Amazon UnPrimed

Bloomberg noticed that Amazon’s retail growth is slowing, especially as brick-and-mortar merchants have stepped up their digital game. Even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledged that in his latest shareholder letter. “It’s hard to explain the slowdown in Amazon’s merchandise sales growth,” Bloomberg wondered in their story. I don’t know about the larger macro reasons, but I have my story to share.

I have been a life long Prime customer, and am definitely happy to pay for the premium of getting whatever I want within 48 hour time frame. Prime Now is great. However, lately, I have started to order less and less from Amazon. Just as I have shifted most of my search away from Google, I am not sure I want Amazon to have complete control over my shopping habits. So instead, I am being more unfaithful to Bezos’ bodega.

Additionally, Amazon has lost its core value proposition — it is no longer the cheapest location to buy things on the Internet. It might be the Everything Store, but that comes at a price.

Take for example, this Sunday. I ran out of my notepads, and decided to order some from Amazon. A single Rhodia notepad cost just over $14. That didn’t sound right — so I went over to JetPens, a small mom-and-pop online stationery store and found the same item for $8.59. No brainer — ordered a dozen, got free shipping. That money previously would have gone to Amazon.

I have started ordering less from them, for yet another reason — when you accidentally order a book that cost $11, when you wanted a Kindle version, and Amazon wants $5.99 for shipping it back, you start to realize that Amazon isn’t the best place to shop and has lost some of its early customer focus.

PS: It would be fun for some large well-resourced media organization (take a hint The New York Times) to conduct a price comparison of all items on various big online commerce sites. It could actually be branded the WireCutter Survey of best places to buy. By the way, have you noticed how much shopping comparison websites suck?

A letter from Om

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The Away Experience

After a decade of service, it is time for my good old 29-inch Rimowa suitcase to go in for a much needed retrofit. It will be a while before it comes back from Germany, and it will also set me back a pretty penny. I don’t mind paying the price to get another decade of use out of it.

The repairs made me wonder if I should get a new large check-in suitcase, one that can carry a lot more of my cold weather gear, and other non-camera but photography peripherals. The Rimowa trunk is pretty attractive, though the price is high enough to cause a nosebleed. Ever since LVMH bought the brand, the prices have crept up, and the lifetime warranty has gone the way of the dodo. And what’s more, the suitcases sold in the US are no longer made in Germany, and instead, are made in Canada. Thus, I am on the fence about buying the trunk suitcase.

I don’t think about other brands as much, but everyone keeps talking about Away, though I haven’t taken them seriously, because I have always been a Rimowa man. Yesterday, I ended up at Away store in Hayes Valley and spent time looking at their luggage — beautiful, but polycarbonate is not for me. However, the Away aluminum suitcase looked pretty attractive. I was poking around the suitcase when not one but two sales representatives asked me if I needed help.

AwayHayes 4

They spent about 15 minutes extolling the virtues of the suitcase — they talked about where it was made, the quiet wheels and the massive capacity. Their polycarbonate luggage is made in China, so I am not sure if I believe their claim that the Aluminum luggage was made in Germany. But if it is, then more of a reason for me to consider Away.

They talked about a life time guarantee. Given that Away is a venture-backed company, I didn’t take the whole lifetime guarantee too seriously. We talked about the importance of patina that comes from nicks and dents. And there was the price — about a third of what a new Rimowa would cost — and that got my attention. I liked what I saw, but when I came home, I didn’t remember much, except for the great conversation, warmth and charming behavior of the two sales representatives who didn’t push me to buy something.

It is the exact opposite of the Rimowa store experience. The sales push starts the minute you feign interest. But that’s pretty much all big brands, where salespeople are compensated by what they can close. The Away sales duo made the first Away experience so good, that when it comes to pulling the trigger, the customer service will rank very high on my decision matrix. Also, if you have had a chance to try out Away, do let me know what you think via Twitter.

5 Great Reads

  • The Parsi Sweet Tooth: If you don’t know about the Parsees, then you should learn more about them. They are a very unique people and part of the demographic quilt that is India. They do so many things well (so, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Queen’s Freddy Mercury came from a Parsi family). I particularly love their food. Whenever I went to Bombay, I would find myself eating their dishes. Especially the desserts.
  • Mystery Alaska: I love Alaska. Frankly, if I was a bit more handy with tools, I would spend more time in that beautiful, quirky state. It is also the place where scientists are trying to find traces of humanity.
  • What the hell do robots have to do with French philosopher René Descartes? Find out.
  • A daughter tells the story of her father’s death as it played out on the Internet. It brought tears to my eyes.
  • The modern world is a victim of a great lie: that standard clothing sizes exist. But how did this long con start?

These recommended reads first appeared on my April 14, 2019, weekly newsletter. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest.

A letter from Om

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Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott on the future of software engineering and the better world ahead

My friend Kevin Scott has a unique vantage point from which to speak about the future of software engineering. He is a very gifted and accomplished man who serves as CTO at Microsoft, but his career as a software engineer spans several years and a variety of different roles in companies both large and small.

If you take the time to listen in to this conversation, you’ll hear his story — which began in a tiny town in Virginia. From his first personal computer (from Radio Shack), of his interest in technology and aspirations to become a university professor to that time when he applied at a company called Google. Please, take the time to listen.

Outline of This Episode