The First Amazon Order I Ever Placed Was The Death Knell Of My Job

There’s a meme going around Twitter, which I quite like: “Let’s play a game. Go to Amazon, to “Your Orders,” and with the year drop-down, find the earliest year listed… and then RT and tell us what the FIRST thing you ever bought on Amazon was. Bonus points for it being nearly 20 years ago. ūüôā

I didn’t need to look it up. ¬†I vividly remembered my first order from Amazon, because it told me I was going to be out of a job soon.

See, at the time, I worked for Borders Books and Music – the #2 biggest book store in the nation, a rising competitor to Barnes and Noble, and damn proud of how we weren’t just more profitable than Barnes and Noble, we were better. ¬†We were the first to put coffee shops in our stores, we had quizzes we gave our clerks to ensure they’d be educated, we had nicer wood shelves and hefty paper bags. ¬†We were the luxury experience.

And we’d been hearing a lot about this Amazon.com thing. ¬†Dot-coms were a big deal. ¬†And Borders was thinking about getting into the online game – because that was optional then – so they tasked me, the local Internet addict, with placing an order from Amazon, just to report back to the bigwigs¬†what the experience was like.

This was in early 1998. ¬†If you’re paying close attention to timelines, that was already too late¬†– Amazon had been open for four years already. ¬†But we were arrogant, convinced there was nothing some upstart Borders¬†couldn’t do that we couldn’t do better, so we slept on it. ¬†And I should have known better personally, being an Internet nerd, but I was high on Borders’ supply.

I remember sneering as I logged in. ¬†My password for Amazon was, and still is, a preening insult about how superior Borders is – a fact I consider three times a month when I log in to order from Amazon Prime. ¬†And I ordered a CD I’d been thinking about getting – Repeater, from Splitsville. ¬†It was nice to know that I’d be reimbursed for my $13.47.

They told me it’d take 5-7 days for delivery. ¬†“Ha!” I spat. ¬†“Who’d wait that long?”

I got it three days later.

And I remember that package waiting on my doorstep Рbecause packages were kind of a new thing back then.  Most people did almost all of their shopping in real life, because mail-order catalogues were inconvenient and slow.  To have a package on your doorstep had kind of a mystical component to it, because whoah, here were goods delivered to you from afar.

I was thrilled to have something waiting for me. ¬†It had been quick. ¬†And convenient. ¬†(And¬†back then, they’d ¬†always padded their delivery estimates by¬†a day or two so you’d be thrilled when it arrived “early.”)

I remember picking it up, looking at the snazzy, sharp-printed logo on the package – and dammit, I was excited. ¬†I’d been expecting a drab manila envelope, but this was a luxury delivery. ¬†And when I zipped the package open, expecting to find just a CD,¬†it was also stuffed with bright fliers – another surprise.

I don’t remember what those fliers were, but I remember reading them in excitement.

And I remember the shame when I recalled that this was the enemy, I shouldn’t be happy about this delivery –¬†followed by that sinking sensation that if I was this happy, how would ordinary customers feel?

I remember bringing in the entire package in the next day to my bosses, saying, “We have to get into the online business now. ¬†These guys are serious.” ¬†And I remember the way my bosses sifted through the package like it was evidence from some crime scene, nodding sagely, not understanding what this meant.

I left the company in 2000. ¬†They went out of business in 2011. ¬†And I’ve written about the many reasons why Borders never managed to compete online – I gave some insider knowledge of the infighting that doomed Borders.com, and talk here about why generic physical bookstores have a hard time¬†competing with online ones. ¬†(Specialty stores have an advantage.)

But really, it all comes down to that first thrill of the package. ¬†That sense that I’d ordered a CD and gotten an experience to rival Borders.

That first Amazon package told me that Borders was in big, big trouble.  And now, in 2018, Borders has been dead for seven years and Amazon is chugging on.

I’ve kept my Amazon password – the one that shits on Amazon and touts Borders. ¬†I never save that password in my browser. ¬†I make myself log in with that damned password.

It keeps me humble.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous Alex
    Feb 5, 2018

    Although I spent plenty of time in bookstores back when they were plentiful, what I miss is not so much the generic bookstores as the used bookstores. Mostly the smell and the fugue state that they would lead me into.

    Somewhat to my surprise, my first Amazon order was in 2001, though in my defense I didn’t have another one until 2004.

    -Alex

  2. sc'Que?
    Feb 7, 2018

    Same with Encore Books & Music. I managed the (independently operated) coffee shop. We were high-end: amazing, locally roasted coffee, locally made desserts, Boar’s Head meats for our sandwiches and house made-soups–in a kitchen that was no larger than most home bathrooms!

    Our bookstore shelves were well-maintained, well-stocked. Our staff was passionate about books and knowledgeable in their field.

    So, yeah… we were smug, too. Because NO INTERNET BOOKSTORE could possibly deliver what our brick-and-mortar bookstore had! (Truly. There is no denying it.) Live entertainment in our cafe, a special 5-course Valentine’s Day dinner-for-two–again prepared on-site, in a tiny-tiny kitchen. Old and young alike felt like family in our store because we did not discriminate… unless you drank at Starbucks or shopped at Barne’s & Noble or Amazon.

    Still waiting for that locally-blended, traditional mezo-american-style chai latte to be delivered by drone. Banking it will be cold when it arrives.

    • sc'Que?
      Feb 7, 2018

      ps. My first order was in September 2009. I was attempting to obtain some BIA brand, bistro-style pasta/salad bowls that I’d purchased at my local Wegmans (and were Wegmans-branded)… but which Wegmans discontinued before I could “piecemeal” purchase an entire set. THIS WAS ALSO THE BEGINNING OF THE DOWNFALL OF MY LOCAL WEGMANS STORE. #Wegmans

    • sc'Que?
      Feb 7, 2018

      ps. That was from 1994 – 2000.

      My first Amazon order was in September 2009. I was attempting to obtain some BIA brand, bistro-style pasta/salad bowls that I‚Äôd purchased at my local Wegmans (that were Wegmans-branded)‚Ķ but which Wegmans discontinued before I could ‚Äúpiecemeal‚ÄĚ purchase an entire set. THIS WAS ALSO THE BEGINNING OF THE DOWNFALL OF MY LOCAL WEGMANS STORE–and the chain, at large. #Wegmans

  3. StripedSocks
    Feb 10, 2018

    I’m glad to see you posting. I hope that means things are better.

    My first Amazon purchase was in 2000 and must have been a present for someone as it’s a Planet of the Apes VHS tape that I don’t own nor do I remember ever buying.

    *SQUISH*

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