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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Amazon Has Conquered Christmas—but Its Reign May Be Ending

The problem with Amazon’s own-brand mince pies is that they’re delicious. For years, the ecommerce giant has stuck its fingers into every pie going—Amazon wind farms and an Amazon airline are no longer something to Amazon Blink at. Yet now Jeff Bezos has stuck his finger in the pie pie: For £2.04 ($2.50), British Amazon customers can get six deep-filled “by Amazon” mince pies delivered to their door. 

(For those unfamiliar, a mince pie is an individual spiced fruit Christmas treat with absolutely no meat in it, no matter what that one American food blog said in 2019.)

And yes, the trouble is that Amazon’s taste great; they’re packed with orange peel, French brandy, port, and apple mincemeat (thankfully not Apple mincemeat, though it’s only a matter of time). The pastry is crumbly and sweet. The filling—rich and generous—shares at least one thing in common with Amazon’s founder. And so with every bite it becomes harder to resist the gradual monopolization of the entire planet by a man who throws his head back when he laughs. 

In 2019, US senator Elizabeth Warren vowed to break up “big tech companies” that have “too much power over our economy, our society, our democracy, and our little Christmas treats.” (She might not have said that last one.) Concerns were growing about Amazon rigging search results to favor its own brands over competitors’ products—a practice the company denied. Still, Amazon seemingly scaled back promotions of its private-label products as a result. 

Things looked good for third-party sellers when, also in 2019, research by ecommerce analysts Marketplace Pulse found that “Amazon-owned private-label brands are not nearly as successful as many paint them to be.” The report found that only 1.7 percent of the top 500,000 search terms on Amazon result in a customer clicking on an AmazonBasics-branded product.

Except … two years later, in 2021, Amazon came out with its own mince pies. Does it matter that I don’t know who makes them—that their pretty purple box is ominously signed by an anonymous figure known only as “The Baker”? Alas, no, because they taste better than the pies offered by at least two major British supermarkets. With their humble silver-foiled bottoms and sugar-coated tops, they could be the most disruptive tech product of the past decade. 

In such an environment, how can Mom’s home baking compete? Customers seem to agree. Amazon’s mince pies have a 4.4 rating out of 5 after 117 ratings; reviews indicate that someone named John and someone named Sandra continued to buy them well into January. 

So is this it, the final nail in the coffin, the last time we try to resist our new insect overlords? Perhaps not. While Amazon may have mastered the mince and conquered Christmas, it might be too late. According to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon began cutting back on its private-label products this summer after poor sales. While it’s unclear whether Amazon’s food brands will also get the chop, the company still only controls 2.4 percent of the US grocery market, even after purchasing Whole Foods for $13.7 billion in 2017. 

Amazon Pieme may not be enough to turn things around. If you told most Brits that Amazon had nestled into the beloved Christmas treats market and started making its own mince pies, they’d be bewildered. In August, Amazon halted its rollout of brick-and-mortar Amazon Fresh stores across the UK after sales were poorer than expected in its existing 19 shops. 

Caveat: That might have something to do with the fact that I managed to grab my mince pies and walk out of the store without checking out (thanks to sensors, this is how the high-tech store operates) and without paying (this is not how the high-tech store operates; my card payment failed, but I wasn’t notified until later).

As lip-smacking, waist-pinching grandmas have long told us, there’s no such thing as a truly guilt-free mince pie. Buy Amazon’s and you might just bolster the company least in need of bolstering in the entire world. But also—truthfully, regrettably, Ghost-of-Christmas-Future-is-shaking-his-head-at-you-lly—you’re going to have a delicious time.

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