Amazonian angst

If you know precisely what you want, a quick trip to Amazon delivers, quickly and painlessly. But suppose that you have a product in mind, but don’t have a clue as to which of thousands to buy. In this case, you read the customer reviews, hoping to divine the best version.

Such was the case the other day when I sought to acquire a simple wine rack, nothing too big or fancy to store a few bottles of wine before they’re snatched and guzzled to celebrate just about any event, including Tuesdays. Here’s one, I thought, and it should fit inside our apartment. A bit of assembly required, however.

Removing the pieces from the box I thought of my failures in 7th-grade wood shop, where I was tasked with building a little stool out of a plank of lumber. The end result was completely useless, uneven on the top, and much too tiny to support anything larger than a hamster, who would, of course, slip off, since the stool wasn’t level. As parents are wont to do, the barely recognizable thing I had labored over for weeks became a household museum piece, displayed for visitors’ appreciation. Strange.

Back to the wine rack. There weren’t all that many pieces, a few strips of wood, holes, and screws. I just needed a screwdriver. As the reader may have imagined by now, the project did not go smoothly, as the holes and screws could not be aligned. During my struggles, I couldn’t help noticing that the wood was split in multiple places. I abandoned the effort, put everything back into the box, then shipped it back.

This exercise in futility caused me to wonder about Jeff Bezos’s theory of marketing. We know that he’s a self-avowed libertarian, skeptical of government, and enamored of unfettered markets. Amazon is such a market, the mother of all markets. He evidently allows anyone to sell anything, expecting and depending on customers to give accurate reviews of products, down to the slightest detail. Thus the rating system, which Bezos encourages consumers to join.

Because there are literally pages and pages of variety for each product category, the bewildered customer must rely on the wisdom of crowds, however small in number. Otherwise, it’s a crap shoot, with disappointing results. However, variation in reviews is inevitable, with some giving “five stars” and others a single star, reflecting customers’ varied experiences. Would I wind up in the one-star crowd or will I be delighted by my purchase?

On the wine rack, I’m definitely a one. I’m sure my useless-stool legacy had something to do with it, even though I employed only a screwdriver. If anyone could screw up this relatively simple assembly project, it would be me. Yet, the product really didn’t fit together well, which I attribute to the manufacturer.

At times like this, I seek a wise overseer, one or more individuals opening or closing gates to the Amazon portal. This individual or group would have my best interests at heart, would not offer for sale mediocre products, and would test the hell out of multiple candidates for entry to determine their suitability in the grandest of all markets.

That’s not very libertarian of me, I know. More like a wish for a big brother and the freedom from crap.