Monday, 11 May 2020


I’ve always had this back-of-the-mind worry about Amazon. It’s a huge success, of course, and what would we all do without it? All those late night purchases of books which we forgot to buy at Waterstones but now, refreshed by red wine, we joyfully order another selection to join the piles of the unread when they arrive the next day.

So what’s not to like? Their attitude to people for one. Amazon is an HR nightmare. It’s also breaks all the rules we learnt when small. That profit was king. At 4% or less, profit on sales Amazon sweeps all before it; with Third World man management and price-cutting to destroy smaller, more circumspect competitors. And tax? Last year they paid £220 million on UK sales of just under £11 billion. Go figure.

Yet it provides an essential service to the lazy or forgetful. But I’ve started to detect a few cracks. During lockdown it’s taking longer to deliver and it’s not always so cheap now.

Its secret of success was that its competitors were so dire. Bookshops were expensive, slow and often rude. You sometimes felt they were there for the staff and that customers somehow got in their way.
Suddenly we have entered a new world of home-delivery by bookshops, restaurants, butchers,  greengrocers and wine merchants.

One of the great comic writers – our own version of P.J. O’Rourke – is Rod Liddle. Here’s what he wrote last week about one of the most beautiful sounds in the world – no, not birdsong….
“The growl of a diesel engine, the crunch of wheels on gravel and the squeal of brakes”
This signifying the arrival of a Majestic wine delivery.

I have the same feeling – less growling, crunching and squealing – with a Sussex Peasant delivery of asparagus and other locally-grown delights.

But here’s my story of how the game seemed stuck in the past but then was shown to be totally changed. On March 29th I sent an order worth just over £100 to the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley in response to their heavy catalogue drops. Silence. When we at last put on some pressure we got a slightly aggrieved … “it’s all very difficult and we’re very busy.” More silence. Followed by a cheque returned and a slip of paper saying “we are unable to fulfil you order at this time…we’re sorry for any inconvince (sic) this has caused”

More than “inconvince” matey. Our garden was naked, drab and forlorn.

I wondered if Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens could help albeit from their small nursery. They could. Hurrah! I sent off an order. Next day they made the 20 mile journey and because they’d been unable to fulfil all the order they’d made intelligent substitutions and bunged in a free bag of compost to say “sorry”. The business is South African owned with people who understand customer service. 

So, I believe in buying from small, local businesses from people we know and who care. Amazon beware.

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