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Jeff Bezos’ Annual Letter (sec.gov)
547 points by djyaz1200 on Apr 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 256 comments

I might be shunned for beating the dead horse, but while he talks about 'True Customer Obsession', he allows counterfeit goods erode his customer's trust in Amazon. I'd argue Amazon's 'process as proxy' in dealing with counterfeits is the careless return process. 'Oh, it's counterfeit? We're sorry! Here's your money back!' does not solve the issue. Sure, thanks for the $10 back, but now I must think twice (or thrice!) before ordering from Amazon. Once my Prime membership lapses, I will not renew.

The 'process' for dealing with counterfeits is broken. When the customer has to think about "the chances of counterfeit" or dealing with the return of counterfeit products, it's NOT customer obsession.

I respect Jeff, TONS, but come on. You're talking the talk, but you're not walking the walk.

Agreed. As a long time prime user, it's been the rise in counterfeit goods that has really shook my unwavering loyalty to Amazon. I used to order everything on there, without thinking twice. Now, I'm much more careful about what I buy on there, and often just avoid purchasing on Amazon entirely.

I'm mystified by this personally. I frequently purchase from Amazon, and haven't(to my knowledge) received counterfeit goods. Generally I stick to "fufilled by Amazon" or otherwise first-party sellers, so that may have something to do with it. Maybe I'm not purchasing niche enough products to run into this issue.

Certain types of products are extremely commonly counterfeited. I would never consider ordering luxury goods like cologne/perfume/handbags, flash memory cards or sticks, or small mass-market electronics like chargers.

Due to the way Amazon commingles their stock at the SKU level, there is simply no way to guarantee that what you're getting is genuine, even if you order "sold and shipped from Amazon".

Even from an authorized retailer - the first thing I do with any flash card is fill it full of a test pattern using f3write, and then validate that it actually reads out fine. Counterfeiting of flash cards is absolutely rampant.


I've bought lots of flash cards, flash drives, chargers, and cables from Amazon and have never had a problem (or they were great counterfeits, in which case I'm not too upset). I don't do much research either, choosing mostly based on search results, brand name, reviews, and shipping/sold by Amazon.

I'd strongly advise against high-voltage/power, questionable quality electronics, because even counterfeit charger will work fine most of the time, until one day, it fails and burns your home down. It's usually not functionality that differs between cheap/counterfeit and quality electronics, but protection, failsafe mechanisms, durability and quality control. I do order myself plenty of cheap, low quality electronics, but nothing that touches more than 12V.

> nothing that touches more than 12V.

And as a reminder since you mentioned them explicitly, a USB charger counts as 110/220V, not 5V.

As a counter anecdote, I ordered ("[s]hips from and sold by Amazon.com", not "[f]ulfilled by Amazon"; just double-checked) a branded microSD card a few months ago, and did a full device write / read on it, and it died on the read pass. I wasn't even thinking that it could be counterfeit at the time: this is just a basic smoke test I do on all new storage devices. But now that I think of it it does seem awfully suspicious.

Yeah, it's very common that rejected cards will find their way back into the supply chain, or that employees will run "ghost shifts" with rejected sub-standard wafers. Bunnie Huang did a fascinating teardown on some fake cards.


I do the exact same smoke-test - as I mentioned I use f3write to fill it full, and the counterpart f3read to read it back and test it.


There's no official Win32 distribution but it compiles and runs without issue on Cygwin. When I get home, I can send you a Dropbox link with a build and enough Cygwin DLLs to make it run in a standard Windows command prompt.

As mentioned on the f3write site - one of the very typical hacks is to make the controller report a larger capacity than it actually has - or a larger capacity than is actually functional/reliable. So this is the obvious test to perform - write it full and see if you can read it out.

Amazon will co-mingle their stock with third parties as long as the stocking unit (typically UPC) matches. So if some retailer sends them fake memory cards you get a fake memory card, "Sold And Shipped By Amazon.com". And of course eBay is full of this junk.

At this point I prefer to buy from camera stores. My theory is that since their customers will be making their livelihood off the memory cards that they have an additional incentive to keep their supply chain clean.

Belated but here you go with a Windows build of f3write (built on Cygwin64).


Get the flash card from wall mart, it works just fine. (feel free to replace with whatever shop you go by on your way to work).

Or Adorama, or BH Photo Video. Or really anyone except Amazon and eBay and other hubs for cheap Chinese junk.

Newegg is probably still OK too, although they are now fronting for third-party retailers I haven't heard of them commingling their stocks yet.

Try buying an Apple charger or cable on Amazon (even sold by Amazon directly):



Apple has the clout to force Amazon clean up their listings, most manufacturers don't. Why does Apple have to coerce Amazon to do this, instead of them being proactive?

Or headphones.

Amazon is not an authorized seller of apple products.

Hopefully you don't expect the average consumer to realize this, when they are clearly selling Apple products.

Are you sure? Amazon were on Apple's official list of authorized internet resellers back in June 2016, before the page was deleted from Apple's website:


It's not clear whether this refers to products on Amazon that claim to be made by Apple, or products on Amazon that just work with Apple products. As for the latter, I have bought a lot of Lightning cables and USB chargers and batteries from Amazon, mostly made by Anker, and I've never had an issue.

Unfortunately, Amazon does not appear to keep different sellers products separate in the warehouse. All it takes is one seller sending counterfeit products to the warehouse for their inventory to be contaminated by counterfeits. This makes "fulfilled by Amazon" more risky in some respects.

If this is true (and I suppose Amazon's the only one who really knows, absent a supplier orchestrating a test), then I can't believe there wouldn't be grounds for a class action lawsuit.

Because, crucial, Amazon also comingles reviews for the same product.

I'd assume they have boilerplate in their legal agreements that waive rights to do so. But it seems blatantly obvious that if I put a novel item on Amazon, attract great reviews for its high quality, get comingled with counterfeits, have my reviews bombed by pissed off customers, Amazon has materially injured my business through no fault of my own.

Amazon comingles _reviews_ for _different_ similar products.

This is the thing that really annoys me. It doesn't seem that technically difficult (aside from the migration pain) that recognizes product:seller as a primary key, rather than just product.

They're already swimming in reviews. So I can't see them not getting more than they're losing by empowering customers to torpedo bad sellers.

Of course, this would also mean fundamentally changing their logistic practice, which is probably why they aren't interested in doing it.

This has been discussed here in the past. If you look at the FBA program they explicitly charge extra to not co-mingle your inventory.

This is not true. They offer a service where they will add an FNSKU label to your products for .20/unit, which will mean your items will not be co-mingled. But as a seller, you can also apply the FNSKU to the items you send in and not be charged the additional .20/unit. It's up to the seller how they want to do it, but it's not a mandatory charge, just a convenience if you want Amazon to do it instead of yourself as the seller.

> If this is true (and I suppose Amazon's the only one who really knows, absent a supplier orchestrating a test)

This is true, and Amazon admits it. Co-mingling is a large part of their delivery platform.

This is not entirely true. Sellers have the option to send in items to the Amazon warehouses with the UPC as the barcode OR with an FNSKU barcode. The FNSKU is a unique barcode that identifies that particular product to you, the seller.

If you send items in to the warehouse with the UPC, they will be considered co-mingled which means anyone else sending the same product with just the UPC will all be stored together. THIS is where you have the issue of the possibility of buying counterfeit products.

If you send the items in with the FNSKU, they will be considered separate from the co-mingled inventory. Anyone that buys from a seller that has the FNSKU will get the items THAT seller sent in, and not from the co-mingled batch.

For retail items, it's really up to the seller how they want to send the items in. For the sake of seller metrics, it would be wise to send in items with an FNSKU so you avoid the issue of a customer buying from you as the seller, but possibly getting a counterfeit item.

To clarify another incorrect statement in this thread: Amazon does not charge extra to not co-mingle the items. They do offer a service where they will add the FNSKU label to your items at .20/piece, but that's only if the seller doesn't want to do it prior to sending the items in.

Source: I'm a seller on Amazon.

Is there any way for the buyer to see this difference before buying?

If not, these specifics don't really matter

Many times it's harder to tell. The counterfeits even extend to cosmetics which have huge margins if you fake the label and fill it with crap.

Buying from first-party sellers may help but even then Amazon doesn't always ship YOUR inventory. If the "same" product is physically closer to a user than yours, but they bought from you, they might ship from another seller which can be counterfeit.

The issue is that the counterfeits look extremely close to the real thing, sometimes indistinguishable. It's the quality of the components inside that's far worse. A lot of names brands are having their reputations tarnished from this. Things I bought in the last year on Amazon that were fake:

cookware, phone charger, headphones, power supply, phone battery, SD card

I once used amazon almost daily so this is only a fraction of my purchases, but the fakes tend to be on expensive stuff. The convenience is not worth the chance of getting something worthless and I've stopped using amazon for anything.

What kind of headphones did you buy that were fake?

LG wireless headphones but I've heard it happens even with expensive models like Beats

Try searching for UnderArmour clothing or other popular clothing. Generally you will find items priced 30% to 50% less than elsewhere.

So the risk of counterfeit is priced in? Market forces at work!

For me it's been shipping issues. At some point Amazon became really unreliable with their delivery date "guarantees". I've had four separate packages simply not arrive at all, and plenty more that were a few days to a week late. Confusingly, the Amazon app seems to mark a package as "delivered" when the estimated date is reached, regardless of its actual status. When you dig into the tracking information, sometimes it shows a "shipping in progress, expected delivery:" message with a date in the past, other times a note that "something seems wrong here, we're not sure where your package is". This suggests disorganization in a company that talks itself up as a logistics giant.

Upon calling support, you of course learn that their use of the word "guarantee" is meaningless. Even if you're paying $99/year for it with Prime, the best they'll do is (attempt to) send a replacement shipment.

That must be a highly local phenomenon. I had great shipping experiences in rural Missouri, then when I moved to San Francisco they became ridiculously great. I was getting packages the next day long before they started offering next day shipping.

In fact, I agree with other common complaints about Amazon (counterfeiting, higher prices) but still often go with them because I'm confident the product will show up quickly.

I've experienced it in both San Jose and San Diego. Not exactly the middle of nowhere.

I've rarely had a problem with Amazon in San Diego, but as someone who ships ~1,000 packages a month through USPS - our local postal service leaves a lot to be desired in terms of reliability and consistency.

I also have this problem ~25% of the time on 1 day items. The package comes a day later usually.

Especially annoying when, for example, the last part of my PC was set to arrive one day and I had to wait.

You may also have a package thief.

