It’s hard to imagine living in America and not being a member of Amazon Prime. If you can do it, hat’s off to you. You’ve resisted a lot of pressure. Because even if you shop online only for Thanksgiving napkins, Hanes T-shirts or the occasional Wii U, you can’t avoid Amazon, which tops Google’s unpaid search results for just about every retail object.
And if you lazily follow those links to Amazon, you have to move heaven and earth to resist joining Amazon Prime, for which traps are set at every turn. Agree to hand over $79 annually and you get white-glove right-this-way-sir service and, above all, free two-day shipping. It seems irresistible; the graphic design alone makes it hard to say no.
And “two-day shipping” doesn’t mean just two business days. It means Saturdays and Sundays, too. Amazon Prime members no longer just ride first class on the Internet. The fix is in for Amazonians with the U.S. Postal Service, that is the government.
American free speech and the interstate circulation of information has long been thought to require a federal postal system. The Constitution mandates that Congress “establish post offices and post roads.” Thomas Jefferson, who thought mail was the states’ problem, worried that a centralized postal system would invite patronage and mismanagement.
Sure, he didn’t name Amazon. But what is patronage if not the juggernaut Amazon’s “partnership” with the flailing U.S. Postal Service? Amazon’s stuff, and Amazon’s alone, now gets delivered by our government through rain, heat and gloom of Saturday night.
Sunday delivery of Amazon goods by the postal service started this week in Los Angeles and New York, and Jeff Bezos' company — in concert with the United States Postal Service — plans to expand it to Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Phoenix and more cities next year.
You don’t have to pay extra for your Sunday packages (Amazon paid off the feds so you don’t have to). If you have Prime and live in New York or L.A., you can buy something on Friday and have it by Sunday for free. Non-Prime shoppers, who get free 5-to-8-day shipping on orders that cost $35 and up, will find that Sunday is now counted among the days.
The postal service, which has not delivered on Sunday since 1912 and has been aiming to drop Saturday, shores up its rocky balance book with this patronage — sorry, partnership — deal. But can it shore up its reliability?
“Amazon should have to indicate in the description of an item if they’re going to deliver using USPS," a consumer retail analyst, who declined to be identified, told me. The analyst echoed the impression of many consumers that the postal service is currently — as Jefferson warned — mismanaged.
Amazon, for its part, is trumpeting the partnership as part of its world retail domination. “The three big pieces of growth for us are selection, lower prices and speed," Dave Clark, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide operations and customer service, said in a public statement. "Adding an additional day is all about delivery speed. An Amazon customer can order a backpack and a Kindle for their child and be packing it up on Sunday for school on Monday."
Hmm. Or I can order more books about dogs that I don’t need and have them before I need them, which is never. This idea that you desperately need pronto Amazon deliveries like Kindles and backpacks — for the children! — is questionable. But ever since Amazon Prime appeared, I know I have been ordering more stuff: Because it’s easy and there are no shipping costs.
More stuff, more cheaply and more quickly: If that’s Amazon’s wish, mine is for less stuff, less disorganized and less useless.
Can Amazon partner with, say, a government environmental group to facilitate that?