Category Archives: Robin Hood

One of my favorite hobbies is to screw the screwers, rip off the ripoff artists. Give Anton LaVey credit (for, I assume, nicking it from someone wise): “Steal from a thief–it’s easy, you’ll find.”

Do you use Uber Eats? Check your card statement with care

Some time back I ordered from a restaurant that delivered via Uber Eats. I won’t make that error again.

The food wasn’t very good, but that wasn’t my problem. Here’s what the driver did: dine out for the next three days on my credit card, with a double-size bill for the final time (presumably treated a friend). Very clever. The logic, I’m sure, was that three fraudulent charges would probably escape notice, and by that time the perp would have another card to milk.

Pretty slick, eh?

It would not surprise me to learn that one of the unofficial perks of being an Uber Eats driver is that one gets a free meal or two off one’s customers. Probably most of them pay no attention to their credit card bills and just have the payment automatically deducted from checking, or use a debit card. I do not know for sure. I know that my own very limited sample base, from my first, only, and last Uber Eats transation is 100%: one transaction, one series of ripoffs.

If you use them, I’d take a really good look at my card statements. Every time. The only reason they slipped through my net was that this just happened to be a month in which my credit card bill never arrived. I called to find out what I owed, and asked them to send me a copy. I failed to review the copy–that one I most needed to review. I didn’t bump into it until I was working through my tax information.

I wonder just how many small-time Uber Eats e-crooks out there are taking small bites out of just enough customers to avoid having to pay for food.

Amazon losing market share

They are. Oh, not a statistically significant market share. But they are losing a good percentage of the share that is our household, and it would surprise me if we were the only ones.

Why?

It isn’t for moral reasons. We aren’t engaging in a partial boycott. Whether we should is a worthwhile question, but it’s not like Wal-Mart, where I haven’t knowingly shopped since I borrowed bought a breast pump I knew I would return. It’s not like that chicken place with the stupid name, where I wouldn’t eat there simply because the name is too stupid, even if they hadn’t come out as homophobes.

That’s not to say that this outcome doesn’t please me. It does. Amazon needs competitors. Amazon offers numerous shopping irritants:

  • Sellers like Wal-Mart hiding behind fake names. Nothing like getting a good deal and finding out you shopped at Wal-Mart.
  • Rating system is garbage, and vendors can easily get nasty reviews removed. Vendors have nothing to lose from nasty reviews.
  • Try calling Amazon for customer service. Hell, try emailing them for it.
  • Opaque tracking system clumsy to use. Seeming delays of a week to ship while, evidently, they move stuff around their network.
  • The known truths about what a hell it is to work there.
  • Delivery vans unmarked and pretty much just throw your stuff at the porch. And that’s if your Amazon delivery guy doesn’t turn out to be your porch pirate, as happened in one case near where I live.
  • Good luck getting an Amazon shipper to combine shipping for multiple items.
  • Amazon still thinks it’s a reasonable deal to ask you to pay, what is it, $90 or so per year just so that you can get free two-day shipping on all the stuff you buy from them.
  • Worse still, Amazon nags you without cease to sign up for this.
  • Still cannot block a bad shipper. There’s one book outfit there, a horrible vendor, and they have perhaps a dozen branch operations. It’s very hard to avoid them.

Of late, I’m buying routine items increasingly on Ebay, using Amazon to help identify/select them (such as small bits of hardware; just like many people use a brick-and-mortar, then go buy the thing online). Because:

The rating system may be hugely inflated, but no seller wants a nasty feedback. In my experience, most will fall all over themselves to avoid it, provided they have evidence of dealing with a reasonable person. And if you are a complete jerk toward a seller, s/he has a different remedy toward you: s/he can prevent you from seeing their merchandise in the future. So unless you want potential vendors to go away, it is in your best interest to be reasonable.

