Saturday, July 13, 2019

John Oliver examines Amazon warehouses for Prime Day, a tale of the Retail Apocalypse

Happy Amazon Prime Day!  Last year, I shared Company Man's history of the rise of Amazon.  This year, I'm celebrating by featuring Warehouses: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).

It’s easy to buy things online, and even easier not to think about how they get to you. John Oliver discusses what happens when you click “buy now.”
Oliver noted the effect Amazon had on brick-and-mortar retailers early in the video.  The bad news is that 440,000 people have lost their jobs as , Macy's and JCPenney closed stores.  The good news is about that many people were hired by Amazon for their warehouses and they're being paid $15/hour.  The other bad news are the working conditions in warehouses.  It makes me feel guilty about being an Amazon Prime customer, but not enough to stop shopping there.  Yes, I'm part of the problem.  Sigh.

I have more on the Retail Apocalypse, as Brick Immortar uploaded a video on how the demise of malls is decimating Ruby Tuesday's and other bar-and-grill restaurants, but that will have to wait until I post an entry about Bastille Day.  Stay tuned.


  1. Daggone it! Can't watch the Oliver vid because I'm in the wrong country, and I can't be arsed to Oogle around for an alternate means of seeing it. I'm sure it would be possible, but my attitude is that any minutes I spend searching/watching would be more profitably used reading posts on Naked Capitalism or somesuch.

    I'd LIKE to order things through Amazon, but I'd feel too guilty about doing that, due to articles I've read over the years about the sweatshop conditions in their warehives (sic). I don't get attached to name brands of most products, but one of my weaknesses is Pepsodent toothpaste. (The flavour flashes me back to the gum I used to chomp as a kid, and it's actually super-cheap when purchased in the U.S. Only $1 for a large tube.) I usually bring back 10 or so when I visit the U.S. but I'm down to my last one. I'm sure I could get some shipped Down Undahere if I used Amazon, and the price would be no object, but guilt holds me back.

    Guilt motivates me in a lot of ways, such as not wanting to fly overseas on a whim any more (greenhouse gases!) So no chance of buying Pepsodent and my favourite brand of Neutrogena soap (a formulation that's only available in the U.S. -- I couldn't even source it in Canada or times I've been in France) directly. Not that I'd jet across the Pacific just for toiletry shopping, but as a side benefit of visiting family/friends...

    Ultimately, it was feeling guilty about being a taxparticipant in the warlike U.S. empire that led my wifeatthetime and I to decamp from San Francisco during the Bush regime. I wish there was an alternative to Amazon because there are a lot of obscure bands whose music I'd like to buy (not much chance I'm going to trip across anything by Alien Sex Fiend when I'm fossicking through music stores here). Gumtree (Australia's version of eBay/Craigslist) doesn't have nearly the breadth of Amazon. But, sigh, scruples...

    Meanwhile, my daughter and her BF love Amazon, so much that they have some of those automated Amazabuttons in their house that they just have to press when they're running low on toilet paper (colloquially called "poo tickets" here) and cat litter. Couple days later, bingo! it's delivered to their door. I went on a (mercifully brief) rant one time when I was visiting them about slave labour, feeding into the database info-gathering system, etc. Met with the familiar eye-roll of "There you go again, Dad." (My first Xwife, Blaze's mum, is also politically strident, so she's accustomed to that sort of thing.) I reckon it plants a seed that will mature slowly -- Blaze has told me she's finally read bits from the copy of "The Long Emergency" that I gave her in the mid-2000s -- so some judicious consciousness-raising can't hurt.

    1. You're not alone in your frustration. My #1 Canadian follower on Twitter can't watch the video either. He wrote that he can't watch Comedy Central videos, either. I find it ironic that Comedy Central and HBO are blocking access to viewers outside the USA, as both of their comedians I share most often are immigrants!

      I feel guilty enough, too, although it's as much about contributing to the the demise of brick-and-mortar retail as it is about the working conditions in Amazon's warehouses.

      Alien Sex Fiend, now that's a band I haven't heard about in a long time, probably since I moved out of Los Angeles 30 years ago.

      I hope your daughter finishes "The Long Emergency" if for no other reason than to understand where you're coming from.