How does Amazon Prime not lead to massive inefficiency in resource use?

I just ordered something relatively small from Amazon Prime. I know, in my head, that there are some other things that I need right now, but I’ll admit that I can’t immediately think of them, and the thought that came to mind is, “So what - I have Prime, if I think of it later today or tomorrow I’ll just order it then with free shipping.”

I cannot be the only one doing this, as frankly, I might be a bit more alert to such things than the average person (who might not even think of the environmental impact, etc. of such decisions - I’m not a hardcore environmentalist, but I do at least think of such things occasionally).

How is Amazon Prime efficient (from an environmental impact and otherwise). I remember 30-40 years ago - my family would save up a list of things because you only wanted to make one car trip “to the city” every week or two. This was obviously more efficient on fuel (and labor resources, etc.) than deciding, “I think I want an orange - I’ll have that delivered. Oh, I got my orange, I think I want a banana, I’ll have that delivered.”

I’m sure there will be something involving “scale, the truck is out for delivery anyway,” but do delivery methods like Amazon Prime, where there is no effective increased cost to the consumer for each individual delivery, waste massive resources like I would initial think they do just from intuition?

Presumably that inneficiecy is what the subscription covers. And the more inefficient it becomes in terms of things that are a cost to Amazon (fuel, labour) the higher the fee will need to be to make it profitable.

There may be externalities - the main one being the environmental impact. These might well suffer, as someone other than Amazon is paying the cost.

I’m down on Amazon for a number of reasons right now (3rd party marketplace being a morass, multiple entries for the same product or substantially similar ones that are impossible to distinguish, the intermingling of products in amazon warehouses/counterfeiting problem, the terrible work conditions of warehouse employees, etc).

But… I don’t think you can knock on them for adding to the environmental impact of shopping. Take a step back and consider that in a traditional retail model the links in the chain are
Producer->Distributor->Retailer->Consumer
Each of those require the goods to be shipped or moved. In the final link most likely by the very inefficient trip made by the personal vehicle of the consumer.

In the Amazon/Internet Behemoth Retailer model the links in the chain are:
Producer->Amazon->Consumer

The Distributor/Retailer link has been merged, eliminating one shipment of product (between Distributor and Retailer), and turning the final personal trip by the consumer into a stop on a delivery truck, which presumably is making multiple stops.

Even if the final link in the chain of Amazon to the customer isn’t super efficient and isn’t much more efficient than the consumer driving to the retailer, you’ve still eliminated the shipment between the distributor and retailer.

I get that it might not be as inefficient as other retailers (though I still wonder, since in your description, everything is moving from point A to point B, not point A to points C-Z every day of the week).

My question is more that they have taken the traditional model and almost incentivized people to have small items shipped to their house every day (by not increasing the marginal cost of those daily shipments to the end consumer), and I don’t completely understand how that does not increase the environmental burden.

Certainly it cannot be better for the environment to have a UPS truck hitting your house six days a week instead of once every couple of weeks?

I think of rural areas, for example, where it really is a truck making a separate trip out into the boonies.

It’s plausible that it’s more efficient for them to send a truck to a neighborhood every day to deliver small orders to 100 homes (for example) than for those 100 homes to independently all drive to the store weekly for a mega shopping day.

Not certain, but plausible.

It really depends on how often people are ordering single items and how they are hitting the last leg (USPS, Amazon delivery van, or 3rd party shipping company). I just can’t see how it could be less efficient than the average consumer making a car trip for a handful of items.

I think ultimately only Amazon has that information - but inefficiency costs them money, so I presume that there long term plan will be to ruthlessly remove anything that costs money. Thus the plan to have delivery by electric drone, and their own private fleet of delivery vehicles.

This isn’t a new problem. The US Postal Service used to make multiple deliveries a day to residences (up to 1950). In some ways Amazon is just recreating the Catalog Retailer of a century ago.

I suppose there is also the issue that the centralized source removes the impact of visits by consumers to multiple locations.

So rather than having one consumer driving to Best Buy, then Target, then Walmart, etc., you have everything just coming from the central Amazon teat.

