in another Lowe's that I went in search of an outdoor lighting transformer to replace one that had mysteriously died. Again, a yawning vacuum greeted me -- no transformers in stock.

"It's because of Home Depot," a clerk sniffed. "They don't have any in stock so they send their customers over here and buy up all of ours. You might as well just order it from Amazon."

Best Buy is also becoming a de facto Amazon showroom. When my laptop went toes-up on a recent trip, I dashed over to the nearest Best Buy to pick up a Chromebook to tide me over. I was in luck -- the store had the new HP model I had been admiring.

"This is great, I'll take one of these," I told the salesman, who looked skeptically at me.

"Sir, I can't sell you that one. It's the only one we have. We might get some more next Thursday, maybe," he said. "If you really need it in a hurry, you could just order it from Amazon."

Even furniture is becoming an online-only item. I found an entertainment cabinet, again at Best Buy, while helping a friend move only to be told it was the only one in stock.

"I could special-order it for you but the expedited shipping would cost more than it's worth," the salesman said. "You could just order it from Amazon and save a lot of money." (Target, which actually stocks merchandise in some of its stores, turned out to have a nearly identical item).

Online gas?

I expect someday to pull into a gas station and be advised to just order a tank online. We all understand that inventory is expensive and consumer buying habits difficult to predict, but at some point consumers may give up even trying to shop in stores if the out-of-stock trend continues.

The situation is much the same in the online world -- Amazon, like a giant piranha -- is devouring everything in sight. A new study finds Amazon is even nudging out search engines as the go-to spot for consumers.

The BloomReach research, conducted by Survata, found that 55 percent of consumers start their product searches on Amazon -- up from 44 percent just a year ago. That compares to 28 percent who first look for products using search engines and 16 percent who start their digital shopping excursions on a specific retailer’s website.

The survey of 2,000 consumers and 400 marketing and sales representatives found an interesting fear lurking beneath consumers' Amazon infatuation -- nearly one in five said they were concerned about Amazon's growing dominance of the retail field.

That fear is more explicit among retail professionals. Forty percent said they fear losing their job because of a competitor's dominance. Those whose main competitor is Amazon were twice as worried -- 80 percent fear losing their jobs because of Amazon.

The fast-approaching holiday shopping season is not likely to improve matters. UPS and FedEx are staffing up for what's expected to be the biggest online buying spree ever. Everybody else? Perhaps the news that Mall of America won't bother to open on Thanksgiving Day this year pretty much says it all. 

Instead of leaping up from the table and dashing over to the mall, we can all just leap up from the table and grab our laptops.

For awhile there, retailers were worried about "showrooming." They feared that consumers would come to their stores to examine merchandise and then buy it...

Consumers should be skeptical of 'best prices' provided by Amazon, report says

Items bought directly through Amazon don't include shipping costs, while those purchased from non-affiliated third parties do

In June, we reported that sometimes consumers had to do a little extra work to find the best prices when shopping on Amazon. Researchers from Northeastern University pointed out that not all items that consumers buy on the site come directly from Amazon, so what pops up first in your search may not necessarily be the best price.

Now, a new report by ProPublica shows that price comparisons on the site may be even more complicated. The organization alleges that Amazon fixes the results of its price-comparison pages so that items sold directly by Amazon, or by merchants who pay the company to ship products on their behalf, are given priority in the search results.

This is a potentially huge problem since these comparison pages are supposed to let consumers find the best deals for the products they want.

Shipping costs

The report cites an example of trying to find the best deal on Loctite super glue. After entering in the request, results for different options were spit back out. One result showed the product being sold for $6.75 from a company in Texas with free shipping, while another similar offer showed the product going for $7.27 with free shipping from a company in Ohio.

However, the result that ranked first was being offered by Amazon itself for an even higher price, at $7.80. While this price wasn’t all that much higher than the previous two options at first glance, the researchers found that the offer did not include free shipping.

With the additional cost of the shipping, the price came out to $14.31 before taxes, slightly less than double the price of the previous two offers. The researchers found that this was a common part of Amazon’s algorithmic pricing. Products sold by third-party merchants who were not a part of Amazon’s shipping service were ranked by the cost of the product and the shipping fee, while those sold by Amazon and affiliated parties were ranked without the shipping fee included.

Availability of free shipping

Amazon has provided some explanation for the discrepancy, saying that the vast majority of its products are eligible for free shipping if a consumer is a Prime member or signs up for Super Saver Shipping.

“With Prime and Super Saver Shipping (which requires no membership and ships orders above $49 for free), the vast majority of our items – 9 out of 10 – can ship for free. The sorting algorithms the article refers to are designed for that 90% of items ordered, where shipping costs do not apply,” said Amazon in a statement.

However, as the statement alludes to, free shipping is contingent on a couple of factors. If a consumer is not a Prime member and does not create an order that totals more than $49, then the items they search for may not be in optimal order for them to find a deal. 

In June, we reported that sometimes consumers had to do a little extra work to find the best prices when shopping on Amazon. Researchers from Northeastern...

Amazon unveils its first branded cargo plane

The retail giant plans to have a fleet of 40 cargo planes

Amazon's plans for drone delivery have gotten a lot of attention, but the big draw in Seattle today is Amazon One -- a Boeing 767-300 cargo plane that is the first of a planned fleet of 40.

Amazon currently has 11 dedicated airplanes moving merchandise around the world, but Amazon One is the first one to be painted in the company's own livery. The giant airplane is on display today at Seafair, Seattle's annual air show. 

“Creating an air transportation network is expanding our capacity to ensure great delivery speeds for our Prime members for years to come,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. “I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the inaugural flight than in our hometown at Seafair alongside Amazon employees and Seattle residents.”

Amazon's distribution operation includes 125 fulfillment centers and more than 20 sorting centers where the compny uses algorithms, robotics, machine learning, and other wizardry to increase delivery speeds, the company said.

Amazon One is one of 40 airplanes that Amazon has agreed to lease through air cargo partners Atlas Air and ATSG. In an ode to its Prime members, Amazon’s first airplane in its dedicated fleet features a tail number made up of a Prime number.

Amazon's plans for drone delivery have gotten a lot of attention, but the big draw in Seattle today is Amazon One -- a Boeing 767-300 cargo plane that is t...

Amazon reports record orders on Prime Day

Consumers snapped up two million toys and a million pairs of shoes

Amazon.com says Tuesday's second annual Prime Day was bigger than last year and set a record for orders worldwide.

The online retailer says global orders were 60% higher than last year while U.S. orders rose 50%. Amazon says it also set a record for orders for Amazon devices, including Fire TV, Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers and Alexa-enabled devices. The company did not release any sales or revenue figures.

Amazon launched the promotion for the first time in 2015, picking a day in July to serve as sort of a precursor to Black Friday. The purpose is to capture consumer holiday shopping dollars before they are spent anywhere else.

It also serves to promote Amazon Prime, since shoppers had to be members to take advantage of the deals.

Devices big sellers

The company said it sold over two and a half times more Amazon Fire TV devices Tuesday than it did on last year's Prime Day. It said the Fire TV Stick was the best-selling Amazon device.

It said Prime customers bought more than two million toys and more than a million pairs of shoes. It took orders for 90,000 TV sets and hundreds of thousands of e-readers.

In the U.S., it was also the biggest single day for sales of Amazon Echo, the retailer's voice-controlled audio system.

How good were the deals?

The holiday shopping site BestBlackFriday.com live blogged Prime Day as it unfolded, comparing the deals to the savings consumers can get on Black Friday itself. Here is some of what it found:

By selling the Kitchen Aid 6-quarter mixer for $248.99, it beat Black Friday by $151. By selling the Kindle Paperwhite for $89.99, it beat Black Friday by $10.

It sold the XBox – One 1TB Console with The Division Bundle, a $50 Amazon Gift Card, Rainbow Six Siege, the Xbox One Special Edition Dusk Shadow Wireless Controller, and Forza Horizon 2 for $299, beating Black Friday by $50.

But there were a few items where Prime Day prices were not lower. The TCL 32D2700 32-Inch 720p LED TV went for $99.99 on Prime Day, $25 more than Black Friday. It sold the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W for $69.99, $20 more than JC Penney's Black Friday last year.

Amazon.com says Tuesday's second annual Prime Day was bigger than last year and set a record for orders worldwide.The online retailer says global order...

Amazon promises more TV deals on Prime Day

Shopping expert expects retailer to correct some mistakes from last year

Amazon.com is releasing a few details about its second annual Prime Day, a July 12 shopping event that is designed to get consumers doing their Christmas shopping in the middle of the summer.

The company says the special shopping day will feature over 100,000 items, with new deals announced every five minutes throughout the day. As was the case last year, consumers must be Prime members in order to take advantage of the bargains.

“Prime Day is a unique opportunity to discover new items and great deals, on top of our already low prices,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President of Amazon Prime. "Following last year’s record sales, we have dramatically increased the inventory behind many deals.”

Amazon racked up record sales on last year's Prime Day, but Phil Dengler, principal at Jones-Dengler Marketing and operator of the website BestBlackFriday.com, says the retailer has plenty of room for improvement.

Irrelevant items

“Shoppers were largely disappointed with Prime Day last year because of the sheer number of irrelevant items — beard growers, toilet paper, lighter sleeves and other items that no one really wanted,” Dengler told ConsumerAffairs. “While there were some great deals, ones that were comparable or even better than Black Friday, they sold out within a matter of minutes.”

Amazon has already promised the deal inventory of TV sets in the promotion will be nearly twice the number available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Dengler says that means consumers should be able to snag some pretty good deals, if last year's prices are any indication. In fact, he says consumers with TVs on their holiday list might do well to shop in July, rather than November.

“Last year, they sold a 32" HDTV for $75 and a 40" HDTV for $115,” Dengler said. “Both of those prices were better than the top Black Friday prices at the time.”

But he says its unlikely TV deals will be available throughout the day, so consumers will have to pay close attention.

Competitors will probably react

Dengler says Prime Day looks promising so far, and will even get consumers better deals from Amazon's competitors. He notes that Walmart has announce a 30-day free trial of its free two-day shipping service. He expects Walmart will also roll out some serious deals of its own on July 12 as well.

But what if you aren't a Prime member? Dengler says it probably pays to take advantage of Amazon's 30-day free trial.

“If someone signs up for a Prime trial and finds that the service is not what they are looking for, they can simply cancel after 30 days and still be able to take part in Prime Day,” he said.

The bottom line, Dengler says, is Amazon's Prime Day should serve as a profitable way for consumers to get a head start on holiday shopping.

Amazon.com is releasing a few details about its second annual Prime Day, a July 12 shopping event that is designed to get consumers doing their Christmas s...

Finding the best price on Amazon

Researchers say it takes a little extra work

Brick and mortar retailers continue to lose business to Amazon.com, which works to make the buying process easy and seamless. You search for a product, it pops up in the buy box, and you add it to your cart.

But if it is too easy, you may not be getting the best price. At least, that's the conclusion of marketing researchers at Northeastern University.

Keep in mind that not everything you buy comes directly from Amazon. The company works with many third-party sellers to provide products, especially for specialty items.

Algorithmic pricing

When you search for a product, what pops up first might not carry the lowest price. The study, led by Northeastern's Christo Wilson, discovered that Amazon is much more likely to feature sellers in the buy box who adjust prices using an automated system called algorithmic pricing. And a consumer should not assume this seller has the lowest price because Wilson says, more often than not, it doesn't.

"For example, we found that 60% of sellers using algorithmic pricing have prices that are higher than the lowest price for a given product,” Wilson said.

He admits the price will not be much higher. In fact, 70% of the time the price in the buy box was only a dollar higher. The rest of the time, though, other sellers had the same product $20 to $60 cheaper.

To find the lowest price, Wilson says you have to take the extra step of clicking through the “other sellers on Amazon” button under the “add to cart” button.

Anyone can use algorithmic pricing

More companies are using algorithmic pricing than you might think, and they don't have to be all that large and sophisticated. For a relatively small fee, any independent seller can obtain the services of a firm that will adjust its prices in real time.

The Northeastern team found these third party sellers have access to a number of different pricing strategies that include finding the lowest price offered by competitors and going above it by a set dollar amount or percentage.

"Amazon has a relatively low number of algo sellers--from 2% to 10%," Wilson said. "But they cover almost a third of the best-selling products offered by outside merchants, so the impact is large."

Amazon has its own system for selecting companies whose products get featured in the buy box, but Wilson says consumers can't assume the product has the lowest price. The chief take away from the study, he says, is that consumers need to take the time to look through the other seller options and consider them carefully.

Brick and mortar retailers continue to lose business to Amazon.com, which works to make the buying process easy and seamless. You search for a product, it...

Amazon launching its own perishable brands, reports say

Everything from soup to nuts may be included under the new house brands

It would almost be easier to write a news story about what Amazon is not doing rather than trying to keep up with everything it is doing. In the latest development, the Wall Street Journal says Amazon will soon roll out its own private-label perishable foods under a variety of brands.

The new house brands include Happy Belly, Wickedly Prime and Mama Bear, according to the Journal. They include everything from nuts to coffee to baby food to vitamins.  

Private-label brands are nothing new, of course, but they are increasingly popular at supermarkets and specialty outlets. Trader Joe's, in particular, sells almost exclusively its own brands and has succeeded in positioning them as superior, or at least more economical, to competing national brands.

Houseful of house brands

Amazon, of course, already has a houseful of house brands, including Pinzon linens and Elements baby wipes. Its AmazonBasics line includes hundreds of gadgets and convenience items, including audio cables, computer mouse units, and even dumbbells. It recently introduced new fashion lines including Lark & Ro and North Eleven.

Retailers like store brands because they're more profitable. Consumers once regarded what were once called "generic" items as lower quality but now mostly accept the notion that they are backed by the retailer, whose brand is often better etched into customers' consciousness than national brands once were.

Amazon is itself one of the most powerful brands on earth today, ranking at number twelve on Forbes' listings of the world's most valuable brands. The Kindle line of e-readers and tablets is also a well-established brand these days.

Maybe someday Amazon will launch its own brand of car. It could call it the Kardle. 

It would almost be easier to write a news story about what Amazon is not doing rather than trying to keep up with everything it is doing. In the latest dev...

Court finds Amazon liable for unauthorized in-app charges

It's a case that's very similar to the FTC's action against Apple

When a child uses an app to charge things to Amazon without permission, the liability is Amazon's, not the parents'.

That's the conclusion of a U.S. District Court judge who sided with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its complaint against the online retail giant.

Amazon operates an Appstore in which customers can view and download apps to use on Android mobile devices or Kindle Fire tablets. These apps can take many forms. Some include functions that allow users to play games, watch movies, or read books. Some are free while some charge per download.

Source of confusion

The FTC got involved because it said the evidence showed consumers had difficulty understanding which apps involved charges and which were completely free. Confusion arose in particular, the FTC claimed, when consumers downloaded free apps and then made purchases while using them – charges known as “in-app purchases.”

For example, the court found a child using a “free” app might be prompted to use money – which might appear imaginary and part of the game – to buy things. In reality, the court found, they were spending real money.

The judge in the case also found that Amazon received complaints from parents about these in-app purchases, claiming they were unauthorized. The court ultimately found Amazon' disclosures about free apps potentially carrying charges were not sufficient.

Full refunds?

“We are pleased the federal judge found Amazon liable for unfairly billing consumers for unauthorized in-app purchases by children,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, said in a statement. “We look forward to making a case for full refunds to consumers as a result of Amazon’s actions.”

What remains to be determined is exactly how much in the way of refunds Amazon will be required to provide.

Several years ago, Apple found itself in a similar situation over precisely the same practice. In 2013 it agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over unauthorized in-app purchases, paying out a total of $100 million.

The settlement required Amazon to compensate parents whose children charged $30 or less, but all the parents didn't actually receive cash. Instead of getting their money back, parents with an iTunes account received $5 in iTunes store credit. Parents who did not have an iTunes account got $5.

