David Rafferty (opinion): Why free sex toys came in the mail

David Rafferty (opinion): Why free sex toys came in the mail

Turns out I’m not the only one in town getting unwanted sex toys in the mail. Or to be more precise, receive them from Amazon. I’m not one to judge, but if this is a real trend, it certainly has the potential to get pretty awkward. “Grandma, open this box and tell me if I got my new screwdriver set from Amazon.” Ouch!

OK, where are we going with this? Well, at a time when you thought the world couldn’t get any stranger, and just in time for the holidays, comes a whole new internet-based annoyance, thanks to a particular symptom of the 21st century economy, which infiltrated the still very young online shopping company.

Young? Haven’t we been shopping online forever? OK Boomer, no. According to Money magazine, the first online consumer purchases were made in 1994, which in case you were wondering, was a full year before Amazon sold its very first book. Before 1994, if you wanted to buy something from your couch, it usually involved a phone, an 800 number, and a long chat with a customer service representative who actually worked somewhere in that hemisphere. It was clear, direct and simple.

Today however, buying online is hardly simple. According to the latest data, more than 75% of Americans will shop online at least once a month, with half shopping at least 2-3 times. More than 50% will buy from Amazon. That’s a lot of shopping. But how do you know what to buy? Well, over 63% of all Americans, whether they intend to buy online or in-store, begin their shopping research online, agonizing over their decisions using online tools such as likes, reviews and customer feedback. And given that e-commerce business is valued at $5.3 trillion, it’s no surprise companies are turning to less scrupulous ways to tweak these tools to claim bigger slices of that pie. .

One of these sleazy new settings is called “brushing”. Initially harmless to the consumer, brushing is a scam used by marketers to manipulate the data you want to trust when looking for “the best” of anything you’re looking to buy. Data, in the form of fake likes and reviews, that most people refer to when considering their purchases. This brings us back to unwanted sex toys. And besides, brushing does not only concern sex toys. This is just the example that got you reading so far.

For the past two years, nosy homeowners across town have picked up Amazon packages left on their doorsteps unaware they were being brushed off. “Honey, did you order anything? has become a familiar question asked just as the box is opened to find… a keychain, exercise bands, counterfeit Tupperware, shrink-wrapped towels, iPhone cases, massage rollers, a watch, board games, dusters, electrical cords, mini tool sets, picture frames, fun gifts…sex toys…you get the idea (and yes, each of those things was a item delivered to someone locally). These innocent looking and usually very cheap and cheaply made gadgets, gadgets and gee-gaws are sent out to customers who have never ordered them, never paid for them and who usually look at them and wonder, ” What is …?”

So why do companies brush off the unconscious? Well, it starts with third party online sellers wanting to create fake positive reviews for genuine goods, so fake Amazon accounts are created to “buy” those goods, shipping them to random addresses they find online. . But instead of shipping the real expensive items, they ship cheaper, smaller items. Amazon has now been tricked into believing a genuine transaction has taken place, and a verified review can be written. See? No harm to you, and you might even get something moderately useful.

Except remember how we said brushing is “initially harmless?” Last week, millions of shoppers made millions of online purchases based on what they thought were thousands of 5-star reviews. Except the reviews are fake, the merchandise is probably junk, and a lot of people are going to feel like they’ve got a lump of coal this holiday season. What is the moral of this tale? Buy smart, buy local.

David Rafferty is a resident of Greenwich.

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