Not strictly. At a minimum, it’s Producer (not to mention all the parts of the producer’s supply chain) --> Amazon intake --> indeterminate number of intermediate Amazon warehouses --> Customer. Quite likely there’ll be a wholesaler/reseller between the producer and Amazon too, and there may be a delivery company warehouse or two between Amazon and the customer.

But, yeah, it’s more efficient on a truck with lots of other parcels than in the boot of a car.

I get that a truck is more efficient than a car trunk on a single trip basis.

What I don’t know is whether a truck coming to your house 5 times a week is more efficient than your car going to the store once every week or two. (Which is what we used to do. Now, we have the truck coming quite often.)

Assuming you’re actually eliminating trips from those households. If Amazon delivers 8 things, but you still need to get 1, how many of those 8 things could you have bundled together in the 1 shopping trip?

The last mile delivery is one thing, but Amazon famously delivers small things in “too big” boxes because it makes their truck packing more efficient. Part of the theory is that by shipping small things at scale, Amazon ensures that every truck is 100% full, so the cost per item is theoretically less than it used to be, where trucks were driven with excess capacity.

No idea how it actually balances out though.

Amazon’s also been increasingly emphatically suggesting I choose my household’s “Delivery Day” wherein Amazon will backlog orders to drop everything off on a chosen day of the week.

I have zero belief that this has anything to do with the environment and 100% belief it’s a matter of Amazon trying to disincentivize exactly the sort of “order items every day” behavior you’re describing, @Slyfrog, to make their Prime program more cost-effective for themselves.

Also, re: gas calculations ongoing, AFAIK, aren’t UPS/FedEx/USPS trucks massively less gas efficient than the average consumer vehicle being sold these days? Not saying it definitively would tip the scales, but. . . yeah.

But they aren’t just coming to your house. They are coming to drop off things for your neighbors too. It’s like a second mail carrier. Except the mail carrier has to come to your house to pick up mail even if they don’t have a delivery.

Could they be more efficient if they didn’t come every day? Sure, the same way that the USPS has proposed cutting its service to Mon-Wed-Fri only. That would save them money, but also increases the number of trips to the post office (or Walmart in Amazon’s case) on days without service.

And everything about rural living is less efficient. Not just deliveries, but electrification, sanitation, etc. It’s a good thing relatively few people choose to live in remote areas.

Finally, if you have Amazon Prime and don’t need something right away, there is usually a “take your time” option for delivery. As a reward, you get a credit to use in their digital store. I’ve been using it to grow my MP3 collection while I shop.

The thing is, if you don’t order 1 item every day, but rather 7 items once a week from Amazon, there is quite a good chance that that WON’T actually be a single delivery. Rather they’d be sourced from 5 different warehouses, so its not as big a difference as one might think.

This is correct.
In the PC business (which is the only one I can speak to with any authority), and others I suspect as well, Amazon buys from a distributor and not directly from the manufacturer. So you’re not really cutting out that extra step along the way.

As I see it, Prime is a massively inefficient use of resources. And Amazon Inc. doesn’t care, because AWS makes so much money they can continue to lose in other parts of their business.

I try to exactly this for environmental reasons, since much of the stuff I buy has to be shipped by plane, and if I order 5 items at once at least one and often two items will arrive at different day. On occasion, I’ll forget something and order on two different days and sometimes the 2nd order will catch up the first order. They do often offer prime customer to option to get something slower in return for $1 in digital downloads. Still I think Amazon has lots of incentives to make the system more efficient.

This. UPS and Fedex are usually good about having only one truck come through the neighborhood a day at most. I see 3-4 Amazon trucks go through the neighborhood a day (mind you we have maybe 30 houses in our small neighborhood).

Even the one time I selected the prime delivery day (mostly because I was going to be out of town until that day so it worked out) I ordered 2 items and they both came on the same day in different trucks.

Because it’s fueled by the sweet and crunchy sound of death, silly:

But as people have said above that truck is delivering to dozens of houses thus (in theory) preventing dozens of trips. Also, that has to be the only way the thing pays off for Amazon.

I see smaller converted vans being used here. And yes, sometimes twice a day.

Well, if you eliminate, say, half of those trips to the store altogether, you’re removing 49 vehicle trips that day. Which is a savings in gas, as well as in reduced traffic.