4 Underreported Dark Secrets Of Buying Stuff Online

These services still have a few glaring flaws that should really be addressed.
4 Underreported Dark Secrets Of Buying Stuff Online

Online shopping is such a staple of the season that you're probably reading this while working on an Amazon order in another tab. And hey, we have our own Amazon packages full of unspeakable perversions being delivered to us as we write this. But these services have a few glaring flaws that should really be addressed. So as you gear up for another round of holiday shopping, keep in mind that ...

The Demand For Fast Shipping Is Awful For The Environment (And The Health Of Drivers)

The great dream of online shopping is that it can be both convenient and environmentally friendly. You're not asking for your groceries and new video games to be sent to your front door because you're too lazy to put on pants and go outside; you're heroically trying to keep down the number of cars on the road. One big truck delivering packages to 30 different people is far more efficient than having 30 cars all driving to the grocery store.

But that premise is predicated on the idea that buyers are patient, never regret their purchases, and have no other duties to attend to. And as anyone who's ever drunkenly purchased rush shipping on seasons 1, 4, and 6 of Leave It To Beaver because they thought the title was funny knows, consumer behavior is short-sighted and often not very rational. We might get a box of diapers sped to us on Monday because we're running low, some groceries on Wednesday for lasagna night, and Call Of Duty: Whatever The New One Is on Friday to be played over the weekend. A little foresight would have allowed for all three of those to be handled in one order.

We might also have monthly subscription services, like Stitch Fix, Blue Apron, Spice Life, or Weed Need, and those are all delivered separately. Oh, and roughly 30% of goods purchased online are returned. Turns out your new R2-D2 bong either doesn't work well or doesn't look good in the cold light of day. Those return trips add yet more delivery vehicles to the road, and many returned products are then just thrown out.

But the biggest problem is that, despite our most fervent wishes, we still have to leave our homes. We have to go to work, or take our kids to school, or visit doctors who beg us to get out of the house more and use our atrophied legs. People used to combine all these errands. They would go grocery shopping after dropping off their kids, but before their doctors could warn them to stop putting nothing but Doritos and Mountain Dew in their grocery cart. But even though goods like groceries are being delivered now, those errands are still being run. So there are more vehicles on the road.

Our insistence that our lives will be incomplete unless dog sweaters that say "Thicc Boi" are rushed to us overnight also means more inefficient waste, as three boxes are used to package what a patient consumer could have put in one. Rush shipping also needs planes to expedite packages instead of relying on slower vehicles that spew fewer emissions into the air. Yes, many people shop online responsibly or not at all, but everyone needs to shop responsibly to create the environmental benefits we thought we would have when the practice started becoming commonplace. Instead, many people aren't even aware that these issues exist. After all, Amazon doesn't exactly encourage you to think about them.

In the meantime, delivery drivers are being pushed to skip meals and bathroom breaks while working (unpaid) overtime during busy periods so that all these packages hit their delivery dates, in a policy that appears to have contributed to the death of a woman who was hit by an exhausted driver. The busiest drivers have to deliver 250 packages a day, which is basically impossible on a regular shift. We know it's tough to resist Amazon's raw convenience, but at least try to hold off on rush shipping individual cans of microwaveable ravioli.

4 Underreported Dark Secrets Of Buying Stuff Online
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
On top of the shifts, you just know that any maze like that is going to have at least one Minotaur running around and eating employees.

Related: An Amazon Courier Pooped On A Curb, But Who Do We Blame?

Your "Handmade" Etsy Find Might Be From A Factory

Etsy can be a little pricier than other online marketplaces, but the cost is worth it, because you know your money is going to a dedicated craftsman rather than a faceless corporate giant. Right? The retirees, stay-at-home parents, and independent artists who keep the site well-stocked in whimsical creations, insane fetish gear, and copyright-dodging Harry Potter merch deserve all the money they can get.

But while it's nice to think of Etsy as the virtual equivalent of your local craft fair, it's really like any other digital storefront, in that there's fierce competition for the attention of consumers who only have so much time, money, and need for signs that say "Live, Love, Wine." Businesses need to do something to stand out from the 47 other sellers who are also offering homemade journals with "Fierce" on the cover.

One way is to scale up your production by outsourcing your supposedly homemade crafts. While Etsy says, "If it's handcrafted, vintage, custom or unique, it's on Etsy," the site allows third parties to produce and ship products as long as the original idea was "homemade" -- a definition so vague that it could apply to any product in existence, as long as someone insists that they thought of it while having a bath.

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For example, very few of Etsy's ample selection of gaming PCs look hand-crocheted.

