Filtered email inbox demonstrating that Amazon emails stopped specifying the item purchased or shipped and now only show the order number
We used to buy things, now we buy numbers.

In the first half of 2019, and for years before, when I completed a checkout on Amazon, they would send me one email (from confirming what I’d ordered, and a second email (from telling me my order had shipped, when I could hope to see it arrive, and what the tracking number for it was. The whole process was as straightforward as those email addresses. If I wanted to see when I’d get my new stuff, I could just glance through my inbox or search on the subject, and then open the email, if I needed, or just click the Track package or View order link.

But a couple months ago, the Monopolistic Website with the Smile on the Box made a change: No longer could I see in the subject line what I’d ordered. My inbox simply began to report Your Amazon Order Number 111-2222222-3333333, for confirmation or order-management emails, or that Your Amazon Order Number 111-2222222-3333333 Has Shipped, for shipping/tracking emails. To find out any more details—say, if Order Number 111-2222222-3333333 is my monthly purchase of coffee or my one-time (I hope) emergency purchase of a new coffee maker—I would have to open the email itself. Because I, a lowly human who expects computers to remember complicated details for my benefit and not the other way around, do not categorize the memories of my purchases by way of 17-digit numbers. (I don’t always remember my own Social Security Number, which only has nine digits, none of which have ever changed.)

When I opened those reconfigured emails, I saw what I expected: the contents of my order, where it was being sent, maybe when it would arrive. And since I’ve been working in eCommerce for more than two decades, I expected the rest of it, too: An ad at the bottom of those emails for the newest Alexa-enabled product, or, more often, for products bought by other people who’d also ordered a next-day delivery of a new toilet tank, or a nudge to add some decaf to my coffee order. I know from upselling, and it doesn’t offend me.

Screenshot of shipment-tracking email. The email only describes the order as an order number, never states the contents of the order, but does advertise two "Top Picks for you" suggestions.
Looks like I paid Amazon $19.28 for 17 digits and 2 hyphens. They arrive on Friday.

This summer, Amazon took another step toward owning my inbox: emails from auto-confirm or from its colleague shipment-tracking no longer tell me what I ordered. Not anywhere in the email. The total I spent or the shipping address is still there, and so is the button to View my order or Track my package—the advertising is still there, too—but if I want any details? Minor details, like what is the thing I ordered that is being confirmed in an order-confirmation email (or, in a worse-case scenario, a thing bought by my kid who has figured out how to sweet-talk Alexa)? If I don’t remember, offhand, the order number for my new push lawn mower versus this month’s supply of our office manager’s favorite doggy treats? Since sometime in June, the only way for me to find that out is by visiting Amazon itself. To spend more time on the site, to see more advertising, and, maybe, to make another purchase or two.

If you’ve got Gmail, and if you don’t delete your Amazon confirmation and tracking emails, try searching and to see when your orders stopped giving you order details along with advertising and when they became two new ways to upsell you every time you make an Amazon purchase.


Also published on Medium.