Provisions were made to parents whose children ran up more than $30 in charges, but the parents were required to produce documentation of the charges.

When a child uses an app to charge things to Amazon without permission, the liability is Amazon's, not the parents'.That's the conclusion of a U.S. Dis...

Amazon offering its Prime Video as a standalone service in a challenge to Netflix

Prime Video will be priced one dollar less than Netflix's new higher rate

Amazon is rolling out its popular Prime Video as a standalone service, selling it for $8.99 a month. That will soon be one dollar less than Netflix, which is raising its monthly subscription rate to $9.99 next month.

Prime Video has previously been available for free to the millions of consumers who are members of its $99-per-year Prime shopping service, which includes free shipping on many items, free e-book rentals, and other perks.

And speaking of Prime, Amazon says it will offer it on a monthly basis as well, for $10.99. The obvious hope is that for a few dollars more, most consumers will choose to buy the whole package rather than just the video.

Netflix and Amazon have been prime contenders in the video-streaming business for years and lately have been putting their efforts into producing top-flight original dramas, series, and comedies, like Netflix hits "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black" and Amazon's "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle."

Both Netflix and Amazon's streaming services are distributed by Amazon's cloud data service, Amazon Web Services (AWS).

None of this is really surprising. As the Wall Street Journal noted in today's editions, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings predicted back in 2012 that Amazon would offer its Prime Video as a standalone service.

Making the Prime shopping service available on a monthly basis also raises the stakes for all online retailers, since consumers who previously couldn't bring themselves to pay $99 to shop online may find it a bit easier to cough up $10.99 for a month or two around the Christmas shopping season.

Amazon is rolling out its popular Prime Video as a standalone service, selling it for $8.99 a month. That will soon be one dollar less than Netflix, which ...

Amazon introduces eighth-generation Kindle, the Oasis

Battery life stretches to months thanks to an included charging cover

Amazon's Kindle is one of those little devices that started a revolution. It made more books accessible to more people than ever but also included quite a bit of collateral damage, to wit, the virtual sacking and burning of the nation's bookstores. 

The hardest thing about revolutions, of course, isn't starting them, it's keeping them going. Amazon has worked hard to keep the Kindle current, tweaking the display, controls, and battery life with each new edition.

The latest edition, the Kindle Oasis, made its debut today and features, among other things, a cover that includes a charger-battery combination that helps extend battery life to months instead of weeks -- assuming you don't read much.

We're told you can also hold the Kindle in one hand. That sounds simple, but those of us who are more or less permanently attached to the previous Kindle, the Voyage, will tell you that it can be hard to hold one-handed without inadvertently hitting page-turn controls located along both sides of the screen.

The Oasis, by contrast, is thicker on one side than the other, creating a sort of natural handle. It works for both right-handed people and southpaws. Just flip it over and the right side becomes the left, and so on.

One thing about the Kindles -- they only do one thing: deliver and display books. You can't call a friend, play a game, or pay your bills. But in their defense, each generation of the Kindle has gotten just a bit slicker than its predecessor and thus displays books very well indeed. 

They've gotten pricier too. The Oasis, when it ships later this month, will set you back $290 while the original Kindle was somewhere around $80. 

One consolation: the Oasis includes a leather cover, which was an option for earlier editions. 

A modest suggestion

For awhile there, it looks like Amazon was more or less giving away the Kindle to help it sell more books, which were once priced beginning at 99 cents. Now the books are more expensive and so are the Kindles, but those who are hopelessly addicted to reading or allergic to streaming videos continue to cling to them.

Oh, about those leather covers: they all come in dark shades, like brown, black, and merlot. Those of us who carry our Kindles around all day are constantly losing them because the dark-colored covers blend into most backgrounds. 

Maybe we could get a canary yellow or flaming red next time? Or a "find my Kindle" app?

--

Shocking disclosure: We order our Kindles and pay full price for them, just like everyone else. No promotional considerations accepted. 

Amazon's Kindle is one of those little devices that started a revolution. It made more books accessible to more people than ever but ...

Amazon expands same-day delivery to 11 markets

That brings the total number of same day delivery markets to 27

Amazon has added 11 more metro areas where members of Prime can get free same day delivery, as long as the order is for more than $35. The same day delivery will be available seven days a week in:

  • Charlotte
  • Cincinnati
  • Fresno
  • Louisville
  • Milwaukee
  • Nashville
  • Raleigh
  • Richmond
  • Sacramento
  • Stockton
  • Tucson

Amazon says it has also added same day delivery areas in parts of Central New Jersey, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, and San Diego. According to the online retailer, Prime same day delivery now exists in 27 metro areas in the U.S.

“Prime was developed to make shopping on Amazon fast and convenient, and millions of members have used Prime free same-day delivery to make their lives even easier,” Greg Greeley, Vice President of Prime, said in a statement.

He said the company plans to keep enhancing Amazon's membership service as operational capabilities grow.

Amazon Prime is an annual membership program costing $99 a year. Among its benefits is unlimited free two-day shipping across all categories.

Amazon has added 11 more metro areas where members of Prime can get free same day delivery, as long as the order is for more than $35. The same day deliver...

Amazon announces PayPal-like program

It saves consumers from having to set up a separate account with each retailer

Amazon is launching a PayPal-like service, hoping to greatly expand its Amazon Payments program. Dubbed the Amazon Payments Partner Program, it is being made available to merchants in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan.

With 304 million customers, Amazon brings an enormous base of signed-up, ready-to-pay consumers to merchants who join the program. Like PayPal, it eliminates the need for consumers to set up an account with each merchant, potentially providing better security and fewer hassles.

It also brings Amazon's popular one-click ordering system to thousands of new merchants, notes Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, an e-commerce solutions provider which owns FreeShipping.com.

"Amazon is perhaps the most trusted retailer in the U.S.  The certification process will help spread that trust to participating merchants, which is very valuable, especially for smaller retailers," Caporaso said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. "They’ll also benefit from the one-click payment process, which offers speed and convenience to customers — yet another benefit of shopping with Amazon, even when people aren’t shopping at Amazon.com."  

No cost to consumers

There is no cost to consumers for using the service. Merchants pay 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction, which is similar to PayPal's charges.

Besides offering the program to merchants, Amazon is proposing to integrate it into existing "storefront" programs that retailers use to manage their online businesses. One of the more popular storefront programs, Shopify, provides online services for 243,000 merchants, all of whom will have the option to include Amazon Payments on their sites.

“Our merchants want to offer their customers a payment solution that is trusted, easy and familiar,” said  Brennan Loh, Director of Business Development at Shopify. “We’re excited to be a Premier Partner in the Amazon Payments Partner Program, enabling our merchants to offer Pay with Amazon."

Besides its immediate benefits, the Global Partner Service will help Amazon expand its grip on the e-commerce marketplace.

"Amazon will ... be able to collect and analyze even more data on its customers, which will help it further tailor offers and services to individual customers and larger demographic groups.  Customization is a key step in building loyalty," Caporaso said. "This is further proof that Amazon doesn’t just want to be the 'Everything Store;' it wants to be the 'Everything Business.'”

Amazon is launching a PayPal-like service, hoping to greatly expand its Amazon Payments program. Dubbed the Amazon Payments Partner Program, it is being ma...

Update older Kindles or lose Internet connectivity

Amazon says critical software update required by March 22

If you own a kindle purchased before 2013, Amazon says you'll need to install a critical software update before Tuesday, March 22, or lose access to the Internet.

Without Internet access, of course, you would be limited to reading the books and magazines currently on your e-reader – you would not be able to download more. The update is required on devices sold in 2012 or before.

Updating before March 22 is fairly simple. If your Kindle e-reader does not have the latest software version, connect your device to Wi-Fi to receive the software update.

How to update

Once connected to the  Internet:

  1. From the home screen, select Menu and then choose Sync and Check for Items.
  2. Plug the device in and leave it plugged in, connected to the Internet, overnight.

Amazon says the new software will download automatically and self-install. The device may restart multiple times during the process.

If you don't update the software by the deadline, you can still install it – but it will have to be done manually, since you will no longer have Internet access. You will be able to download the software update to a PC, then connect the Kindle via USB port, and transfer it that way.

Once you have successfully installed the update, you'll receive a message on your screen to that effect.

Affected devices

The devices requiring an update are:

  • Kindle 1st Generation (2007)
  • Kindle 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle DX 2nd Generation (2009)
  • Kindle Keyboard 3rd Generation (2010)
  • Kindle 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle 5th Generation (2012)
  • Kindle Touch 4th Generation (2011)
  • Kindle Paperwhite 5th Generation (2012)

Still confused? Amazon has step-by-step directions here.

If you own a kindle purchased before 2013, Amazon says you'll need to install a critical software update before Tuesday, March 22, or lose access to the In...

Amazon inks deal to lease 20 aircraft to deliver packages

The move will allow the company more control over its operations and provide faster delivery times

Way back in December of 2013, Amazon unveiled its concept for Amazon Prime Air – a drone delivery service that would be able to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. While the service has yet to take off, so to say, Amazon is not sitting back and waiting to take to the skies.

Reuters reports that Amazon has struck a deal to lease 20 Boeing 767 aircraft from Air Transport Services Group Inc (ATSG). With the move, Amazon will be able to take more control over its shipping and business operations while allowing them to deliver packages at an even faster rate. The lease agreement will last anywhere from five to seven years, according to ATSG.

Included in the deal is an option for Amazon to buy up to 19.9% of ATSG’s stock over five years. Word of the deal has moved quickly and investors have begun to respond. ATSG shares jumped 21% in premarket trading on Wednesday. 

Way back in December of 2013, Amazon unveiled its concept for Amazon Prime Air – a drone delivery service that would be able to deliver packages to custome...

Amazon jumps into home shopping TV

Style Code Live will feature products available through Amazon

Amazon.com's foray into video streaming will take another turn tonight when the online giant premiers its first live show. The program is not just entertainment, but is designed to sell product.

Unlike other streaming offerings that are provided on-demand, Style Code Live will stream live weeknights at 9 ET/6PT. It will cover fashion and beauty, featuring interviews with style experts.

It will also show products that viewers can purchase and make it easy to buy them at Amazon.com. Unlike Amazon's other video offerings, Style Code Live will be free to all viewers. You can access it here.

Three hosts

The program will feature three hosts – Lyndsey Rodrigues, Rachel Smith, and Frankie Grande. Rodrigues has hosted shows including MTV’s Total Request Live and has interviewed a range of film and music stars. Smith is a correspondent at ABC News for Good Morning America and Nightline. Grande is a television personality and theatre actor who has appeared on CBS’s Big Brother 16.

Amazon says the show will have interactive features such as live chat, allowing audience members to join the conversation or pose questions. It will also prominently display products available through Amazon.

A “Style Carousel” directly under the Style Code Live player constantly updates to highlight products available on Amazon as they are featured in the show.

Natural evolution

The program is perhaps the natural evolution for a company that is firmly embedded in both the media and retail worlds.

“Our customers love fashion, and have wanted a place to keep up with new trends and get expert tips. We created Style Code Live for them, and we are just getting started with this show,” executive producer Munira Rahemtulla, said in a statement. “The team can't wait for tonight’s premiere.”

Amazon hopes to compete with HSN, QVC, and ShopNBC, three of the major shop at home television networks. According to Racked.com, HSN sold $2.5 billion in merchandise in 2014.

Amazon.com's foray into video streaming will take another turn tonight when the online giant premiers its first live show. The program is not just entertai...

Amazon set to open second bookstore in San Diego

Plans to open more locations across the nation have been speculated on as well

After opening its first bookstore in Seattle this past November, Amazon is staging to open another literary location in San Diego this summer. Original rumors of the store opening started circulating in February when job listings for the store were posted, but it was recently confirmed by an Amazon representative in a report by The San Diego Union- Tribune.

If the Seattle location is any indicator, the new bookstore will be offering an array of best-selling books and electronic equipment; these include Amazon products like Kindles, Fire TVs and tablets, and the Echo. The San Diego Union- Tribune also reports that the new store will have an “upscale” style, one that matches its location at the University Towne Center Mall.

While the induction of these physical bookstores has been slow to start, there has been some speculation that as many as 400 stores may be planned to open across the nation. The quote was provided by General Growth Properties (GGP) after analyzing an earning’s call.

"You’ve got Amazon opening brick-and-mortar bookstores and their goal is to open, as I understand, 300 to 400,” said a GGP executive at the time. However, the company quickly stepped back from this statement, saying that its suggestion was “not intended to represent Amazon’s plans.”

Whatever their eventual plans may be for the chain, Amazon states that it is happy to be moving forward with its second location. “We are excited to be bringing Amazon Books to the University Towne Center Mall in San Diego and we are currently hiring store managers and associates,” said Amazon spokesperson Sarah Gelman. “Stay tuned for additional details down the road.”

After opening its first bookstore in Seattle this past November, Amazon is staging to open another literary location in San Diego this summer. Original rum...

Amazon now has seven of its own clothing brands

Experts say the affordably priced clothing already seems poised for success

Amazon recently launched seven of its own private label clothing brands: Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scout + Ro, and Society New York.

Reports note that while there wasn’t much in the way of launch day fanfare, the stylish and affordably priced brands seem poised for success.

Getting in on the fast fashion game by offering relatively inexpensive basics will allow Amazon to take advantage of gaps in its variety from outside vendors, says fashion site WWD.

Affordably priced

The new lines -- which currently account for 1,800 listings on the site -- are as fashionable as they are budget-friendly. Women’s dresses are priced under $100, while men’s suits are listed for under $300.

James & Erin, North Eleven, Society New York, and Lark & Ro focus on women’s apparel, while Franklin & Freeman and Franklin Tailored offer dress shoes and apparel for men. Scout + Ro has the little ones covered.

Lark & Ro, which sells dresses for $66.50, offers a “practical yet polished look” for women on-the-go. Their collection of smart casual looks has everything from classic staples to fun florals. Lark & Ro also claims to source fabrics that will hold up all day, without creasing or wrinkles.

Franklin & Freeman focuses on men’s dress shoes and loafers, the majority of which will only set you back about $65. To go with your new shoes, head over to Franklin Tailored to take care of your suit and tie needs. Ties are priced at around $25 and suits are generally under $250.

Scout + Ro offers clothing for boys and girls aged 4 to 14. The brand describes its kid-friendly clothing as, “confident, comfortable, and ready-for-anything.” Girls and boys tops are going for around $10 to $15 and pants for around $20.

Next steps

While Amazon has not officially confirmed it, reports speculate that the brand is already working to build its private label team. Job openings for head of marketing, senior brand manager, senior sourcing manager, and senior merchandiser for its private fashion label unit are currently open.

“Apparel is one of Amazon’s fastest-growing categories,” notes Ed Yruma, KeyBlanc Capital analyst, whose team believes the low barriers to entry, size, and significant competitive set "make this an attractive category for Amazon." 

He adds, however, that there is more work to be done to scale the site’s foray into the realm of apparel. Yruma believes greater brand cooperation with third-party seller restrictions and an owned-brand approach will be necessary for future growth and success.

Amazon recently launched seven of its own private label clothing brands: Franklin & Freeman, Franklin Tailored, James & Erin, Lark & Ro, North Eleven, Scou...

Amazon offers discount on Prime memberships in honor of Golden Globes award

Consumers need to move fast though -- the deal only lasts through this weekend

The time for holiday shopping is now firmly behind us as we move into the new year, but did you end up getting everything you wanted? Online shopping continued to grow this past year, and online memberships provided huge benefits to consumers who shelled out the money and took advantage of them.

Luckily, Amazon, one of the more popular online retailers, has decided to make signing up for a membership a little more affordable for a short time. For this coming weekend only, the company is discounting the price of its annual membership, Amazon Prime, by roughly 26%.

The discount honors Amazon’s recent Golden Globe award for its original series “Mozart in the Jungle”, according to Business Insider. Consumers looking to take advantage of it will only have to pay $73 for the membership, a nod towards this year’s 73rd annual Golden Globes.

Amazon Prime comes with a number of benefits for the consumer, including free two-day shipping, free same-day delivery on select items, and access to several different features, like Prime Instant Video, Prime Music, and Prime Photos.  

The sale will begin officially on Friday at 9:00 p.m. (PST) and will end on Sunday at 11:59 p.m. (PST). 

The time for holiday shopping is now firmly behind us as we move into the new year, but did you end up getting everything you wanted? Online shopping conti...

Amazon shortens delivery times in more markets

Prime members in Chicago and Orlando now get free same day deliveries

Amazon.com continues to increase the number of markets where it provides same-day delivery.

The online retailer says the Chicago and Orlando metro areas and parts of New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia are the latest places where Prime members can get free same-day delivery

Amazon now provides the service to more than 750 cities and towns across 16 metro areas. Under the system, Prime members can order by noon and receive all same-day orders over $35 before bedtime that very same day, seven days a week.

Amazon has focused intense efforts on speeding delivery to better compete with brick-and-mortal retailers, as well as online competitors.

"We're focused on making Prime better and better,” said Greg Greeley, vice president of Amazon Prime.

What consumers need today

What do consumers order for same day delivery? In addition to fun items like the latest electronics, Amazon says the orders include the Fire TV Stick, Crest 3D White Luxe Strips, and Optimum Nutrition chocolate-flavored protein powder.

Orders vary by locality. In New York, Amazon says it receives rush orders for water filters. In Atlanta, inflatable water toys are popular same-day items. In San Francisco, there are a lot of same-day orders for bicycle locks.

In California, Amazon is expanding the areas where Prime customers can get one-hour deliveries of certain products. Customers in most San Francisco and San Jose neighborhoods such as Potrero Hill, Mountain View, and Cupertino can now use the one-hour service. Customers can enter their zip code in the Prime Now app to see if their neighborhood is eligible or to be notified when the service is available in their area.

Delivery the new battleground

Now that consumers can order just about anything online, the next area of competition is free delivery and the speed at which the merchandise arrives. Among the major retailers offering free shipping on at least some items are TargetApple, and Kohl's. All require a certain order amount to qualify.

Online retailers that use Federal Express may be able to deliver the same day, in some cases, to consumers willing to pay the express charge. Fed Ex says it can get some parcels to your door within hours.

During the 2014 holiday season, free shipping almost became the norm. To make an online sale, a retailer almost had to eat the shipping charges. Many retail analysts think that will be even more prevalent this year.

Amazon.com continues to increase the number of markets where it provides same-day delivery.The online retailer says the Chicago and Orlando metro areas...

Amazon sues review-for-hire writers

Seeks to identify individuals using jobs sites to pitch phony review-writing services

When you are buying something online, there are often plenty of consumer reviews about the product. But can you trust them?

After all, a number of enterprising souls are selling their services to online marketers, offering to write a five-star review for only $5; this means that a glowing review might mean very little.

Amazon.com is going on the attack against this practice. The company has filed a lawsuit in King County, Washington Superior Court against 1,114 individuals currently identified as John Doe. It charges them with breach of contract for violating Amazon's terms of service agreement.

“Honest and unbiased reviews allow customers to shop with confidence at Amazon.com,” the suit says. “Amazon takes the credibility of its customer reviews very seriously.”

Unfair advantage

The suit says a “small minority” of sellers and manufacturers try to gain an unfair advantage by paying people to post positive reviews, regardless of whether they have even seen the product. This practice, says Amazon, undermines trust and tarnishes the company's brand.

Despite attempts to keep reviews on the up-and-up, the company says “an unhealthy ecosystem has developed outside of Amazon to supply reviews in exchange for payment.”

Amazon targeted its defendants by their solicitations on a freelance jobs site called Fiverr. The writers used handles in place of names, but Amazon said it is taking steps to learn their identities.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

In April, Amazon filed suit against websites that allegedly marketed fake reviews to businesses that sold products on Amazon.com. The suit, also filed in Washington state, accused the companies of false advertising, trademark infringement, and violating consumer protection laws.  

When you are buying something online, there are often plenty of consumer reviews about the product. But can you trust them?After all, a number of enter...

Amazon boots Apple TV & Google Chromecast

Says they're not compatible with Amazon Prime

Amazon is showing the door to Apple TV and Google Chromecast, two popular streaming video products that aren't compatible with its Amazon Prime Video service, Bloomberg Business reported.

Besides their supposed incompatability with Prime Video, the devices also compete with Amazon's Fire TV and Fire TV stick.

Amazon said both Apple TV and Google Chromecast will disappear from its site on Oct. 29, and no new listings for either product will be accepted.

"Roku, Xbox, PlayStation, and Fire TV are excellent choices," the company said in a statement.

"Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime," Amazon told vendors in an email. "It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion."

Amazon is showing the door to Apple TV and Google Chromecast, two popular streaming video products that aren't compatible with its Amazon Prime Video servi...

Like delivering packages? Amazon has a deal for you

Amazon Flex is an Uber-like package delivery service -- minus those annoying passengers

So maybe you'd like to get paid for driving around, but you can't stand making small talk, which sort of rules out driving for Uber or Lyft. Ah, but now Amazon will pay you to drive around and deliver packages.

The Uber-style package delivery service is called Amazon Flex, and it launched today in Seattle, with plans to roll out shortly in New York, Chicago, and other large cities.

Drivers will be paid $18 to $25 an hour to deliver packages ordered up through Amazon Prime Now, the company's one-hour delivery service. Shifts are two, four, or eight hours.

You'll need the usual -- a car, a smartphone (Android, not iPhone) and a clean criminal record. 

Amazon says drivers can work as much or as little as they like. It's not clear from Amazon's announcement whether the pay is hourly or per piece, a detail you might want to be sure you understand before diving in.

Some former Uber and Lyft drivers have become disenchanted and filed suit, claiming they should actually be classified as employees rather than independent contractors.

To avoid disappointment, freelancers looking for "gigs" need to think of themselves as businesspeople. While it's true that you'll be responsible for gas, car maintenance, insurance, etc., remember that these are deductible business expenses. You may also be able to take a depreciation deduction for your car. Talk to an accountant to work out a strategy.

Incorporating as an LLC is also a good idea. It provides important liability protection and is very inexpensive.

So maybe you'd like to get paid for driving around, but you can't stand making small talk, which sort of rules out driving for Uber or Lyft. Ah, but now Am...

Amazon introduces seven-inch tablet for $49.99

If you buy five, Amazon will throw in an extra at no charge

Amazon.com has been known to try to get a jump on the holiday shopping season. Its July 15 Prime Day promotion is a successful example.

The online retailer is at it again, taking the wraps off a new seven-inch tablet for $49.99. The product is available for pre-order, with shipping beginning on September 30.

To make it even cheaper, Amazon is offering its new Fire tablet in a six-pack; if you buy five of the devices, you get a sixth free, meaning it could replace the fruit cake or fruit-of-the-month club as the ubiquitous holiday gift.

Front and back cameras

The new tablet features a 1024 x 600 seven-inch display with a 1.3 GHz quad-core processor and rear and front cameras. It comes with 8 GB of internal storage and free unlimited cloud storage, as long as it is Amazon content and photos taken with Fire devices. You can add a microSD card for up to 128 GB of additional storage.

It runs Fire OS 5 and provides up to seven hours of battery life.

“Today, we’re taking another step in our mission to deliver premium products at non-premium prices,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com CEO. “The all-new Fire features a quad-core processor, is incredibly durable, and is backed by the Amazon content ecosystem, the new AmazonUnderground, and Amazon customer service with Mayday Screen Sharing.”

Flat sales

The tablet, as a device, appears to be at a crossroads. Apple this month introduced a larger tablet, the iPad Pro – a device aimed at business users. With the $50 Fire, Amazon is banking on entertainment users to drive sales.

These changes come at a time when tablet sales have leveled off. According to Statista, global tablet shipments declined from 48 million in the second quarter of 2014 to 44.7 million in the second quarter of this year.

Technology publication TechCrunch speculates the market has become saturated while consumers find they prefer their recently more sophisticated smartphones over a bulkier tablet.

Amazon is likely banking on the lower price point to lure consumers back to tablets. Since Amazon increasingly positions itself as a content provider, it stands to profit in other ways than strictly the sale of hardware.

The company points out the tablet will give users access to over 38 million movies, TV shows, songs, books, apps, and games, as well as other features like X-Ray, ASAP, and Second Screen.

Amazon.com has been known to try to get a jump on the holiday shopping season. Its July 15 Prime Day promotion is a successful example.The online retai...

Amazon planning a $50 tablet for the holidays, reports say

The big retailer perhaps hopes a lower price will work wonders

Amazon's Fire tablet didn't exactly set the world on fire and some of its other gadgets haven't done so well either. So this time around, instead of relying on tech wizardry the giant retailer is hoping a low price will move the merchandise.

The company is planning to release a $50 tablet with a 6-inch screen in time for this year's holiday shopping season, the Wall Street Journal reports today. That would be half the price of Amazon's current Fire HD and a lot less than the price of comparable products from Apple, Samsung, et al.

The device won't have all the bells and whistles of more expensive tablets and will be intended mostly for such simple tasks as streaming video and, of course, shopping on Amazon. For $50, it's basically disposable, which should make it a good gift for children and others who aren't always too careful with delicate tech toys.

Competing with Apple is an exercise that's fraught with peril, however. Later this week, Apple is expected to release new iPad and iPhone versions, possibly including some lower-priced models that could once again douse Amazon's flames. 

In addition, there are already plenty of low-end tablets selling for around $50, making it difficult for Amazon to find a niche a can dominate, many tech watchers speculate.

Amazon's Fire tablet didn't exactly set the world on fire and some of its other gadgets haven't done so well either. So this time around, instead of relyin...

Amazon records “record sales” on Prime Day

Says sales beat its best Black Friday ever

It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday's Prime Day sales shattered records, exceeding even its best Black Friday ever.

The achievement is a bit more impressive because consumers had to be members of Amazon Prime to take part. While it costs $99 a year to be a Prime member, Amazon allowed anyone to sign up for a 30-day free trial membership and take part in the sale.

Amazon said consumers did in droves, with more new members trying Prime worldwide than any single day in Amazon history. When all was said and done, the company reported members ordered 34.4 million items across Prime-eligible countries, breaking all Black Friday records with 398 items ordered per second.

Beat Black Friday by 18%

“Worldwide order growth increased 266% over the same day last year and 18% more than Black Friday 2014 – all in an event exclusively available to Prime members,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President, Amazon Prime.

July 15 was selected since it was Amazon's anniversary. Greeley said the company went into the promotion expecting it would be a one-off thing. But after getting the attention of rival Walmart and setting sales records, Greeley said Prime Day will likely become an annual event.

Among the milestones set during the promotion, Prime Members ordered tens of thousands of Fire TV Sticks in one hour, making it the fastest-selling deal on an Amazon device ever. Fire tablet sales exceeded sales on Black Friday last year.

The company sold 47,000 television sets in a single day, a 1300% increase over July 15 last year. It sold 51,000 Bose headphones, compared to the 8 it sold the previous Wednesday.

Dissent

In the midst of Amazon's victory lap, there are a few voices of dissent. CBS Moneywatch interviewed a number of consumers who said they were disappointed at what was on sale and the depth of the discounts.

“I was frustrated to see that only a certain amount of users could claim each deal," Doug Messer, a Prime member from Westchester, N.Y., told CBS. "We found a TV we wanted and when we went to claim it, we were added to a waitlist. Not really a deal if only a certain percentage of visitors can take advantage of it."

On Twitter, a consumer named Thomas Nguyen said he tried to buy a selfie stick but was number 293 on the wait list.

“Not sure if this is the low point in my life or not,” he Tweeted.

Walmart, which took up the Amazon challenge by launching price “rollbacks” of its own, has released no sales figures from yesterday. Instead, it is still offering digs at its online rival, proclaiming on its website “No 1-day sales here! Just savings every day.”

It might have been dismissed as a marketing gimmick, wrapped in a lot of hype, but when the cash register receipts were recorded, Amazon.com says Wednesday...

Amazon vs. Walmart: stakes are bigger than just a day of sales

Retailers may be trying to win consumers over for the long haul

Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the middle of July.

When Amazon announced its Prime Day for July 15, it boasted that its one-day deals for its Prime members would beat those offered on Black Friday, the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.

BestBlackFriday.com, operated by Jones-Dengler Marketing, threw down a challenge of its own, listing some of last year's Black Friday specials and challenging Amazon to beat those prices. After viewing the Prime Day deals at midnight, BestBlackFriday.com's Philip Dengler had to admit, Amazon did what it said it would do.

“To our surprise, they are beating Black Friday 2014 prices on some of the most sought-after items,” Dengler told ComsumerAffairs in an email.

Side-by-side comparison

Dengler and his associates reached that conclusion after doing a side-by-side comparison of last year's Black Friday deals and Amazon's Prime Day prices.

“While Black Friday wins in a few areas, Prime Day is winning where it counts,” Dengler said. “They have the lowest price on the very popular 32" and 40" televisions.”

Dengler said Amazon is also winning on the Kindle Fire 7, Kindle Fire 7 Kids Version, Crucial MX100 Drives, VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch, Bose SoundTrue Headphones On-Ear Style and many other items.

“Judging by the information available to us now, we think Amazon was right in their Prime Day comparison to Black Friday,” Dengler said.

Walmart's response

These prices, of course, are only available to consumers who have paid $99 a year to be Prime members, a point Walmart has made in its none-too-subtle promotion of its own sale. Visitors to Walmart.com are greeted with a bold banner declaring “thousands of new rollbacks, no upfront fees!”

Why would these two retail giants be duking it out in the dead of summer with seemingly little at stake? As we reported yesterday, consumers were sitting on their wallets last month, resulting in disappointing retail sales.

Amazon's motivation probably lies in a desire to boost Prime memberships. Walmart's response may be driven by a determination not to let its rival get out in front on anything. Both are taking the opportunity to try to win over consumers who do most of their shopping online.

Increasing e-service quality

"Increased e-service quality is associated with increased customer satisfaction, which then leads to higher repurchase intentions," said Vikas Mittal, professor of marketing at Rice University. "In other words, increasing e-service quality enhances customer satisfaction and the likelihood of customer repurchase. If Amazon and Wal-Mart want to keep their customers coming back, they must focus on increasing satisfaction via e-service quality."

Mittal and an international team of colleagues have completed a study of what makes up e-service quality. Price is only one part of it.

Their analysis identified four core dimensions of e-service quality: website design, fulfilment, customer service and security/privacy. Together, these four dimensions strongly impact overall e-service quality, the authors conclude. And they should be there 365 days a years – even when the sale prices aren't.

Amazon and Walmart are going at it today in a battle of high-profile sales, trying to win over consumers who don't normally go on a shopping spree in the m...

It's on! Walmart responds to Amazon's Prime Day

Retailers clash over who can offer best mid-summer savings

By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism.

Walmart, America's largest retailer, isn't taking the challenge lying down. While Amazon is promising huge one-day savings for members of Amazon Prime, Walmart is having a sale of its own. And in a dig at its online rival, Walmart says you don't have to pay a membership fee to save money.

“We’ve heard some retailers are charging $100 to get access to a sale,” Ferbando Madeira, president and CEO of Walmart, wrote in a blog. “But the idea of asking customers to pay extra in order to save money just doesn’t add up for us.”

Slew of discounts

With the holiday shopping season still months away, Wamart said it will lower the purchase threshold for free shipping and promises to unveil a slew of discounts on Wednesday, when Amazon hopes to reap a bonanza in sales.

Earlier this month Amazon announced Prime Day as a challenge to Black Friday, the official start to the holiday shopping season – a day famous for dramatic mark-downs at retail stores. On Wednesday, new and existing Prime members will have access to a series of Black Friday style bargains, with new deals posted as often as every 10 minutes.

Amazon says Prime Members can shop thousands of Lightning Deals, 7 popular Deals of the Day and receive unlimited fast, free shipping. The promotion may not just be about moving merchandise, but also signing up prime members.

It costs $99 a year to be a Prime member but you get free second-day shipping on purchases and access to video content, as well as the ability to borrow Kindle ebooks at no charge.

Black Friday challenge

As we reported earlier, Amazon's challenge to Black Friday promotions caught the attention of a Black Friday deal site, BestBlackFriday.com. The folks at Jones-Dengler Marketing, which operates the website, responded to Amazon by issuing a challenge of their own.

“Since Amazon is claiming Prime Day will surpass Black Friday in items and prices, we issued them a challenge,” BestBlackFriday.com's Phil Dengler said in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We listed the prices for the most popular items in their sale, and across other retailers, on Black Friday 2014 and dared them to go lower.”

All of this, no doubt, is good for consumers who don't want to wait until the holidays to find good deals. But it goes without saying it's pretty good for Amazon too. Every time a rival challenges Prime Day, it simply calls more attention to Amazon's Christmas-in-July promotion.

By declaring Wednesday, July 15 “Prime Day,” Amazon.com has unleashed the competitive juices of American capitalism. Walmart, America's largest retailer...

Amazon's Echo will turn on your lights, open the garage door and remind you to take out the garbage

No one at home to nag you? Here's the answer

We talk to our computers and other gadgets all the time but, like our significant others, they mostly ignore us. Amazon hopes to change all that with its latest gee-whiz gadget -- the Echo, a slender tube that is somehow reminiscent of the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," only without corners.

The Echo doesn't appear to do much but Amazon assures us that it's always listening, ready to respond to our slightest wish, as long as that wish is something that can be answered by a weather report, Taylor Swift tune or other digitally-rendered data or activity.

And no, it's not just a knock-off of Apple's Siri. While Siri just rides around in your pocket, the Echo stays home and gets stuff done.  

It's a smart hands-free remote control, in other words. It's been available by invitation-only for the past seven months and Amazon assures us that the initial users have been nothing short of ecstatic, giving it a 4.5 (out of 5) rating.

Alexa-powered

“The customer response to Amazon Echo has been incredibly positive, and we’ve been working hard to build more as quickly as possible,” said Greg Hart , Vice President, Amazon Echo. “We’re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.”

The slender tube-like device uses far-field voice recognition with an array of seven microphones to keep tabs on your every whim. It is also stuffed with dual downward-firing speakers that are said to produce 360-degree omni-directional, room-filling audio. It doesn't mumble under its breath when it talks back to you, in other words.

Echo is powered by Alexa, Amazon's cloud-dwelling repository of data that, unlike people, keeps getting smarter, we're told. At launch, Echo featured hands-free voice control for music (Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn), information from Wikipedia and the web, weather, timers and alarms, news, and shopping/to-do lists.

Does this sound like something you just can't live without? If so, Amazon will ship you one for $179.99 starting July 14.

We talk to our computers and other gadgets all the time but, like our significant others, they mostly ignore us. Amazon hopes to chan...

Amazon will pay some authors by the page instead of by the book

Think about it: this may actually be a good thing for readers

Oh-oh. It just got a little harder for writers to eke out a meager living. First it was the Internet, which made it possible for skinflint publishers to tell which newspaper stories people actually looked at (hint: not many), thus spelling the end of many posh assignments.

Now Amazon wants to start paying some authors based on how many pages of their books consumers actually read. 

Books are, after all, one of the few commodities that are often purchased but seldom consumed. In fact, it's hard to think of anything comparable, unless it's that 2001 Porsche 911 that is slowing sinking through the floor of your 94-year-old neighbor's garage. He always meant to drive it but just never seemed to get around to it. Same type of thing is often true of books.

Back when there were such things as real books, people proudly displayed them on coffee tables and bookshelves, prompting occasional queries along the lines of: "Golly, did you actually read all these here books?"

Now it's more an impulse buy. After all, its hard to impress anyone by showing them the contents of your Kindle. But happily for authors, though sadly for readers, Amazon's one-click shopping makes it easy to buy titles that we never quite get around to reading.

In the case of many self-published books in the Amazon library, we get around to starting them but quickly bail out. Because, let's face it, lots of this stuff is not too good and would never have seen the light of day had Amazon not made it as easy to publish an e-book as to post some dumb comment on Facebook.

They take up space

It's not that Amazon's literary sensibilities are offended by much of the dreck in their library but simply that, being penny pinchers, the Amazonians have discovered through digital skullduggery that many of these self-published books are bought but not read in their entirety. This is bad for business; it annoys consumers and takes up bits and bytes that could be used to store listings for stuff that consumers actually consume, like potato chips or gluten-free bread (which is nearly as hard to digest as some self-published books we could name).    

To tighten things up a bit, Amazon says that effective July 1, the way authors get royalties for self-published books in the Amazon Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited services will change. 

As Amazon put it in a note to authors: “We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read. Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.”

Free refills, in other words.

Literary tip jar

The by-the-page payout applies only to Amazon's "subscription" services -- those for which customers pay a set monthly fee. Like the tip jar at Starbucks, all the money from these services gets thrown into a virtual pot and at the end of each month, has been divided among authors based on how many of their books were downloaded that month.

Next month, royalty payments will be based on how many pages readers actually flip through. 

While some might say this will be the end of publishing as we know it, others might say it will be a great service to consumers as it will save us all those two-minute blocks of time we previously wasted reading the first few pages of something that should never have been sold in the first place.

Oh-oh. It just got a little harder for writers to eke out a meager living. First it was the Internet, which made it possible for skinflint publishers to te...

Amazon banking on speedier delivery to bolster business

Now offering free 1-day delivery to Prime members in 14 metros

Amazon.com built its business selling all kinds of things online, making it one of the nation's largest retailers. To win even more business, it's trying to get those purchases to consumers faster – for a price.

When ordering from Amazon, standard delivery is 3 to 5 business days. If you select that option, chances are you won't see you purchase any sooner than that.

In 2005 Amazon launched Amazon Prime. For an annual fee of less than $100 members received free 2-day shipping on all orders. To get their money's worth consumers often felt the need to order lots of stuff, so it worked out.

Amazon has since added other benefits to Prime, including access to streaming video content, added in 2011. But pretty soon, 2-day delivery didn't seem all that fast, so Amazon has consistently focused more attention on ways to get items to consumers even faster.

Same day delivery

Because it has massive distribution centers scattered around the country Amazon is able to offer same-day delivery in several cities, for an extra shipping fee of $5.99.

Amazon has just announced it is extending that service to Prime members in certain cities without the extra shipping charge. They will be able to get some items delivered in just one day, included in the $99 annual fee.

There are several strings attached. Not all items will qualify and purchases must total $35 or more to be eligible.

Purchases must also be made before noon to arrive the same day and the delivery must be to one of 14 metro areas.

Selling delivery

It might be said that delivery has, itself, become a commodity in the marketplace. Other competitors like Walmart and eBay are working on their own delivery deals, perhaps prompting Amazon to push the envelope a bit.

In 2013 Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced plans to use drone aircraft to make deliveries – a plan that still must navigate some challenging regulatory turbulence from the Federal Aviation Administration before it can begin to be implemented.

Last week Amazon disclosed its Prime Now service will provide 1-hour delivery service from other local stores, along with many Amazon items, to members in select Manhattan neighborhoods.

“Our Prime Now hub in Manhattan is home to tens of thousands of products that are being delivered to customers in an hour or less. Now, we are expanding the service to include delivery from local stores,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations. “So whether you’re ordering diapers and a big-screen television from Amazon, fresh produce from D’Agostino, a chef-made prepared meal from Gourmet Garage or cupcakes from Billy’s Bakery, we will get all of the items right to your door in lightning-fast speeds as well.”

Amazon says that service and will eventually spread to include other Manhattan neighborhoods and other major U.S. cities.

Amazon.com built its business selling all kinds of things online, making it one of the nation's largest retailers. To win even more business, it's trying t...

Skepticism surrounds Jet.com, a challenger to Amazon Prime

The new shopping site promises the lowest prices ever but does its value proposition make sense?

A company called Jet.com has been promoting itself as the beginning of the end for Amazon Prime, promising to provide much lower prices to its customers and driving Amazon into the history books.

Although it hasn't launched yet, Jet.com has been raising money at a healthy clip, with about $220 million invested so far. The company's valuation is estimated at about $600 million, which isn't bad for a retailer that has yet to sell a single pair of shoes or box of tissues.

Why are investors so bullish on this upstart?

It's mostly because of its founder and CEO, Marc Lore, lionized on Wall Street as one of the gods of e-commerce. He's known mostly for starting Diapers.com, a successful site that was eventually sold to none other than Amazon, the company Lore now promises to decimate.

And this will happen how, exactly?

Half price!

As Lore tells it, Jet.com will sell memberships for $50 a year, roughly half the $99 cost of Amazon Prime. In exchange, consumers will be guaranteed the absolute lowest prices, along with free shipping for orders over $35.

There are some potential problems with this. For starters, Amazon Prime offers free shipping on nearly everything with no minimum. And, Amazon currently sells literally hundreds of millions of products. Jet.com promises it will have 10 million by the time it launches later this spring.

Then there are all the things that are included free in Prime -- music, streaming video and books to mention a few. 

In business school, budding entrepreneurs learn about something called the "value proposition" -- basically a fancy term that defines what consumers think they're getting for shelling out their money.

In the crudest possible terms, Lore thinks consumers will rush to spend half as much for a Jet.com membership as for a Prime subscription, in exchange for getting access to a fraction of the inventory with no movies, books or tunes thrown in and free shipping only on bigger orders.

Sound good to you?

If so, get that $50 ready to hand over. If not, it might be wise to hold onto the cash for awhile and see what early adopters have to say about it.

A company called Jet.com has been promoting itself as the beginning of the end for Amazon Prime, promising to provide much lower prices to its customers an...

Amazon enters the Home Services market

Hopes to do for the service economy what it already did for retail

This week, Amazon launched a new product aiming to let people buy and sell home services through the company, the way they already can buy physical retail products — expectant parents could always order a crib on Amazon, but now you can also hire someone to put that crib together for you (at least in certain select markets).

Amazon Home Services is, according to Amazon's press release, “a new marketplace for on-demand professional services [from] handpicked pros offering upfront pricing on pre-packaged services.” In other words, Amazon's version of start-ups like TaskRabbit (which is integrating, rather than competing, with Amazon Home Services): Amazon itself isn't providing any services, but listing (and vetting) independent contractors for customers to find.

The company also promises a money-back “Happiness Guarantee” to ensure customers are satisfied with their service purchases.

Thus far, Home Services is only available in select (and for the most part densely populated) urban areas, which currently include Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and of course Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered. Those four cities are currently the only ones offering a “HIGH” level of Home Services coverage, according to Amazon's own map.

But “medium” to “light” coverage is available in over a dozen other cities across the country and, as Amazon's marketing language says, “More locations and service pros are being added to Amazon Home Services every day.”

Reviews are mixed

Reactions thus far have been mixed. Megan Geuss at Ars Technicatried hiring a contractor through Home Services, but it didn't work out:

The cheapest service I could find in my area was getting windshield wipers replaced ($15 if you provide your own wiper blades). I selected that service, hoping that a team of underemployed teens/drones would descend on my vehicle within the hour. I was disappointed to learn that, despite the "Home Services" moniker, I could only get the service if I took my car in to a nearby shop—even then, I couldn't get an appointment until Wednesday. Sorry, but I can replace my own wiper blades, after all.

Other “home” services also turned out to be “in-store” services, including various forms of virus or spyware removal that required customers take their infected devices to a service center.

In my neck of the woods (a part of Virginia technically considered an outermost suburb of Washington D.C.), Amazon only offers a short and oddly inconsistent list of offered services. Under the category “General Repair and Odd Jobs,” for example, there was nobody near my zip code I could hire for “furniture assembly,” although there were offerings for “hutch assembly” ($139), “bookcase” or “bar stool assembly” ($100 each), $150 for “dining set” or “buffet or sideboard assembly” – but nobody who'd assemble a “kitchen island or cart.”

Amazon says that Home Services is “an invite-only marketplace for professional service providers,” who in turn are “handpicked.” That said, the Home Services page also includes a link for service providers to click if they'd like to get an invitation (though Amazon told The Verge that it only accepts 3 out of every 100 professionals in an area).

The gig economy

While most attention to the Home Services rollout focused on the customers' perspective, others wondered what effect this would have on the service providers. Alison Griswold writing for Slate said that Home Services “could take Uber's iffy labor model to a whole new level,” by increasing the number and types of services performed by “independent contractors” rather than “employees” who (at least in theory) have better benefits and job security than pay-by-the-gig independent contractors.

On the other hand, David Lumb at Fast Company proclaimed that Home Services could be “great for gig economy workers,” in part because it will allow them to set their own locally competitive prices. At the same time, Lumb reminded readers of previous Amazon ventures, such as its Fire smartphone and now-defunct subscription diaper service – which launched to much hoopla yet failed to live up to the hype.

And Ars Technica pointed out another potential problem with Home Services: its pricing model. Amazon plans to make money off of Home Services by taking a cut of each contractor's fee – anywhere from 10 to 20 percent, depending on the type of service.

That's likely to work well for one-time hires, but what about recurring services? As Megan Guess said: “Once you find a babysitter or drum teacher you like on Amazon Home Services, there's less of a drive to keep paying through Amazon if the company is taking a cut. If you really love your drum teacher, you'll pay her under the table and let her keep the extra 10 percent.”

This week, Amazon launched a new product aiming to let people buy and sell home services through the company, the way they already can buy physical retail ...

Amazon diaper falls down, goes boom

The "Elements" line of diapers is being disposed of, at least for now

It was with great fanfare that Amazon began selling its own brand of diapers last month. But now the Elements line of diapers is being disposed of as unceremoniously as, well, a used diaper.

"Based on early customer feedback, we are making some design improvements to the diaper. In the meantime, Amazon Elements Soft & Cozy Diapers are no longer available, and we've stopped your subscription," Amazon said in an email to customers who'd signed up for regular diaper shipments, Gigaom reported.

Consumers weren't exactly singing the praises of the new diapers. Some reviews on Amazon's own site panned them for being saggy.

To get the diapers, parents had to be members of Amazon's Prime program, the $99-per-year membership that includes free videos, free two-day shipping and other perks.

As part of its pitch for the diapers, Amazon had said they and other Elements products would be more "transparent" -- meaning that the packaging would include information about the used in making the products, as well as where they're made. Diaper brands in the past have been hit by accusations that their products gave babies rashes and other maladies.  

“Our obsession with customers and drive to continuously innovate on their behalf has led us to create Amazon Elements. The two things customers told us they want are premium products that meet their high standards, and access to information so they can make informed decisions, Amazon Elements offers both,” said Sunny JainAmazon.com Consumables Vice President.

It was with great fanfare that Amazon began selling its own brand of diapers last month. But now the Elements line of diapers is being disposed of as uncer...

Amazon will let buyers haggle with select sellers

Company introduces new Make an Offer option for sellers

Amazon's newest feature – no, make that Amazon's newest experience, because that's the terminology Amazon's “Media Room” uses in its PR marketing writing – will apparently introduce the possibility of haggling into Amazon's online marketplace:

Amazon.com today [on Dec. 9] announced the ‘Make an Offer’ experience that allows customers to negotiate even lower prices on thousands of items. Expanding on Amazon’s traditional fixed price model, the new pricing feature allows customers to offer to buy items at even lower prices. … more than 150,000 items from sellers on Amazon are enabled with the ‘Make an Offer’ experience across Sports and Entertainment Collectibles, Collectible Coins and Fine Art. …

If done right, this could indeed prove useful for those wishing to sell or buy antique, collectible or secondhand items on Amazon. Whether you call it a “feature” or “experience” – the press release uses both – Amazon says it will work this way:

Sellers enable the ‘Make an Offer’ feature for items to show customers they are willing to negotiate for a lower price than the price listed. When selecting ‘Make an Offer’ on an item’s product detail page, a customer can enter and submit a new price of their choosing. The seller will receive the customer’s lower price offer through email, at which point the seller can accept, reject or counter the offer. The seller and customer can continue to negotiate through email until the negotiation is complete. When a seller accepts a customer’s offer, the customer is notified and can place the item into their shopping cart at the agreed upon [sic] new price for checkout and purchase.

