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

Hey, markets are efficient! Just don’t look behind that door over there.

Not just unsold stuff, but their returns are also just tossed.

For some returns they just say screw it, you just keep it or toss it. It’s not worth sorting out. I have a plumbing part and some tubing in a drawer since the wrong items shipped and they didn’t bother having me even return the items as they were cheap. I imagine in a lot of cases they only make you return the item so people won’t fraudulently claim things are defective and keep them.

It’s interesting, it seems as though that stuff is stuff that other sellers are selling through Amazon, that the sellers don’t want to pay to house in the warehouse any longer. I wonder how much control Amazon has over that stock, since it’s not technically theirs. But it seems like they could work out a deal with the sellers to get it to donation sites rather than just disposing.

I recall a few years ago, they realized that some dude was buying tons of shit from amazon, and then returning boxes filled with dirt and rocks, and keeping the goods.

Usually, the returns get sent back and put on a shelf for ages before they can get processed, if they get processed at all, so no one noticed. The guy did it for like a whole year, before someone at the processing center finally opened up a box, found it full of literal dirt, and said, “WTF is this?” and then they opened up tons of boxes and they were all full of dirt.

Chewy never wants anything returned to them. They ask us to just donate it to the local dog shelter. Large metal crates, dog/car separators, dog food containers. They just take the write off and keep on keeping on.

Here’s the story:

They could! But then somebody would be making less money. Free market!

I’m not sure that it would result in less profit. Certainly there will be tons of PR value to be had there, and likely someone can get some tax benefit as a result.

More likely it’s just not something they’ve come up with a system for, but getting bad press about it will likely push them on it.

I know, I’m mostly yanking your chain.

More seriously, I’m guessing that for Amazon’s whole network to be as quick as it is, it needs to have a lot of one-way throughput. Warehouses need to get products moving through them to consumers so they can fill the warehouse back up and get more products moving. I don’t know what the margins on some of these items are, but it may well be much more expensive to re-house and re-sell them than it is to simply toss them.

I only award partial credit for companies that make big changes to their operating procedures after they get called out on it, though. Especially for procedures like “Throw this new MacBook in the trash.” It shouldn’t take an expose for someone in the management chain to have mentioned that there could be a better way.

I’m certain that this is the case. It’s the same for most retail operations, as far as I’m aware.

I have to assume that someone knew about it, because I would suspect that they must have had some kind of policy in place that prohibited employees from taking stuff from the trash, otherwise I’d assume that tons of people who worked there would be snagging all that free loot.

This sounds like letting Amazon off the hook for having a business model that is immensely wasteful and probably polluting (as some of what’s reported being disposed is electronics, for example). They’re not obliged to be an open third-party market, and those third-party sellers aren’t obliged to get to foist goods into warehouses and let them sit there. If it’s unacceptable (and it seems to me it is), and it’s Amazon that’s not only making the decision to trash this stuff but also the one whose business makes it possible in the first place–oh, and also they’re the ones making record-setting profits while doing it–we should probably focus on how Amazon can fix it.

(Personally, I don’t think they can fix it. Bigger scale operations are more wasteful and rely on a culture of disposability to function. Usually passing the negative side effects down to poor countries and communities.)

Yeah, this. I suspect that the amount/percentage of returned goods that were chucked rather than being repackaged has probably remained pretty constant over the years… it’s just that Amazon’s scale puts more of it in one place than ever before.

This assumes that donation sites want Amazon’s returns. The vast majority (80-90%) of donated clothing ends up in landfills, because Goodwill has limited inventory space just like everyone else.

I suspect a lot of Amazon non-clothing returns would meet the same fate. If so, then a donation from Amazon might cost more than it’s worth.

Eh… but running a third party market is a good thing, at least as far as I’m concerned. Amazon isn’t obligated to do so, but I’m glad that they do.

Ya, this is probably the case.

However, it is possible that Amazon could actually use their logistical know-how to organize some effective way to get that stuff to poor people who could use it.

Now, doing this would almost certainly cost Amazon a bunch of money to set up, but if anyone could, they could. Of course, then we’d have folks attacking Amazon for competing with other charity organizations.

It might not be if this is an unavoidable side effect. That’s the point.

They won’t if it’s not profitable.

I think I read that at least some clothing like that gets boxed and shipped to various countries in Africa, where wholesalers bid on the unopened boxes, then the winning bidder resells the clothes in market stalls. I’ve seen the African end of that operation in several places. That doesn’t mean stuff doesn’t end up in land fills, but there’s a huge international market in discarded / used western clothing.

Eh, as I pointed out above, sometimes companies do stuff that’s not profitable, because of the PR value that doing such things has. Sometimes, “altruistic” things can be made to be profitable, with the right PR team.

You know, I think you’re right. A lot of articles on this topic cite the 80-90% figure, but that seems to refer to an EPA study on the fate of all clothing. The items that end up in donation boxes really do have a high probability of being exported.

As I’ve always suspected - those massive so-called “business intelligence” systems to learn customer buying patterns and detect anomalies are all bullshit.

Like Super Bowl or World Series stuff that has the wrong team on it. I have seen pictures of people in third world countries wearing such things.