I’ve been waiting for years for Americans to stop feeding Amazon. We had a good chance last week. Amazon employees in Bessemer, Alabama had the opportunity to form a union. But it didn’t go well. It wasn’t even close. By a margin of two to one, warehouse workers voted against it.
It’s a really disappointing outcome. But it’s also not surprising. Labor unions are weak in America.
You know who isn’t weak? Amazon.
The world’s largest retailer is one of the most powerful entities on the face of the planet. And their union-busting policies are robust, well-funded, and prodigious.
According to many reports, they paid $10,000 every day to anti-union consultants who created an environment of pervasive secrecy, fear, and misinformation. Amazon spies on its employees and fires labor organizers. Bessemer workers were bombarded with anti-union messages in every private space from bathroom stalls to their personal phones. They forced their employees to attend several hours of anti-union propaganda meetings every week filled with ominous warnings about the “union threat” to their jobs. And they fired organizers, made fake social media accounts, and even changed traffic light patterns. They even flat-out told workers they’d lose their jobs if there was a union—all for the single purpose of discouraging the workers from using their constitutional right to organize with each other.
And it worked.
I knew it would. Story after story has made it incredibly clear that Amazon doesn’t give a flaming hot shit about the well-being of their employees. To an extent that is downright cartoonishly villainous! And they don’t have to, because they won’t face any consequences for it.
No legal consequences, because everything they’ve done is perfectly legal.
And no business consequences, because despite everything, you’re still shopping there.
The power consumers don’t have
There’s a popular—and somewhat true—sentiment that there is no such thing as ethical consumption or ethical participation in capitalism.
To an extent, we totally agree. Today, we have the tools to research everything we buy and evaluate its comparative merits over every possible competitor and alternative. But that doesn’t mean we have a mandate to do so!
We lead lives of impossible complexity. When I need lotion for my cracked and nasty hands, I often find myself staring at an aisle full of products locked in analysis paralysis. “Does it work well? Does it smell good?” That’s pretty much all I want to ask myself.
But instead I’m poring over it like it’s the Voynich manuscript, and my life depends on deciphering it before I leave the store. “Was it tested on animals? Are the exfoliating beads biodegradable? Is this packaging recycled? Does this company donate to any politicians I loathe? Are these ingredients ethically sourced? Why does it say ‘paraben free—dafuq is a paraben?!”
Eventually, one of the nice custodians at Target will find me in the fetal position and gently sweep me out of the closest exit with a push broom. I hope the gutter I land in is nice.
It cannot be the responsibility of individual consumers to scrutinize every aspect of everything they buy. Companies are the experts in their industries and products. They need to take enough pride in their work to do the bare minimum for us. (Or submit to the will of regulators who will do it for them.)
That said… consumers do have incredible power. And some decisions are easier than others.
The power consumers do have
Every dollar spent is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. And sometimes people don’t vote—or, as was the case in the Amazon unionization vote, won’t vote in their best interests—because they’ve already capitulated to a narrative that they have no power. I understand the feeling of hopelessness. But hopelessness serves to maintain the status quo.
I think we’ve all seen enough headlines to gather that Amazon is an unusually mustache-twirling, cat-petting, evil-ass company. Stories like these have been in every newspaper, every year, for at least a decade:
- ‘I’m Not a Robot’: Amazon Workers Condemn Unsafe, Grueling Conditions at Warehouse
- Amazon Forced Warehouse Employees To Work In Suffocating 110 Degree Heat
- Amazon Acknowledges Issue of Drivers Urinating in Bottles in Apology to Congressman
- This Is How Much Plastic From Amazon Deliveries Ends Up In The Ocean
- Jeff Bezos Makes $13 Billion in One Day During Pandemic
- Amazon Uses Search to Undercut Small Businesses on Its Site
- How Amazon Exploited a Weakened America
Stop feeding Amazon
I’m speaking to those of you who know it’s bad to shop at Amazon, have the means and resources to stop, but keep doing it anyway: you know you ain’t doing right. It’s time to change your ways and align your spending with your values.
If you have access to all of this information, but you won’t stop feeding Amazon, you’re actively helping them to exploit their workers, run small businesses into extinction, and fill our oceans with unnecessary waste. You’ve communicated that you have no expectations of the businesses you frequent. They can run around like assholes and you won’t mind a bit.
Those pricey anti-union lawyers were paid for by your laundry detergent and your batteries.
Someone pissed in a bottle so that you could watch the season two finale of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
I think you forfeit your right to decry the monstrosity of people like Jeff Bezos if you have the opportunity to stop personally lining his pockets, but choose not to.
And I know it’s harder for some to quit the convenience (more on that in a sec). I also know it can be a little overwhelming to quit something cold turkey without guidance or useful alternatives (more on that below as well). Don’t just slide into our comments to decry the impossibility of quitting Amazon. At least not before you consider how easy it can be for some of us.
Income inequality is a horrific problem that’s actively damaging all of our lives, every day. It’s killing people. And it’s not caused by the spending habits of individual consumers. But it’s growing more deeply entrenched with every case of Amazon Basics Ultra Toilet Paper you ship to your front door.
I play a role in Amazon’s upsetting market dominance. It’s a tiny one. But it’s one I’ve finally started to own.
Next time a warehouse worker passes out in the choking heat of an unventilated warehouse, I don’t want my three-pack of cotton sport thongs to be what paramedics find clutched in his unconscious hands.
So, I quit.
I stopped feeding Amazon my money. And I realized a lot when I did.
How I stopped feeding Amazon
To be clear, I count myself among the very people I’m criticizing. In fact, I’ve ordered way too much from Amazon over the years. In fact, here’s a record of my purchases.
- 9 orders in 2015
- 17 orders in 2016
- 39 orders in 2017
- 56 orders in 2018
- 53 orders in 2019
- 21 orders in 2020
- 0 orders in 2021 (so far)
As you can see, from 2015 to 2018, Amazon was successfully training me to use them as the default retailer for everything. They made it so easy! I’m ashamed to say it took many years of stories about their unethical business practices, horrible environmental impact, and looming monopolistic status to make me question my participation in Amazon’s success.
By late 2019, I vowed to start using Amazon only for purchases where I truly couldn’t find the product anywhere else on the market. Obviously the coronavirus pandemic necessitated a few unplanned exceptions. But for the most part, it worked. My order history became a strange melange of freeze-dried strawberry powder, vacuum filters, and an extra large baseball cap for my partner, who is blessed with a handsome and abundant head.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get my purchases down to a flat zero. If I get through this year with one or two orders of oddments, I’ll still consider it a huge success. Amazon can’t turn a profit on sporadic, niche order patterns.
The real price of convenience
The convenience of Amazon is more life-changing for some than others.
If you’re disabled, or a single parent, or working three jobs to make ends meet, or living in a food desert, saving time and effort on errands may feel like a precious gift. If parents of a new baby want to sit at home and order absolutely everything through Amazon, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash at them. I refuse to minimize the reality that it was easier for me to quit shopping with Amazon because I have the luxury of free time.
But that said… Amazon may have once been an indispensable tool for people in your situation. But is it still the only game in town?
Although their prices used to be the cheapest, the price of Amazon products has slowly crept up over time. On average, most items cost less at big box stores and local chains.
I’m just old enough to remember when home delivery was a rarity. But today it’s a standard offer for any retailer. And the coronavirus pandemic didn’t have many net positives, but here’s one: It normalized the shit out of curbside pickup! You have other options.
Here’s more on what has changed during the pandemic and… it’s not pretty:
- Coronavirus Reveals America’s Pre-existing Conditions, Part 1: Healthcare, Housing, and Labor Rights
- Coronavirus Reveals America’s Pre-existing Conditions, Part 2: Racial and Gender Inequality
- Love in the Time of Coronavirus: How to Protect Your Community and Your Soul from COVID-19
Amazon has built its entire business model around changing your habits. They want to be your default retailer for everything, so much so that you to forget how to shop for stuff any other way. There’s a ton of interesting data suggesting the time and money you perceive to be saved is actually sucked up by browsing more and buying more. So even if Amazon has felt like a godsend in the past, give quitting them a shot.