However, Amazon's example seems to assume only one potential buyer at a time would make an offer on a given item. It doesn't say whether sellers will be able to see offers from more than one buyer at a time, though it does specify that items will not be sold in an open-auction format.

It also says that sellers have up to three days to respond to a buyer's offer, which when added to shipping time means that, however successful the make an offer feature proves in the future, it might have arrived on the scene just a little bit too late for buying this year's Hanukkah and Christmas gifts.

Amazon's newest feature – no, make that Amazon's newest experience, because that's the terminology Amazon's “Media Room” uses in its PR marketing writing –...

Fear & loathing in Babyland: Amazon creates its own diaper brand

Suppliers have long feared Amazon would eventually elbow them aside

Everyone knows that book publishers tremble everytime someone mentions Amazon. But what isn't quite as apparent is that manufacturers of everything from baby wipes to yogurt has the same fear -- namely, that Amazon will someday introduce its own branded merchandise, shoving their brands aside.

For the makers of diapers and baby wipes, someday is now. Amazon has announced Amazon Elements -- a new line of diapers and baby wipes that will be available only to customers who belong to the Amazon Prime program. 

Amazon's pack of 40 diapers will sell for $7.99 -- 19 cents a diaper compared to national brands like Huggies and Pampers that go for about 24 to 34 cents.

If it's another nail in the coffin for traditional retailers, Elements is also another rung in the Stairway to Heaven that Amazon has been building rung-by-rung the last several years, working towards the day when it not only distributes but also produces movies, baby wipes and peanut butter.

More transparent

Besides undercutting major brands, Amazon Elements diapers will be more transparent. No, you won't be able to see through them, thankfully, but the company says it will include information about the materials used in making the products, as well as where they're made. Diaper brands in the past have been hit by accusations that their products gave babies rashes and other maladies.  

“Our obsession with customers and drive to continuously innovate on their behalf has led us to create Amazon Elements. The two things customers told us they want are premium products that meet their high standards, and access to information so they can make informed decisions, Amazon Elements offers both,” said Sunny JainAmazon.com Consumables Vice President. "We’ve leveraged our strengths in technology to bring customers an unprecedented level of information about these products, all with just the click of a button. We’re excited to offer Amazon Prime members added selection, beginning with diapers and baby wipes.”

Note the word "consumables" in Jain's title. In retailing jargon, that means everything from tissues to food -- a product that disappears as you use it. It suggests we'll soon see Amazon facial tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, blueberry jam and dark roast coffee.

It is, of course, only logical for Amazon to do what other successful retailers have done. Costco, Trader Joe's and all the major supermarket chains all sell their own branded products. By contracting directly with a manufacturer, they reduce their cost while getting one more item they can slap their logo onto, thus building customer loyalty, assuming the products perform as promised.

Amazon says it already has that base covered. In its Elements announcement, Amazon revealed that it has been test-marketing the products for months and included comments from some early customers, comments like these:

“This is the first diaper I’ve found I would consider switching to. I like how soft they are, the design, the fit and how dry they keep my granddaughter. She usually wakes up at 3 a.m. wanting to be changed but she slept through the night with these diapers. No leaks on her bedding or pajamas and her skin felt dry when we removed the diaper.” – Denise S., grandmother of one

“I really like these diapers and will switch immediately once you start selling them. I love the design, they fit well and the diapers held up overnight (12 – 14 hours) with no leaks. We’ve got a very active son and these work well for him; they are very sturdy.” – Kathryn G., mother of one

Anyway you look at it, it's a bad day at Baby Central. Maybe all those Pampers and Huggies executives will just have to settle for being Uber drivers now. 

Everyone knows that book publishers tremble everytime someone mentions Amazon. But what isn't quite as apparent is that manufacturers of everything from ba...

Look out, Angie! Amazon's getting into home services

Amazon will not just sell you a flat-screen TV; it will have someone come and mount it on your wall

Amazon isn't invading Uber's find-a-ride turf yet but it's big-footing it into another fast-growing niche -- the home handyman field. Not actually doing the work, you understand, just putting homeowners together with jacks of all trades.

This domain has so far been dominated by companies like Angie's List and HomeAdvisor. Yelp, of course, is the go-to review source for such things but doesn't (yet) actually book the job for you.

Amazon, on the other hand, will do anything from air duct cleaning to wireless printer set-up, all as part of a beta program called Amazon Local Services, currently operating in parts of nine states.

So, let's say you want to buy a 60-inch flat-screen TV for the holidays. Amazon will happily sell you the TV and the mounting bracket and send someone out to drill a few holes and fasten it to your wall.

If you're in an area where home services are offered, when you're looking at products that need installation, Amazon will display a button offering to install your TV. Click the button and you get a list of local service providers, along with links to their Yelp reviews.

Amazon says it will check out its handymen, making sure they're licensed, insured and so forth. It will also offer a moneyback guarantee, something that's rare in the handyman field.

Eventually, Amazon reportedly hopes to expand the listings to include such things as fitness coaches and music teachers. Maybe, someday, psychiatrists? 

These are the states and cities where the services is currently being offered, according to its website

California

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Area
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Area
  • San Diego-Carlsbad Area
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward Area
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara Area

Florida

  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach Area

Georgia

  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell Area
  • Macon Area

Kansas

  • Wichita Area

Kentucky

  • Lexington-Fayette Area

New York

  • New York City Area

Texas

  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land Area
  • San Antonio-New Braunfels Area

Washington

  • Seattle Area

Wisconsin

  • Green Bay Area
Amazon isn't invading Uber's find-a-ride turf yet but it's big-footing it into another fast-growing niche -- the home handyman field. Not actually doing th...

Amazon, Hachette settle their dispute

"Great win for readers and authors," Kindle proclaims

Amazon and Hachette Book Group have settled their feud over pricing and the imprint's titles will be fully available on Amazon once again. The two have been squabbling since spring and some Hachette titles have been unavailable or have encountered shipping delays.

Amazon had wanted Hachette to price all of its e-books at $9.99 and give it a bigger cut of each sale. Hachette balked and many well-known authors denounced Amazon, claiming its business practices were endangering literature.

The new agreement doesn't set a $9.99 price for every title but gives the publisher incentives to offer lower prices on some books.

Although the dispute received quite a bit of publicity, it was not a flash point for consumers, generating few complaints.

In a joint press release, both companies proclaimed the new agreement as beneficial for all.

Michael Pietsch, Hachette Book Group CEO said, "This is great news for writers. The new agreement will benefit Hachette authors for years to come. It gives Hachette enormous marketing capability with one of our most important bookselling partners.”

Consumers rate Amazon.com

"We are pleased with this new agreement as it includes specific financial incentives for Hachette to deliver lower prices, which we believe will be a great win for readers and authors alike," said David Naggar, Vice President, Kindle.

The new ebook terms will take effect early in 2015. Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its ebooks, and will also benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers. Amazon and Hachette will immediately resume normal trading, and Hachette books will be prominently featured in promotions, the companies said.

Amazon and Hachette Book Group have settled their feud over pricing and the imprint's titles will be fully available on Amazon once again. The two have bee...

Literary giants side with Hachette against Amazon

Everyday writers should not suffer as part of contract dispute

It's almost four months now since Amazon customers first noticed that bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group were involved in what Amazon later admitted was a contract dispute, leaving Hachette's authors stuck in the middle as many of their books are not available for sale on the world's largest online bookseller.

In July, Amazon offered to sell e-book Kindle versions of Hachette titles with 100% of the proceeds going to the authors – which sounds generous, except that such a move would seriously hurt Hachettte, leaving it unable to recoup its costs in producing those books, let alone make any profit.

Few authors went along with Amazon's offer.

Today, the New York Times reported the latest chapter in the ongoing saga: “Literary lions unite in protest over Amazon's e-book tactics.” (And most of those lions, including Philip Roth, Stephen King and Ursula LeGuin, aren't even Hachette authors, but they're all very concerned about what they think Amazon is trying to do to the publishing market — and are urging the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for possible monopoly tactics.)

Board members interrogated

The writers are part of a group called Authors United, which on Sept. 19 mailed a letter to 10 Amazon board members. The letter, which is also available online, first dicsusses the various ways Amazon's actions have harmed Hachette authors, and asked each board member (in bold print): “Do you as an Amazon director approve of this policy of sanctioning books?

Authors' United main complaint is not the fact that Amazon is trying to renegotiate contracts with Hachette, but the fact that, while these contract disputes are going on, Amazon is harming many Hachette authors by refusing to sell their books:

Russell Grandinetti of Amazon has stated that the company was "forced to take this step because Hachette refused to come to the table." He has also claimed that "authors are the only leverage we have." As one of the world's largest corporations, Amazon was not "forced" to do anything. …. Amazon chose to involve 2,500 Hachette authors and their books. It could end these sanctions tomorrow while continuing to negotiate. Amazon is undermining the ability of authors to support their families, pay their mortgages, and provide for their kids' college educations. We'd like to emphasize that most of us are not Hachette authors, and our concern is founded on principle, rather than self-interest.

The letter also said this:

Amazon has repeatedly tried to dismiss us as "rich" bestselling authors who are advocating higher ebook prices—a false and unfair characterization, as most of us are in fact midlist authors struggling to make a living. And we have not made any statements whatsoever on book pricing. Our point is simple: we believe it is unacceptable for Amazon to impede or block the sale of any books as a negotiating tactic.

Amazon has every right to refuse to sell consumer goods in response to a pricing disagreement with a wholesaler. But books are not mere consumer goods. Books cannot be written more cheaply, nor can authors be outsourced to another country. …. Each book is the unique, quirky creation of a lonely, intense, and often expensive struggle on the part of a single individual, a person whose living depends on his or her book finding readers. This is the process Amazon endangers when it uses its tremendous power to separate authors from their readership.

Moribund dinosaurs

But is it possible that e-publishing through Amazon is simply the wave of the future? Might old-school publishing houses like Hachette be obsolete, now that technology offers so many new publishing options for aspiring writers? Authors United addressed that concern as well:

There has been much talk on the Internet about how traditional publishers like Hachette are "dinosaurs" defending a moribund business model. There have been claims that Amazon is leading the way to a new publishing paradigm, one that pays authors higher royalties, allows anyone to publish, and cuts out the elitist gatekeepers. We agree that Amazon has spurred important innovations in publishing, including a self-publishing model that has given many new writers a voice.

But what these commentators and Amazon itself may not realize is that traditional publishing houses perform a vital role in our society. Publishers provide venture capital for ideas. They advance money to authors, giving them the time and freedom to write their books. This system is especially important for nonfiction writers, who often must travel for research. Thousands of times every year, publishers take a chance on unknown authors and advance them money solely on the basis of an idea. By assuming the risk, publishers expect—and receive—a financial return. What will Amazon replace this process with? How, in the Amazon model, will a young author get funding to pursue a promising idea? 

The New York Times reports that Amazon did not respond to its requests for comment about Authors United.

So far, though, Amazon has taken the position that its stance against Hachette is ultimately for the consumers' benefit: last July, Amazon executive Russ Granadetti gave an exclusive interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said the fight with Hachette was “in the long-term interest of our customers.... This discussion is all about e-book pricing. The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

It's almost four months now since Amazon customers first noticed that bookseller Amazon and book publisher Hachette Book Group were involved in what Amazon...

Amazon updates the Kindle line-up

Latest model is thinner, faster, etc.

In a world hammered by a constant flow of new gadgets, the challenge sometimes is keeping yesterday's jaw-dropper from turning into today's yawner.

This may be the situation that confronts Amazon's line of Kindle products. No, we're not talking about the Kindle Fire, the Fire Phone or any of those other devices that sound like they are something you'd use around the campfire.

We're talking about the plain old Kindle -- a rather modest, even humdrum product that was sort of revolutionary when it was introduced but that is starting to look a little shopworn now that it is into its seventh generation.

After all, it is competing for attention with watches that act like smartphones and electrocardiogram machines, with cars that are on the verge of driving themselves and with, oh, you know, all that other stuff everybody is always yammering about.

Turns reimagined

Amazon even seems to be getting a little bored with the whole idea. All it can find to say about its new Kindle Voyage is that it the "most advanced e-reader ever,"  which might be what it said about the preceding model. We're told it's faster, slimmer and smarter than its six predecessors.

Smarter how exactly? Well, it has "reimagined page turns," which appears to mean it turns the page when you're ready. You know, like the kid who sits next to the concert pianist and flips the sheet music to the next page. I hope this is true because, as a Kindle addict, I find that one has to keep his fingers nice and warm if he wants to see what's on the next page. This can get annoying on cold days or when reading a particularly steamy passage.

If nothing else, the Voyage is certainly the most expensive Kindle. It goes for $199 -- that's for wi-fi only, not 3g. If you want a power adapter -- and who doesn't? -- that's an extra $14.99. A leather cover? $59.99. A screen protector? $29.99.

In other words, it's $300.

Of course, that's still a lot cheaper than an iPad, which will set you back $499 for the most basic model but will let you watch movies, read spam and waste time on Facebook. Amazon makes a Kindle that will do that too.

The Voyage and its less expensive cousins, however, are sort of stripped down -- no video, no email, no color. Amazon spins this as a virtue, using the tag line "The best devices for reading, period." This is like Southwest Airlines saying its free-for-all seating policy is pro-choice.

However, none of this is meant to disparage the Kindle. Personally, I spend many hours daily on mine, devouring novels, newspapers and weird tracts of all kinds. It's a digital device that helps you escape the digital world, which is pretty awesome when you think about it.

Makes it disappear

Perhaps Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says it a little better: “Our mission with Kindle is to make the device disappear, so you can lose yourself in the author’s world,” as he put it in today's announcement.

“Kindle Voyage is the next big step in this mission," he continued. "With the thinnest design, highest resolution and highest contrast display, reimagined page turns, and all of the features that readers love about Kindle—books in seconds, no eyestrain or glare, readability in bright sunlight, and battery life measured in weeks, not hours—Kindle Voyage is crafted from the ground up for readers.”

Other updated models announced today for delivery after Oct. 21 include the plain vanilla Kindle, described as ideal for beginners. It's $79. That's even a version of the Kindle HD (its iPad-like tablet) designed for kids. It's made for tough handling and includes software aimed at kids. 

In a world hammered by a constant flow of new gadgets, the challenge sometimes is keeping yesterday's jaw-dropper from turning into today's yawner....

Fire sale: Amazon slashes price of Fire Phone to 99 cents

The point-and-buy phone has been, to put it mildly, a dud

This is probably not the day to ask Jeff Bezos how everything is going. It is, after all, the day that Amazon has cut the price of its Fire smartphone to 99 cents from its original price of $199. 

Meanwhile, down the Coast a bit, Apple's latest product release -- the iPhone 6. which is, after all, an awful lot like the iPhone 5 -- is being treated with the adulation, bluster and hype once reserved for space shots and other marvels. 

When Amazon introduced the Fire Phone, it confidently expected to sell between 2 and 3 million phones by the end of this year, analysts said. To put that in perspective, that's about how many iPhones Apple sells each week. Not a really lofty goal, in other words.

Whether it has come close to hitting those numbers isn't known and Amazon's not saying. Which tells you something right there.