This is what I suspect. I lived in a condo that was often targeted by thieves due to the known affluence of the condo. So many packages and bikes have been stolen from that building despite being a modern building with two FOB controlled doors. If you live in a nice place or neighborhood, package theft is a fact of life.

In that case it wouldn't be showing up on Amazon's tracking.

I'm in the same boat—long-time Prime user, but the counterfeiting has made me think twice about purchasing things from Amazon. I recently made two high-ticket purchases through Best Buy instead.

It's not just electronics either. I now search comments for "fake" or "counterfeit" on nearly every Amazon purchase I make. I was about to buy cologne from Amazon and ended up just purchasing it from Macy's.

I've also run into straight-up fraud more than once, for example buying a switch at above MSRP, only to be given a fake tracking number and nothing to show up on the delivery date. It was not easy to find recourse; the process starts with "asking for a return" which emails the seller and gives them two days to respond before you can escalate to Amazon, which was not intuitive at all.

You're 1.) implying that Amazon isn't actively trying to fix it (otherwise they would be "walking the walk") and 2.) that it's a widespread issue (all I've heard about counterfeit products are from a few HNers)

Oh, it's an issue. You just may not have gone after high-value easy-to-copy products as others have.

I haven't had a problem with top products being counterfeit, but maybe because I tend to buy them directly from the manufacturer (Apple) or from brick-and-mortar stores where I have the goods in-hand before purchase (Nikon); I'm willing to pay a more those ways for the assurance that I'm getting what I think I'm getting.

The bigger problem I've found is counterfeit & knock-off accessories. Once I've paid US$X,000 for a products, I can't trust Amazon to show me suitable batteries, chargers, lenses, etc - there's so much money in selling those things, and it's so easy to make crap that ...works... but which is problematic somehow (dangerous knock-off chargers, batteries that swell or die, etc).

Amazon is great for stuff that nobody would seriously try to copy & undercut in a deceitful manner. Yes, you can get great deals on stuff people would seriously try to deceitfully copy & undercut, but with enough money riding on it working right, I'll spend a few bucks more elsewhere to be sure I'm getting the real thing.

It's absolutely a widespread issue. I know it happens repeatedly to me, and every Amazon user I know well enough to have ever discussed this issue with, but don't take our word for it:


(I do think this is probably a hard problem, however, so I don't necessarily accept that Amazon isn't working hard on it...)

Same here -- I've seen a lot of comment sections upset about it, but I haven't encountered the issue myself yet.

I'm sure it's a problem, and I certainly hope Amazon is trying to fix it, but I don't think it's the massive company-destroying thing that people are making it out to be.

I've encountered this recently when I had price alerts set for the Nintendo Switch. Third party sellers flooded the market with below-retail offers (they soon wised up and made slightly above-retail offers).

These sellers filled up pages of the available products list and had very little feedback on their profiles. People who actually bought from these sellers never actually got their consoles and had to file an A-Z claim with Amazon to get their money back (the seller always marked it as "shipped", so the credit card payment went through, but never included a tracking ID). I would imagine they were long gone with the money by the time Amazon processed the refund.

Thankfully my BS detector went off and I stopped trusting third party listings for that product.

TRX workout sets are notoriously counterfeit on Amazon.

Example: https://www.amazon.com/TRX-PRO-Suspension-Training-Kit/produ...

More recently, I got a counterfeit fitbit charger that flat out didn't work. It got replaced, but it's still annoying.

At $199 for what looks like some elastic and metal I imagine they do pretty well on that one.

Not even any elastic. The TRX I've seen is just some nylon lashing straps, cambuckles for length adjustment, and two plastic and foam handles.

It's not just counterfeits as in IP violations, but useless goods. It's not at all rare to be burned.

Re: 1) I know for a fact they are.

Are you implying that what OP says is not true, or just pointing out the obvious?

>Are you implying that what OP says is not true

That Jeff Bezos is "allowing" counterfeit goods on Amazon to ruin the customer experience? Yes, that's untrue.

I'm sure if he could snap his fingers and fix the problem, he would. But the problem is a bit more nuanced than that, and can't be solved over night (perhaps ever, if the analogy is digital piracy).

> if he could snap his fingers and fix the problem, he would

Well, he invented the idea of losing traceability by commingling inventory "in good faith". He can reinvent traceability any time. As much as HSBC's business became moving drug money, it pretty much became Amazon's business to find gullible customers for counterfeit goods.

They're actively contributing to the problem and damaging trust in their brand by comingling inventory with third-party sellers.

My experience with Amazon support is that they won't refund 3rd party counterfeits until you've argued with the seller for weeks and come back with the documentation of the counterfeit and lack of refund.

I spend thousands on Amazon a year, if I have a well-documented counterfeit claim I want a quick and easy refund.

A little behind the scenes info, I work for a pretty good sized seller on Amazon. If a customer who purchased an item reports it as counterfeit

* All items we sell of that brand are taken down

* We are required to email a copy of an invoice of between us and that vendor. I think there is a date requirement here also

* We are not permitted to ship comingled FBA shipments for that brand until resolved

If the manufacturer is participating in the counterfeit program, they can whitelist sellers who are permitted to sell their goods and avoid the above.

If someone bought something from your listing but the item that shipped was actually commingled from another seller, who gets the ding and the report? You or the other seller?

That's an excellent question, and honestly, I am not sure. I know we have been asked to send invoices not attached to a customer order AND only one listing was taken down (as opposed to the entire brand), so perhaps it's all suppliers that have contributed qty to that pick location go through a similar different workflow? While I know they have the audit info to do this, I am ultimately guessing on this scenario.

The most frustrating part as a seller on Amazon is that they are taking severe action against sellers that receive complaints. I just got through a month long process of getting my account reopened after a suspension. All it took was a few complaints from a vindictive competitor.

While they are harrasing long time sellers with years of positive feedback, they allow Indian and Chinese sellers to open accounts way faster than they can be closed for selling counterfeits.

The model from the perspective of the counterfeiters is easy. Simply open an account, sell as much counterfeit goods as you can then get closed down due to complaints. Amazon then holds your money for 90 days in order to pay for any returns that may show up, but a good percentage of buyers will never know any better or won't bother to return.

At the end of the 90 days, you collect the money that is left. In the mean time, you can open several seller accounts to keep the process rolling.

If a part time Amazon seller can see exactly what is happening. There is no way that at least middle management at Amazon doesn't know exactly what is going on and that they are profiting immensely from it.

Many scam sellers are extremely obvious. Why would Amazon allow Indian sellers to list hundreds of American textbooks for sale that ship from Amazon?

The most frustrating part is to be harrassed incessantly by the half wits in their "seller quality" department when all this is going on.

This is an especially big problem for people buying precision tools.

I've been looking at picking up some Mitsutoyo calipers, and the overall consensus is that if you buy from Amazon, you'll likely end up with a well-executed counterfeit that has all the right markings, but for obvious reasons won't be as precise, nor will it be warrantied or serviced by Mitsutoyo.

This is a very real problem. Imagine that you wanted to buy, say, an Omega Seamaster as a special gift. For most people, myself included, three thousand dollars is a ludicrous amount to spend on a wristwatch.

Imagine how pissed off you would be to order said watch, have it delivered, give it to your significant other, and then learn a year or two down the road that what you really got was a well-executed fake that could be bought for 1/10 the price.

I once tried to purchase a pair of sunglasses from Amazon. That space is littered with counterfeits. The product page proudly proclaimed "Sold by Prada", but if you look carefully it is fulfilled by some shady company. Then you read the comments and realize that this item is not a original Prada item.

> Then you read the comments and realize that this item is not a original Prada item.

There is a very interesting discussion in Roberto Saviano's Gomorrah of how major fashion brands produce clothing:

First, the brand (e.g. "Calvin Klein") decides what they want - color, cut, material. They go to a bunch of shady Italian clothing manufacturers (the book is about the Italian mafia) and hold an auction to determine the price they'll pay for finished clothes and the amount they'll receive.

Once that auction completes, giving a price, quantity, and deadline, every manufacturer is permitted to accept the terms. Those who do are given the materials (cloth) at Calvin Klein's expense.

Every manufacturer who accepted the terms is then in a race to deliver. The first one to do so is paid. Everyone else is left with what would have been high-priced clothing if they'd finished making it a little faster; that stuff, obviously, often meets with an illegitimate branding tag and sells in counterfeit markets.

So my question to you is: suppose I go to an underground Italian market and buy a shirt made to Calvin Klein's exact specifications from material provided by Calvin Klein. Also, the branding tag on the shirt saying "Calvin Klein" is used without permission. Have I been cheated? Of what?

> Have I been cheated? Of what?

First of all, let's get things straight. A copy that matches the exact original specification with the same material is the mythological unicorn of the knock off business. Finding something genuine in an underground world that thrive on selling counterfeit goods is probably an adventure on its own.

You don't get cheated buying a stolen car if you were looking to buy a stolen car. Same thing here, you bought what you were looking for, no cheating.

More generally, you are going to pay more for a "perfect copy fake" than a basic fake, so you are in the same boat than the guy thinking he was buying the real stuff: if the vendor is lying, you were cheated out of your money.

So, this is common in clothing because, as described above, the purchasing process guarantees the production of many illegitimate copies for every one legitimately branded item of clothing. (Also common: two brands who serve different social classes contract with the same factory to purchase the exact same clothing, then sew different labels onto the identical clothing to create a large difference in retail price.)

I have no reason to believe the supply chain for sunglasses is anything like the supply chain for clothing. But I do have reason to believe that people who think sunglasses are less valuable by virtue of not being Prada are more interested in the brand than in the functionality.

If you want Prada sunglasses because you're The Right Kind Of Person and that kind of person wears Prada, getting genuine-but-discount items isn't really better than getting "fakes". Cheaply purchasing expensive sunglasses fakes a signal that you can afford them, but the fact that you can't will still be instantly apparent to the same people you were hoping to fool.

> Have I been cheated? Of what?

In theory, you've been cheated of the certainties that tend to go along with brand identity. Calvin Klein, as a brand, is associated with a certain amount of quality, of durability, of accuracy in fit, etc. You've been theoretically cheated of those assurances.

In practice, you may not have been cheated of anything. Generally speaking, the trendline for clothing manufacturers is a rise towards a peak, and then a gradual descent from there. Looping back around to the article, Bezos would refer to them as "Day 1" companies while they're still proving themselves, ensuring quality and fitness, and "Day 2" companies thereafter, once they've attained enough brand recognition that they can coast on their laurels. In many cases, quality goes down, fit and finish suffer, and, of course, margins go up.

