Executive Briefings

What Will Service Work Look Like Under Amazon?

At 9 p.m. Eastern time on July 10, Amazon initiated its annual show of force: Prime Day, a 30-hour exercise in the fullest possible expression of what Amazon can do.

What Will Service Work Look Like Under Amazon?

The sale, timed to the company's "birthday," is marketed with an urgency bordering on panic. What's for sale? Basically anything. Where is it for sale? Wherever you are. Some sales last the whole prolonged day; others last a few minutes. A car seat. Golf clubs. Jeans and a screen door. Turmeric extract. A gallon of Elmer's glue. An Amazon product — the voice-controlled Echo, which can order more products from Amazon. Makeup brushes. Jumper cables. A tablet computer. The shopping experience is at turns euphoric and anxiety-inducing, Amazon's already-busy interface teeming with decontextualized blinking numbers: Sunglasses by “Hulislem,” $16.79, down from $115.95 after a previous discount to $28.99, 86 percent off, ends in 2:08:51, 63 percent already claimed. No? Next. Pro Series Waist Trimmer: $15.16-$18.96, 22 percent claimed, ends in . . . 0:00:43. Damn. Time is running out.

As far as holidays go, Prime Day is contrived, crass and extremely effective (the company’s ‘‘biggest day ever,’’ it says). This is not a venue for voting with your wallet or a cultivating a consumer identity. It’s about clicking a button that initiates a mysterious process carried out by teams of invisible laborers and automated proc­esses and results in a package at your door within two days. That package will contain one or more products that were probably built in a special economic zone in a faraway country; transported by ship, truck or perhaps one of Amazon’s newly leased ‘‘Prime Air’’ planes; warehoused and waiting in one of the company’s gargantuan and strategically placed fulfillment centers; sorted by subcontracted laborers, robots or both; and left at your door by whatever means necessary, be it U.P.S., FedEx, the United States Postal Service or a gig worker driving around in the family Accord. Prime Day is the opposite of precious; it is an awe-​inspiring project dedicated to moving product and making money.

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The sale, timed to the company's "birthday," is marketed with an urgency bordering on panic. What's for sale? Basically anything. Where is it for sale? Wherever you are. Some sales last the whole prolonged day; others last a few minutes. A car seat. Golf clubs. Jeans and a screen door. Turmeric extract. A gallon of Elmer's glue. An Amazon product — the voice-controlled Echo, which can order more products from Amazon. Makeup brushes. Jumper cables. A tablet computer. The shopping experience is at turns euphoric and anxiety-inducing, Amazon's already-busy interface teeming with decontextualized blinking numbers: Sunglasses by “Hulislem,” $16.79, down from $115.95 after a previous discount to $28.99, 86 percent off, ends in 2:08:51, 63 percent already claimed. No? Next. Pro Series Waist Trimmer: $15.16-$18.96, 22 percent claimed, ends in . . . 0:00:43. Damn. Time is running out.

As far as holidays go, Prime Day is contrived, crass and extremely effective (the company’s ‘‘biggest day ever,’’ it says). This is not a venue for voting with your wallet or a cultivating a consumer identity. It’s about clicking a button that initiates a mysterious process carried out by teams of invisible laborers and automated proc­esses and results in a package at your door within two days. That package will contain one or more products that were probably built in a special economic zone in a faraway country; transported by ship, truck or perhaps one of Amazon’s newly leased ‘‘Prime Air’’ planes; warehoused and waiting in one of the company’s gargantuan and strategically placed fulfillment centers; sorted by subcontracted laborers, robots or both; and left at your door by whatever means necessary, be it U.P.S., FedEx, the United States Postal Service or a gig worker driving around in the family Accord. Prime Day is the opposite of precious; it is an awe-​inspiring project dedicated to moving product and making money.

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What Will Service Work Look Like Under Amazon?