I AM AN AMAZON addict. The first step in recovery is to admit I have a problem, and so I begin.
To be honest, though, my agonizing withdrawal from the Amazon habit began almost two years ago, when I was abruptly awakened to the error of my ways by a damaged camera lens. This wasn’t just any lens. It was a Nikon AF-S f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens. For those of you who aren’t Nikon-ophiles (another form of addiction), let me simplify by saying it was a nearly $2,200 lens…and worth every penny.
Except when it was broken, and could not be repaired. Yes, that glorious lens came with a four-year Nikon Extended Service warranty, which had expired. Yes, there are certified Nikon repair centers to which the lens of my dreams could be sent for repairs…at a cost, of course. And yes, I immediately bubble-wrapped and boxed that baby, insured it, and sent it off, with instructions to fix it, stat.
I was prepared to be without it for a month. I was prepared for that month to seem more like a year. I was prepared to pay whatever it would cost for repairs, knowing full well the cost of restoring such a treasure to working condition.
I was prepared for almost anything—anything except the return of that precious cargo from the authorized Nikon repair center, with a note, explaining that the lens of my dreams, the love of my (work) life, the product of NikonUSA, was actually a gray-market lens and could not be repaired by a certified NikonUSA repair center.
I was shocked. And mad as hell.
Have you ever tried to call Amazon to register a complaint about a product they sold you? Ever attempted to communicate with a living human being at Amazon, as I did, to discuss the utter fraud that this mega-business empire has perpetrated on the owner of a small retail business that collects its dollar bills, one-bill-at-a-time, every Thursday?
Have you ever considered calling up Jeff Bezos, to suggest that when you buy a product from his company, which represents said product as having been made by NikonUSA, that it darn well ought to be made by NikonUSA?
Having attempted to do all of the above, I resorted to warning other unsuspecting Amazon customers by providing product feedback. Amazon determined that my feedback—in which I simply suggested that the expensive lens may, in fact, be a product of the gray market, and the warranty, useless—was inappropriate, and did not meet their guidelines.
They apparently did not understand how much more inappropriate I could have been.
What brought this all up today was a TV commercial I saw for an Amarillo-based business, in which the owner noted the many benefits of shopping in an actual store, and not online. Among them, being able to smell the real scent of the candles, and to touch and feel the quality of the material. I suppose another benefit might be the ability to punch Jeff Bezos in the face for selling me a gray-market Nikon lens, had he the temerity to set up shop on Sixth Street in Amarillo or Main Street in Canadian, and meet the public eye-to-eye.
The commercial struck me as very effective. Well, fairly effective. I cannot remember the name of the business. But the point was well-taken.
One of my favorite places to shop in Amarillo—there being no alternative in Canadian—used to be Hertner’s Camera & Digital Imaging on Sixth Street. In fact, that’s where I bought my first Nikon camera and my first Nikon AF-S f/2.8G zoom lens, where the certified warranty was duly honored, when needed, and that lens properly repaired.
Unfortunately, Hertner’s closed its doors in 2008 after 58 years in the camera business, and three years before I bought the second lens from Amazon. According to Hertner owner, Cindy Eastland, the advent of digital cameras—which replaced the need for her lucrative film-processing service—and of once-loyal customers flocking to online stores, had killed her business.
Cindy’s wasn’t the first locally-owned, small retail business to suffer such a fate, and hers is far from the last that will disappear from our proverbial “Main Street,” only to be mourned years hence, when its absence exposes our newfound dependence on the world-conquering Amazon.
For my part, I’ve sworn off of Amazon and its ilk—or am attempting to do so—and am taking my business back to Main Street, while there still is one.
I believe the eighth step is making amends.