I don't respect Jeff because of exactly the reasons you point out. He's a smart fella. He's not out of the loop about this shit unless he chooses to be. A fish rots from the head down. Even as a customer of sorts via Amazon Story Writer, I still think Jeff is essentially a Robber Baron in new clothes unless he finds humanity like Gates did and tries to use his war chest for good.

But you also want the lowest price?

Multiple sellers compete on a product page to sell you the product by being the seller in the "buy "box"--the seller with the lowest price.

The alternative solution would be to only allow the product owner or licensed seller to sell the product, but that would require a LOT of manual labor for verification. But they will do this for big, important brands.

Amazon charges sellers 8-15% per each sale in addition to FBA Fees so only way a seller can make money is by selling counterfeit. Amazon is getting greedy, sellers are cutting corner and customers are paying price.

There's also massive sales tax fraud that is at least tolerated by Amazon. I 'm pretty sure there are some (silent) investigations of this in Germany. Basically container, usually from China->Amazon warehouse; fulfilled by Amazon; sales tax never applied. To make matters worse these sellers have crowded out people that pay the sales tax in many categories because it's usually stuff that is 90% bought on price and well there's an automatic discount of 15%. I vaguely remember a report on TV of some small stores being slowly bled to death because their margins are below the sales tax percentage and the competition often just passes on 90% of the tax "savings" to dominate categories on price.

Iirc. Britain has made some sort of deal or passed some sort of law to control this explicitly.

The counterfeiters are also Bezos' customers he has to show them some true customer love too /s

Exactly. I'm not going to cancel my Prime membership, but I do make it a habit of buying certain products on other sites now.

Another pet peeve: product descriptions are frequently insufficient to inform a purchase decision. I recently had to resort to using jet.com for some under-the-sofa storage boxes and amazon just did not have sufficient product description detail to make me confident in the purchase.

I am assuming they now this and figure that the costs of fixing this problem outweigh the benefits they'll experience from fixing it.

But Amazon isn't "customer focused" when it comes to strategic threats - for example Android - and Amazon's response - the Fire phone, Their App Store.

So the question is - are low cost goods, coming pretty directly from chinese manufacturers, often counterfeited and sold at a low price a strategic threat to Amazon ?

They might, if you look at alibaba, but also on the tendency of capitalistic markets to stabilize on focusing on crap: just look at the quality of white goods, planned obsolescence, the security of the consumer IOT, etc etc.

As consumers we also have to acknowledge some complicity here. In most categories of products, time and again, American consumers have chosen price and convenience over quality.

Not so sure:

When buying something(say a white good) - how do i know how long it would last and whether it's worth the price ?

And that's information companies hold, but don't share. And it's intentional.

And if Americans could have found product with double the life and only 30% increase in costs - it's a great deal. And it's definitely techically possible, for many products.

Preferring convenience and low prices != complicity

Why would Amazon have an interest in dealing with counterfeits? It just primes the market for them moving in with their brand of the thing.

Because it erodes trust in the platform, obviously. Would you buy something from a website if you were concerned it might be counterfeit?

That being said, I've been a prime customer for years and I've never encountered this issue. I'm actually surprised to hear that's even a thing.

> Because it erodes trust in the platform, obviously. Would you buy something from a website if you were concerned it might be counterfeit?

It just seems like it'd lead to exactly this kind of effect (quoting another user from above):

> I frequently purchase from Amazon, and haven't(to my knowledge) received counterfeit goods. Generally I stick to "fufilled by Amazon" or otherwise first-party sellers, so that may have something to do with it.

Trust in the platform entails "the buttons worked as expected (i.e. didn't glitch me out of my money)". Trust in the product and sellers can be eroded, but that just makes it more likely that users would next time look for more trustworthy sellers.

I suppose you meant a trust in the ecosystem, but that wouldn't necessarily be eroded either as people would tend to assume that as long as you're smart about it you're fine. (e.g. people get mugged in shady alleys, but this doesn't erode trust in city living - people just learn not to go down those alleys.)

Because it used to be a no-brainer to buy things on Amazon, one click and done. Now I have to very carefully vet the listing before buying, inspect the product once received etc. Certain categories of items I would now never buy from Amazon in its current state (vitamins, fish oil etc.)

Amazon has built a great reputation and trust with their customers, and they're going to lose it the way they're going.

What you're essentially describing is the blind trust people think they can put in a brand name, applied to a store.

I like and use Safeway, but I would hardly fault them if they carried something I didn't thoroughly check out if it turned out to be a shitty brand.

> Now I have to very carefully vet the listing before buying, inspect the product once received etc.

Did you not research products before you bought them traditionally? That just sounds like you were happy you used to be able to 'get away with' irresponsible buying because a store 'was limited' to niche (thus generally quality) sellers, but not now now that it's open to everyone.

It's not a platform's job to do your research for you. They enable buyers, sellers, reviews and so on to do that amongst each other, as would any other storefront.

You're talking about researching a product in general, I'm talking about buying a SanDisk brand SD card and receiving a cheap knockoff with SanDisk poorly printed on it and totally different specs.

I do think it is Amazon's responsibility to not sell fake stuff. Even buying only Amazon shipped and fulfilled products does not help, as all the inventory is co-mingled by the product ID. They've taken the poor approach of not sanitizing their inputs, and now their product inventory & database is corrupt, and it's going to be really hard to fix.

> I like and use Safeway, but I would hardly fault them if they carried something I didn't thoroughly check out if it turned out to be a shitty brand.

Isn't it much easier for Safeway to answer the question, "Are we buying these earphones from Apple?" than it is for a shopper to answer, "Are these genuine Apple earphones"?

> It's not a platform's job to do your research for you

A platform can choose to do whatever job it wants. If Platform A sells significant fewer counterfeit goods than Platform B then customers will prefer Platform A.

it Primes the market?

How would you fix it?

"A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp."

Seems like this is exactly the kind of issue companies like United Airlines suffer from.

This is a surprisingly common trap to fall into. I worked at a startup in which the CTO criticized my dev team for not having a perfectly linear burn down chart. Every week in our retro we had the same discussion about how to improve the shape of our burn down chart; we tried putting higher valued stories at the front of the queue, involving QA earlier in the sprint, and cranking out 1 pointers mid week to tweak the graph. We rarely achieved the perfect shape. On top of this we also had one week sprints, which made it difficult to plan for the future or work on spikes, so we ended up doing very little high-level, architectural planning.

I remember one week my team cranked through their allotted stories so fast that we ran out of work two or three days into the sprint. We decided to take on a couple extra easy stories that we knew we could finish before the end of the week. Rather than being praised for doing extra work, we were criticized for "introducing volatility into the sprint". In other words, we messed up the shape of the burn down chart.

I'm currently working at a place that has virtually no process, which has it's own challenges, but I'm happy that I'm not arguing about burn down charts anymore :)

> This is a surprisingly common trap to fall into. I worked at a startup in which the CTO criticized my dev team for not having a perfectly linear burn down chart.

You are describing this far more charitably than I would. I would describe it as idiocy.

For some (idiotic) reason some management types have this belief that when they measure some metric, it should fit some ideal shape when they put it on a graph, whether or not that makes any sense.

This is exactly the fallacious thinking behind stack ranking where people persistently abuse/misunderstand the whole concept of normal distribution by changing employee evaluation scores to match a normal distribution. It's like these people took a statistics class and only remembered the shapes they saw (and really only one shape) and none of the concepts underpinning those shapes.

Anyone who subscribes to this dangerously simplistic mode of thinking shouldn't have a position of leadership. Unfortunately many times everyone in leadership subscribes to the same cargo cult so they can't hold each other accountable.

We had a client pushing us on our velocity. Our team was doing a quality-first approach which took far more time than the other team's approach to pitch stuff over the wall to QA and wait for bugs to roll in. Our leadership took the deliberate approach of gaming the points system to improve our appearance while keeping the team 100% focussed on deliverying quality work at the same pace we had been all along. We didn't change a thing except inflate our estimates and the client was happy :)

> We didn't change a thing except inflate our estimates and the client was happy :)

Or, in other words, you follow the good old "Scotty engineering estimates" ;)

I'm dealing with a similar problem, except on 4 week sprints. It's not management, who doesn't care, it's the team itself which continues to be FIXATED on a burn down chart, to the extent that they massage story points, avoid doing work late in sprints, and are way too concerned with burndown in general.

Shipping valuable features without regressions is my metric of success. Not y=mx+b applied to story points.

Burn down charts are misused far too much to be considered generally valuable.

This all sounds exactly like Solzhenitsyn's descriptions of Soviet factory production, where the work near the end of the month was always rushed out the door to meet quotas.

The way he tells it, no one ever got in trouble for subpar products. But if production numbers were down, someone was going to the gulag.

Apparently, consumers were aware of this and would try to obtain goods that were produced near the start of each month.

this is exactly the CON of the burndown chart. it's a guide, nothing more. I wouldn't say its bad to learn from what the chart gives you, except if its trying to get a linear burn. In fact.... one may argue there is value in underfilling sprints (from a capacity standpoint) and then overdelivering, every time. otherwise known as... momentum or GTD

I also had this happen at a company I worked at, so as the leader of the software team I had a secret meeting with them and told them going forward we would create fake burndown charts for the CTO. Totally worked. He never complained again. For all I know the CTO was reporting on burndown to his peers and superiors and was trying to tell us to make it look better.

This was happening at a startup? How common is this kind of process slavery in startups?

Yes, it was a VC-funded, early-stage startup.

On top of the large amount of process and the one week sprints, we also four different dev teams each working on their own microservice app which was tightly coupled to the other apps in the company. Every team had to deploy at the same time, and if one app went down, the other apps went down with it. The company's platform was essentially an ecommerce site that could have been one medium sized monolith, maintained by a single team of 5 or 6 developers, but instead we had 20+ developers, several dev managers, a scrum master, and a large QA automation team. I guess you could call it premature optimization.

There were also plenty of issues on the business side that prevented the company from truly succeeding. The place was a bit of a clusterfuck but it was an excellent learning experience.

Sounds like the CTO is trying to preemptively solve all the problems they had at their last company.

But haven't you heard the VC driven truth that it takes one woman 9 months to make a baby... But 9 women can make a baby in one month.

Burn down chart?

It's pointless gimmicky make-work that presents your upper management with the fantasy that development work is not a difficult bespoke engineering effort, but rather an assembly line like they studied at business school.

