Today and tomorrow is Prime Day. Can you believe it? It’s Prime Day, which we all know is the day where Amazon offers discounts on thousands of items to users who forgot to cancel their Prime subscription, and then it’s like: well, they already charged my credit card for another year, so I might as well see what’s on sale.
The first thing to understand about Prime Day is that it is impossible to navigate. Some of the deals are only available for a brief period of time (Lightning Deals), some items are available in high quantities, some have very limited stock, sometimes you can buy a thing, sometimes you can get on the waitlist in case people who put an item in their cart decide not to buy it. And as you browse this awful grid of categories, and subcategories, and useless price ranges, and generic products, you just kinda stumble into stuff you might need or could convince yourself that you do need.
Many would, understandably, see Prime Day as some sort of Black Friday-esque sales bonanza. A chance to get steals and deals on top-quality products. This is wrong. Or at least, it has not held true for the last three or four Prime Days. The vast majority of Prime Day inventory is absolute shit. Granted, I haven’t scanned all of the deals, but I did check some of the categories I’m interested in, such as “Electronics” and “Video Games” and it’s all chintzy third-party accessories. How many different types of light-up keyboard do you think exist in the world? Amazon has at least twice as many as the number you came up with. Which of the 800 different $19 dish racks should I settle on? Need a pair of terrible earbuds that will crap out in two or three months? Amazon has you covered.
When I was young, I would go to a computer store called CompUSA with some regularity. As a small kid with no money who was not interested in fax machines or label printers, I gravitated towards the computer games (I was a little interested in the label printers). There were two types of computer games at CompUSA. The good games on the shelves, and the garbage games in fragile cardboard sleeves dumped in a bin in the middle of the office-chair aisle. I loved looking through the bin. Every CD in the bin was a screensaver collection, a terrible-looking mascot platformer, a combo pack of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune games, an adventure game published by some company called Magician’s Trick, Ltd. registered in the Seychelles, or Glover. Prime Day feels like picking through that bin — I could convince myself to buy one of these cheap things, but I usually don’t.
Let’s further the Black Friday comparison. In the popular imagination, everyone shows up to Black Friday as soon as the doors open at 3am and they fight over one gigantic flatscreen TV that is 80 percent off. That’s not how it really works in my experience. Black Friday, for me, involves getting in my parents’ car at 2 p.m., driving to one of the many strip malls in central New Jersey, and checking out whatever’s still left at Best Buy, or Circuit City, or Target. I’ll wander through the Best Buy and pick up home videos and say to myself, “Well, this 3-DVD Value-Pack of David O. Russell movies is only $6.99…” and then I’ll go to the headphones section and say “Well, these Skullcandy earbuds are only $21.99…” and then I go over to the TV section and say to myself, “Well, it’s only a 24-inch screen and only get 720p and only has one HDMI port and I already own a better TV, but it is just $105.99…” and then I walk out of there with nothing.
That’s the real Black Friday — picking through crap and then deciding you don’t really need it. But sometimes… you do need it. Or it’s cheap enough. Or you were thinking about getting it anyway so you might as well just do it now, while you’re here and you could just go to the checkout and be done before you have a second chance to second-guess yourself. That’s what Prime Day is too. There is no way to find exactly what you’re looking for. You just pick through the junk and see if anything fills a need in your life.
This is a long way of saying I bought myself a Wi-Fi card for my gaming PC, and a tire-pressure gauge because the Volvo has been begging me to put air in the tires for weeks. I have no idea if either of them are any good, but they were on sale for cheap enough.
Prime Day is also the day where many respectable news outlets shill for products that their writers haven’t even tested or used because the products have a 12% discount. E-commerce writing is this “no haters” type of thing where the only two verdicts are “this is good” or “maybe this is right for you.” My attitude is that if you’re gonna do e-commerce stuff, you might as well just go into writing ad copy (which is fine!). Like, copywriting is more stable than journalism (what isn’t?) and you don’t have to pretend to know the difference between 12 separate HDMI dongles — the only difference is the logo printed on it, they all come from the same factory — for a vertical called The Bargain Sleuth or w/e. And even if you take your work and objectivity seriously, it’s a safe bet that the people crunching the numbers upstairs don’t, and they’re gonna push for higher-ticket recommendations or saying it’s fine to aggregate lists of stuff based on their Amazon reviews, many of which are fake. I say this as someone who bought a shit-ton of Kinja Deals in 2015. Anyway!
I cannot write about Prime Day, even poking fun at my own complicity in the proceedings, without re-emphasizing the fact that:
hold on lemme load the
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Amazon is a deeply terrible company that treats its workers like shit. More than 19,000 Amazon workers have contracted COVID-19 this year. Jeff Bezos, meanwhile, saw his net worth grow by $24 billion in the first month of the U.S. outbreak.
I somehow missed this last month but I am begging you to read this story about a guy who found Tony Abbott’s phone number via his boarding pass. It’s so good. It’s better than anything I’ve ever published. Please. Please click it. I promise you won’t regret it.
another wild free-to-play game ad, this one takes place on Gay Beach