Wounded drone

The Fire was supposed to set the world ablaze by making it super easy to order stuff. Just point the phone at a box of cereal, hit the button and -- whoosh -- your order would be placed and a nice fresh box of Cheerios dispatched to your domicile. 

No doubt this sounded great in the marketing meetings but it landed with something of a thud, sort of like a wounded delivery drone making a hard landing.

So will the phone sell at its new 99-cent price? Well, considering that it comes with a year of Amazon Prime, which normally costs up to $99, you could throw the phone away and still come out ahead.

The only fly in that ointment is that so many consumers -- again, no one knows quite how many -- already have Prime, which cuts down the universe of qualified prospects by a rather significant margin.  

At least Amazon was able to get prime advertising space to promote the Fire sale in Bezos' Washington Post this morning. 

This is probably not the day to ask Jeff Bezos how everything is going. It is, after all, the day that Amazon has cut the price of its Fire smartphone to 9...

Amazon stops pre-ordering Disney DVDs; streaming orders still accepted

Do recent Amazon contract disputes stem from an unsustainable business model?

Source: Amazon.com
EDITOR'S NOTE: An Amazon spokesperson wrote to ask we make some “corrections” to this article. Amazon's "corrections" are listed at the end of the article.

--- 

The book publisher Hachette isn't the only media company whose physical offerings cannot be pre-ordered on Amazon.com; as of last week, Walt Disney Home Video can't either. Maybe Amazon is selflessly trying to get lower prices for the benefit of home-media consumers everywhere (as its executives have previously argued) … or, perhaps, Amazon's very survival as a business requires it to get lower wholesale prices from its vendors.

Here's some background: Amazon's feud with the publishers at Hachette has been ongoing for at least three months now. In early May, Amazon started delaying shipments of Hachette titles for no stated reason — a book that Barnes and Noble shipped within 24 hours would take several weeks to arrive if you ordered it on Amazon. But why? Not until May 27 did Amazon admit, in an announcement posted in its Kindle Forum, that it was having a contract dispute with Hachette over what prices to charge for books.

Now it appears Amazon is giving Disney properties the same treatment. HomeMedia Magazine first noticed late last week that the pre-order option for almost every upcoming Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment DVD or Blu-Ray title (such as Captain America: the Winter Soldier and Maleficent) vanished from Amazon.

Amazon customers can still pre-order these movies in streaming video form; they just can't pre-order a DVD, Blu-Ray or any other physical copy of the movie. You can also order or pre-order just about any Disney movie at Walmart.com and plenty of other outlets.  

Hachette job

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), that sounds very similar to an earlier ploy Amazon attempted in its Hachette feud: in mid-July, several weeks after it stopped selling certain Hachette titles, Amazon offered to resume selling Hachette books again — but only in e-book form, and with 100% of the money going to the authors themselves (meaning no money going to Hachette to cover operating costs, let alone potential profits).

So, to recap: Amazon is having contract disputes with various media companies — books from Hachette, movies and videos from Disney. In both instances, Amazon expressed willingness to sell non-physical copies of artistic or literary works – e-copies of books, streaming video access to movies – but is playing hardball where physical media such as paper books or plastic movie discs are concerned. Why?

Nobody other than a few highly placed Amazon executives can say for sure. But here's a possibility: perhaps Amazon is discovering its current business model can't handle physical media.

Big but not very profitable

Consumers rate Amazon.com

Paradoxically, for all Amazon's size it still isn't a particularly profitable company. The excuse so far has been that the company is re-investing any potential profits to further develop the company. In December 2013, for example, an analyst for International Business Times noted that, despite having been in business for almost 20 years, Amazon still isn't making money — yet investors keep pouring theirs into it:

The company barely ekes out a profit, spends a fortune on expansion and free shipping and is famously opaque about its business operations.

Yet, investors continue to pour into the stock, pushing up the company’s share price to $388, a nearly 400 percent rise since the end of the company’s third quarter in September 2008.

At that time, Amazon’s net profit margin was 2.8 percent. By September 2011, that number fell to 0.6 percent. A year later, it was losing $274 million on net sales of $13.8 billion. And in the latest quarter, ended Sept. 30, the massive e-tailer reported a $41 million loss on $17 billion in sales. 

The rest of the analysis went on to explain that essentially, Amazon stockholders were investing in the company's potential future earnings (as opposed to buying a share of whatever money the company is earning right now).

That's not necessarily a bad strategy. Even start-up businesses destined for great success usually operate at a loss at first: if you spend money to start a company, you obviously can't make any profit until after you make back your initial start-up money plus ongoing operating costs.

So, yes, you will operate at a loss for awhile. But how long is that “while” supposed to last, anyway? In Amazon's case, it's already been longer than the time it takes for a typical child to be conceived, born, and raised to full legal adulthood. How long before a reasonable investor should think, “Either I start showing some profit here, or I consider the possibility this wasn't such a good investment after all?” And is it possible that Amazon investors are approaching that point?

A charitable organization?

In September 2013, an econ blogger writing for Slate called Amazon “a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers. The shareholders put up the equity, and instead of owning a claim on a steady stream of fat profits, they get a claim on a mighty engine of consumer surplus. Amazon sells things to people at prices that seem impossible because it actually is impossible to make money that way.”

What's so impossible about Amazon's business model? All that free shipping, for starters. International Business Times pointed out the especial problems caused by the immensely popular Amazon Prime program:

[It] offers customers free two-day shipping for a one-time annual fee of $79 and is another loss leader affecting fourth-quarter estimates. Amazon is characteristically hush-hush about its profits (or lack of them) from this program and won’t even disclose how many customers are signed up for the service.

But the number of Amazon Prime customers is growing.

In business terms, a loss leader is something a company sells at a loss in order to win customers; in this case, Amazon (as of the end of 2013) was willing to lose money shipping items to Prime customers, presumably in the hope that those customers would buy enough additional Amazon items to make up the difference.

Shipping costs

On the other hand: in March 2014, we told you about two then-new lawsuits filed by Amazon Prime members against the company. The lawsuits alleged that, in order to get around its free shipping offer, Amazon charged Prime members higher prices for items, to cover the shipping costs: “[I]f the price of an item is advertised for $10 with $3.99 shipping and the [vendor] wishes to match or top their price, the [vendor] would charge $13.99 or higher.”

In other words, an ordinary non-Prime customer buying that item and nothing else from Amazon would pay a total of $14: $10 for the item and $4 for shipping. But if that customer bought at least $35 worth of items at once, thus qualifying for free shipping, the total cost of the item would only be $10. Yet an Amazon Prime member, who paid a fee for “free” shipping this year, is charged a base price of $13.99 for the item no matter what.

Two months after those lawsuits first made the news, Amazon started its feud with Hachette, which has since expanded to include Disney. And in both cases, Amazon is offering to sell ethereal copies of digital media, but refusing to sell physical copies.

Incidentally, if you're selling e-books or streaming video access, there are no shipping or postage costs involved: your customers use their Internet connections to receive the media they paid for, rather than rely on the post office or FedEx. But paper books and plastic movie discs can't be delivered through the Internet: you have to actually mail those things and pay postage costs, too.

So if, hypothetically, you're a mail-order company who offers free shipping on everything yet can't afford to cover these shipping costs, urging your customers away from physical media in lieu of e-books and streaming videos is a strategy you might want to try. But it's not known whether this explains any of Amazon's motivations surrounding its Hachette and Disney disputes.

---

UPDATE: 8/13 A few hours after this article went live, an Amazon spokesperson wrote us to say “I saw your article 'Amazon Stops Pre-Ordering Disney DVDs; Streaming Orders Still Accepted' on ConsumerAffairs, and wanted to note some corrections that need to be made.” What follows is three quotes from our article, coupled with Amazon's commentary about them.

We wrote:

Here's some background: Amazon's feud with the publishers at Hachette has been ongoing for at least three months now. In early May, Amazon started delaying shipments of Hachette titles for no stated reason — a book that Barnes and Noble shipped within 24 hours would take several weeks to arrive if you ordered it on Amazon. But why? Not until May 27 did Amazon admit, in an announcement posted in its Kindle Forum, that it was having a contract dispute with Hachette over what prices to charge for books.

Amazon's response:

We aren’t delaying shipments. As noted in our May 27 post, we are currently buying less (print) inventory and "safety stock" on titles from the publisher, Hachette, than we ordinarily do. Can you update this point?

We wrote:

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), that sounds very similar to an earlier ploy Amazon attempted in its Hachette feud: in mid-July, several weeks after it stopped selling certain Hachette titles

Amazon's response:

This is incorrect—we have never stopped selling any Hachette titles.

We wrote:

Amazon offered to resume selling Hachette books again — but only in e-book form, and with 100% of the money going to the authors themselves (meaning no money going to Hachette to cover operating costs, let alone potential profits).

Amazon's response:

This is incorrect. The offer was as follows, which can also be found here:

• If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100% of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell. Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.

• Amazon would also return to normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats, and for books that haven’t gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders.

The book publisher Hachette isn't the only media company whose physical offerings cannot be pre-ordered on Amazon.com; as of last week, Walt Disney Home Vi...

Amazon offers to sell e-books for Hachette authors

The catch: all e-book royalties go to aithors, none to Hachette

Book seller Amazon has taken another step in its ongoing contract dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group by offering to sell to sell e-books of Hachette titles and give 100% of the proceeds to the authors, with nothing going to Amazon or Hachette.

Amazon made the offer to certain Hachette authors only a week after an Amazon executive publicly stated that the dispute with Hachette was intended to benefit book-buying customers, by getting lower prices for them.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal first reported Amazon's e-book offer this week: the Times described it by saying “The confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretense that this is a reasonable dispute among reasonable people.

David Naggar, Amazon's vice-prsident of Kindle content, e-mailed the offer to a few Hachette authors. The letter, which Gigoam has printed in full, starts out by saying:

“Dear XX,

I wanted to ask your opinion about an idea we’ve had that would take authors out of the middle of the Hachette-Amazon dispute (actually it would be a big windfall for authors) and would motivate both Hachette and Amazon to work faster to resolve the situation.”


The next paragraph is an Amazon-friendly summary of the dispute to date, with Amazon making repeated reasonable offers to Hachette, which stubbornly and unreasonably refuses to play along. The third paragraph assures authors that Amazon sympathizes deeply with them:

We agree that authors are caught in the middle while these negotiations drag on, and we’re particularly sensitive to the effect on debut and midlist authors. But Hachette’s unresponsiveness and unwillingness to talk until we took action put us in this position, and unless Hachette dramatically changes their negotiating tempo, this is going to take a really long time.

After spelling out the details of its e-book sales plan, the letter goes on to say:

We haven’t sent this offer to Hachette yet — we’re sending this to a few authors and agents to get feedback first.

What do you think?  Would this be helpful, especially for midlist and debut authors?

Can we talk on the phone later today or tomorrow once you’ve had a chance to digest?

Thanks and look forward to talking

Hachette, for its part, responded with a public statement saying:

“Amazon has just sent us a brief proposal.  We invite Amazon to withdraw the sanctions they have unilaterally imposed, and we will continue to negotiate in good faith and with the hope of a swift conclusion. We believe that the best outcome for the writers we publish is a contract with Amazon that brings genuine marketing benefits and whose terms allow Hachette to continue to invest in writers, marketing, and innovation.  We look forward to resolving this dispute soon and to the benefit of the writers who have trusted their books to us.”

Not much interest

Yet Amazon clearly has no interest in resolving the dispute “soon;” the company responded to Hachette's statement with a new statement of its own:

We call baloney. Hachette is part of a $10 billion global conglomerate. It wouldn’t be ‘suicide.' They can afford it. What they’re really making clear is that they absolutely want their authors caught in the middle of this negotiation because they believe it increases their leverage. All the while, they are stalling and refusing to negotiate, despite the pain caused to their authors. Our offer is sincere. They should take us up on it.

Amazon's mention of “suicide” was in response to something a Hachette spokeperson said to the New York Times, that giving up all of e-book revenue from Amazon sales “would be a suicidal action” for Hachette.

Book seller Amazon has taken another step in its ongoing contract dispute with publisher Hachette Book Group by offering to sell to sell e-books of Hachett...

Feds allege Amazon has billed parents millions for charges incurred by children

Amazon's in-app system enables children to run up huge bills on their parents' accounts, the FTC charges

It's easy to spend money on Amazon.com, which may be OK if you're an adult and it's your money. But when children run up huge in-app bills on their parents' accounts, that's another story.

First of all, debts incurred by minors aren't collectible and even if they were, Amazon doesn't verify that the person making in-app purchases is, in fact, the account holder, according to a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, which says Amazon has billed parents for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children.

What's an in-app charge? It's a charge for a virtual item -- a "coin," "star" or, perhaps, "acorn" -- that kids buy when playing one of the many games sold ini Amazon's app store for use on the Kindle Fire and other devices. 

Consumers rate Amazon.com

“Amazon’s in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents’ accounts without permission,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created. We are seeking refunds for affected parents and a court order to ensure that Amazon gets parents' consent for in-app purchases."

The FTC earlier sued Apple, alleging similar problems. The agency is seeking full refunds for all affected consumers, disgorgement of Amazon’s ill-gotten gains, and a court order ensuring that in the future Amazon obtains permission before imposing charges for in-app purchases. 

Apple also agreed in 2013 to pay $100 million to settle a class action lawsuit to parents whose children made in-app iTunes purchases. 

Amazon attorney Andrew DeVore said it was "deeply disappointing" that the FTC was proceeding with the action and said the company's actions have been "responsible, customer-focused, and lawful, including prominent notice of in-app purchasing, effective parental controls, real-time notice of every in-app purchase, and world-class customer service."

Consumer groups were quick to jump on Amazon nevertheless. Hudson Kingston, legal director of the Center for Digital Democracy, called Amazon's policies "irresponsible and unfair."

"Today’s FTC action shows that consumers who have been charged for their kids unauthorized in-app purchases should not have to foot the bill. Amazon’s failure to deal fairly with people who purchased its devices and use its apps suggests it places making money as quickly as possible over serving the interests of their consumers," Kingston said. "As Amazon gears up to release a new phone, and expands its impact on the mobile industry and consumers, the FTC’s complaint should serve as a wake-up call for better corporate ethics.”  

'Clearly causing problems'

The complaint alleges that when Amazon introduced in-app charges to the Amazon Appstore in November 2011, there were no password requirements of any kind on in-app charges, including in kids’ games and other apps that appeal to children. According to the complaint, this left parents to foot the bill for charges they didn’t authorize.

According to the complaint, kids’ games often encourage children to acquire virtual items in ways that blur the lines between what costs virtual currency and what costs real money.

In the app “Ice Age Village,” for example, the complaint noted that children can use “coins” and “acorns” to buy items in the game without a real-money charge. However, they can also purchase additional “coins” and “acorns” using real money on a screen that is visually similar to the one that has no real-money charge. The largest quantity purchase available in the app would cost $99.99.

The complaint highlights internal communications among Amazon employees as early as December 2011 that said allowing unlimited in-app charges without any password was “…clearly causing problems for a large percentage of our customers,” adding that the situation was a “near house on fire.”

In March 2012, according to the complaint, Amazon updated its in-app charge system to require an account owner to enter a password only for individual in-app charges over $20. As the complaint notes, Amazon continued to allow children to make an unlimited number of individual purchases of less than $20 without a parent’s approval.

'House on fire'

An Amazon employee noted at the time of the change that “it’s much easier to get upset about Amazon letting your child purchase a $99 product without any password protection than a $20 product,” according to the complaint. In July 2012, as set forth in the complaint, internal emails again described consumer complaints about in-app charges as a “house on fire” situation.

According to the complaint, thousands of parents complained to Amazon about in-app charges their children incurred without their authorization, amounting to millions of dollars of charges.

For example, one mother noted in the FTC complaint told Amazon that her daughter was able to rack up $358.42 in unauthorized charges, while others complained that even children who could not read were able to “click a lot of buttons at random” and incur several unauthorized charges.

