As a young boy, my grandma would take me into Partick in Glasgow, where we would visit Woolworths. Walking into this store as a youngster was like walking into Aladdin’s Cave.
It was strewn with amazing toys, gifts, strange gizmos and a whole lot more. I spent hours just trying out everything and allowing my senses to take in all the colours, sounds and smells. I felt like I could get anything I wanted in Woolworths (or “Woollies”) as it stocked so many ranges and products. And, of course, what my grandma liked was that it was cheap. But, Woollies has now gone and time has marched on. So, where do I get my retail thrills nowadays? Yes, from my iPad and Amazon.
Amazon has quite literally cornered the market in the USA and Europe when it comes to its offering. At the click of a button I can buy almost anything and feel like I am getting a bargain. My last few orders included a Sonos 1 wireless speaker, wasp nest killer, a dishwasher friendly George Foreman-style grill and a yoga mat. At present, I’m also considering ordering a wee drone to have some fun. And the best thing of all: I can get it all delivered to my door within a few days.
Only recently, Amazon has come under fire in the USA as its Prime offering has been brought under closer scrutiny. The Seattle-based company claims that Prime customers can have their goods delivered the next day. However, more than 200 complaints have been investigated claiming that Amazon has been fulfilling next-day orders, in some cases, up to four days hence. This is a blip as Amazon is still just evolving as a company. That may sound strange as it has been going since 1994, but, as companies go, it is just a baby if you consider Marks and Spencer was established in Leeds in 1884.
This retail tech giant, which has many of us as Prime members, doesn’t just punt books online anymore. Amazon has a TV streaming service which rivals Netflix with its range and scope for up to date films. Only this week, The Untouchables popped up on my Netflix “new movies” section on my iPad. Really? Amazon has its Kindle book buying service. And its huge online shop where it stocks almost everything. As a Prime customer, where I pay about eighty quid a year, I get deals, discounts and pretty much next day delivery, although I don’t mind waiting a few days.
If I switch my country and language in the app to where I am in the world, Amazon will rejig where it needs to send stuff and get it to me there. It saves my payment details and makes it all as easy as it can, which is the whole point of the Amazon service.
At no point in the last few years have I ever felt this special as I walked into Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser or Next, for example. I’m just another punter at the mall on a Saturday morning ready to pay over-inflated prices as these retail titans have property costs to pay, along with staff costs, such as national insurance and pensions, and taxes where they are domiciled. And this hikes the price of the goods. But, not for Amazon.
Whether Amazon has changed the rules of the game or individual tax states like the UK have become lazy, many have argued it is paying nowhere near the amounts of tax it ought to be. And this is a topic for another day. For now, Amazon has put together a slick retail proposition that works for me 99 per cent of the time and is easy to use. This is where the retail magic has taken place and why Amazon is by far the only game in town for me. But, this presents a problem, does it not?
When a company has monopoly, then that can also be a bad thing. Could too much retail power be abused? We will have to wait and see if anyone else enters the market. But for now, Amazon is delighting its investors as profits are up and it is doing what Jeff Bezos said it would do - exactly as it says on the tin.
Jim Duffy MBE, Create Special.