In theory, Amazon is a site meant to serve the needs of humans. The megaretailer’s boundless inventory gives people easy access to household supplies and other everyday products that are rarely fun to shop for. Most people probably aren’t eager to buy clothes hangers, for instance. They just want to have hangers when they need them.
But when you type “hangers” into Amazon’s search box, the mega-retailer delivers “over 200,000” options. On the first page of results, half are nearly identical velvet hangers, and most of the rest are nearly identical plastic. They don’t vary much by price, and almost all of the listings in the first few pages of results have hundreds or thousands of reviews that average out to ratings between four and five stars. Even if you have very specific hanger needs and preferences, there’s no obvious choice. There are just choices.
The phenomenon repeats for almost all of the everyday objects Amazon carries: phone chargers, water bottles, flat-panel televisions. And it’s not just Amazon. The global-manufacturing apparatus now has the capacity to churn out near-endless stuff. The industry’s output has ballooned 75 percent to $35 trillion since 2007, according to one analysis, and millions of livelihoods depend on its continued growth.
Over that same period of time, Amazon’s success has pushed retailers like Walmart and Target to carry even more stuff—especially online—and to get that stuff to shoppers even faster. The internet-shopping boom has spawned an excess-stuff economy, where retailers like Overstock buy up extra product from full-price retailers. In the case of dropshippers, websites don’t even need to have stuff to sell it: Wayfair, for example, lists thousands of products in scores of categories ..
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