The company’s stated policy is that all in-app charges are final and nonrefundable. According to the complaint, even parents who have sought an exception to that policy have faced a refund process that is unclear and confusing, involving statements that do not explain how to seek refunds for in-app charges or suggest consumers cannot get a refund for these charges.

Rapidly evolving

Amazon's DeVore, however, said that Amazon's procedures already meet the requirements of the consent decree that Apple entered into after it was sued by the FTC.

"In-app purchasing was and remains a new and rapidly evolving segment, and we have consistently improved the customer experience in response to data," he said in a letter to the FTC's Ramirez. "Pursuing litigation against a company whose practices were lawful from the onset and that already meet or exceed the requirements of the Apple consent order makes no sense."

The Direct Marketing Association came to Amazon's defense. 

"The Federal Trade Commission should be encouraging innovation in the growing mobile industry, which benefits consumers and competition.  Instead, the Commission seems focused on using novel legal theories and scarce enforcement resources to go after America's leading tech companies in court," said Rachel Nyswander Thomas, the DMA's vice president for government affairs. "Amazon reportedly has already done the right thing by enhancing its app market and providing consumer refunds, so consumers have nothing to gain and plenty to lose from the Commission's lawsuit.  Nothing will discourage future innovation faster than punishing good deeds."

An Amazon "Ice Age" character (Photo credit: Amazon.com) It's easy to spend money on Amazon.com, which may be OK if you're an adult and it's your money...

Amazon speaks out on Hachette feud

Insists the company is acting for the well-being of consumers

The feud between the Hachette Book Group and book megaseller Amazon is in its third month now, but Amazon executives interviewed by the Wall Street Journalthis week insisted that it's all for the benefit of Amazon's book-buying customers, to get lower prices for them.

From an ordinary Amazon shopper's perspective, the issue first became evident sometime in early May: the company ships most new-book orders within 24 hours, yet buyers seeking copies of certain Hachette titles (the company publishes authors including Stephen Colbert and the late J. D. Salinger) were told they'd have to wait anywhere from two to five weeks.

This was only a problem on Amazon; every other online bookseller shipped Hachette titles within a day, same as any other new book.

Contract disputes

When the Hachette delay first made headlines, Amazon initially declined all media requests for comment. Not until May 27, more than two weeks later, did Amazon publicly discuss the issue, by releasing a statement on its Kindle forum admitting that the Hachette delay was due to contract displutes with the company:

“At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms.”

Many critics have accused Amazon of “bullying,” unfairly using its clout to strong-arm a hapless published, possibly even skirting the edges of anti-trust violations. On the other hand, Amazon has pointed out, quite truthfully, that Hachette isn't a small-time indie publisher, but part of a large media conglomerate and a big influential business in its own right.

And yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published an interview with Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti, the senior vice president in charge of Kindle content, saying that any such damage to Amazon's reputation was worth it, since the company is acting “in the long-term interest of our customers.... This discussion is all about e-book pricing. The terms under which we trade will determine how good the prices are that we can offer consumers.”

The Journal later noted that Amazon currently holds a 40% share of all new book sales in the past year, compared to only 12% five years ago; it definitely qualifies as the single most poweful book retailer today. But an unnamed industry source told the Journal that both Amazon and Hachette have too much at stake to back down:

“Hachette would have come to terms if they felt that what Amazon was seeking was manageable,” said this person. As for Amazon, “If they walk away without a victory of some kind, they'll get punished on Wall Street.”

Meanwhile, any customer who wants to buy a Hachette title can easily visit any other reputable online bookseller and buy one. Amazon is betting that they won't lose any significant number of loyal customers as a result.

The feud between the Hachette Book Group and book megaseller Amazon is in its third month now, but Amazon executives interviewed by the Wall Street Journal...

Amazon introduces the Fire -- its first smartphone

Want to buy something? Just point and click

With news coverage befitting a space launch in the 1970s, Amazon today launched its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire. It features a 4.7-inch screen, a 13-megapixel camera and unlimited photo storage in the cloud.

And yes, as rumored, it produces 3D images that are sort of like holograms.

But in some very important ways, the Fire is less like a phone and more like the bar code wand the cashier at Best Buy points at the goodies you plop down at check-out time.

Firefly

At the launch event in Seattle, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said the Fire can recognize more than 100 million items -- everything from books and DVDs to the title of a song you're listening to.

“Fire Phone puts everything you love about Amazon in the palm of your hand — instant access to Amazon’s vast content ecosystem and exclusive features like the Mayday button, ASAP, Second Screen, X-Ray, free unlimited photo storage, and more,” said Bezos. “The Firefly button lets you identify printed web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, artwork, and over 100 million items, including songs, movies, TV shows, and products — and take action in seconds.

Needless to say, it takes just a quick press of a virtual button to order or find out more information about whatever it is you've just identified. Amazon calls this feature "Firefly" and obviously is hoping it directs even more e-commerce its way.

Want to restock your larder? Just roam around the kitchen and point at the items you want to replenish. Firefly does the rest. 

Still digesting

Wall Street analysts are still digesting this feature, which comes as something of a bolt from the blue. Like the Kindle, it turns a communications device into a self-contained personal shopper that buys from only one source -- Amazon.

Of course, you can also use the phone to stream movies and TV shows, listen to music, read books or access just about anything else from Amazon Prime and other online libraries. Amazon Prime charges $99 yearly and includes free two-day shipping as well as access to a growing library of video, music and e-books.

But not only with Fire help you gorge on the virtual and physical products that catch your eye, it will also help you keep track of your caloric intake.

Bezos said you can simply use Firefly to point at food and get its nutritional specifications. 

Ships July 25 ... maybe

Fire ships on July 25 and is available exclusively on AT&T. Starting today, customers can pre-order Fire at www.amazon.com/Fire-Phonewww.att.com and in AT&T retail locations nationwide. Fire with 32GB is available for $199 with a two-year contract or with 64GB for$299 with a two-year contract.

The Fire may turn out to be a big seller but contrary to the publicists' boasts that the device is available for orders today, we didn't find that to be the case.

The pre-order page on the Amazon site was not working when we tried it repeatedly. And AT&T was fairly clueless when we tried to add a Fire to our AT&T family plan.

With news coverage befitting a space launch in the 1970s, Amazon today launched its first smartphone, dubbed the Fire Phone. It features a 4.7-inch screen,...

AT&T gets exclusive on Amazon's new smartphone, reports say

The new phone is rumored to have a 3-D capability

There's a lot of buzz developing around tomorrow's release of Amazon's first-ever smartphone, including reports that AT&T will be the exclusive carrier for the new phone.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that AT&T will have a lock on the phone, at least initially. It is already the carrier that providers wireless service to Kindle tablets and e-readers.

The phone -- rumored to be called the Kindle Phone -- will be unveiled tomorrow (Wednesday) in Seattle but it has already been displayed to developers around the country, leading to early reports about what may turn out to be its most distinguishing feature -- a three-dimensional display that works without special glasses.

The Journal says the phone uses retina-tracking technology in four front-facing cameras that makes some images appear to be 3-D, sort of like a hologram.

The link-up could help AT&T pick up new subscribers, possibly giving it a boost at a time when major carriers are locked in a battle to steal customers from each other, having signed up just about everyone who's old enough to use a smartphone.

The Amazon phone faces a tough marketing challenge. Apple and Samsung are well-entrenched with more than 60% of the market. But analysts note that even if Amazon's phone doesn't set the world on fire, it will give Amazon a direct line to its customers.  

Amazon obviously hopes the device ties it even more tightly to its customer base by providing a home screen that displays whatever Amazon in its wisdom thinks each customer is likely to be looking for at any given moment -- anything from toothpaste to music to streaming video.

“Imagine a home screen of all Amazon apps -- that’s kind of what they are looking for,” said Carl Howe, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group, Bloomberg News reported.

Photo via YouTubeThere's a lot of buzz developing around tomorrow's release of Amazon's first-ever smartphone, including reports that AT&T will be ...

Amazon next up to launch streaming music service

Reports say it will be included as part of Amazon Prime

You would think that scientists had just discovered a way to stream music over the Internet. After ignoring it for years, the giants of the online world are falling over each other to launch their version of Pandora, which by most reckonings is the oldest legitimate (meaning, legal) music streamer.

Spotify came along a few years later and offered a more customizable experience than Pandora, which remains by far the largest. 

In recent weeks, Apple has bought Dr. Dre's Beats, which not long before had bought MOG, and Google is said to be in talks to buy Songza, which we're told programs music to suit your mood, time of day and what you happen to be doing -- or, at least what you say you're doing.

Now, reports say Amazon will follow suit, launching a streaming music service for its Amazon Prime members tomorrow.

Prime, which costs $99 a year, already offers a streaming video service, free two-day shipping on many items, a Kindle lending library and probably some other things everyone's forgotten about. Most of the competing music services cost about $10 a month.

Amazon already has a pretty good cloud player that will strum the music you buy from Amazon and songs you've uploaded from CDs. Its streaming service will be somewhat truncated, with a somewhat smaller library than Spotify, according to a report in the New York Post

Sony and Warner Music are already on board, the Post said, while Universal Music hasn't yet inked a deal.

Amazon is set to launch its own streaming music offering Thursday, according to sources.Chasing Apple’s recent $3 billion deal to acquire Beats Mus...

Is Amazon introducing hologram phones later this month?

Upcoming smartphone sounds amazing — if it isn't vaporware

Anytime you hear a computer-product company promise to release some dazzlingly innovative new whatever onto the market, you must be careful not to get too excited in case it turns out to be just another piece of vaporware — a promised and much-hyped hardware or software release that either fails to live up to the hype, or is never released at all.

At any rate, Amazon has (or maybe has) something new in its development pipeline: a hologram smartphone that will supposedly make images appear in 3-d without your having to wear special glasses.

For example: over in the UK, The Register reported the news with the breathless headline “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi! HOLOGAPHIC 3-D PHONE hints in Amazon vid.”

Despite the Princess Leia reference, there's no indication that Amazon is promising a device similar to the [science-fictional] one made famous in Star Wars: press a button (or swipe a touchscreen) and anyone in the room with you can see what appears to be a tiny person, moving around on your tabletop.

But Amazon did release a 50-second video on YouTube, showing various attractive, intelligent-looking people gazing down at an unidentified offscreen something and exclaiming over how wonderful, real-life, amazing, intuitive and similar adjectives that unidentified something is.

Story continues below video

The actors' body language suggests this amazingness has something to do with perspective: one woman, while looking down at the mystery device, kept moving her head and torso from side to side, as though looking at the device from different angles (all of which she found equally impressive).

The video is titled “Find out what these Amazon customers are talking about,” and ends with the promise that whatever they're discussing will be revealed on June 18.

The 3-d phone guesses presumably stem not only from the actors' behavior in the video, but due to an early-May report, originally in the Wall Street Journal, saying Amazon was developing “retina-tracking technology” which, from a viewers' perspective, would make it appear as though images were hovering above a smartphone screen.

Anytime you hear a computer-product company promise to release some dazzlingly innovative new whatever onto the market, you must be careful...

Amazon admits contract disputes are behind its battle with Hachette

Advises customers to look elsewhere for certain books

The latest development in the Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group saga has Amazon openly admitting that contract disputes are behind the recent inability of customers to buy certain Hachette-published titles on Amazon.com. As Amazon announced on its Kindle forum May 27:

“At Amazon, we do business with more than 70,000 suppliers, including thousands of publishers. One of our important suppliers is Hachette, which is part of a $10 billion media conglomerate. Unfortunately, despite much work from both sides, we have been unable to reach mutually-acceptable agreement on terms.”

The Amazon v. Hachette battle started slowly. Earlier this month, we first reported that Amazon was delaying shipments of certain Hachette titles: a book that would normally ship within a day or two of the order being placed instead had shipping dates listed several weeks in the future.

The New York Times had first noticed this Hachette-specific shipping delay on May 8, when it reported:

A Hachette spokeswoman said on Thursday that the publisher was striving to keep Amazon supplied but that the Internet giant was delaying shipments “for reasons of their own.” Hachette is one of the largest New York houses, publishing under the Little, Brown and Grand Central imprints, among many others.

The affected books are a mixture of new and old. A just-published memoir, “Everybody’s Got Something,” by the “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, is taking as long as three weeks to ship, customers were told. So is Stephen Colbert’s “America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t.” …. Generally, most popular books are available from Amazon within two days. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.

No comment

One particular bit of that quote, where Amazon “declined to comment,” was repeated in pretty much every succeeding media story about the officially mysterious dispute between the bookseller and book publisher. Just this week, for example, on May 26, the Associated Press reported “Amazon escalates standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group,” summarizing the previous two weeks' events before providing the latest official responses from the two parties involved:

"We are doing everything in our power to find a solution to this difficult situation, one that best serves our authors and their work, and that preserves our ability to survive and thrive as a strong and author-centric publishing company," Hachette said in a statement Friday issued through spokeswoman Sophie Cottrell. Later Friday, Hachette released a more strongly worded statement, saying it was "sparing no effort and exploring all options."

Amazon declined to comment.

Two days earlier, a reporter for Bloomberg news put out a quick update story that “Hachette apologizes to authors caught in Amazon dispute,” and gave readers a quick summary of the situation:

Disagreements between Seattle-based Amazon and publishers have centered on digital-book prices and a reluctance by some houses to replace physical copies of older books with online versions.

Megan Fitzpatrick, a Hachette spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to voice-mail and e-mail messages left after business hours. Craig Berman, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

So after several weeks of Amazon declining to comment, its May 27 comment in the Kindle forum was newsworthy indeed.

A cynic might suggest Amazon chose to break its comment-silence because public opinion seemed to be against it in this dispute; typical headlines included “Amazon has gone too far/ the e-book monopolist, having strong-armed Hachette, may finally get its day in court” (Fortune/CNN), and “In the standoff between Amazon and Hachette, the customer comes last” (ditto).

Vintage Bezos

On the other hand, Time's business opinion page wrote “Amazon's war on Hachette is vintage Jeff Bezos — controlling, ruthless, vicious … and probably good for consumers.”

How's that? 'The battle boils down to this: What is the optimal price for e-books? If it’s too high, fewer will be sold. Too low, profit margins will narrow even further. Bezos, head of the world’s biggest book retailer, thinks he has a better view than book publishers of what e-books should cost. He’s probably right.”

But the anonymous headline-writer at the link-aggregation blog Fark.com took a less optimistic view of the situation, linking to Slate's coverage of the story with the sardonic headline: “Amazon encourages readers of Hachette books to purchase them from one of their competitors. The online retail giant then added, 'Good luck finding one. Mwahahahahahahahahahahahaha (inhale) hahahahahahahahahahaha'”

But on the other other hand (the possibilities here represented by a being with far more hands than your typical human gets), one of the first commenters in that Fark discussion thread pointed out that Hachette is not exactly a poor innocent little put-upon bookseller either: in early 2013, Hachette was one of five publishers to agree to a settlement in a federal lawsuit that eventually found Apple and those five publishers guilty of price-fixing e-books.

So the Amazon v. Hachette battle isn't David and Goliath so much as Goliath and Goliath, and which giant you root for probably depends on which side you find more sympathetic.

But in the meanwhile, if you're an Amazon customer hoping to buy certain books published by Hachette, Amazon advises you to look elsewhere if you want to buy them online: “If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.”

The latest development in the Amazon vs. Hachette Book Group saga has Amazon openly admitting that contract disputes are behind the recent inability of cus...

Amazon stops selling Hachette book titles

Is this in retaliation for Hachette publishing an unflattering account of the company?

What does Amazon.com have against the Hachette Book Group? Nobody outside of Amazon's inner circle knows for sure (more on that later), but as The New York Times reported on Friday, the Internet retail giant has decided to escalate matters.

