How to Break Free of Amazon During Quarantine and Beyond
Few companies are benefiting from Covid-19 as much as Amazon. Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man and Amazon is now larger than Walmart, so big that Elizabeth Warren, during her presidential campaign, argued for breaking up Amazon due to the fact that it now controls nearly 50% of all e-commerce sales nationally — a figure that has likely grown in the past few months.
In a world where it is no longer easy or, in many cases, possible to visit your local grocery store or mall, defaulting to Amazon Prime is understandable. In fact, for the most part, consumers love Amazon. In a recent U.S. poll ranking confidence in institutions such as the military, nonprofits, the press, religion, the FBI, and tech giants like Amazon and Google, Amazon ranked higher than all other institutions, aside from the Military. In an era of hyperpartisanship, we seem to agree to like Amazon’s cheap prices and convenience.
But that convenience comes at a high price for society and local communities. Amazon did not grow just because of better technology and management than its competitors. Amazon is built on exploiting workers, degrading the environment, selling low-grade products, and ignoring even the bare minimum when it comes to corporate responsibility. Moreover, