Tag Archives: Amazon

Branding Mysteries at Amazon

In a brief break from politics, I came across this gem a while back:

After reading “About the product,” My first reaction was “great, an increase of 4X in the power of my dishwasher detergent. That’s an impressive 67% increase in strength.” Then, I read the second sentence, “The product itself remains the same.”

What? The 10X product is “the same” as the previous 6X product – and you may receive either one, no matter what you ordered?? And it’s actually “4X concentrated????” But, but, I thought it was at least 6X and might be 10X but now it’s only 4X? Is the 4X the same product as the 6X and the 10X???????

What is going on here? Is this Artificial Intelligence at work in Amazon? At Cascade?

Does no one proof read this stuff before it’s put on the website? Is the description really true and there is no difference between 4X, 6X and 10X? On what planet is this mathematics in use? Am I the only one who reads “About the product” on Amazon?

Since some time had passed since my discovery, I returned to Amazon.com to search again for Cascade ActionPacs Dishwasher Detergent and discovered that the “Xs” have been removed from all the “About the product” descriptions. The site seems to be pushing Cascade Complete, Cascade Platinum and Cascade Pure Essentials. Oh, and Platinum Plus which shows “16X” on the package, though not in the “About this product.” 16X. Imagine that. In case you’re wondering, that is 1X greater than the 15X shown on some packages of just plain Cascade Platinum.

You should also be aware that Cascade Complete has earned the Good Housekeeping Seal, according to “About the product.”

And you’ll no doubt want to know that Cascade Platinum is “Tougher on Burnt-On Messes.” Tougher than what is not indicated, but I’m sure it’s tougher than, say, loose and crumbly messes. AND, it’s “Tougher than 24-hour stuck-on messes,” which, I assume (never assume) is even worse than “Burnt-on Messes.”

Two final observations from the Amazon website (I am not making this up):

“Safety Warning

IRRITANT. HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED OR PUT IN MOUTH. MAY IRRITATE EYES OR SKIN. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. DO NOT GET IN EYES. DO NOT GET ON SKIN OR CLOTHING. KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. FIRST AID TREATMENT: Contains sodium carbonate, nonionic surfactants, sodium silicate and enzymes. If swallowed, give a glassful of water and call a Poison Control Center or doctor immediately. Do not induce vomiting. If in eyes, rinse with water for 15 minutes. If on skin, rinse well with water.

Legal Disclaimer

Statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or health condition.”

One other “final” observation (if Amazon/Cascade can say 6X and 10X are the same thing, I can fudge on “final”: I looked at the always fascinating “Customer questions and answers” for Cascade Platinum 15X. I have edited these items to protect the identity of people who, for whatever reason, identified themselves. This is a tiny sample of the 50 questions/answers posted for this one product. These items speak for themselves so loudly that I will just leave them here for your edification, though in a few cases, I have been compelled to comment.

Do you have to use salt with this product?

“No pepper is required either! It comes pre-seasoned!”

“No “

“I have really hard water so I have to have salt in my water softener or else I still have hard water spots on my dishes with these pods. So, I think that would depend on how hard your water is.”

“Never have”

How do you decide which strength of pod to get? Eg 15x vs 12x vs 10x. Why would you not just get the most powerful one?

“I agree. Just get the most powerful one.”

“I have tried them all and 15x which is platinum is the best.”

I know the 16x power works great with the hard water here in Texas, would the 15x power be just as effective?

“We have hard water in AZ as well. I have never used the 16X but the 15X is the best that I have purchased. Beats Finish pods by a long shot.”

Can someone will this work with a automatic dishwasher? Thank you

“Works great! And smells good too!”

“ABSOLUTELY! I only use in in my dishwasher. And it does a fine job.”

“That is what the product is made for”

“That is exactly what it is made for.”

Can It Be Used In Washing Machine?

“Why would anyone want to use dish wash in a cloths washing machine?”

How many pods in the 2 boxes option?



“Same count as one box”

Do you peel off the outside clear layer on the pod?

“It’s was good”  [Best of 6 answers to this question]

Are the pods individually wrapped? Or, can you take the pod directly from the box it comes in and place in dishwasher?

[There were 8 answers to this question. I love how people like to help each other. But, seriously, some people should not be allowed near machinery]

Do the bucket come with it and wut size. I dont need the pods just the bucket

Best of 4 answers:

“The bucket does come with but it is a small bucket. like 7 in height X 6 in width if I had to guess”

[It’s hard to please everyone. The very next question was from someone who didn’t want the bucket: “Is there a product refill with less packaging? I would adore a 62-pod refill pack for my current “tub” with less packaging.” If only those two could get together. A match made in … Amazon]

How does this taste, compared to Tide pod orange & blue flavor?