Two weeks ago we told you that Amazon, alone among online booksellers, was delaying its shipments of Hachette books — which includes such authors as Stephen Colbert, J. D. Salinger, and the latest novel by superstar author J. K. Rowling (of Harry Potter fame). Now it appears Amazon has stopped selling Hachette books altogether. Though the company has not said why, it's possible that maybe Amazon is upset with Hachette for publishing an unflattering account of the company. As The Times said:

The retailer began refusing orders late Thursday [May 22] for coming Hachette books, including J.K. Rowling’s new novel. The paperback edition of Brad Stone’s “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon” — a book Amazon disliked so much it denounced it — is suddenly listed as “unavailable.”

In some cases, even the pages promoting the books have disappeared. Anne Rivers Siddons’s new novel, “The Girls of August,” coming in July, no longer has a page for the physical book or even the Kindle edition. Only the audio edition is still being sold (for more than $60). Otherwise it is as if it did not exist.

The confrontation with Hachette has turned into the biggest display of Amazon’s dominance since it briefly stripped another publisher, Macmillan, of its “buy” buttons in 2010 …. Amazon has millions of members in its Prime club, who get fast shipping. This, as Internet wits quickly called it, was the “UnPrime” approach.

Amazon is reportedly using the same tactics in Germany, squeezing the publisher Bonnier by delaying shipment of its books.

Given that remark about “Prime” and “un-Prime” shipping, it's worth recalling that, as of March, there are at least two lawsuits against Amazon, alleging that the company actually charges Prime members for “free” shipping by raising the base price of items Prime members buy: an ordinary customer might see a certain item listed for $10 plus $4 shipping, with the shipping cost waived if the total purchase exceeds $35, whereas a Prime member with “free” shipping sees the same item offered for $14.

But it looks like Prime and non-Prime Amazon shoppers at least get the same low low price for certain Hachette books: zero dollars, because the books aren't being sold at all.

What does Amazon.com have against the Hachette Book Group? Nobody outside of Amazon's inner circle knows for sure (more on that later), but as The New York...

Hachette says Amazon is delaying its book shipments

Other sites ship Hachette books within 24 hours; Amazon waits up to several weeks. Why?

If you're visiting online booksellers, hoping to buy something by J.D. Salinger, Stephen Colbert or other authors published under the Hachette Book Group, be warned: though most online retailers will ship your book right away, or at most within a day or two, Amazon.com might delay shipping anywhere from two to five weeks.

Consumers rate Amazon.com
Why? Hachette says this is a negotiating tactic on Amazon's part, whereas Amazon says – nothing, actually, since the company has declined media requests for comment.

The New York Times first reported the matter last Friday, noting that while most popular titles listed on Amazon are available within two days, a curiously large percentage of Hachette books have listed shipping times of two to three weeks.

Though Amazon was unwilling to speak to the Times, Hachette spokesperson Sophie Cottrell did:

“We have been asked legitimate questions about why many of our books are at present marked out of stock with relatively long estimated shipping times on the Amazon website, in contrast to immediate availability on other websites and in stores,” said Sophie Cottrell, a Hachette spokeswoman. “We are satisfying all Amazon’s orders promptly.”

But, she added, “Amazon is holding minimal stock” and restocking some of Hachette’s books “slowly, causing ‘available 2-4 weeks’ messages.”

Whatever the reason for the Hachette Books shipping delay, it's limited to Amazon; many of the same titles whose Amazon shipping dates are listed several weeks in the future will ship within 24 hours from Barnes and Noble.

If you're visiting online booksellers, hoping to buy something by J.D. Salinger, Stephen Colbert or other authors published under the Hachette Book Group, ...

Amazon's "Prime Pantry" delivers groceries, household goods

Get up to 45 pounds of stuff for a flat $5.99 delivery charge

The day wouldn't be complete without Amazon expanding into some new market segment. Today it's home delivery of groceries.

Amazon is announcing something called Prime Pantry, which will let Amazon Prime customers order as many groceries and household items as can be stuffed into a 45-pound box. Unlike other Prime services, there will be a delivery charge -- a flat $5.99, regardless of how full the box is.

How do you know when the box is full? A little icon shows you how full your box is as you add items. 

But, you say, you can already order all kinds of grocery and household items from Amazon. Yes, you can, and many of them qualify for free two-day shipping for Prime members.

But many other items aren't currently offered under Prime -- like soda, bottled water or canned foods, simply because they're too heavy to ship for nothing.

It's not quite clear whether Amazon has added a raft of new products or if it is simply offering a more economical way to ship bulkier items. But unless you're heavily into body-building, there's nothing wrong with letting someone else lug cartons of soft drinks, bottled water and laundry detergent from the curb to your front door.  

On the negative side, we tried to put together a test order but the selection was so limited that we couldn't find 45 pounds worth of anything we wanted. In the sorely lacking department: iced tea in big bottles, coffee beans that aren't Starbucks, big bottles of decent olive oil, snack bars from somebody other than Kashi and so on.

Maybe the selection will improve with time but for now it's very white bread, so to speak.   

The day wouldn't be complete without Amazon expanding into some new market segment. Today it's home delivery of groceries.Amazon is announcing something ...

Amazon smartphone in the works, reports say

E-readers, tablets, set-top boxes ... what's next?

You don't necessarily think of Amazon as a hardware manufacturer, even though it has made and sold millions of Kindles, Kindle Fires and other e-readers and tablets.

Not to mention the Amazon Fire TV, the company's new set-top box. And soon, if industry gossip and leaked reports are accurate, there'll be an Amazon smartphone.

The Wall Street Journal says today that the phone is expected to be publicly introduced in June and to begin shipping in late September, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

It may be a little hard to see how the world needs yet another smartphone but the Journal says Amazon is trying to get out ahead of the pack with some spiffy new features -- including a 3-D effect that's achieved with four front-facing cameras.

The cameras track the movement of your retina and adjusts the image accordingly, making it seem to hover in front of your, sort of like a hologram.

Magic wand

Amazon is also said to be developing a wand-like device that would let you scan the barcode on grocery products that you want to order. They would then show up on your doorstep in a day or two. 

The idea is that, as the peanut butter jar starts becoming transparent, you swipe the wand across the bar code. That's it -- nothing else required.

Fire TV installation

As for Fire TV, we ordered one and hooked it up last week. As Amazon promises, our account was pre-loaded. We didn't have to type in our Amazon user ID or password and, somewhat puzzlingly, it also knew our Netflix ID. 

However, there was nothing quick about the installation. The box kept downloading updates and rebooting itself in a seemingly endless loop for about 15 minutes, which put us on edge as we were dying to get to the latest episode of "Extreme Cheapskates."

You would think that if Amazon takes the trouble to detect and load individual IDs and passwords when someone orders a Fire that it would also take a few seconds to flash the latest software updates, but apparently not.

Because of other consumerism emergencies, we didn't have much time to experiment with the voice commands but the few we tried worked perfectly. We found episodes of "True Detective" with no difficulty.

Reverse phone book

Some reviews have faulted the voice recognition for working only with Amazon titles, which may be true. But a fairer comparison would be to stack it up against the horrible Verizon FiOS DVR controls, which are about as elegant as a reverse phone directory.

True to their roots, which extend back to the telegraph days, the phone and cable companies use the oldest methodologies they can find, forcing customers to click through endless directory trees to find the program they're looking for -- a stupid system only the Dilberts could love.  

The old-school providers are also shameless in hawking their movie and on-demand rentals while customers search feverishly for the same titles that are usually available for no charge or a nominal charge on Amazon, Netflix and other new-generation networks.

Most consumers would probably be quite happy to do all of their viewing with a system as simple as those provided by Roku, Amazon, Google Chromecast and Apple TV. One of these days a major "content provider," to use the current moronic description, will tell the cable giants to get lost and cast their lot with the upstarts.

Or they can mimic daily newspapers, which sat calmly back and watched the Internet eat their business model. 

You don't necessarily think of Amazon as a hardware manufacturer, even though it has made and sold millions of Kindles, Kindle Fires and other e-readers an...

Amazon introduces its set-top box -- Fire TV

The tiny box is crammed with features, including predictive delivery and parental controls

Amazon today unveiled its new TV set-top box, dubbed "Fire TV," the latest addition to its Kindle line of products. As reporteda few weeks ago, the device will compete with Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV and gaming consoles such as Microsoft's Xbox.

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price — people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly."

Fire TV starts at $99 and is available for immediate ordering, Bezos said. The device would include Amazon Instant Video, Prime Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus and other popular streaming services.

In an effusive press release, Amazon said Fire TV's quad-core processor has more than three times the processing power and four times the memory of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3 for "exceptional speed and fluidity."

Predictive delivery

Amazon not long ago hinted it was working on a "predictive delivery" system, meaning that it would prepare and ship items that its software has decided customers are about to order. Fire TV is the first product to include that feature, dubbed ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction).

Amazon said ASAP "predicts which movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and buffers them for playback before you even hit play."

The device also includes games like Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, among others, at an average price of $1.85. 

Another feature, called Amazon FreeTime, lets parents choose what their kids see and set time limits for types of content and times of day — no more negotiating for one more show before bedtime.

"Customers who subscribe to FreeTime Unlimited — Amazon’s all-you-can-eat content subscription designed for kids ages 3 to 8 — will get unlimited access to thousands of movies and TV shows," Amazon said.

No set-up

Fire TV comes automatically pre-registered, which Amazon said allows consumers to get started with no set-up hassle.

"Just plug it in and start watching. All of your previously purchased movies and TV shows from Amazon, as well as personalized recommendations and your Watchlist, will be there waiting for you when you turn on Fire TV," the company said.

Fire TV (Amazon photo)Amazon today unveiled its new TV set-top box, dubbed "Fire TV," the latest addition to its Kindle line of products. As reported...

e-Book publishers dish out $166 million to readers in antitrust settlement

Five of six publishers have settled; Apple is still fighting the allegations

Now and then, struggling writers manage to get a few bucks for their efforts. But this week, it's readers who'll be getting paid. 

That's because five of the six biggest publishers of e-books will be sending more than $166 million to consumers, as either checks or a credit to their account. It's part of a settlement involving the publishers and 33 states.

 The states sued publishers Hachette Book Group Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Simon & Schuster Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, d/b/a Macmillan, and Penguin Group (USA) Inc., alleging anticompetitive activity. The publishers agreed to settle the suit by making the payments that will be going out this week.

A sixth publisher, Apple, Inc., refused to settle and went to trial. A court found that the publishers and Apple had engaged in an illegal conspiracy that restricted price competition and raised the retail prices of e-books. Apple has appealed and that case is still pending.

“Illegal actions by these publishers forced consumers in New York and across the nation to pay artificially inflated prices for e-books,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Companies engaging in such anticompetitive conduct will be punished — and starting today, those injured by their actions will start to receive full and fair compensation.”

Under the settlements, consumers in the 33 states who purchased e-books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or Apple will automatically receive a credit on their e-book accounts. Purchasers of e-books from Sony will automatically receive refund checks in the mail.

Consumers who purchased e-books from other retailers, and who filed a timely claim form with the Settlement Administrator, will receive refund checks in the mail.

For more information on the settlements, visit www.ebookagsettlements.com.

Now and then, struggling writers manage to get a few bucks for their efforts. But this week, it's readers who'll be getting paid. That's because fiv...

Amazon video-streamer just about ready to ship, report says

This might not be the time to cancel your Prime membership after all

Wait! Don't cancel that Amazon Prime membership just yet. Amazon is said to be ready to start shipping its long-rumored video-streaming device early next month.

The Amazon device will be similar to Roku, Google Chromecast and Apple's set-top boxes and will give consumers access to popular video services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO Go and, of course, Amazon. 

The Wall Street Journal says the device will be sold at Best Buy and Staples, as well as online at Amazon.com. 

Pricing isn't yet known but it's likely that some kind of incentive will be offered to Amazon Prime members. Beyond a discount of some kind, the obvious question is: why would you buy this if you weren't a Prime member since Prime includes access to original Amazon production and hundreds of other TV series and movies?

Pricing remains unclear, though the people familiar with the company's plans said the device likely would come with incentives available to members of Amazon's Prime streaming video and shipping program. Last week Amazon said it is increasing the price of Prime by $20 to $99 annually, in part because of the rising cost of acquiring video.

Most of the existing set-top boxes are relative inexpensive and also -- refreshingly -- relatively simple. Amazon's device is expected to similar. It will run on a version of Google's Android operating system, as do Amazon's Kindles.

Besides producing more original TV shows like poitical comedy "Alpha House," Amazon is said to be in talks with music publishers, apparently hoping to create an on-demand music-streaming service.

Wait! Don't cancel that Amazon Prime membership just yet. Amazon is said to be ready to start shipping its long-rumored video-streaming device early next m...

Survey: Prime price increase hurts Amazon's brand

Rivals, notably ShopRunner.com, rush to recruit Amazon deserters

Amazon may have underestimated the negative blowback from its decision to raise the price of its Prime memebership to $99, according to a survey conducted over the last few days by Brand Keys, a leading retail research consultancy.

"Consumer expectations are always on the increase, and when it comes to online retail, they operate in a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-recently?' paradigm. Price increases weren't what Prime Members were expecting," said Robert Passikoff, found and president of Brand Keys.

Amazon announced the 25% price increase a week ago following rumors that it would raise the rate by as much as 50%.

In a survey conducted by Brand Keys March 14-16 among 1,050 Amazon Prime members, metrics– showed that the Amazon brand took a blow to its normally high overall brand engagement and loyalty evaluations.

Loyalty evaluations among Prime members were down 10%, from 93% to 83%. Customers also took to the web and social media to vent their frustrations.

"I've been a Prime member for a couple of years but I am reconsidering it now," said Karen Hesse, a California notary public in a Facebook posting. "Now that Prime membership is taxed as well, I have to see if Prime saves me more than $110 a year. I like the free videos and the lending library that come with the membership but I don't think my use is that great."

Engagement takes a hit

Brand diagnostics showed that the price increase resulted in significantly negative effects to two important emotional engagement drivers for the Online Retail category: 'Brand Reputation' and 'Brand Value.'

"When a brand misses the mark when it comes to consumers' expectations, 'expectation' quickly becomes 'disenchantment,' and based on these assessments. Prime members seem really disenchanted with the Amazon brand right now," said Passikoff.

"Hard as it is to believe, there was time when consumers ordered a product, they paid for shipping and if they weren't happy, they paid to return it. It worked exactly like consumers expected it would," noted Passikoff, "but today that seems like a distant era?"

Zapposification

In 2003 Brand Keys called it the 'Zappos-ification of America,' brand differentiation and consumer engagement à la free shipping and returns and speed of delivery. Zappos, the innovative online shoe retailer, told consumers they'd receive their order in five days, but delivered in two. Consumers were pretty happy.

"'Delighted' you might say," said Passikoff. "And in order for other brands not to look as though they were lagging, they too offered free shipping and returns. This took various forms and offers, but in short order, consumers came to expect it, which is precisely the nature of delight, expectations, and brand engagement."

Amazon has been the No. 1 brand in Brand Keys' Customer Loyalty Engagement Index for as long as the category has existed.

For $79 a year members received free two-day shipping and access to a raft of free streaming videos, exclusive content, and added values like free e-book borrowing.

Tolerably happy

"If people weren't precisely delighted to pay, they were tolerably happy to get things fast and not pay extra. Estimates vary from category-to-category, but membership programs like these tend to attract consumers who spend more, sometimes significantly so. So it should work out for everyone, right?" said Passikoff.

Passikoff said there appear to be business justifications for Amazon's decision -- chiefly higher shipping costs -- but he said that consumer decision-making is more emotional than rational and explanations about higher costs don't placate customers anymore.

He noted that an online rival, ShopRunner.com, a site that guarantees two
-day delivery from many of the retailers on their site, has already offered to waive its $79 annual fee to anyone "disgruntled" by the Amazon price hike.

"Amazon should have expected that," said Passikoff.

Amazon may have underestimated the negative blowback from its decision to raise the price of its Prime memebership to $99, according to a survey conducted ...