Recently, I was watching a Twitter conversation where the querent was trying to figure out how to trace their residential history for a credit questionnaire. A reply came in from across the Internet(s): Why don’t you just check your Amazon account history?
Giving it some thought, it’s rather remarkable what history can be found in most Amazon accounts. Most people in my generation with any technology predeliction have probably been using Amazon for over a decade now. That Amazon address page is a veritable scrapbook, a walk down memory lane across past permanent and temporary residences, family homes, ex-boyfriend homes, etc.
My first Amazon purchase: A Pikachu cuddle pillow (which I still have 11 years later), on August 6th 2000. Classic Cheryl. As for the rest of the world, I can see this becoming an interesting meme (#myfirstamazon, anyone?) though Amazon would probably lament the demand on their recently deployed order report generation system.
And that’s clearly just the tip of the iceberg. Want to see what you ordered in the year 2000? Amazon will help. It’s staggering to me to consider the scope of human behavior that can be modeled using Amazon’s vast databases. It’s hilarious to see the three-month hole in my ordering history that corresponds with my time at Disney World – and then the minute I got back, I ordered two Disney items and a Pokemon plush. As if that weren’t enough: as a Seattle area resident, I’ve also put my grocery-ordering eggs (ha) in the Amazon basket – so in addition to knowing about my fondness for Pokemon, they also know how much almond milk I’ve consumed over the course of 94 orders since September 2008. (The answer: 161 containers.)
In one report, I can see my first Christmas order with Amazon. That was in 2000, before they had figured out holiday ship sourcing, and my packages didn’t come on time. I ended up going home for Christmas and needing to re-spend that precious money (as a broke college student) to “save” my Christmas. Eventually I got back to Pittsburgh and got through the (then more complicated process) of getting a refund, but that event caused an 9-month gap in my ordering history. I was very upset, and it took a long time before Amazon won me over again, even after I slowly began to return.
It’s amazing how much they’ve turned that ship around since then – that I’d trust them with so many orders, and still think their customer service fair and responsive, is a minor miracle compared to how my perception of the company started. They’ve harnessed the power of community, creating one of the most trusted sources for customer opinions out there. They were one of the first to implement concepts like the Wish List, shipping memberships, and all with a largely straightfoward interface that is continually copied. (UX-wise, their pages are a bit run-on for me in the bottom half, but that’s a minor complaint.) And every once in a while they find a way to make me happy at no additional cost to me – like adding streaming Sesame Street episodes to Prime member benefits this month. *muppetSwoon*
Here in the future, Amazon is one of the most comprehensive digital scrapbooks out there… replete with orders that indicate important events in our lives (like camera purchases right before a vacation.) What can they tell us about how we live? Can they predict how likely someone is to travel within a month after purchasing a digital camera, for example? Predict the next date of my next order, even if I can’t?
I’m glad that Amazon, to this point, seems reasonably responsible about the trust we’ve placed in them as a company. (I’m especially glad they haven’t stooped to the Facebook sandbox yet – I like that they’re a separate, trustworthy entity unto themselves.) Even after that rocky Christmas in 2000, I eventually woke up one day and realized how much I depended upon Amazon – at which point I ran out and invested. My growing dependence upon Amazon has left me unable to comprehend a universe where I go to the STORE to buy things, so I hope they continue to thrive.
And I’m curious to see if Amazon will be the entity telling future generations how we lived, once upon a time. I dare you to go back and look at some random snippet of your item order history and see what it tells you about the old you.