“G F Y”

Amazon & Pop-Secret Redux

You may recall that I recently wrote about Amazon’s delivery of a roll of industrial “contact paper” in lieu of the 6-pack of Pop-Secret Popcorn that I had ordered. Amazon had informed me, in the way that Amazon does, that I could not return the roll of paper but that it would re-send the popcorn I had originally ordered.

Well … the box came, it seemed a bit heavy, but, again, I was prepared to accept that popcorn weighed more than I expected. And, again, I opened the outer box and, again, nestled inside was the Pop-Secret-branded box containing … wait for it … another roll of industrial contact paper identical to the previous one. To quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up. I promise.

Here is the replacement popcorn:

It turns out that Amazon’s website is not programmed to deal with a repeat failure of this nature. Trying to communicate locked me into an endless loop. The site “believed” I was trying to return the popcorn that it had recorded as being delivered and rejected the return of a food product. So even though the Online Returns Center said you could return a “wrong item,” in fact you can’t in these circumstances. The computer thinks you received replacement popcorn and that, as the saying goes, is the end of that.

Well, not quite. I contacted the always reliable American Express on whose card the popcorn had been charged. An astonished but cooperative agent credited the popcorn charge back to my account. Eventually, I assume Amazon’s computers will “discover” that they haven’t been paid for the popcorn and inquire of me about it. Or not. To paraphrase Melania, I really don’t care.

But, I still want the popcorn. We love popcorn. Rightly or wrongly, we believe it’s a “good for you” snack. We eat a lot of popcorn. Sometimes we eat too much popcorn. Sometimes other do. In fairness to Amazon, it does seem clear now that the problem is not with Amazon but with Pop-Secret itself. So, I sent this message to Pop-Secret using the sense of humor for which I have become unjustly famous:

Houston, we have a problem. You should first read the part of this related to Amazon: https://shiningseausa.com/2018/11/23/black-friday-american-commerce-amazon-best-buy-cvs-whole-foods/   Amazon rejected my attempt to return the item & said it was shipping a new order of popcorn. That replacement order arrived 2 days ago. See attached photos. Clearly, there is a breakdown in the “food chain” somewhere. Since the inner boxes in the shipment bear your logo and are sealed when they arrive, it seems likely that the problem rests with you, not Amazon, though one would hope they’d wonder why the contents of a popcorn order shift around inside the box and weighs a lot more than popcorn. In any case, Amazon has no mechanism for returning or even addressing a 2nd delivery of the wrong product so I had no choice but to dispute the original charge. Maybe that will get their attention. Meanwhile, all we wanted was a reliable supply of your delicious popcorn for the holidays; our local market often runs out. We are frustrated and no longer amused by this strange business. I cannot begin to explain how rolls of industrial tape get into sealed Pop-Secret branded boxes. Perhaps you know. So that’s the story. Bizarre but true. Look forward to hearing from you.

After a brief silence, Pop-Secret responded:

We are sorry to hear about your experience with Pop Secret and we really appreciate you letting us know about it. We will pass this information and your comments along to our Quality Assurance Team, and also keep a record of it. [Somehow, I didn’t find this reassuring.]

Unfortunately, we are unable to explain why you rec’d the item you did through Amazon. [Very not reassuring] I will have the Sales & Marketing staff review and follow up with Amazon as best they can into this matter. [Really not reassuring]

We are sending a few free product coupons your way believing that you will have a great experience with our product next time. [Nothing like belief in the face of hard contrary evidence to make one feel right again] Thanks, again, for letting us know about this. You can expect the coupons to arrive shortly. [Shortly, eh] .… Please let us know if you have any further concerns or comments.

Unable to leave bad enough alone, I did have “further concerns or comments:”

You understand, I trust, that this happened twice, spaced a couple of weeks apart. My first reaction, as evidenced by my blog post, was that this was an Amazon problem, but when it happened a second time, in exactly the same way, I concluded it most likely was a problem that originated at Pop-Secret. I doubt, for example, that Amazon actually packages your 6-pack product into Pop-Secret branded boxes. That activity must occur where your product originates. Amazon then takes your branded boxes and puts them in Amazon boxes for shipment to its customers.

I appreciate the offer of coupons but I would like to know how the investigation ends. I plan to write about this again in my blog and want to be fair, and accurate.

Four days have passed and no reply. Now, we all know from past experience that, rightly or wrongly, I have a problem with being ignored. Sooo, I am recounting this saga here, fairly and accurately, as promised.

