business news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  The Information reports that Amazon customers soon will be able to drop off returns at close to 1,000 Staples stores around the country, in the same way that shoppers now are able to bring returns back to Whole Foods and Kohl's stores.

It accomplishes two goals, the story says.  It makes it easier for shoppers to return items they don't want, but also "is the result of a years-long effort by a team inside Amazon to drive down the cost of returns after they soared during the pandemic, one reason why the company’s North America business lost money last year. The mission included discouraging customers from returning items through UPS, which is especially expensive for Amazon."

Amazon recently announced that returns that formerly were free now will carry a small charge if customers with access to in-person return facilities decided to use UPS.

According to the story, "Taming the returns beast represents one of Amazon’s biggest opportunities to curb runaway logistics costs, which more than doubled between 2019 and 2022 to $84.3 billion. Sending items back to Amazon is almost always significantly more expensive for the company than getting them to a customer in the first place, according to people who have worked on returns at Amazon, so any improvements to the process can pay dividends.

"Unlike Amazon’s other recent cost-cutting measures - from mass layoffs to killing experimental projects - rewiring returns is an especially risky move because changes to return procedures can easily upset shoppers."

There are some folks who will be upset with any change.  After all, we live in a grievance culture where people love to whine about pretty much anything.  But I think that for most customers - especially if Amazon tells the story in an effective and transparent way - moves like these will be accepted and even embraced.

Amazon should be straight about this:  "Our goal is to keep prices low and service high.  Part of doing that is finding ways to reduce our costs, and we're doing this by creating a network of returns facilities to make it easy for you to return items in person.  This is, to be honest, good for us because it reduces our costs.  But it also allows us to credit your account for these returns more quickly, which is good for you.  Our goal is to continue expanding our network of in-person returns facilities in the coming months, making it easier and more convenient for you.  And, as always, we appreciate your input."

Personally, I've found the ability to return items bought from Amazon to my local Whole Foods to be extraordinarily convenient.  I can't imagine doing it another way.  (I do think that Amazon may need to find a way to offer free pickup services to people who are elderly or for other reasons cannot leave the house.   But since they have delivery vans almost everywhere, there probably is a way to do that.)

•  Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told CNBC the other day that while  generative AI is "one of the biggest technical transformations in our lifetimes," there is a difference between the "hype cycle" and the "substance cycle."  At the moment, he said, we're in the hype cycle, but as the technology evolves to become more substantive, Amazon will be in the game in a way that "has the ability to transform, virtually, every customer experience that we know."

•  The Washington Post reports that "the Federal Trade Commission on Friday proposed new rules to take aim at businesses that buy, sell and manipulate online reviews. If the rules are approved, they’ll carry a big stick: a fine of up to $50,000 for each fake review, for each time a consumer sees it.

"It’s the biggest step to date by the federal government to deter the insidious market for buying and selling fake reviews, though the FTC’s rules don’t do as much to hold big review sites like Yelp, Google, Tripadvisor and Amazon directly accountable."

Good.  All of these businesses ought to have liability for the reviews they post online.  If they're false or manipulative, they ought to pay a steep price.  

•  From the Washington Post:

"A New York state judge on Friday stayed a rule that would require food ordering apps to pay delivery workers the new wage. The order comes one day after Uber, DoorDash and Grubhub sued to block the law from going into effect on July 12.

"New York State Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Moyne ruled that the wage measure cannot take effect before July 31 oral arguments on a temporary injunction. The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, named as a defendant in the lawsuits, has until July 24 to submit relevant documents.

"The head of the consumer protection agency said she was 'extremely disappointed' about the stay and hoped a ruling on the injunction would not take long."

•  Yahoo News reports that "Domino’s has taken the next logical step of the food delivery system. Now, thanks to its new 'Pinpoint Delivery' system, Domino’s can deliver pizza to locations that don’t have real addresses, think the beach, the park, or the concert line. Here’s more about how this new Domino’s food delivery system works."

According to a release, customers can just “drop a pin on the map and get pizza delivered virtually anywhere … With Domino’s Pinpoint Delivery, customers can receive their order at a countless number of dynamically created hyper-local spots without a typical address. Domino’s Pinpoint Delivery allows customers to track their order with Domino’s Tracker, see their driver’s GPS location, view an estimated time of arrival and receive text alerts about their delivery. Domino’s will also alert customers when their delivery expert arrives at the pickup spot, at which time they can activate a visual signal on their phone, which will help the driver spot them."