My Amazon Boycott | A Work in Progress
Monday 21st October 2019
Nearly three years ago in January 2017 I promised myself that I would no longer contribute to Amazon’s profits, and I stopped shopping with them altogether. I removed my card details from my account and pledged to buy less, buy direct and pay more for the things that I really need or want in life. I object to Amazon’s way of doing business. They don’t pay enough tax, they treat their staff poorly, and their rock bottom prices, whilst enticing, encourage wasteful over-consumption. Whilst I long ago stopped buying books and music on Amazon, favouring bricks and mortar bookshops and record stores, or buying direct from musicians and bands at shows, until January 2017 I used the Amazon marketplace to buy things like camera batteries and replacement parts for household items whenever something broke.
Since I began my Amazon boycott I have bought from the Amazon website just once in the past three years in order to spend a gift voucher I was kindly given for my birthday last year. I have switched from Amazon to Ebay for all of the other little bits and pieces as, just like the Amazon marketplace, Ebay allows me to connect with small businesses and buy secondhand from private sellers using a secure payment method (PayPal). I am fully aware that Ebay isn’t perfect, but in the absence of brick and mortar options on the British high street, it’s a compromise I am willing to make in order to avoid Amazon, which I consider the bigger evil.
That said, it has come as a surprise to me how often Amazon creeps into my purchases even when I don’t deal with them direct. On Saturday morning whilst Ed was making a cup of coffee, the glass on our Bodum coffee press shattered. We’ve had the same coffee press for ten years and since the case and handle are intact I thought it would be simple enough to order a replacement part on Ebay rather than buy a whole new coffee press. I found a seller, placed my order and thought that was that. Until this morning, when the doorbell rang and I opened the door to a courier holding an Amazon box with my name on it.
‘Fulfillment by Amazon’ is a service Amazon offers to small and medium sized businesses. For a fee, a private seller can store some of their product range in Amazon fulfillment centers across the country but list their products elsewhere on the web including common marketplaces such as Ebay and Etsy. Once an order is placed on Ebay, Etsy or elsewhere, the order is processed by Amazon. This is how I found myself in the position of having ordered a replacement glass for my coffee press on Ebay yet receiving an Amazon box in the post.
Amazon fulfillment is frustrating, because it’s very hard to avoid this interaction with Amazon as it is a hidden transaction. It only becomes apparent that you have contributed to the already healthy lining of Amazon’s pockets when the items you have ordered arrive in the post. Amazon Fulfillment is also problematic as it is changing the shape of our marketplaces by stealth. The more sellers use ‘Fulfillment by Amazon’, the more bargaining power Amazon have with delivery companies and Royal Mail to drive delivery costs down, and so it becomes a positive feedback cycle whereby sellers are at a disadvantage if they avoid using Amazon’s fulfillment service. In a world where the majority of customers only care about getting their hands on the product for the lowest price, independent sellers are at a disadvantage if they choose not to use Amazon Fulfillment. It appears that it’s simply not cost-effective to avoid it once you scale your business beyond a certain point.
I need to be more careful with who I order from on Ebay. I try to stick to private sellers rather than business sellers, and if I find a business listing on Ebay I will go out of my way to order from them direct. For example, Musicroom is a company that sells sheet music online. They list their products on Ebay (without Amazon Fulfillment) but they also have their own website and so if I want some new sheet music, I buy from them direct. Sometimes I get it wrong, like I did with the coffee press glass, and it is at times like these that I find myself really frustrated by Amazon’s market dominance.
I am not against successful businesses, big businesses or even chains just because of their success or size, but rather because of how some of these businesses conduct themselves. My problem with Amazon, Facebook and Google (to name the big three) lies in how they have been ruthless in destroying or buying up all competition, their disregard for privacy, and how they treat others, including their own employees. I don’t want to support companies who micromanage their staff to such an extent that toilet breaks are timed and staff who witness a colleague die in front of them whilst at work are immediately told to get back to putting packages in boxes. I don’t want to support companies that give financial support to groups and individuals who deny climate change, and I don’t want to support companies who allow far-right propaganda and hate speech to spread on their platform and absolve themselves of all responsibility as a publisher.
I am not perfect, and there are decisions I feel I have had to make despite my feelings about the big three. As a self-employed photographer and filmmaker, I want and need to get my work seen by potential clients, and so I rely on Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Google (for SEO as most people use Google as a search engine) for exposure and I pay them with my data, though I will never give them a penny of my own money in advertising revenue or otherwise. I don’t like their way of doing business and I don’t want to use them, but to avoid them entirely (block Google from listing my website, and to not use Instagram) would mean putting myself at a disadvantage in business by effectively being invisible online. This same conundrum is faced by individuals and businesses who sell physical products; to avoid Amazon is to walk away from one of the largest marketplaces and make life harder for yourself by having to compete with their lower overheads.
I am frustrated. I don’t know what the answer is at the moment, but I will continue my Amazon boycott and keep my hopes up that with time, they will be held to account. I am aware that I am not perfect, and that my decision to boycott Amazon is a tiny drop in the ocean, but it’s something I feel strongly about and can take action on, and so I have. If you feel the same way, I encourage you to take action too.