I have several times called Ebay for customer service. Using a telephone (ask your grandparents what that was). And received it. Other good parts:

  • Tracking: either it has a tracking number, or not. If it does, you can see where it’s going. If not then not. Wow! It’s almost as if that’s the way the concept is intended to work!
  • Doesn’t use Amazon delivery, thus doesn’t lead to unmarked vans out of which people leap desperate enough to work at one of America’s workplace gulags, and who quite often look like they would just as soon turn porch pirate. And near where I live, have done so.
  • Shippers will quite often combine shipping for multiple items within reason.
  • Not everything is up for auction. Much of what’s on Ebay is fixed price. In some cases, you can make a lower offer and it will be accepted.

Today was a good example. I needed some very large manila envelopes at a reasonable price. I didn’t know what the standard size was, but Amazon was a great place to look it up. When I was serious about buying, I went to Ebay and found the same thing, about the same price. It wasn’t even a contest. I would have paid a little more to buy it anywhere but Amazon.

I bought from the platform that used real shippers, cared about my feedback, and didn’t feed a massive inventory and shipping machinery that grinds human beings to submission.

Another example, on a later day of blog post composition. My wife needed some supplies she always uses. I went to Amazon to look up what their people wanted for these supplies. When it came time to make an actual purchase, I bought on Ebay. The deal was much better.

I got a volume discount. I won’t have to deal with sketchy-looking Amazon delivery vans. Everything was better.

Do you not now see what was the point of Amazon Prime? It’s a brilliant strategy provided one is dealing with an ovine people who love the meth that is ‘free shipping.’ Get people to pay an annual fee, and they will feel compelled to shop at Amazon to take advantage of the shipping. It’s like a ‘loyalty’ card at a coffee place, except that coffee places don’t expect you to pay an annual fee and don’t propose to automatically renew you by charging your credit card unless you cancel. Amazon Prime is the worst deal going and it has the effect of roping you into acting to your disadvantage. They would not offer it, and pressure everyone constantly to sign up for it, if it were not to their profit. It is to your disadvantage.

Yes. You are advantaged by buying only what you need, and by shopping for the best value. Amazon is advantaged by you buying there even if you do not need, and by you not comparison shopping.

I never take any of those ‘loyalty’ cards because it’s obvious that their intent is to get me to shop at a given venue more consistently–and in the case of mag-strip cards, to compile a nice dossier on my shopping. The employees don’t understand why I won’t just do it to get 10% off. I explain, as patiently as is in my power, that the card’s goal is to induce me to shop there; that my goal is to shop where is most advantageous for me. Thus they have their goals and I have mine, and they are mostly opposed. I can tell by the look in their eyes that, in spite of how hard they work for what little they are paid, they never thought of that. Their eyes say what their mouths won’t: whatever, man, you should just take the discount.

I wish they would blurt that out. I might rejoin: “Has it ever occurred to you that one reason for poverty is poor attention to money management?”

The vendors have their goals and problems. The consumer does not need to own either. I don’t see the company stepping up to support my goals and they aren’t owed support for their own.

At heart, they flat do not give a damn what I think. As Amazon does not.

Somehow, I’m not supposed to adopt the same attitude.

We saw it with IBM. We saw it with M$. When a company reaches complete market dominance, it tends to stop caring what the public thinks of it.

It never quite seems to process the fact that this sword cuts both ways.

Free shipping: why it sucks for you

I’m not kidding.

In the modern-day online economy, free shipping has almost become a baseline expectation. I am told that if I’m selling online, and I don’t offer free shipping, I might as well write off every customer under forty. That is tantamount to telling me that every customer under forty is innumerate.

I don’t believe that. But I do believe that some customers, at all ages, refuse to do the simplest arithmetic.

To be fair, free shipping is an acceptable deal–for one item, from one vendor at a time. To be clear: that makes it a wash, not an advantage.

(This, by the way, is the first in a new category of posts at The ‘Lancer: “Robin Hood.” I intend to use this category for public service articles meant to expose ripoffs and scams, and to suggest creative ways to make life worse for ripoff and scam artists. Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood was my absolute favorite book growing up, and over half a century later is still a great inspiration to me.)