You won’t miss them
I truly don’t miss Amazon.
Quitting felt great for a lot of reasons. Yes, I feel better about my choice to support local retailers and about my lessened environmental impact. Yes, I’ve been spending less and buying less because every single product in the world isn’t always at my fingertips.
But mostly? I’ve just come to understand that Amazon is a totally shit retailer.
Their convenience masked a lot of serious problems I would never tolerate from another business.
Amazon is an ugly, clunky platform
Amazon’s search function hasn’t been improved since, like, 1997. (If you’re a design nerd like me and you want to know why, here’s a juicy breakdown.)
In general, there are too many products for sale. I just searched for a rather niche item: floral print dog leashes. The search returned over 1,000 products. This obscene amount of choice overload isn’t helpful. It makes shoppers feel stressed and miserable.
Ads clog up the search results. They’re repetitive and often off-topic, and I’m annoyed at how they follow me wherever I go.
It’s stuffed full of garbage products
Amazon has no consistency or quality standards for the products they offer. Looking for something on the site feels like wading through a river of shit the length of the actual Amazon river. (The same thing is happening to Etsy and I’m RENT ASUNDER with disappointment.)
Despite their well-known issues with counterfeit products, Amazon has expressed little interest in combating them. Even before I made my anti-Amazon vow, I’d grown gun-shy about making purchases for exactly this reason.
Customer feedback is broken
And reviews aren’t the only way unscrupulous companies have gamed the system. They’re getting good at collecting positive reviews, then switching the products offered while retaining the old (good) reviews.
And why on God’s green earth have they designed a program that rewards people for answering product questions without auditing their answers?! I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen a legitimate question (“Q: Is this product wool?”) answered with a ridiculous non-answer (“A: I’m not sure.”)
I’m tired of them trying to get me to shop more, spend more, and think less
Amazon uses a lot of tired, manipulative sales tactics. Take the “cross-out price.” Even when the product is selling for more money than ever, they pretend you’re getting a great deal by crossing out a mythical “normal” price. It’s like they think we don’t have access to the rest of the internet.
Free shipping felt like an amazing perk, until I stopped using it. Then I realized how much it was pushing me to make purchases I truly didn’t need.
Don’t get me started on Prime. Prime has always felt like transparent bullshit. It’s a subscription service where you pay for the privilege of making faster and more frequent impulse purchases. I was not shocked at all to learn that Prime subscribers spend more money, buy more things, shop and order way more frequently, and spend more total hours mindlessly browsing product page after product page.
Personally, my life is much better without it. Try it and see for yourself.
Your action plan
If I’ve moved you to use Amazon less, here’s a few actions you can take.
- Stop feeding Amazon by shopping and spending less overall. We have a whole article on Proven Tactics to Avoid Emotional Impulse Spending.
- If you’re feeling really masochistic, look up all your past Amazon purchases. It’s pretty depressing to see all the stuff you thought you needed and question how much of it you actually use and love today.
- Stop feeding Amazon by buying used things instead. Got another one on this too: Almost Everything Can Be Purchased Secondhand. This is a great way to keep unnecessary trash and item transportation costs down.
- Stop feeding Amazon by feeding your local economy instead. Nine million small businesses in America are afraid they won’t survive to next year. A lot of them went into debt during the pandemic, and it’s a make-or-break time for them.
- Stop feeding Amazon by consciously rejecting their conveniences.
- Cancel your Prime membership. If you’ve already paid for it, put a calendar alert in your phone for the week before your subscription ends. Cancel it before they can bill you for a new cycle.
- Turn off one-click shopping and unsave your card information. Reentering it gives me extra time to consider if I truly need what I’m about to buy.
- If you can’t quit cold turkey, at least try to lower your purchase amount and frequency. Every little bit helps.
- Support continued unionization efforts. The fight’s not over. Amazon works really hard to keep rallies and votes out of the spotlight, but they’re happening all the time, in many cities and states. Follow @SupportAmazonWorkers for ideas.
- Pin this article to flood Pinterest with our vile socialist SJW propaganda!