NEW ROCKFORD, N.D. — Charles William Anderson wakes up and puts on pants from Amazon, then heads to the kitchen to brew coffee from Amazon in his coffee maker from Amazon.
As he sips his morning coffee sitting in his chair, also ordered from Amazon, he looks around the room to see other items from the world's largest online retailer, including the ottoman, air conditioner and exercise bike, just to name a few.
There are more than 62 million customer reviewers on Amazon. The site's leaderboard shows a ranking of the top 10,000 reviewers worldwide — and for the past month, the No. 1 reviewer happens to be a man in an Eddy County town of fewer than 1,500 people.
Anderson, 66, is only the 12th reviewer to gain the top ranking since 2000. Amazon factors a user's number of reviews and when other customers say a particular review is helpful or not to come up with its rankings.
Online, Anderson goes by “Andy,” or C Wm (Andy) Anderson. No one reading his reviews knows where he lives or what he looks like — his profile picture is of his orange tabby cat, Rocky.
Rocky and the rest of Anderson's small fleet of pets — cats, dogs, turtles and tortoises — assist in his ravenous reviewing.
“My border collie, Daisy, is not especially particular, but she always must sniff any new food offering in her determination as to eating or refusing,” a recent grain-free dog food review reads.
But the products Anderson tests and writes about run the gamut: air fryers, laptops, printers, a popcorn maker, herbs and spices, vacuums, towels, bedsheets, Bluetooth speakers, a snorkel mask, an electric mixer, even a toilet plunger, toaster and motor oil.
He even rated a Segway five out of five stars for its smooth ride, despite the fact that he exceeded the weight limit. And he shares all this with wit and humility.
“Y’all are going to want to read this with some discretion. When I ordered this, I didn’t notice the maximum weight limit of 220 pounds (100 Kg). My weight exceeds the limit by about 70 pounds, on a good day. So, you can imagine my concern," Anderson wrote. "Was I going to break my leg or arm? As a safety technician with decades of experience, I well knew the humiliation I might face if I did have an accident. Folks at the plant where I work have been, figuratively, taking bets."
As for the backyard foot golf set, he said it didn't live up to his expectations. “Definitely not practicable for North Dakota winds,” he wrote in his three-star review.
'Is it Christmas yet?'
A room in Anderson's home is jampacked with products, a swath of which were sent to him free of charge for being part of Amazon’s Vine Program.
Angie Newman, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company launched Vine to carefully facilitate reviews in which the customer was provided a free or discounted product in exchange for a review. Vine applies to all product categories, she said, except for books where Amazon continues the "age-old practice of providing advance review copies of books."
"We only invite our top, most trusted reviewers into the Amazon Vine Program," Newman said in an email. "These Vine Voices post authentic reviews (both positive and negative) about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make informed purchasing decisions. Amazon provides Vine Voices with products for review. Reviews are not influenced or edited by Amazon or selling partners. Every review from the Amazon Vine program is clearly labeled."
Anderson said he's not allowed to give away or sell any of the Vine products. They have a combined market value of about $23,000, which he said is not money to put in his pocket, but he still has to pay taxes on it. For that reason, he's starting to cut back on Vine products.
But his wife, Dina, said the UPS driver was delivering armfuls of Amazon boxes on a regular basis for years — sometimes as many as 12 packages in one visit.
"The UPS driver always comes to bring us boxes. He was coming every day with a lot of boxes, and I don't remember if it was June or July and (he said), 'Is it Christmas yet with all these boxes?'" she said with a laugh.
Reading and reviewing books is where Anderson invests most of his time.
Scrolling through his list of nearly 2,500 reviews, it’s obvious that Anderson is obsessed with books. Hardcovers fill shelves in his New Rockford home, but he mainly downloads and reads books these days on his iPad.
The first review he ever wrote on Amazon was back in 2002 for the book “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” a 1926 autobiography of a British soldier. Later his review was picked up by the Finest Hour Magazine through the International Churchill Society.
“It got me hooked on reviewing, the fact that someone cared about what I had to say,“ he said.
Anderson said reviewing books is not like book reports students write for school. “They want to know how it affected you. What kind of an experience will I have? Will I enjoy it? Is there violence? Sex? How is the writing?” he said.
Dina said her husband is very thorough and honest in his reviews, sometimes going back to update them after discovering something new about a product.
There's a wide range of products he reviews — and that appreciation of variety also applies to his life. He has lived around the world and dabbled in different industries.
Anderson now works four days a week at Sioux Manufacturing in nearby Fort Totten where the corporation specializes in making Kevlar.
Over the course of his life, he's owned a bakery in Oregon, worked for a small newspaper, started a magazine for $22 and had a 10-year stint in the Navy as a nuclear welding inspector. He worked as a quality control and safety manager for construction companies in Cairo, Egypt, for a total of 16 years, and that's where he met his wife.
They moved to New Rockford in 2009, and he started taking the Amazon review business seriously a few years later.
“I had no hope of ever getting in the No. 1 position, but I thought I could get to No. 10 because that’s when you’re inducted into the hall of fame,” Anderson said.
Yes, Amazon has a hall of fame for reviewers.
So he started cranking out the reviews, sometimes as many as six in a day. He reached the top ten this January and thought, “If I keep pushing, maybe I could make No. 1.”
Even by 2014, his ranking had reached 370th but took a dip to 812th the following year. That’s around the time Amazon introduced the “not helpful” button for customers voting on helpfulness of reviews. The website removed that feature last year, he said, but naturally his reviews don’t sit well with some because they are political.
“I’m trying to accomplish some purpose,” Anderson said of his book reviews. “To have some impact on the political discourse in this country. The importance to me is making a difference... to get my voice heard.”
Anderson’s ultimate review is in the works now: He’s writing a series of books about reviewing for Amazon, how he got to No. 1, what works and doesn't and why it matters.
“You don't do it for money or fame — although fame has its value because someday we all die,” he said. “I wanted to write the next great American novel, but that time has passed.”
The books will be released on Amazon, of course, and available on Kindle.