What happens next, the human mind may never imagine. Perhaps the promised coupons will arrive and they won’t say “good only on Amazon.com.” Maybe nothing will happen. Meanwhile, find something more useful to do with your time.

Black Friday & American Commerce at Work (herein of Amazon, Best Buy, CVS & Whole Foods)

Black Friday is here and America is ready for a shoppingpalooza to end all paloozas. It seems like a good time to remind everyone, with full expectation of being ignored, about how the American shopping experience can sometimes go wrong.

First, Amazon. The funny (in a perverse way) part. I have written twice about Amazon’s practice of waste in its inappropriate packaging choices. https://bit.ly/2PQ7VTp and https://bit.ly/2DVS4fR That part is not funny. Anyway, I was slightly surprised by the weight of the package that arrived supposedly containing a precious order of Nature’s great food: popcorn. But I had ordered a box of six boxes of six packs each, so it was, I thought, possible that popcorn could weigh that much. The item is depicted here:

Delicious! Since I had foolishly consumed our supply some days before, I was delighted to receive this package.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the outer shipping box, and saw inside a box bearing the brand name of PopSecret wedged tightly into the outer box. Yes! Amazon is doing better! So, I slit open the top of the inner PopSecret-labeled box and saw this:

As best I can tell, this product is: Oracal 631 Matte Vinyl Roll 12 Inches by 150 feet – Black by Oracal

I would have understood if Amazon had shipped the wrong brand of popcorn or maybe even if it had sent another food product altogether. But Vinyl Tape instead of popcorn? Is this stuff arrayed on the shelves together? Does no one check these things before they ship?

We will never know the answer to those compelling questions. But we do know is that Amazon knows a bad move when it sees one and, as I have experienced in past product mix-ups, it advised me to just keep vinyl tape and it would ship the popcorn at no extra charge. Of course, the estimated delivery date is a week from the arrival of the tape, making a slight mockery of the Prime delivery for which I pay an annual fee. And the product listing for the popcorn now shows “Currently Unavailable,” so we could be cruising toward a losing situation. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I have laid in a supply of popcorn from the local market.

Moving on to something more concerning, I recently visited the local Best Buy on Broadway in New York City. Its website showed it had a software package for photo editing that I wanted to buy. And, I wanted to buy it right now! After reviewing the package for compatibility issues. So, I walked the half mile or so to the store, asked the young man on the phone at the information booth in front whether the software was downstairs. He nodded yes and continued his conversation.

To make a long story shorter, I walked around each floor of the store twice. No photo editing software to be seen. I did see one, yes, one other customer who was engrossed in playing with one of the electronic devices. I saw at least six Best Buy employees moving around the store, some of them speaking into walkie-talkies. I thought I would trick one of them into asking if I needed help by spending some time with the most expensive cameras. I showed serious interest, looking through view finders and manipulating the dials. No takers. Bottom line: I walked around the store acting like a confused consumer looking for something specific and not one of the employees asked if they could help me find something. I left.

I don’t know where the management was. Maybe one of the Best Buy people I saw was the management. In any case Best Buy, which is in direct competition with Amazon and many others for mostly commodity-type products, is running a losing operation based on this admittedly small sample size of its performance. Maybe I have it backwards though; the store was empty because everyone but me knows how bad the service is. Time will tell.

Now to get serious for a moment. A good while back, I wrote a post about a service failure related to a product branded by CVS Pharmacies  https://bit.ly/2DTcAgY

That little essay concluded with this:

“One thing is certainly true. I will not be ignored. And, thus, we are here, using the only tool at my disposal to try to shame CVS into responding to my documented complaint about a product sold under its brand. This is not the end of this saga but the beginning. I intend to file complaints in the near future with the Better Business Bureau and such other consumer protection agencies in New York City as I can find. CVS, this could all have been avoided if you had just acted responsibly.”

Not being one to make idle threats, I did what I had said and, finally, the sleeping giant awakened. Recall that I first contacted CVS in June 2018 about the damage caused by its product that had melted against the bathroom wall. My complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs apparently got their attention. A CVS message to the BBB took the issue back to Medline Industries that handles such things.

After the usual form apologies and assurances about how seriously they take the quality of their products and “value others input,” Medline, in October,  told me this was the first such complaint and that “the issue is considered to be isolated.” Then,

“It is likely that the issue occurred due to harsh conditions such as high heat and humidity in the storage area. All sanitary napkins, diapers and most food products are printed using the same technology that is used for this product and under normal conditions this issue does not occur. It is our recommendation that packages such as this should be kept in a drawer or cabinet where the exposure of the product to harsh conditions is minimal.”