So an Etsy seller who was supposedly handcrafting beautiful furniture out of salvaged wood was actually buying from a company in Bali. And one of Etsy's most successful sellers was pulling in nearly a million dollars a year by reselling products they purchased wholesale from Indian manufacturers. Some of the products would be given minor alterations by her 15 employees, but she was still asking for 28 bucks for socks you could grab for $6 on Alibaba (the Amazon for people who are willing to risk lead poisoning).

That particular seller left Etsy to go solo after a controversy emerged, but the site is still "flooded" with purses, jewelry, clothes, and other products coming from factories rather than grandma's craft room. A sweatshop is sort of like a home for the workers who have to sleep in it between shifts, right? There are even guides on how to spot and avoid marked-up factory goods, because no one wants to pay 15 bucks for a plastic piece of shit and Etsy is supposed to be one of the few major marketplaces where independent artists don't have to compete with juggernauts. The average Etsy seller is already just trying to pick up some extra money on the side, but they can't make much of anything if "I cut the tags off this shirt made on a Guangzhou assembly line" counts as "homemade."

Related: 4 Ways You Didn't Realize Online Stores Are Screwing You

Your eBay Purchase Might Be Coming From Amazon

So Etsy is a den of lies, but surely eBay is still a pure, untainted source of electronics and board games that the seller may have rubbed their genitals on, right? You're just buying someone's used crap -- or maybe, if the seller is especially industrious, the used crap of many people and places that have been gathered together under the auspicious umbrella of jerseydadssportsswag's account. And even the non-auction stuff that's shipping new from China is clearly marked as such, so you always know what you're getting. But what you don't always know is who's sending your purchases to you.

4 Underreported Dark Secrets Of Buying Stuff Online
Asiandelight/Adobe Stock
So wait, that shop with all the haunted dolls might not be aboveboard after all?

People who run Amazon storefronts can pay Amazon to store, pack, and ship their products, essentially making them your warehouse instead of having to do all of that work yourself. But you can also pay Amazon to fulfill orders from other sites, like eBay, for an up to 75% markup. A lot of sellers find it worthwhile to eat that spike, because it beats the hassle of having to personally handle order fulfillment while storing 10,000 plates with the Triforce on them in a garage. But if you try to recuperate even a little of the cost by charging more, your buyers are going to receive Amazon-branded boxes and wonder why they don't simply buy direct from Amazon instead. It's like a Trojan horse full of cheap water filters and toothpaste.

The price discrepancy between what Amazon charges its sellers and what it charges sellers at other storefronts has caught the eye of the FTC. But while that investigation proceeds, eBay is developing their own shipping service for sellers. Starting in 2020, the company will offer to handle fulfillment and take the financial hit for packages that are lost or damaged, although they admit that they'll never be able to compete with Amazon's "We'll have this roll of paper towels at your door in less than an hour, no matter how many birds it suffocates" guarantee. But while that might just mean yet more trucks flooding the roads, any options that cut into Amazon's all-devouring maw is probably for the best. After all ...

Related: 5 Shocking Stories Amazon Doesn't Want You To Know

Amazon Is Loaded With Counterfeit Products That Hurt Small Brands

When we picture a counterfeit product, we usually think of a Praba purse or a Molodex watch. Giant luxury brands aren't going to be hurt by some piece of junk you bought from a shady stall because you thought it would make you look suave for the four hours before it falls apart. But on Amazon you can counterfeit anything, from mouth guards to medical manuals to teeth-whitening products, and it's small business that get hurt.

And we really do mean counterfeit, because this isn't just a case of generic products being sold to people who don't want to pay for a brand name. Names and packages are mimicked to the point where the real product and the knockoff look identical to all but the most discerning eye. And "discerning eye" is not a trait that most people hastily shopping for cheap shampoo have.

Amazon wants it to be easy to sell products, and even easier to compare them. You only need contact information, a credit card, and a bank account to start selling -- none of which offers proof that you're a legitimate company. Then the site's algorithms heavily prioritize displaying and suggesting the cheapest options to consumers, because you don't become a world-eating monolith by being inconvenient.

So you can, say, copy someone's T-shirt design, sell if for half the price of the original because you make it in an Eastern European sweatshop with material that disintegrates if you sneeze on it, and fool a significant number of shoppers who don't realize or care that a superior original exists. You'll probably get caught and shut down eventually, but that's OK, because then you can just move on to selling something else. If you're lucky, the bad reviews of your shitty product will end up hurting the competitor you stole from in the first place, as one clothing company experienced.

Amazon insists that they're vigilant about cracking down on these scams, but small businesses disagree. Dr. Frederick's Original, which sells health products like arch supports, says that counterfeits are costing them around $40,000 a month, and that attempts to defend their trademark from predatory Chinese manufacturers are ignored or even met with threats. So when your search for socks produces 870,000 different options, try to remember that at least half of them are total ripoffs.

Mark is on Twitter and is aware of the irony of selling his book on Amazon.

For more, check out Taking Down Amazon.com:

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