January 05, 2019
I’ve been selling MacBooks on Amazon for years, and I have a perfect feedback rating that I’ve worked hard to uphold, but as of today (January 5th), Amazon is prohibiting me and thousands of others from selling Apple products. I’m sure you’re aware that Amazon is cutting off small Apple sellers and refurbishers today because they don’t qualify for the “Renewed” certification (which requires sellers to prove they buy $2.5M worth of inventory a quarter).
I’m not writing to complain about my own situation. Unlike hundreds of small Apple sellers who have gone all-in with Amazon and will have a very hard time adjusting, I’ve been in business for ten years and have diversified my customer base. I sell about a third of my inventory on Amazon, and another 20% to wholesale customers who also sell on Amazon, but if I shift my sales to other platforms, I’ll be OK. For now, at least.
I can imagine why you made the agreement. Striking a deal with Apple in order to sell their products directly on your site makes good business sense, and it’s certain to be lucrative. As a large group of small sellers, we’ve made you many millions of dollars, but I doubt we can compete with an Apple partnership. Cutting out a large quantity of small sellers in favor of a handful of giant ones must certainly lower administrative costs as well.
What I’m concerned about is this: While this decision is conceivably good for Amazon, there is a bigger picture. You have been so successful, so dominant in the space you occupy, that your company represents a full 50% of the total Internet marketplace. And so when Amazon decides to exclude certain sellers — small family businesses, mainly — a full 50% of the Internet’s total opportunity is suddenly unavailable to them. It’s Amazon’s right to do that, to make a business decision in agreement with another company. (And besides, there’s still 50% of the Internet left!) But what happens when Walmart makes a similar agreement with Apple? Newegg? Maybe eBay even falls into line, because certainly you’ve won over a big chunk of their customers and they need to compete. What happens when 70%, 80%, 90%, or more of the Internet’s total opportunity becomes unavailable to the average individual, to the beginning entrepreneur, to small businesses? How would you, Jeff Bezos, have fared if the Internet’s landscape looked like that in 1994 when you started selling books out of your garage?
$2.5M in quarterly inventory may seem like a reasonable requirement to some, but most businesses just aren’t that big. Many independent, privately-owned companies only buy a tenth that much inventory yearly, and that doesn’t make them illegitimate. Not only that, but these small businesses are often the ones that repair and refurbish the electronic devices they sell, and put time into processing low-end computers, whereas the large companies you’re certifying generally don’t bother, and simply scrap low-end and broken electronics. Once the small business community is cut out, older products won’t be represented, and millions of Apple devices will be scrapped. Millions of perfectly viable low-end computers and phones and tablets will not find homes. Apple and Amazon will certainly drown out these concerns with the same old tired marketing spin and fear rhetoric, telling us it’s about customer experience and safety, but what it comes down to is that small businesses will die and perfectly usable electronics will go to waste.
It’s bigger than that, even — it’s a question of what we want the Internet to look like. Whether it’s selling computers, speaking opinions, having a bank account, or offering a service, is it right that access to any given opportunity on the Internet should be entirely decided by two or three massive companies? That the average person, the individual hoping to be independent and start a small business, could be effectively locked out of the supposedly “free and open” Internet because of a decision between corporations? That’s where we’re headed, and that’s what has me worried.
I don’t know what the answer is. Many believe antitrust regulation is the way to go, and it very well may be, but I would hope the same ingenuity that started the Internet, that championed a limitless new free and open space, would find a way to make it free and open again.
I really hope that you have this issue on your radar. As one of the truly powerful people in the world, you have the capacity to make positive change. You have so much power that a good part of the future of the Internet, and the future of opportunity, and fairness, and other basic principles in our society could very well rest on your shoulders.
Jeff Bezos, please tell me that we can rely on you to do the right thing for the interests of the world, and not just the right thing for the interests of your company?
November 19, 2018
September 16, 2018
November 06, 2016
I am now aware of a couple different Amazon MacBook sellers who very recently, through no fault of their own, have woken up to find their accounts suspended because an angry customer clicked the "counterfeit" button in one of Amazon's various feedback mechanisms.