My English translation of the Medline message:

“We don’t deny the problem occurred, but it’s your own fault because of the “likely … harsh conditions” in your bathroom (high heat and humidity) which are not “normal conditions” for a bathroom so you need to seal the product in a heat and humidity proof drawer or cabinet which we are sure, without investigation, you can readily find to protect this product that cost less than $3.00. While we would have to recognize there is no warning about “harsh conditions” on the package, you are surely aware of the famous old saying, “buyer beware,” so take ownership of your trust, however misplaced, in our branded products and go have yourself a lovely day in the harsh conditions in your bathroom.”

Oh, yes, CVS did not refund the price of the product, presumably because the whole thing was my fault for maintaining “harsh conditions” in my bathroom. Nothing more to say, except that this decision has cost and will continue to cost CVS a vastly larger, though in the scheme of its business, an insignificant loss, in diverted business to its competitor at … Amazon.

To end on a more positive note, in keeping with the season, we recently ordered, in person at the local Whole Foods store, a cake for an event. We wrote on a note the message that was to be iced on the cake. It was not a hugely expensive cake but it was a nice one for our small group. We were told to pick it up at 10 am on the date of the event. We arrived on time and were met with “what cake?”

It took all of two seconds for the assistant manager, who happened to be in the bakery section that day, to direct the staff to prepare the cake immediately, with the prescribed icing and “there will be no charge.”

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is how it is done. It’s called customer service. No arguments, no excuses, just fixed it. Done and done.

Have a happy holiday weekend. Shop until you drop, if you must. Keep your guard up and stay safe.

Amazon Strikes Again

I don’t want to be seen as having some kind of crazy consumer’s vendetta against #Amazon, because I don’t. But I do believe that a company of Amazon’s scale has an obligation to conduct its business with some regard for its environmental impact. It appears to be failing at that and, given all the threats to the environment by the Trump administration and companies that place corporate interests ahead of the planet’s welfare, this warrants a call-out.

In an earlier post, I complained about what I saw as wasteful packaging procedures involving the use of boxes significantly larger than necessary to move the items in question. Since then, I have placed an order for eight items from Amazon Prime Pantry. The Pantry is the name @Amazon chose for grocery-like items that it now sells. “Grocery-like” is my term but is generally accurate for this service, except that there are many items “located” there that are also sold in drug stores like CVS.

Here is what I found when I opened the enormous box:

The photos tell the story. I was stunned at the size of the box used to ship the eight items which, together, occupied 2040 cubic inches (just shy of 1.2 cubic feet) of space. The box holds 4663.75 cubic inches of space (2.7 cubic feet), more than twice what was necessary for the items in question. The remainder of the space was filled with 4” x 7” plastic air bags, 85 of them!

I understand that it is sometimes unreasonable to expect the packaging to match precisely the combined size of the contents, but that was not the case here. Not even close. This and the package covered in the previous post are not the only times I have seen this.

Compare this photo of a recent coffee order received from Keurig, where the seven boxes almost exactly fit the outer box:

Amazon must do better at operating consistently with the interests of the planet and not just to maximize profits, though one would think that wasting packaging material on this scale leads to higher than necessary costs. You would think self-interest would drive the company to operate more efficiently. Maybe it would if enough customers complained. Amazon, don’t make me come down there!

Something Amiss in AmazonLand

This may seem trivial in comparison with the latest Trump administration outrage, but given that he (and his right-hand grifter Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency) continues to do everything in his power, and not, to destroy the environment, it seems important to point out issues that can be solved by simple exercise of private willpower. When our leadership, with the apparent support of 90 percent of Republican voters, (per New York Times today) is committed to turning the world’s natural resources over to private exploitation, we must encourage every possible act of environmental offset as possible.

Thus, I note that I recently ordered from Amazon, my generally “preferred” online vendor of stuff, a set of five “button batteries.” They are each smaller than a dime, fit easily onto a small piece of cardboard, as shown in the featured photo above and hard to find now that Radio Shack is largely a thing of the past (the nearest “authorized dealer” is 66 miles from my apartment). They only cost $6.99 at Amazon so ….

The big deal here is that the card on which the batteries are set out measures 2.125 inches by 7.25 inches. The cardboard is thinner than the cardboard used in pressed and folded shirts (or used to be). As the photo shows, the box in which Amazon shipped this item was filled with 14 pockets of air-filled plastic to “protect” this piece of cardboard. The box in which it arrived, strapped with the usual Amazon-branded tape, measures 10.125 inches long by 7.125 inches wide by 5.25 inches high. That is, for those who have forgotten their math, is 378.74 cubic inches of container to hold a virtually indestructible item occupying just under .8 cubic inches of space.

