I want to take Amazon Prime out behind the middle school and get it pregnant, but only if the baby arrives in two days at no extra charge.—
Adam Keys (@therealadam) December 21, 2010
I have a somewhat irrational “thing” for Amazon Prime. So much so that I’m a little surprised that I have such an affinity for what is in some ways simply the act of prepaying for shipping. But that’s understating what Amazon Prime is.
Prime is a fine example of physical computing. I click a button on my computer. Electrons fly all over the place. Database records are created, messages are sent. Pedestrian. But at some point a TV comes off a shelf and is loaded on a truck. Less than forty-eight hours later, it appears on my porch. Maybe not as nifty as an Arduino robot that mixes drinks, but just as physical and slightly more practical.
Prime is what Amazon should have patented (if they could have waited). “Method for buying something with one click” isn’t so impressive sounding. “Method for integrating e-commerce, logistics, and shipping systems so that things magically appear at my house at my whimsy”, now that’s a good title for a patent.
Amazon Prime has a transformative effect on how I consume. There are all sorts of things that I just kind of languish without because I never remember to buy them when I’m at the right store. If it’s not food, I buy it on Amazon now.
Today I decided I should buy more undershirts. Five minutes later, they’re on their way to my house. Because I’m paying a fixed rate for shipping every year, I don’t worry about batching up my shopping. I just go buy things when I realize I need them. Potentially costly, yes. But now I’ll have a proper supply of undershirts.
Prime, coupled with Amazon’s recommendations, is eerily effective. Years and years ago, when I started using Amazon, the first thing I added to my wish list was first three seasons of Bosom Buddies on VHS (yes, that long ago). Amazon promptly recommend I look into other movies feature men dressed as women (good call, I find this amusing) and serious movies with Tom Hanks (not as amusing).
Fast forward ten years, and Amazon gives me humorous, but much more useful, recommendations. I bought three things I’d been meaning to pick up but had forgotten about due to recommendations. I’m a little surprised the streak ended at three. I’m sure there are legions lazy people like myself improving those recommendations right this moment.
Prime makes all sorts of transactions much more fluid for me. I spend less time in shopping centers and have a pretty great choice of products; in exchange, money departs my bank account more fluidly. When economists talk of the incredible complexity of markets, free market acolytes proclaim that truly free markets can route around inefficiences, and globalizationists trumpet the benefits of low-friction trade, they’re talking about Amazon Prime. It’s a service that could only exist in our current age of networks, connectedness, and impatience.