The ripoff comes when you buy more than one item from the same vendor. The more you buy, the more you inflate the vendor’s profit. The better a customer you are, the more you suffer. The vendor counts upon you to be an idiot. He hopes you will think: if there’s free shipping, hell, why not stock up?

Let’s take a fairly common vintage baseball card as an example. Suppose it costs $1.50 with free shipping with Vendor Joe. With another, Vendor Jill, it costs $0.75 with $0.75 also for shipping. In the second case, if you buy multiple items, Jill may readily agree to combine your shipping costs to a degree. (Since this is Jill’s moment of victory, if Jill did not, Jill would demonstrate the intellect of a prehistoric fern.) Joe’s shipping charges can’t go below zero, so Jill is sure to be the better deal. No matter what, when you get this so-called free shipping, you are absolutely being charged for the freight; the cost is just relocated to the item’s price.

That card costs either vendor fifty cents to mail, but appearances drive this whole monte game. In essence, Jill charges you the fifty cents plus a modest handling fee. Jill appears petty and pecuniary and nickel-and-diming. For gods’ sake, her shipping costs as much as her merch! What does she think I am, independently wealthy? Joe looks as if he waves a magnanimous hand and throws in the cost of delivery, just to do you a favor, fagedaboudit, good ol’ Joe.

Same amount. Same shipping. Same economics–except that you like Joe better. He’s the free shipping person! And when you buy two cards, your brain may think that the more you buy, the more you save, but you can see from this description that it is the other way around: the more you buy, the more you overspend. Suppose you buy ten cards in that price range. Obviously, they cannot all be shipped for one $0.75 shipping charge, but they surely can be shipped for far less than $7.50. Since Jill has not been lobotomized, she knows it costs less than $7.50. Jill also gives you credit for not having been lobotomized, so she presumes you know this as well. So she charges you perhaps $4.00, which still covers her overall shipping plus a little extra: total, $11.50.

Joe can’t lower shipping costs below free, so unless he offers a volume discount, his ten cards cost you $15.00. And whatever his volume discount, it is unlikely to beat Jill’s simple and fair charge.

Fagedaboudit.

Why doesn’t everyone go to Jill for their bulk buys? Joe counts upon your negative emotional reaction to Jill’s method, which appears to be dinging you for every little thing à la carte. (You mean I have to pay for extra sauces?) Also, you have to ascertain in advance what her policy will be, and that requires icky work-like stuff like reading and asking her questions. There is also addition and subtraction in play, which is math, thus even ickier and difficult and wasn’t on the test. It’s all so hard, and you just want to be done! The five-second instant gratification cycle has passed! Joe is hosing you, but you like him better, because he doesn’t quibble over petty stuff like shipping charges. Bing, bang, done, oh, I have a text coming in.

It’s a shell game. Ever seen those? Pick which coconut half (or overturned bowl, whatever) the ball is under. You always win the first time, just like a monte game. Or a nearby shill steps up and ‘wins’ to make it look good. When there’s more on the line, there is no way you win because the target has been moved in a way your eye will not track.

For one item, free shipping is a wash. Take it for gospel that the vendor pays for and is being paid for the shipping, whatever shell the money is under. Beyond one item, with the same vendor, the equation is simple:

The more you shop, the more you’re milked.

Joe really, really, really hopes you will never figure this out.

Ah, but what if Jill screws you by only discounting shipping a little bit?

First, this would defeat our non-lobotomized premise about Jill, because Jill would be stupid not to know she’s dealing with someone who has figured out the shell game and has chosen her on the logical presumption of better value. Jill is honest enough not to use the free shipping ripoff. Second, and consequently, Jill knows that she has a volume customer who may buy significant amounts from her in the future–but not if she gouges on the shipping. Once that customer trusts her to keep freight charges within reason, she will be a preferred vendor.

Joe? Fagedaboudim. Jill rocks. Joe’s running game on his customers.

Free shipping: just another shell game to make people think they got a bargain when in fact it’s a wash for one item, and a ripoff for more than one.