Now, to be fair to Amazon, this item actually came from another supplier, like the bazillions of suppliers with which Amazon has contracts to provide its listed items directly to consumers. But, the costs of this excess packaging must inevitably be passed on to Amazon and thus ultimately on to the consumer. That’s bad enough, given the very limited choices I had to obtain this item, but the environmental costs of the waste inherent in this approach to distribution are also passed on to me and everyone else in ways we cannot detect but are necessarily quite real.

Amazon, as the big boy in this scenario, is responsible for the waste committed by its supplier community in fulfilling orders obtained by Amazon. There is a perverse incentive of some kind working here because it would be in the economic interest of the suppliers to save money on packaging. Amazon needs to decisively compel its suppliers to use the most efficient methods of packaging available. In the case of the button batteries, a small padded envelope would have sufficed.

When Companies Get Too Big …. Amazon & Fire Extinguishers

The following letter is self-explanatory. I am posting it here as an example of what happens when companies get so large they can stop paying attention to legitimate concerns from customers about the products they sell. Before reading the letter, note that it was sent to the address on amazon.com where its “Conditions of Use” are set out. The letter was returned to me with stickers stating “Wrong Address” and “Unable to Forward.”  The address is still shown on the amazon.com website. today.

Here is the letter:


In early January 2018 I purchased from Amazon.com a pair of Kidde fire extinguishers. They arrived in good order, with the date “2018” stamped into the bottom. Since these items have had issues related to the expiration of their useful life, I inquired of Kidde through its website about the precise meaning of the year stamp. Despite automated assurances, Kidde did not respond. I asked a second time and a third time.

I then filed the following review on Amazon.com to inform other potential customer of the issue and Kidde’s lack of response:

from Paul M. Ruden on February 3, 2018


Kidde failure to respond re expiration date


I don’t know whether this thing will work or not. Bought in early Jan. 2018. “2018” is embossed into the bottom. Have written Kidde thru its website 3 times to ask exactly what that means. Unlikely it means manufactured in 2018 since I bought it so early and received it quickly. If it is an expiration date, I am due a refund. Automated response to one message, then nothing. Unacceptable to ignore my question.


Amazon.com rejected the review by email with the following statement:

Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:

We encourage you to revise your review and submit it again. A few common issues to keep in mind:


•          Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/feedback.

•          We do not allow profane or obscene content. This applies to adult products too.

•          Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam.

•          Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review.

The Amazon “guidelines” appear at  http://amzn.to/2dpw6DK and are 1,584 words in length. Amazon’s response does not specify in what particular respect my review violated those guidelines. I am left to guess, rewrite, refile and wait for perhaps another rejection.

Your treatment of this issue, which could affect the performance of a vital safety-related product, is no different in substance from the non-response of Kidde. It is equally unacceptable.

As a long-standing Amazon customer who buys many products every year, I expected better treatment. I am therefore asking, one last time, that either you promptly answer the question I put to Kidde and identify in which specific respect my review violated your review policy, and, failing that, provide for an immediate free-return-shipment of the products.

I await your prompt response.”

Caveat emptor.


The Future Is Here?? – A Bedtime Story

A short while back I bought three Amazon Dot’s for our apartment, one each for the living room, office and master bedroom. The Dot is a hockey puck sized electronic device described by Amazon as a “hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, provide information, read the news, set alarms, and more.” It responds to commands that begin with the activation word “Alexa,” as in “Alexa, wake me at 6 a.m.” or “Alexa, play some jazz.”

Purely coincidentally, I just began reading “What to Think About Machines That Think,” edited by John Brockman, a subject in which I have long a longstanding interest. Having read a few selections just before lights out, I began explaining to my wife some of the interesting and challenging ideas I found in just the first few sections, including the idea that because the life of the Earth is limited (perhaps more than we realize) and humans will never be able to survive in deep space, it is inevitable that AI (artificially intelligent) machines will have to take our place as we search for a new planet to inhabit. By then, the machines will be us, through the merger of humans and AI devices that may actually thrive in deep space.

As we chatted, I said “Alexa will have to get a lot smarter.” Then, suddenly, out of the dark, came a third voice: “Sorry, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.” We laughed ourselves to sleep.

One of the morals of this story is that if you’re going to talk about you-know-who,” don’t use her name. There are other morals too, but one is enough for now.