In order to pull off this sleight of hand, real work is broken up into elastically-sized multiples of a subjective metric called "points" which the team is allowed to estimate. This estimation game is key as it builds buy-in from the team by appearing to "give them a seat at the table." Chunking the estimations into sprints is a smoke screen to keep the scam going.

Having acquired the buy-in from the people actually doing the work, the estimates are immediately converted to commitments by tracking progress on a burn down chart and telling upper management that the project will begin at 100% work remaining and proceed in a steady, linear assembly line fashion to 0% work remaining after the time allotted.

Deviations from a steady downward slope are interpreted as failures of the development team which paradoxically reinforces the standing of the chart presenter because they are able to "show the numbers". Unchecked, this ultimately elevates them to diety-like cult standing.

As the flawed assumptions underlying the chart are never questioned after the initial implementation, the use of burn down charts ultimately ends with:

- Blue Pill Ending: the company shoots itself in the foot by firing the team for failing to make the burn-down chart linear

- Seller's Market Ending: the team gets wise to the con and leaves the company

- Red Pill Ending: the process manager is fired after heroic intervention by the technical leadership

A process manager that wants to show up with their PMI certification and their burn-down charts faces a precarious end-game.

It's a common metric used in the Scrum methodology. You start off the "sprint" with a set number of "story points" (say, 30 points), and end the sprint with zero points. When you graph the team's progress over the course of the sprint, it should ideally form a linear, downward slope.


It's one of the misunderstood pieces of scrum to think that burndown charts should be linear. If a team of 5 has established a velocity of 65 story points / 2-week sprint, and they accept 5, 13-point tasks for the next sprint, you'd expect a burndown chart that would look almost horizontal for the entire sprint until the very end, when it would drop vertically to the x axis. You might get linearity if there were 65, 1-point tasks...

I think you're getting at the heart of why burn down charts are so pointless. The shape changes sprint to sprint, depending on what kind of stories you take on. If the sprint is entirely high pointed stories, your chart will be mostly horizontal. If the sprint is entirely 1 pointers, the graph will look like an exponential decay.

Since the shape is always different, there's virtually zero useful information to take away from it.

Some people in this thread claimed that burn down charts are useful for finding out a team's capacity. I disagree - you don't need a chart for this. If your team has a target velocity of 30 points and routinely fails to meet it, reduce the target velocity. Likewise, if the team routinely completes all of their work well before the end of the sprint, slightly increase the target velocity.


My insistence is always that what happens inside the Sprint is the concern of the development team and nobody elses.

However it's important to remember that the team itself should set their velocity in negotiation with the product owner. This shouldn't be set by some external force.

Agreed - that is part of my own distaste for them...

This kind of thing makes sense if you were doing something like digging a trench, where the progress can be linear because the task A is the same as task A - 1. Why would anyone think that given a variety of tasks that each would take the same amount of time?

I agree. Being on the receiving end of Scrum feels like being an assembly line worker. I totally empathize with the business people who need some transparency into what the developers are working on week to week. Software is pretty abstract. I get that. But obsessing over burn down charts is the wrong way to go about it.

No one does, you estimate each task to have a different number of points, which modify the task's contribution to the burndown graph.

I guess the idea is that points should correlate to time (questionable), and if you're estimating perfectly, that should give you a linear burndown graph. Which is stupid. What might be less stupid is that if you want to get some idea of how well your team is estimating tasks, compared to i.e. this time last year, you could look at the volatility (across several sprints) this year compared to last year, and a lower burndown rate volatility might suggest that the team has improved at estimating the duration of tasks.

However, when you just focus on the volatility as a metric, then people start optimizing for it, which is not the point at all.

The theory is that a developer can estimate the approximate difficulty of a given task relative to other tasks and thus give a coarse estimate of how long a set of tasks will take. One is supposed to use this estimate, compare it against the amount of work actually accomplished in a given period, and then project ahead against estimates work remaining to get an idea of when the project will be finished. This is intended to help managers set expectations with customers and cut or adjust features if the date is too far into the future.

Unfortunately, what most organizations actually do is use the progress estimates to try to bludgeon developers into working faster, with entirely predictable bad effects.

An actual serious answer:

It's a line chart that shows story points starting at the top left in the beginning of the sprint. Which shows all points to be done, trending towards 0 points with 0 days left in the sprint, in the lower right.

Linear means that the same points are done each day to allow the line to be perfectly linear between the top left and bottom right.

Sounds like exactly the sort of not-actually-a-real-metric metric that would entrance a number cruncher. Forget those moments of excellence where everything gels and you could get days or weeks ahead... Sigh.

It's a metric that can help identify patterns within a team. It only works if everyone is honest with the amount of work they've done, and they consistently report time in the same manner.

A pretty common burn down chart would have a somewhat linear slope in the beginning, a somewhat less sharp slope in the middle (mid-sprint slump), and a sharper decline to close out the sprint strong. Notice I said common (more likely to happen) and not ideal, because there truly isn't such a thing as an ideal burn down chart without context. What is ideal to one person/team may be completely different to another.

I personally track my time spent in an IDE slinging code or in app testing using an external tool to help me identify patterns. Purely in terms of time spent in IDE/app, Fridays are my least productive day by about an hour. Mondays are my second least productive. I am at my peak on Wednesdays. Thus I try to shuffle heavy loads to mid-week and the easy, gimme-task for Mon/Fri.

Just like a burn down chart, there isn't some ideal way productive time spent at work should appear on a graph. Well, I guess ideal is 100% of the day in IDE/app , but productivity would plummet. Humans just are not that efficient. Graphing my time gave me insights on how my week/month plays out. Burn down charts should do the same at a team level.

Actually it is a good metric. However the metric is not a linear shape, but within 20% of linear. If you are not within 20% you need to do something about it. In general once you are within that further effort towards perfection is not desirable.

Remember the real goal: money. Sometimes it is money from sales, sometimes it is money saved. (even in case of a charity where there are higher goals money is a proxy for the real goal since it can be applied to the goal in some other way). If management can predict with reasonable accuracy when features will be done they can translate that into how much it will cost. Then they compare cost vs expected rewards (expected rewards is the job of marketing) and decide if they should focus on feature A, B, or both.

Note that many managers fail to understand error bars. There is no way to know exact numbers. However you can predict your likely error, and if the error is too high you can spend more money to reduce the error.

I recommend the book "how to measure anything" for more detail.

In the mean time when management wants perfect linear burn down charts, there is only one way to achieve them: overestimate your stories, finish them early and then go home. If you are paid for a 40 hour week you should average about 15 hours a week, but once in a while you will need to work a 40 hour week (60 hours every 10 years or so). Most management considers this unreasonable (for obvious reasons), but if a perfect linear slope actually is that important to them they will agree.

Sounds about like my work habits.

This whole time I thought it meant how long your money has going to last.

Are you thinking of the term "burn rate", perhaps? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burn_rate

I think so it was from the show Silicon Valley. I know way to base your facts on a show. But I did hear that the show had at least one real engineer advisor.

Even so with regard to work vs. time what determines the time? Launch date?

This seems to have triggered the most cynical and disillusioned thread I've ever read on HN, and there have been a couple. Well done. It would be interesting to fish out a few other HN reviews of business practices, but I don't even know the correct terms to search as they generate instant disinterest.

It's a project management strategy named for how it makes you want to burn down the office.

Nice excel graph with the number of "points" burned each sprints.

The unhealthy fascination with burn down charts and Scrum in general continually amazes me. I have witnessed the same debates about what Scrum points system to use so many times and witnessed teams of intelligent people waste days of developer time earnestly discussing relative point values.

The trick is to retrospectively rescale the work estimates.

Did you try reverse engineering the burndown?

Oh theory... may it die a timely death

This is how I feel about our democratic process. The process is you pick one of two parties. Then you get into a face bloodying fight with the other party. Nothing gets done, then you pat yourself on the back for doing your part. When you come to the realization that nothing has been accomplished, you blame those who didn't participate in the brawl. Suggesting that people work ON the process rather than IN the process will get you looks as if you've just insulted their religion.

This comment seems to be well received based on the points. I think about this often and it drives me nuts that the two party system is the best we have. It's like we're trying to optimize an operating system at every level EXCEPT THE KERNEL. Suggesting that you don't buy into the two party system is met with skepticism, as if you're a closet supporter of one party. Or worse, that by not supporting a party you're implicitly siding with "the other side" (You know, because we're on different teams). "You're either with us or against us!!'.

Can someone just make a p2p party already? Any billionaire in SV could bankroll this project with their weekend funny money. I'd be willing to donate development hours. I'm just wondering if people would be willing to venture out of their comfort zone and "throw away their vote" for something that isn't mainstream.

Without runoff elections its always going to veer towards a two party system. It would work if we did two votes: vote first for who you want, then second vote for the best choice from top two.

Which leads to the next question. Why are we voting for a human at all? If members of an organization want a resolution passed anyone should be able to propose it - and if the magic threshold is met - then whala - the resolution is law.

I want to be able to vote everyday. I want to be able to pick who I want to represent my vote - and change it at will. I want to be able to pick Bill Gates to represent me on technology issues, and Sal Khan to represent me on education.

Government is just an organization, and an organization is a network. We should be using computer science terms to describe how we want this network to operate in terms of resolution, latency, redundancy, centralization/decentralization, upgrade protocls, failovers, and so on.

What I'm trying to say is.. Let's purge the politicians and put the people in charge.

> If members of an organization want a resolution passed anyone should be able to propose it - and if the magic threshold is met - then whala - the resolution is law.

...You just described the legislative branch. Direct democracy has its own problems; even if you scale for proportions of people, the people leading their everyday lives do not have the time to inform themselves en masse of particulars about issues, and thus would be readily swayed by false information. (As can already be seen with voting on ballot measures, which are a headache enough just being statewide)

And *viola

Direct democracy tends to lead to tyrannies of the majority. I'd much prefer a multi-party system with some form of instant-runoff voting or mixed member proportional voting.

*voila, as the French: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/voil%C3%A0

Representative democracy leads to tyrranies of the oligarchy. We don't need any more evidence for this.

I too, however, would prefer a run-off election.


Unless you really meant "raped", but for some reason I feel like this isn't it :^)

Touché. Though at least I was closer than he was :)

I agree the replacement for current democracy is more technology based with provable transparency. Bitcoin's decentralized ledger breathes a lot of life into this concept.

Its actually more surprising regions haven't figured out they can create their own voting blocs and gain outsized influence. This happens in Canada with the Bloc Quebecois basically being Quebec's political party in Canada.

They trade votes on other things for concessions with Quebec. Scotland has done similar things.

There's a brilliant, modern solution to this problem, and if the failed US democracy that I was born into can be fixed, I think this will be one of the cornerstones:


It's often called RCV (Ranked Choice Voting) because that's what it was dubbed in Maine, the only US state so far to approve a plan to implement it.

It rolls the runoff(s) into one vote, and leaves the drudgery to computers (could be done by schoolchildren manually, though, or whatever).

Seems approval voting would be easy and predictable based on http://zesty.ca/voting/sim/

Interactive graphs based on that research: http://ncase.me/ballot/

There is an oligopoly in politics called Democrats and Republicans, and they've created, by law, many barriers to entry for any competing parties, let alone casting aside either party.

Disruption in this vast market is difficult. Millenials and Xers will have to team up and work cooperatively. The baby boomers have gotten Democrats and Republicans to pander to them, there is no possible way those parties go away if baby boomers have any say about it.

As to why there are two parties, it's central to how the government is configured. No runoffs, range or preference voting, means that you get punished when voting for fringe candidates, because there's a very good chance the ideological opposite will win as a result of choosing a 3rd party candidate. Majoritarian democracies like the U.K. parliamentary system tend to have only two big parties, where consensual democracies like Switzerland and Germany have many parties represented in their legislatures. The U.S. is a hybrid, but the voting mechanism results in pretty much a two party system.

>they've created, by law, many barriers to entry for any competing parties, let alone casting aside either party.

Do you have some examples of these types of laws?

It's not a law but the two parties control the Presidential Debates with a bipartisan commission that consistently excludes third parties: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_on_Presidential_Deb...

The history of it is very interesting; essentially it was formed after the League of Women Voters, who used to run the debates, stopped running them because the system had become too corrupt: "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter."

At a federal level, the constitution itself does this structurally by requiring an absolute majority in the electoral college for a president to win; and that makes a president from an emergent third party very difficult. That party would have to already be competitive in a majority of states, but that's also difficult if that party can't ever promote someone to the presidency and use the national bully pulpit to the party's advantage. And whenever a 3rd party person appears in Congress, the existing two parties require them to caucus with either Democrats or Republicans, in order to get committee assignments and you know, do anything other than vote on stuff. You're not a legislator if you aren't on any committees.

At a state level, election laws do things like guaranteeing the two parties a position on various ballots: city, county, state, federal. But then put in all kinds of onerous requirements for other parties just to get on the ballot. While Democrats and Republicans are using resources for other things, upstart parties have to spend money and volunteers just to get signatures in order to get on ballots and appear in debates. Primaries are tax payer funded, free publicity for established parties. Numerous laws exist for small things like elections commissions only having either Democrats or Republicans seated - i.e. if you're a third party, you can't even run for a state or county elections commission, it's prohibited. These sorts of things are very state by state or even by county.

But as I indicated in my original post, it's how U.S. elections favor the lesser of two evils strategy, else you get punished when voting for who you really want. Minor parties seldom get pluralities, and they suck away votes from an ideologically similar major party candidate which can cause them to lose, and then its the ideological opponent who wins as a result. Duverger's Law is what it's called.

For your first paragraph I agree, the Constitution does reinforce a 2-party system, but obviously the Republicans and Democrats didn't create the Constitution.

For your second paragraph, do you have examples of the "onerous requirements"? Because looking at the ballotpedia list[1] I don't see anything in there that is too onerous.

And again for your final paragraph, I agree that the system supports the lesser-of-two-evils way of thinking, but that isn't something instituted by Democrats or Republicans. It's built into the system at it's most fundamental level, the Constitution.

1: https://ballotpedia.org/Ballot_access_for_presidential_candi...

It should not drive you nuts that the two-party system is the best we have. The two-party system is the natural mathematical consequence of our electoral system, "divide the land into districts and each district holds a first-past-the-post vote." Fixed-point theorems are sufficiently robust and human intellectual attitudes sufficiently squishy that we will always be coerced into this. Abstract mathematics literally caused the US civil war, and it will keep amping up the anger and mistrust and divisiveness over and over, again and again, because the fixed point of our electoral system is two parties who both say "you're either with Us or Them, you have to choose."

[I have seen a recent push of progressive voices against gerrymandering, including both political sides (e.g. Schwarzenegger on the right and John Oliver on the left)... It is important to understand that the elimination of gerrymandering would help make the parties a little more volatile and would thereby help things get done, but it is very much a "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" measure, the polarization and 50/50 split would stay there even if you used mathematical methods to do redistricting.]

We have a fine proportional system that we use to allocate our Representatives to the States, and it is worth remembering explicitly that the House was created to solve one big problem: we have a bicameral legislature because the Founding Fathers were split between people who said "every person should have an equal say in terms of what laws are passed" (House) and "every state should have an equal say in terms of what laws are passed" (Senate). People from low-population states did not want city-folk running over them, and that is what the Senate guarantees.

What we need is to use this same proportional system to allocate our House Representatives to the various national Parties. The founding fathers did not want to think in terms of political parties because they were all big intelligentsia egos who figured that you'd want to really know who you were voting for. What they didn't consider is that in a fork-o-philic model, someone can basically just make their own party about their personality and they'll get one or more seats if they're influential enough. (A great example is Trump's analogue in the Netherlands, a man named Geert Wilders, who basically just made a party that was about him and his own isolationist nationalism and it has been remarkably successful as the Netherlands has similar pressures to those that got Trump elected.)

No more gerrymandering, no more 50/50 partisan split: for the House, everyone gets an equal vote for a party, and the parties get proportional representation in the House via their Webster allocation of delegates. While the party composition starts off Republican vs. Democrat, in short order the Freedom Caucus and Green Party and Libertarians and so on will have their own representation there, too. The 50/50 split in the Senate will probably still infect the House, and your parties in the House will consistently be "left-ish" and "right-ish", but the openly nonpartisan House politics will also feed back into the Senate and kill some major road-blocks.

I agree 100%. Eliminating gerrymandering is only going to lessen the two-party polarization problem, not solve it.

From what I understand the party proportional system is what's used by Germany, Japan, and many other nations with modern constitutions.

It's more complicated than this. And because it's so complicated, people look at ways to make participation more efficient. Party affiliation happens to be the most common way people participate, because it's efficient. But it is inherently inaccurate, you don't actually know the person you're really voting for with this method, and you don't know their position on specific issues, and you don't even know non-political things about them.

We also aren't even a majoritarian democracy, often the winner has only a plurality of votes. Most voter eligible citizens don't vote (in the U.S. where it's not compulsory). We don't have range or preference voting, or run offs. All of these have consequences in the outcome.

I don't see many brawls in politics. That's maybe at dinner parties, on TV, and in forums. City council meetings are pretty boring and docile. D.C. has lots of nice friendly people (haha), which maybe superficial, but they have more manners than brawls day to day.

Possibly the one thing going on right now that left, right, hard left, hard right, center, and maybe even non-participants can agree on is a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics. Entirely out. Publicly funded elections, do the hard work yourself, with volunteers, not moneyed special interests paying for your ads and so on. It would take an amendment because money is considered speech by SCOTUS, corporations have speech rights, so they can pretty much spend whatever they want on any message for any candidate. And those interests throw red meat to activate the brawls you see. They love that. It raises money. Activates people to vote who'd otherwise stay at home.

Most of the republicans I know have reflectively taken the position that money is speech, and they know it because thats what their reps vote for.

> This is how I feel about our democratic process.

Oh it's applicable anywhere humans interact in modelled systems. It happens in writing too - some team might be in a creative mindset and write some funny or brilliant work; a subsequent team either accurately recreates the mindset and creates a 'true spiritual successor' to the original work that can develop things like 'where that story would have gone, taken to its natural conclusion' or 're-tell it better' or so forth;

or they can simply mimic the 'formulas' or even just 'copy the original jokes' and 'miss the point'.

I might have a list of these.

> It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” - Bezos

> We sought volunteers and then followed our involuntary denial of boarding process - Munoz


Yea, I'm not going to share which airline or which branch (other than to say it wasn't United or Chicago), but I have a relative who works at a pretty high position in one of them and they were, to my great surprise, in defense of United and the police in that episode earlier this week. Statements like "airlines bump people all the time", "they can't offer anymore than what they did, its a set rule", and "if they just complied none of this would have happened, its a crime to disagree with flight crew" kept coming up. This is the mentality that permeates the airline industry and is what lead to that episode. They don't put satisfying the customer above following the rules. Its also why no one who has flown much was particularly surprised it happened in the first place.

I think there are two problems here.

One is that since 9/11 the airline industry has gotten far more comfortable with calling the police to remove passengers. In some cases it's totally justified. But in others airlines are jumping to the threat of police force in order to "solve" issues with customers. Basically using the stick instead of the carrot because the stick is easier and costs less money.

The second problem is a far more pervasive problem in society where people excuse the use of force on someone simply because that person didn't comply with a minor request. This is how someone who didn't want to accept a ticket for selling bootleg cigarettes ended up dead. Or the guy just this week who got pummeled by a police officer for jaywalking. "Just comply" they say. Sure, but it doesn't mean you should be beaten, bloodied, or even killed for not complying.

Re: the notion that "airlines bump people all the time", there are those arguing that while it is indeed lawful and routine for airlines to bump passengers due to overbooking, this was not a case of overbooking, and once a passenger has taken their seat they have very different rights than when they are still waiting to board the plane. I am by no means an expert, but I found this article (posted on HN yesterday) to be illuminating: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/04/united-passenger-remo...

Basically, this wasn't just poor customer service, it was a violation of rules.

As I understand it they followed the procedures and rules just as they are defined and in the law. Had the guy willfully gotten out of his seat he would have been compensated the "involuntary bumping" rate that is set by the Dept of Transportation.

But the fact that United got to that point is the problem. They had the option to offer more money for volunteers, they even had the option to find a different flight for their employees, or maybe send them on a cab ride instead (one passenger in the video even pointed this out while it was happening). Of course, the excessive use of force is on the police and they should be the ones outside of the law on this one, I don't believe being loud in that situation warrants you get a concussion, that's just wrong.

As I understand it, it's unclear whether they followed procedures and the law. The law and procedures governing oversales allow "involuntarily denied boarding" if there aren't enough seats. However, a completely different section of the contract governs the circumstances under which a passenger may be removed from a plane, and that basically comes down to safety.

Some people argue that "boarding" continues until the plane is in the air and that the airline can execute their right to involuntarily "denying boarding" to any passenger up to that point. Others argue that the plain meaning of the word means that once you are "aboard" the aircraft, you can no longer (legally) deny someone boarding. They argue that since the contract of carriage does not define "boarding", it must be construed to have the plain language meaning (as in the United CEO in his statement saying that "the flight was fully boarded".)

