Kudos, Amazon.com!

Amazon recently (today?) launched what they’re terming “Frustration-Free Packaging.”  Basically, instead of getting things in the retail packaging, you get it in a brown box with plastic pillow packaging.  The number of things you can get in FFP isn’t high right now, but it’s a huge start.

From their description of the FFP on a Fisher-Price pirate ship:

This item is delivered in an easy-to-open recyclable box and eliminates 36 inches of wire ties, 1,576.5 square inches of package inserts, and 36.1 square inches of printed carton materials. Also eliminated are 175.25 square inches of PVC blisters, 3.5 square inches of ABS molded styrene, and two plastic fasteners.

Brilliant.  I hope to see more products offered like this, because the retail packaging is irrelevant when you’re buying stuff over the internet.

Amazon Fresh: Delivery #2 (and iFatigue)

We tried Amazon Fresh again today.  We’re throwing a fajita party this weekend, and I noticed that Amazon Fresh had really awesome prices on flank steak. 

I scheduled the order this time for Thursday night between 8:00 and 9:00pm, as opposed to the Saturday morning delivery we had last time.  Groceries looked great again. Produce in good shape: bell peppers (yellow, red, and green), onions, etc.

I will say this about the Amazon Fresh delivery folks: wow, they are the most punctual bunch I’ve ever run across.  Last time they rang the doorbell at 9:00am (literally, 9:00 — not 9:01, but 9:00) which was the first moment available in my delivery window.  Today, they rang my doorbell at 8:01pm.  They’re slacking by a minute. 🙂

Oh, and Diann mentioned last night that she’s got iFatigue from hearing all the buzz about the various Apple iPod and iPhone announcements. A quick bit of searching shows me that she didn’t originate this phrase, but I think it’s pretty brilliant.

EDIT: Oh, I’m deducing that the Amazon Fresh delivery drivers have some sort of wireless connectivity back to the mothership.  About 2 minutes before my groceries have been delivered, I’ve received an email saying my order is ready for pickup.

Amazon Fresh: a test run

Amazon Fresh A few weeks back, we were out and about around town, and I noticed a truck and storefront for Amazon Fresh.  I knew the coming-out date had to be close for my neighborhood, so I headed over their webpage to request an account.

A few weeks later, I got an email saying that delivery was available for my neighborhood!  Last night, at around 10pm, I placed my first order.  I ordered a variety of things: Ziploc bags, bread, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, etc.  Part of the order was stuff we needed, and part of it was just to see how the quality of the food stacked up to shopping the grocery store.

I scheduled the order to be delivered today between 10am and 11am.  I had a slight problem with the website – the add/remove item controls in the shopping cart didn’t work, so I had to order with a few things I didn’t actually mean to order.  I called their customer service just before placing the order, and was happy to speak with a very plain-spoken member of their customer service team.  Definitely a native English speaker, and my guess would be from the Northwest or Midwest US.  She was able to quickly reproduce the problem I was experiencing, and sent it onto their web team.

amazonfresh 001 At 10am Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. Literally, at 10:00 and a few seconds. I swear the guy was waiting outside of the door watching his clock waiting for 10:00am.  Rather than drive the delivery truck up the driveway, he parked at the end of the driveway and used a hand truck to get the groceries to our door.  He brought the groceries into the kitchen, I signed a piece of paper, and away he went.

Diann & I quickly unpacked the groceries, taking a peek at the various fruits/vegetables that we ordered to make sure they lived up to the name of Amazon Fresh.  To my surprise, they did!  The tomato was ripe and red, the grapes were flawless, the strawberries were beautiful.

Amazon Fresh Tomato My only complaints about the service is that you can’t easily see ingredients of the products you’re shopping for, nutritional value, and my aforementioned problems with the website.  Diann’s allergic to corn, so we need to avoid high fructose corn syrup.  That’s tough to do when you can’t read ingredients, so we really had to try and stick with products we already knew. 

It’s cheesy, but I took a picture of some of the produce.  The tomato is there on the right.