Obviously, there is no such thing as a counterfeit MacBook. Likely, the customers just clicked every button possible to get their complaints heard. It's conceivable that a 3rd party power adapter or battery prompted the claim -- with Amazon, you just never know what triggers any action, and unfortunately there is no intelligent entity on the Amazon side willing to look at these cases and realize, "Hey, there's no such thing as a counterfeit MacBook, so this is clearly in error." In the Kafka-esque, algorythmically-determined world of Amazon, you often end up with a suspended account, with no clear idea why, and limited means of recourse.
What is clear here is that the recent hysteria over 3rd party power adapters being called "fake", "counterfeit", and "knockoffs" is now having a negative effect in the refurbishing world, and Amazon is freaking out at even the slightest suggestion that a device is not OEM. As I have stated before: This is why it is so important that we must allow for the differentiation between legitimate 3rd party devices and ones that are actually fraudulently claiming to be OEM. When we paint with too broad a brush and all 3rd party devices and components arbitrarily get labeled "fake" and "counterfeit", this negative backlash on our industry is exactly what we get.
To make matters worse, several manufacturers on Amazon have become "by permission only", meaning that sellers must be approved by Amazon (and likely the OEM) to sell those brands. If Apple goes in that direction, and the hundreds of Amazon MacBook refurbishers are banned, then millions of older MacBooks will have lost their biggest and most legitimate marketplace, and will therefore be doomed to eBay, CraigsList, or even more marginalized arenas.
It's simply impossible for the mid to low-end Apple refurbishing world to exist without the use of 3rd party power adapters and batteries. Five-year-old laptops from recyclers, schools, and corporations do not come with enough good OEM batteries or power adapters to support the industry, and when you're talking about a $100-$400 laptop, the inclusion of a $79 power adapter and/or a $99 battery tanks the very prospect of being a viable product. A quality 3rd party power adapter and/or battery is the only solution.
As crappy as 3rd party replacement components can sometimes be, we need to support their right to exist and do what we can to make them better and identify the good ones -- our repair/reuse/refurbishing world depends on it!
July 01, 2015
About a year ago I entered a ComEd contest hoping to win solar panels for my roof. I didn't win, probably in part due to the fact that I had an old roof at the time. But I just came across the essay again, and while it's not an epic feat of writing, it's certainly relevant to recycling, energy conservation, and many of the issues that I have become familiar with over the years, so I thought I'd post it:
Unfortunately, a house doesn’t come with a manual.
Twelve year ago, as a naive new homeowner, one of my first impressions was that the washer and dryer were the same models that I had grown up with in the 1980s. Another was that I didn’t know how to use the thermostat. When I moved it slightly to the left, the house got cold. To the right, the house became a sauna. Also, I wondered, what was the second trash bin in the alley for? I guessed it was recycling, but not knowing what to put in it, I was intimidated.
A $350 utility bill was the first sign that my house was not efficient. I quickly realized my habit of leaving the lights on was probably not good for my wallet. Every day after work, I toured the house to see if any light bulbs were out, and usually one was. Another finding -- the house had been sold to me with all the outer windows open, and not realizing this, I had left them that way all winter. Whoops!
Five years ago I quit my corporate job and started a computer repair business. At first I didn’t think about environmental implications, and it was just a way to make money. But I soon realized that the broken computers I bought from electronics recyclers would have been scrapped if I hadn’t found them. I was, effectively, making a living off of someone else’s trash. This was a turning point for me -- the idea that there was so much waste in the world, so much unused energy discarded, that I was making a living by simply utilizing what others had thrown away.
From that point, I started to see things differently. I searched the Internet and learned what to put in the recycling bin. I found out that my 30-year-old appliances, while well-built, were far from efficient. I replaced my bulbs with fluorescents, and since then I have almost forgotten what it’s like to change one.
Traveling abroad with this new perspective, I noticed lights turning off automatically upon exiting a room. All bulbs were fluorescents. Cars were very small, and so completely packed that people hung out the windows. Tire “re- treading” stations were everywhere. I came to the sobering realization that people were not doing these things out of some good-natured desire to save the planet, but rather out of necessity. I discovered that we are lucky -- only people so relatively wealthy could grow up being as naive about energy as I had been.
I would be a great candidate for the Smart Home Showcase precisely because I have been on this personal journey, and smart appliances and technologies constitute the perfect next step. Using energy efficiently is not always easy, or obvious, but with a combination of awareness, effort, and technology, it’s possible for everyone to improve and make a huge difference. I’d be proud to be involved in an effort toward that end, and to be an official advocate.