Airlines may do it all the time but, as far as I can tell, a court has never ruled on when "denying boarding" ends and "removal from aircraft" starts. Maybe now we will find out.

"they can't offer anymore than what they did, its a set rule"

That's complete BS. It may be a United rule, but the law only defines how much they are required to compensate people who are denied boarding. When asking passengers to voluntarily not get on the flight, they are free to negotiate any deal that is acceptable to the two parties.

That the airline doesn't have to offer more before they execute the involuntary denial of boarding somehow has gotten twisted into the fact that they can't. That's simply not true, they just chose the cheapest way out.

Yea totally agreed and I pointed this out. The rules from the Dept. of Transportation are for consumer protection and not for airline protection. But you are correct that employees have now twisted this to mean that they are "legally" bound to pay a certain amount and no more, which is horse hockey.

I'm sympathetic to the airline execs who feel this way - they're right (technically).

However, they're missing the forest for the trees. Their processes are so bad that this type of thing actually ends up happening–which is the symptom of a marge larger loss of trust.

I fly less than I otherwise would if it was a dignified experience. Right now smart VCs are thinking about how to reinvent airlines and let's hope they get in soon.

There's a quote that goes something like "never let a good catastrophe go to waste" or something like that. This would be a pretty good time for a start-up airline to step in and shake things up.

Problem with the airline industry is that its about as far from free market as you can get. The routes are set by the DOT and auctioned and traded among airlines like football players on an NFL team. And just like the NFL its almost impossible to bring a new team in because of the rules and the massive capital it would take. AFAIK there are a few options for companies that want to operate outside of the normal airport and commercial airline structure, but they are very limited.

The DOT doesn't set routes. The limitation is on landing slots and gates at the busiest airports; existing airlines have those locked up and so new entrants are forced to smaller outlying airports. The FAA does impose some air corridors which might prevent you from flying a direct path, but that's for safety and traffic management.


I pity Munoz because culture can be hard to shift that people no longer recognize that their business revolves around service, and employees with poor people skills get promoted because they achieve their KPIs by acting against common sense.

I think they handled it poorly, but there is no way that a passenger's wishes will override the pilot or the airline. They probably thought he would come to his senses when the cops showed up, I think that is where they screwed up, IMO they should have disembarked the rest of the plane and then arrested him in-place.

Whether or not bumping him is fair, there is no question about who owns the aircraft and has responsibility/authority. No one would want to fly on an airline where a stubborn passenger could override the flight crew.

There may not be a question of who owns the aircraft, but there are definitely questions of whether they have a legal right to force someone from whom they have accepted money in exchange for allowing them onto their property merely minutes earlier and who has not in any way violated the contract.

People seem to think that flight crew somehow have been ordained with god-given authority to suspend the rule of law aboard an aircraft. That is simply not true. People are legally required to obey safety-related crew instructions and placards.

The idea that if the flight crew instructs you to strip naked you are somehow required to obey and if you do not they have a right to eject you from the airplane is frankly ridiculous.

But it doesn't even matter, because the airplane was not in flight, 14 CFR Part 121 does not apply, and the people acting in question were gate personnel, not flight crew.

I think that refusing to leave someone else's private property makes the use of force inevitable. I would expect him to be treated essentially the same if he refused after being asked to leave a bar, a movie theater, someone's home, etc.

I'm not aware of any situation where you can legally be involuntarily strip-searched without being arrested. Maybe by customs but I'm not sure.

Personally, if the flight crew instructed me to strip naked or leave the plane, I would just leave. I can't foresee any situation where I would physically fight the staff for my seat, or recommend anyone else to do so.

I think that refusing to leave someone else's private property makes the use of force inevitable.

I know Americans are a bit high-strung when it comes to "property rights", but here's one example: It may be your property all you want but you can't call the police to kick your tenants out because you decided you don't want them there any longer. IF there has been a contract violation, you can go to court and eventually get an enforceable court order, but if you call the police and tell them to kick your tenants out because you just changed your mind about renting it to them, they're more likely to laugh in your face.

That is what the police should have done in this case. Once they ascertained that the passenger ticketed in his seat and was not a safety issue, they should have said "sorry, this is a contract dispute. You can take him to court."

Edit: Note that after kicking him out he was not arrested and has not been charged with any crime that I've heard of.

Tenancy has strong and unique protections. If you are a tenant you can call the police to kick out your landlord if they are not within their access rights. Someone has the exclusive right to use the space, but it is not the landlord.

I think both of us have a very strong sense of property rights, only we disagree who to ascribe them to. I think it belongs to the airline, so if the man wants to create a dispute with the airline, he should be the one to take it to court (and he probably will.) From my POV, you are saying the man has property rights over the seat because he had a ticket for it and had his arse is in it.

Sure, tenancy is special. But so is common carriage: "A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator's quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public's interest) for the "public convenience and necessity". A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is "fit, willing, and able" to provide those services for which it is granted authority."

We are not talking about a random piece of property being trespassed upon here. We are talking specifically about a situation where the airline is licensed to take money from the public in exchange for letting people put their "arses" in those seats.

Because they are that powerful, they know it won't hurt them much, for example I will still fly united if the ticket is $10 less.

> for example I will still fly united if the ticket is $10 less.

I won't. I had to save me at least $100 before I'll choose United. Which has nothing to do with this case. I just really don't like United due to previous experiences.

Isn't this the standard corporate PR response when a company does something wrong? "We followed our internal process, so everything is cool! I guess we're done here!"

tl;dr: the map is not the territory

This problem is pretty much every company I've ever worked for if/when they got over six engineers. I spend more time and a hell of a lot more energy than I should trying to keep managers or easily enthused engineers from hugging the project to death.

I ended up becoming a process expert out of a sense of self preservation. I use process a lot, but it's always in support of the 'why's. I don't always talk about the 5 Whys but it's always there, and in my experience the people who are usually the problem can't ever manage more than three.

The worst of these are also the sort of people who, if your speedometer was broken, would insist that the car is not moving. Even after you told them to look out the window.

> The worst of these are also the sort of people who, if your speedometer was broken, would insist that the car is not moving. Even after you told them to look out the window.

That's an amazing quote. I'm totally stealing this.

Your trying to solve the wrong problem, it's generally a people problem not a process problem.

The people problem is that everyone has the instinct to solve problems with rules, but not the energy or interest to do it properly.

If you don't try to steer the conversation toward reversible decisions AND avoid trivialities then you spend your problem solving budget on actively harmful plans.

Reminds me of that Steve Jobs quote about IBM:

“People get confused; companies get confused. When they start getting bigger, they want to replicate their initial success. And a lot of them think, ‘Well, somehow, there’s some magic in the process of how that success was created.’ So they start to institutionalize process across the company. And before very long, people start to get confused that the process is the content."

Whenever a junior team member comes to me for help, the first question I ask is, "what are we trying to accomplish". Unfortunately, we have a tendency to lose sight of purpose when going through process. Discussions usually start with what they have tried and what they are doing, but when the question of purpose is asked, it's easier to see the steps to get the result.

Amazon is guilty of this, not so much with customers, but with partners/sellers.

I don't think it's because they care too much of the process, but because they value consumers much more than sellers.

I'm thinking, for example, how they dealt with the recent issues of counterfeit books. Their process did not help the seller or the customer.

Netflix also talks about it themselves: https://www.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-1798664/49-Proce...

You have to admire the grit and tenacity it takes to maintain that kind of ethos for 23 years straight.

What Jeff is basically saying here in this letter is that the pedal is to the metal, forever: We can't have process as the foundation because it ossifies the organization! Be nimble to the rules of the game.

When translated however, that means you are either empowering your organization to change and make new processes at scale and speed, or you have whatever the default process of solving problems from scratch each time. It's the anarchist's dilemma. That is a tough organization to live under if you aren't built for that, and one that only a certain type of people can thrive in.

I mean the majority of people, leaders even, when they get to some level of success will put the brakes on and coast, doing exactly the things Jeff describes: building processes to take the cognitive load off of decision making and making life just slightly easier. They build processes for "efficiency", so that they don't have to go back and do all the hard work of understanding the problem from scratch each time. The problem though, as Jeff points out is that "The process" becomes an 80% solution to 80% of the problems it's applied to (leading to 36% failure rate).

So just think about how you could - for 23 straight years - recruit, retain and develop a cadre of managers, engineers, interns, staffers etc... that in the majority of cases fall into the mindset of constantly sprinting - basically an Olympic marathoner running a 5 min mile marathon. As a leader I admire that ability.

I think one of the reasons it's been successful is that the principles like "Customer obsession" are easy to relate to. I worked in places where the ethos or culture were a number of open-ended platitudes. They were a number of words like "commitment" or "integrity".

"Customer obsession" is something everyone can grasp however. Everyone can relate to this; many of us are customers of Amazon ourselves. "Is this helping our customer?" "Is this something the customer wants?" "Do I have the customer's interests at heart?" When those are the questions being asked, then values such as honesty and integrity come out naturally.

That, to me, is probably the most enjoyable thing about working here. There is plenty of disagreement and debate on how to fix an issue, what it would take, or what's the right way to go about it. We often don't get to address things as quickly or as decisively as we'd like. But I never feel like "no one gives a shit". Everyone believes customer obsession is the right thing to be. And they, we, are fanatical about protecting it.

Jeff's a good guy. I admire him too.

(Disclaimer: I work for AWS)

By almost every account, Amazon is terrible place to work: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/technology/inside-amazon-...

This isn't the type of leader you want to be.

Almost every account? You mean almost every account that NYT bothered to include in that article.

As a current employee at Amazon, that article might as well be fiction as far as I can tell. It describes nothing like what I or any of my co-workers have ever experienced here. We chuckle about it, occasionally, making jokes about crying at our desk, etc. But seriously, that article does not describe the place where I work.

When the article came out, Jeff sent a response to the company that has subsequently been published online. In it he said, paraphrased, "I would quit if my work environment was what the NYT article described, and I'm sure any of you would, too. If you're here, and you're work environment is anything like what the article describes, please _tell me_ so we can fix it."

You've mentioned elsewhere that Amazon has among the worst employee retention in the industry, but that's a fact that I'd also dispute. I've seen articles like http://www.slate.com/blogs/business_insider/2013/07/28/turno..., but as far as I can tell they're using median tenure as a proxy for employee retention. That's going to skew the results in any company that is hiring at a high rate. Imagine a hypothetical company that has gone from 50 to 100 employees in the past 12 months. Median tenure is only going to be less than 1 year at that company, regardless of whether or not anybody has quit. Amazon also hire lots of seasonal workers to handle shipping, customer support etc, which also very likely skews the results.

