Amazon

2018-05-Amazon

Imagine a structure made of meticulously arranged chunks of stone. Towering from the earth, it houses myriad strange objects strewn across its base, hanging from its canopy, projected from its ramparts. Daubed characters and humming lights attract passing bipedal organisms who enter this bewildering nook and oscillate in hushed contemplation, eventually handing its homogeneously-garbed inhabitants sheafs of wafer thin tree mulch in exchange for the wonders within. As they leave, they are replaced by similar lifeforms and the ritual repeats. If this all sounds a little bizarre, it's because I'm describing something so far removed from our present-day existence, you've probably forgotten it ever existed. I'm writing about a shop (pronounced “shop”)

Shops were a common feature of the landscape in my youth. They came in all shapes and sizes, positively thriving on the verdant economics of the high street like wild herds on the Savannah. Timid, fleet-footed shops such as Dixons skirted urban centres, nibbling enthusiastically at the public's pockets while great, lumbering behemoths like MFI occupied industrialized lowlands, lazily basking in their own untouchable grandeur. Seasons came and seasons went. Wind, rain, snow, very occasional sun, lunar eclipses, solar eclipses... total eclipses of the heart. Nothing threatened this vibrant ecosystem... except Sundays of course. Everything bloody well shut on Sundays. Regardless, as recently as a decade ago, the Sabbath had become commercially fair game and shops were as commonplace as teenagers texting in a cinema. No one could have anticipated a day where the only thing left standing in city centres would be nail bars, vape emporiums, Tesco/Sainsbury/Asda/Co-op/Morrisons//Waitrose Locals and those guys painted gold who only move when you give them a quid. So what happened? What cataclysmic event wiped shops off the high street and out of the public consciousness so decisively?

Just ask Amazon, the cheeky wee multi-billion-BILLION dollar so-and-so - That's right, the e-commerce giant who's still expanding at roughly the same rate as the rainforest whose name they nicked is shrinking. What's more, they've managed to do so whilst paying even less taxes than the monkeys, snakes and unnecessarily poisonous little tree frogs currently being turfed out of their homes. I might be coming off a bit judgey, but I’m also a hypocrite - I've been a paid up Amazon Prime member for years now. It's the best way to buy things you don't really need with money you don't really have, two hours and a bottle of wine after you should really have gone to bed. In fairness, it's also extremely convenient. Most of our household appliances, the equipment for my photography business, toys for our son and even toilet paper come from these callous shop-killers. Seriously, we get 45 rolls at a time on offer and after an almighty game of giant Jenga on delivery day, the majority go in the cupboard and we don't have to worry about running out for the next few months. If that's not worth a few less tree frogs in the world, I don't know what is. Let's face it, toilet paper is one of the bulkiest, most embarrassingly conspicuous things to carry back from town. We all poo (Our readership research suggests you're probably doing one right now), but there's no need to telegraph that news to everyone you pass on the way home. How often do you see sex symbols like George Clooney or Beyonce sashaying down the red carpet with 18 rolls of Andrex underarm? Almost never.

OK, so maybe you get yours at Mercadona, but if you think you've not supported Amazon, think again; Who do you reckon sold you those reading glasses perched on the tip of your nose right now? Who flogged you that comfy sofa you're lounging on while you read this fine publication? The 2 litre cocktail glass in your other hand? That gold-plated back-scratcher? The silver-plated gold-plated-back-scratcher reacher you use when you can't be arsed to get up off the comfy sofa? Where do you think I bought the laptop I wrote this article on? Or the Absinthe I drank while doing so? Who sold SOCIETY the faintly radioactive much-cheaper-than-the-safe-stuff ink we used to print all these magazines? Or the baseball bats we routinely threaten our competitors with? Fucking AMAZON, that's who! They'll deliver practically anything to your doorstep within 48 hours. Probably the only thing in your immediate vicinity not purchased there are the paper pages of this mag.... they came from the other Amazon and took much longer to get here. Without exaggeration of any kind, Amazon is the SOLE reason 99.7% of all shops have closed down in the last decade. The other 0.3% was woodworm.

Even God was only able to keep shops quiet one day a week way back. Amazon manages to close down hundreds day in, day out.

Conclusion: AMAZON > GOD.

I went to a Catholic primary school and was physically shaken by an angry nun on more than one occasion, so I wouldn't be so quick to blaspheme if I hadn't just purchased a 5 star Smite-proof hat on Prime for under a oner - I've no doubt it'll arrive long before the lightning bolt.

So, should we lament the death of the high street or embrace this new normal? Your answer to that may depend on whether or not you once ran a shop for your livelihood or want some live ants sharpish and can't be bothered to coat yourself in sugar and lay on a pavement like the rest of us (SO lazy). Incidentally, Amazon charge more for the shipping costs of the ants than the ants themselves, which must be an extra knock to the self-worth of the poor buggers (especially since they don't exactly weigh much). On the topic of self-worth, the increasingly commonplace use of robots for dispatching inventory in the retailer's vast warehouses can't be doing much for the self-esteem of the dwindling ranks of human employees. One only need watch The Matrix or Terminator (both available on Amazon) to see where this is all leading.

What's more, the already harassed and underpaid delivery drivers are in some cases soon to be replaced by drones, no longer simply the reserve of neighbour-watching perverts and wedding photographers who don't honestly think an incredibly loud, high pitch whine akin to a wasp swarm in a blender ruins an otherwise perfect day.

But Amazon aren't just a retailer, they're at the forefront of technology. Their adaptability and response to market is staggering. Hundreds of apps can detect what we say through our phones' microphones, resulting in freakishly “coincidental” advertising next time we go online. For data-mining, ad-funded online platforms such as Facebook, we're the product to be sold to the highest bidder. It's scarily impressive how responsive and targeted retailers have become as a result.

When I was young I remember my dad repeatedly telling the manager of Jessops how shit they were because they didn't have the right batteries for his dictaphone. Nevertheless, Jessops was still there the next week, still being shit and still not having his batteries...and the week after... and the one after that. And sure, you could complain to your mates in the pub (or to your kids all the fucking way home in the car each time) but you wouldn't be slagging anyone off on social media or ordering online instead, because neither of those was a thing yet. It almost makes me nostalgic.

For consumers, the high street represented a truly golden age of like-it or lump-it.... But then I suppose we had more time for the lumps because we weren't so busy trying to get likes.

Ian Greenland is a writer and (non drone using) wedding photographer

www.greenlandphotography.com

 
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