 Great stuff, I’m pretty sure we’ll definitely be shopping there again.  I’ll be saving my grocery store receipts in the future to compare prices.

Web Recommendations Systems

So, I blogged previously about how I love Netflix's recommendations system, and it's a lot like Amazon's as well.

I wonder why these sites (along with others that do recommendations) only mark things as recommended — why don't they tell me if I probably won't like something I'm looking at?

I understand it in the case of Amazon — it's in their interest to sell me everything. On the other hand, it's in Netflix's interest to have me not check out a movie.

Apple: What are they thinking?

So, at this morning's Showtime Event Apple unveiled several things, most of which were expected. Notably absent: the rumored full screen video iPod.

At any rate, one of the things they announced that people did expect was the ability to download movies from iTunes. Good idea, poor execution.

You see, Apple set the price point for movies at $12.99 for pre-order and first-week sales, and $14.99 thereafter.

Visiting Amazon, it looks as though the average price of their top-sellers are around $17.50 now. Yeah, but you have to wait a few days for those, and maybe have to pay shipping. Visiting Best Buy, price points are all over the place, but I'd say it averages out to around $17 for normal DVDs.

So, for that extra $2-$2.50, you get the pretty DVD casing (meh), and the physical media. In addition, you probably get the extras that go on DVDs: deleted scenes, multiple languages, subtitles, outtakes, etc. Also, as part of your extra $2-$2.50, you get actual DVD quality (Steve Jobs said “near DVD quality 640×480″ for iTMS movies (and come on, 3:2 format?)). As a bonus for your hard-earned $2-$2.50, you also get real surround sound: Dolby Digital, DTS, THX. Steve Jobs says you get “Dolby Surround” – anyone that knows the difference between Pro Logic and Dolby Digital or DTS or THX knows that it makes a huge difference.

And seriously, I don't know when the last time I bought a DVD was. For $10/month, I get as many movies as the USPS can shuttle around with Netflix.

My point is: Apple had a huge opportunity to get a major win in this market, but they basically blew it.

(also of note: Steve Jobs didn't wear a black turtleneck!)

My other thoughts on the keynote:

  • gapless playback: about time.
  • games: not bad. Though the picture of Bejeweled saying “Just for iPod”? Funny, they must've missed Xbox Live Arcade's rendition of the same. Otherwise, the games hit list reads a lot like the Xbox Live Arcade line-up: Zuma, Hold-em, PacMan…
  • iTunes 7: woah, looks like the copy machines are going in Cupertino as well – a lot of these features are in the recently announced Windows Media Player 11.
  • NFL: Maybe interesting. At $1.99 per game, it's not badly priced. But, but there seems to be a catch: Steve Jobs says that “game highlights” are coming to iTMS — not the game, just a highlight reel.
  • iTV: Could be interesting and compelling. We'll see in Q1 2007. Potential to compete with what Windows Media Center and Xbox 360 already do, as well as what the Playstation 3 is supposed to do.

As Seen on TV!

So, being a relatively tech-savvy person geek and a child of the 80's and 90's, I remember seeing those ads on TV where you could call a number, order something, pay “just three easy installments of $19.95 plus shipping and handling” and have it in “four to six weeks”. Now, this being the 21st century and all, I'm quite used to clicking on a web page and having the thing I want ship the same day, or the next day at the latest.

So, periodically I still see things for sale on TV. Time-Life selling a random magazine, some phoney mint selling some phoney coins (no offense meant to those of you who collect these types of things), and they still take “four to six weeks” for delivery. What gives? Did these companies completely miss out on the technological advances of the 90's that is supply chain management? Are they holding out for “the next big thing” — teleportation of goods?

I need to write up a business plan to start a company that markets stuff on TV; then I could staff the call center with people Customer Service Engineers just clicking their way through Amazon and promise to have stuff delivered within days.

Phase 1: Sell stuff on TV
Phase 2: …
Phase 3: Profit!