These tech workers seem to say otherwise about both working conditions and turnover: https://www.reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions/comments/4fg44p/1...

Glassdoor is filed with them too

I'm glad you are happy at your job. Many people disagree.

Sure, but just as with customers, the dissatisfied (ex-)employees are going to be most vocal.

Do you really think Amazon could build things like AWS, Alexa, the Go Store, etc, if it was a sweatshop where everybody but Jeff was in hell? I don't.

> Sure, but just as with customers, the dissatisfied (ex-)employees are going to be most vocal.

Agreed that Glassdoor is an outrageously bad indicator about a company, taken in isolation.

> Do you really think Amazon could build things like AWS, Alexa, the Go Store, etc, if it was a sweatshop where everybody but Jeff was in hell?

Nobody is claiming that every single employee has a terrible life at Amazon. But new college grads who don't mind and/or mind but don't really believe better working conditions are possible can build most of what you referenced.

I have only anecdotal evidence, but the majority of ex Facebook, Apple, and Google employees I know say pretty balanced pro/con things about their former workplaces.

Of the six ex Amazon employees I know well enough to discuss this with, they universally decry the horrible work cultures they experienced there.

So, I'm glad you like your work culture, but I know I'd never even consider working at a Jeff Bezos company. Despite how awesome I thing Blue Origin is.

4 people I graduated with in 2013, plus my wife (who went to work there more recently) all work at AWS, and they all love it. More anecdotal evidence.

That article is an egregious example of selection effects. Practically no-one who enjoys or enjoyed their time at Amazon talks about it. The company instils a strong sense of secrecy, so if you're still there, or might imagine rejoining someday (I am in this latter group) you likely say very little or nothing, and certainly not at length to journalists. Combine that with a very strongly flavoured i.e. polarising company culture and you have all the conditions for the NYT's hatchet job.

Yet by every account that mattters it doesn't, right? I understand that people who are there can certainly wish that the place and culture were different in some significant way, but the only barometer that should have some weight is the ease or difficulty that Amazon has in attracting and retaining top talent -- and that to the extent that it is harming their ability to deliver results. Which, from the outside, it certainly doesn't seem to be limiting.

The counterargument is that of course the things which makes Amazon's work culture toxic to people are orthogonal to their success and not a cause of it. My former boss was very well aware that she could sometimes be downright mean and nasty to our staff, and I cringed every time she justified it by citing what people thought the same of Steve Jobs: While true, we can't avoid the fundamental problem of causal inference, and there is no saying that had Jeff been actively striving to make a more welcoming culture, or if Steve or my former boss were nice people, that they wouldn't have experienced even greater success.

Slavery lasted for thousands of years, and it's REALLY hard to argue with the "business results" of slavery.

Having "success" be the metric is a very slippery slope.

> but the only barometer that should have some weight is the ease or difficulty that Amazon has in attracting and retaining top talent

They have terrible retention. One of the worst and in many years the absolute worst.

A few years back workers were passing out from working in 100 degree temps. They were disciplined for performance and instead of installing air conditioning, they lined up ambulances and paramedics to take falling bodies to the hospital. https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/19/inside-amazons-ver...

This is grotesque.

To be clear their retention is only bad in the fulfillment centers. Those are generally low skill, low pay, seasonal employees meant for short term stints - of which there is a near infinite supply.

For their core engineering, BD etc... teams in Seattle, retention is great.

>Those are generally low skill, low pay, seasonal employees meant for short term stints - of which there is a near infinite supply.

Low skill, yes, low pay, God yes, seasonal - not usually. At least where I am, they aggressively hire for full time positions, and clearly intend for non-temporary employees to consider it as a career. Retention is poor because of the environment and the workload.

And theft. Apparently there's a lot of theft. But that's bound to happen when you surround people with expensive merchandise, work them like dogs and refuse to pay them a decent wage.

If you are going to make those claims, please provide a source.

This is pretty good rant from the technical\engineering side: https://plus.google.com/+RipRowan/posts/eVeouesvaVX

There is no need to fetishize amazon and if amazon is your model I feel sorry for your employees.

Not sure how relevant this rant is; the last time Steve Yegge worked at Amazon was in mid-2005. For reference, this was even before AWS launched publicly.

At the risk of coming off as pedantic, Olympic marathoners DO run 5 min mile marathons very regularly (the world record is at around 4:41 pace currently). That said, I fully agree with the comparison of startups/businesses to marathon running. As someone who does both, the parallels are really interesting.

The hardest part of running a marathon is training -- hitting mileage goals, pushing yourself during workouts, prioritizing running above social outings, staying injury-free, and staying healthy. Not to mention the occasional psychological hurdle and hormonal changes. It really lines up quite well with the startup experience...

Even as someone who is vaguely interested in ...athletics... it never occurred to me look at marathon records. I'm utterly flabbergasted to find out that that is in fact true, that the record is sub 5 minute miles, let alone 4:40.

I encountered "process as proxy" today dealing with Cisco. We were requesting a replacement for a defective part, they asked us for our serial number, which we provided, but then responded to us that our serial number was invalid. Likely because it wasn't registered. We were told that we had to contact our sales manager, or open a TAC with a different department because they department only deals with technical issues.

Could they not have done something to help us, maybe forwarding the ticket to the department that could register the serial number, to help us rather than just leaving us stranded? It's as though they want to follow process rather than helping the customer.

One of my most memorable customer service examples was memorable merely because it didn't go poorly.

The vibrate function on my Ericsson T39 cell phone failed. I was dreading calling support, because I knew they'd tell me to piss off. It was a grey-market phone. I bought it on eBay unlocked, shipped to my home in the US. I wasn't the first owner, for that reason. It came with a UK charger. They didn't even sell the phone in the US.

When I called support, they asked me for the serial #, plus a code next to the serial (turns out to be the production date.. Week/year).. and my address. Almost immediately shipped me a replacement with a box to RMA the old phone.

They didn't care how I obtained it. They didn't care that it wasn't sold in my country. They didn't care that I didn't have a receipt. They CARED because I was a customer who paid money for their product, it failed, and they wanted to make it right. It was so refreshing.

I had a similar experience with Sony back when I was younger. Although, I did purchase the PS2 legitimately.

Something went wrong with the disc reader after a year or so. Sony told me to send it in. Then they sent me a replacement PS2 to keep... and a couple weeks later I received my old PS2, with the disc reader fixed. All free of charge.

I've been loyal to Sony ever since that fantastic experience.

iirc Nintendo has many stories like this from the 90's.

Hope their culture is still in tact after these years of mediocre to bad fiscal results.

Blame Cisco for wanting to squeeze out every penny from their support costs at the expense of their customers. Most of this stuff is outsourced or structured in such a way that they try to reduce ticket time and increase tickets worked (because time = labor = money). But guess what's free in this equation? Your time.

The vast majority of cost savings I see in the corporate world is like this; they're not saving money by doing a better, more clever job, they're just externalizing their costs elsewhere, whether it's another industry, another company, or another team in the same company.

I had a similar experience with digital ocean. I reported malicious traffic coming from another customer's VM via a ticket, provided logs, etc and their response was that I needed to submit all that information via email at their abuse email address instead.

I responded that perhaps as a customer they shouldn't make me waste more of my time and instead forward the information that I had provided to their abuse department. Of course, they never responded after that. I'll never bother to report a security incident to them again. All because of "process". :-/

I used to work in call centers. The job has almost nothing to do with helping customers.

Your manager will tell you the customer is the top priority, you will be told that the only person more important is you: the direct contact with the valuable customers.

Then he will publicly berate you for 15 minutes if your average handle time deviates from the last hour.

Your type of call is a golden goose. I get to "resolve" it and end it in 25 seconds which means I can take a 4 minute bathroom break instead of a 3 minute one.

By definition, that person is not a manager. He's a boss. Managers manage, and Boss's react.

This is one of those times where you line up another job, wait until he goes off on you and for every "point" he tries to make, you counter with the policy. Shut him down. Won't be permanent, but oh well.

Its time to come back to down to reality. Your manager would be laughing at your little outburst all week. It would actually make him happier.

That's not a manager. That's a boss. And so what? Everyone else who watched it would get a kick out of it and mr manager would be even deeper in respect debt.

Maybe it would inspire others to leave such a crappy job too. Let the miserables commiserate with the miserables.

My recent experience in this was in negotiating my internet/TV bill with Time Warner. I get TV via their app on a Roku. TW rebranded their TV delivery as Spectrum. Fine, I want to give up my old plan, and sign up for a new plan that is cheaper and delivers what I want - I'm not very interested in what it's called.

Operator: "Spectrum requires you to have a set top box"

Me: "I don't want a box under my TV, or a new remote, or a new clock to set. I want to keep watching TV via my Roku"

Op: "Spectrum requires you to have a set top box"

Me: "Are you saying that the app on my Roku that JUST updated to be called the 'Spectrum' app won't work?"

Op: "No, sir, I am saying that you are required to have a set top box"

Me: "I don't want that - I want to use the Roku. Otherwise, I'd rather just go back to not having TV, so you should cancel my service"

Op: "Sir, the Roku app will still work, but I have to send you a box... (whispering) you can just put it in the closet"

Me: "You're going to ship me a box to store, and that's on the requirements list to save $40 per month"

Op: "Yes, sir"

Me: "That's absurd, but deal"

Devil's advocate -- there's a big grey market in Cisco parts, and so they are probably under strict instruction to refuse support service to anyone who isn't verified as a paying customer.

No, each microservice does one thing.

Yes, they could have provided an orchestrating microservice.

But they did a good job. Tech issues microservice should not have knowledge of other departments.

This comment is either incredibly witty and very insightful or it is completely the opposite, and I can't quite tell from just reading it.

It's the best kind of comment. Haha

What was the part? They've moved to putting SN on everything, main board, chassis, etc. Make sure you have the correct SN. That being said Cisco TAC is atrocious.

Exactly. A 3XX Redirection instead of shutting you down with a 417 Expectation Failed.

This paragraph from his first letter to shareholders best illustrates how far Amazon has come.

"We established long-term relationships elationships with many important strategic partners, including America Online, Yahoo!, Excite, Netscape, GeoCities, AltaVista, @Home, and Prodigy."

I wrote an email to Jeff suggesting that Day 2 might be started by losing control over what is sold in his shop.

I really respect the way he thinks about the company and I have bought stock in it as a reflection of that respect. My hope is that he will be able to match 'focus on the customer' with 'don't sell the customer counterfeit or shoddy crap'. With their investment in Machine Learning one would hope they could train that engine to predict where crappy product is going to come from and reject it before it gets into the pipeline.

There's a lot of talk about counterfeit goods in this discussion, but my problem is the amount of sellers selling the same thing, and using bad search terms to get their listing to the top, and generally making everything harder to find. Have you ever tried to search on something that doesn't have, like 3 or 4 really, really obvious market-leading options? And then sort by anything other than the default? It's impossible! God go with you if you ever sort by price, ascending!

I've been a Prime member for several years, but the site has become so much less useful for me that I'm about to just let it lapse. I think it's creating opportunities for more-focused competitors, like Wayfair. I used to use NewEgg for electronics, but now they've started going the same route. I have to study every listing to make sure I'm getting it from a US warehouse, and not via a slow boat from China.

I just ran into this today with a big-name monitor, even. I added 2 very-similar models to my cart, and went with the one that had free 2-day shipping. Why did the other one have free shipping, but took 5 days? I don't know! There was nothing about the listing that would have tipped me off that it was a non-Amazon retailer. I'm getting tired of playing this game.

I agree completely and in my opinion this is not a 'customer focused' way of doing business because the customer's are getting tired of fighting these fights. That was why in my email I called him out on this, and specifically said, "If you believe your highest priority is to focus on the customer, and losing sight of the customer is a precursor to Day 2, then you must address the quality of the shopping experience."

I too have been a Prime customer for years, but 2 day shipping doesn't mean as much if its 2 days to delivery, then a trip to the post office to return it, and another 2 days to get the replacement, and then another week before your account is credited with the returned one. As an egregious example I bought a replacement cable modem and the one I got had a 'property of time-warner cable' sticker on it! And yet advertised as new. They replaced it quickly but really? Why should I have to be the person to sort the crap? And if that responsibility does fall to me, the customer, then Amazon is not sticking to their policy of putting the customer first.

And I agree with Jeff in his letter, if he gets into Day 2, the company can ride it for a very long time into the sunset (just look at Sears!).

> I think it's creating opportunities for more-focused competitors, like Wayfair.

I was just looking for something that's nigh impossible to find anywhere except on Amazon and Wayfair, and I'd almost pulled the trigger. However, as I've never used or heard of Wayfair before, I decided to do a little research first, and it appears that Wayfair is primarily a drop-ship retailer. So their products come from third-parties as well. I'm not sure this is any more trustworthy than "fulfilled by Amazon".

While this is a problem from a consumer perspective, the goods aspect is already day 2 for Amazon and others. There was in interesting discussion on HN a few weeks back about the profitability of the shipping business and how what the future holds for content/hosting services instead.

As a mini-update to this I have gone back and forth a couple of times with Amazon on my email at this point. And the quick summary was :

Me: You're moving into day 2 with all this counterfeit and weaksauce crap in your inventory

Them: We've got a process for reporting that

Me: See Jeff's paragraph about relying on process, and any process that requires the customer to have a bad experience to activate isn't a long term win.

Them: Hmmmm.

For me, the crux is if Amazon can crack the problem of being able to preemptively identify seller fraud and bad actions ahead of the customer being effective. They have a lot of tools at their disposal to put onto that.

From then 1997 letter:

> We established long-term relationships with many important strategic partners, including America Online, Yahoo!, Excite, Netscape, GeoCities, AltaVista, @Home, and Prodigy.

Every single one of those partners either folded or fell into utter irrelevance. The only one surviving is Amazon itself.

Don't know what to make of it, though.

Reposting this thought from the other discussion[0]:

>Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

This sounds really powerful but also like it might be open to abuse (for example degenerating into passive agressiveness/half commitment). Does anyone use something similar in their own workplace? Does it work?

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14103818

I worked at Amazon for almost five years. Like every leadership principle, this one was easily perverted. Many people I worked with took this to heart, and among peers there was often an honorable sense of "OK, I will disagree and commit on this one".

But I also spent a few years in an org where I don't think I ever saw someone more senior disagree and commit to the opinion of someone more junior. At each level of the hierarchy it was used as a way to excuse "you will do what I say". That's fine if it happens once or twice, but laughable if it's always flowing in one direction.

The other leadership principles were perverted in similar ways. You wouldn't believe the range of things I saw justified as "customer obsession".

> You wouldn't believe the range of things I saw justified as "customer obsession".

I would like to hear some of them if you have the time and inclination.

Sure. Realizing as I go through them that all of these were from my peers in middle management; ICs tended to be much more genuine in their communication. Such is the nature of politics.

Things justified based on "customer obsession":

-Forced weekends and extra on-call assignments. This was bad managers making up for their poor planning and trying to use company values as a stick for their employees.

-Delaying the launch of a feature beta testers were raving about for six months to meet an operational metric that would clearly be made irrelevant by the launch, but for which the complainant had a goal in his commitments.

-So many similar things related to goals that someone needed to hit. Managers would say to other managers, in only slightly more words, "you are not helping my team, therefore you are not customer-obsessed". There was no consideration given as to what other impacts might fall out of the demanded action and how those might affect the customer.

-One that happened to me: I disagreed with the (clearly faulty) analysis of a dataset made by a higher-up manager. He was about to make a decision with his analysis that was going to affect several engineer-years worth of commitments, so I did a reply-all to his analysis respectfully explaining his mistake. He emailed my boss's boss (his peer) to complain that I lacked customer obsessions and to question whether I was a good fit for the team.

Essentially you can pervert anything to be about customer obsession (or any company value) if you want to. There's a fantastic book called Moral Mazes that does an excellent job of illustrating and explaining this phenomenon. It puts all of my examples above to shame.

Commented on linked comment. I think it boils down to a strong trust base where everyone has the best intentions in mind

I often say that we don't need to agree, just commit together. I particularly like disagree and commit better. It seems like it would shorten time to decision as long as no one takes it personally.

I really like "disagree and commit" but I'm worried how well it would work in most corporations. I think it requires incredible alignment amongst the decision makers about the goals of the project - something that is in short supply.

I had a boss who thought he liked that idea but every meeting turned into an extra fifteen minutes of him badgering me for agreeing to disagree with plans that often blew up later. Sitting through the what went wrong meetings was an exercise in patience that I often lost.

I have no doubt at all that he would label me as a toxic employee, and was not surprised at all to be in the first round of layoffs (worked out for me, I got 27 paychecks that year and a three week vacation), but most of that would be him projecting his issues onto me.

He wanted to be a good manager but was so emotionally challenged by estimates not actually being blood oaths that it twisted every planning meeting into something ugly.

It sounds like he realizes that too, with his comments towards the end of the letter:

"Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision."

We put a strong foundation of trust and knowing the other person has the best intentions. I don't think it would work without strong trust across the organization and especially up and down the chain.

As an employee of the amazon returns facility a lot of the issue is because of employee error, which is the lack of opening the box and making sure it is the right item being returned, part of the process is sending ot to liquidation to where it is sold at discount prices, warehouse deals sellable to where it becomes a sale although it has cosmetic issues, brand new sellable, and destroy. If they check the box and it is caught as being the wrong item, it is investigated on amazons part to see if it was a item sent back by mistake, an item that was sent out by mistake, or if the costumer is trying to pull a fast one. If it is the wrong item it is an easy fix as long as amazon sells the item that was returned.

Day 1, no processes, pedal to the metal are great for the business owner but suck for the proletariat. Contrast this to Google where for the most part Software engineers are happy to work.

I'm a software engineer at Amazon and enjoy my job.

Conspicuously missing are a couple of other ingredients of Amazon's success. There are plenty of companies out there with "customer obsession" and a "day 1" mentality. There are few others with such good investor relations that money keeps pouring in after two decades of paltry or negative earnings [1]. With this kind of "infinite runway" you can sometimes afford to lose $100 million over three months to drive a competitor out of the market [2]. You can also afford to negotiate sweetheart deals with UPS and FedEx that will offer you delivery rates and speeds available to few other companies [3].

[1] http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/01/29/amazon_q4_pro...

[2] http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/10/10/amazon_bo...

[3] https://sellerengine.com/should-you-use-amazon-discounted-up...

He didn't start out with that kind of size. He built it from nothing, with strong competitors like Walmart who had more volume for physical goods that could negotiate better deals with UPS and FedEx for years.

AWS is beating Google, Microsoft, etc. Those companies had as much free cash flow and more engineering resources.

He has good investor relations because he produces great returns.

So, yes, your facts are correct, but you are wrong in an essential way: Investor goodwill and the market position is built by Day 1 mentality and customer obsession, not the other way around. A few bad moves will quickly erode both. Look at Blackberry, Dell, HP, Nokia, Westinghouse, Samsung etc. All these companies had massive market positions and investor confidence, with stock prices to match.

And how do you account for survivor bias? I don't think the CEOs of Blackberry or Nokia would have agreed that they cared less about the customer than Jeff Bezos. "Customer obsession" is not actual, actionable advice because it's not even measurable. It's nice rhetoric, but other companies were judged on hard metrics of profits and dividends.

Huh? Nokia and especially Blackberry failed to address "Customer obsession" and just stood in slack jawed denial while an innovative company ate their lunch. e.g. [1]

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/rim-ceo-quotes-2011-9

> "Customer obsession" is not actual, actionable advice because it's not even measurable.

Not quantitatively perhaps, but qualitatively? Oh yes; it can be felt. There are some very large organizations where the employee and managers' main objectives are to get themselves a promotion or bigger bonus and, though it's never explicitly said, the health of the company or welfare of the customer is only a secondary goal.

Earlier thread about the letter https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14103818

Does this come across as oddly inconsistent to anyone else?

"These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence."

"Another example: market research and customer surveys can become proxies for customers – something that’s especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products. 'Fifty-five percent of beta testers report being satisfied with this feature. That is up from 47% in the first survey.' That’s hard to interpret and could unintentionally mislead."

What about ML as a proxy for customers?

Depends on how ML is used. ML is much more than gaging customer satisfaction

I particularly like the concept of 'Day 1'. No matter what stage you are in as a business or individual, it is still day 1 for rest of your life. Taking long term view , keeping where you want to go in focus is really important.

I always thought "it's day one" sounded like something a man says to his wife after he's been caught having an affair.

No, that is called judgement day

Exactly. The purpose of process is to stabilize things enough to see where systemic improvements need to be made. Not to follow it blindly as a path to success.

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