The Goods

Amazon in Retrograde

Astrologers are not pleased with Amazon Prime’s “shopping horoscopes.”

A view of Mercury with the Amazon logo over it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington.

My horoscope for this month starts off pretty ordinarily: “As the days get longer, dear Virgo, your mind will get clearer.” It then advises me to “[l]et go of [my] productivity agenda.” So far, so good. It’s not till the last sentence of it that something feels off: “New music and spring playlists on Prime Music can provide a soundtrack to keep you dreamy.” When did astrology start shilling for Amazon?

There’s an easy answer to that: around February of this year. As Fast Company noticed this week, the company’s Prime Insider newsletter has been sending out “shopping horoscopes” for three months now, matching the 12 signs of the Zodiac to products and services from Amazon. Fast Company regarded these ’scopes with skepticism, and plenty of others reacted with horror. If the idea of a Prime horoscope is out there to begin with, the execution doesn’t do the concept any favors: The recommendations are so generic that they point readers toward things as basic as music (from Amazon), as in the Virgo example; reading material (from Amazon) for Leos; and delivery (from Amazon) for Libras. Uh, thanks?

You know who else disapproves? Actual astrologers. Just ask Susan Miller, who is practically royalty in this realm. “This is a trainwreck, I’m sorry to say,” Miller told me. (In the astrology world, disappointing Susan Miller might be the only thing worse than Mercury retrograde.) “I’m saying to myself, where are they getting this from? They’re not mentioning a new moon or a full moon. They’re not mentioning a planet. There’s such beauty and complexity in astrology that it’s a shame to flatten it and mannerize it into a cartoon.”

If you believe the wave of trend pieces, these are boom times for astrology, so Amazon’s instinct to cash in on the fad makes a kind of sense. Miller guessed that “[t]he men in black, the MBAs, said, ‘Oh, astrology is really big. This is great; it’s bees to honey. We’ll get them to read their horoscopes and then we’ll push our products.’ ” Amazon didn’t share with me when asked how many people its Prime Insider newsletter reaches, but if it goes to most or even a smaller portion of Prime members, that number could be massive.

What makes Amazon’s foray into the zodiac so annoying to, well, everyone? Some would say corporate star charts are an especially crass example of the company’s anything-for-a-sell ethos. From another angle, you could argue that one of astrology’s charms for the young people who have embraced it is its lack of commercial associations: It’s spiritual, it’s mysterious, it’s free. But converting that appeal into a selling point has worked for some brands. When Spotify came out with astrology-themed playlists, I pressed play on the Virgo one. I certainly can’t pretend I’ve never coveted an astrology-themed accessory while shopping at Urban Outfitters. Even Miller writes gift guides from time to time, for chi-chi brands like Tory Burch and Kenzo. Asked about this, she emphasized that she is careful to put thought, and the actual positions of the stars, into the lists when she does.

So why do some corporate attempts to co-opt this draw more ire than others? Something another astrologer said helped me put my finger on it. Madame Clairvoyant, the nom de plume Claire Comstock-Gay uses when she writes horoscopes for the Cut, wrote in an email, “I know plenty of astrologers are troubled by the idea of astrology being ‘dumbed down’ or not taken seriously enough, but I’m not bothered by people using astrology in creative or funny or nonstandard ways. [Amazon’s attempt] doesn’t feel particularly interesting or funny, though, just cynical and joyless. To me, part of astrology’s great appeal is that it offers us a way to see ourselves as people with rich and complicated inner lives that have nothing to do with being a consumer.”

Amazon’s horoscopes aren’t bad because the company is capitalizing on astrology—or not only because of that. They’re bad because they’re no fun.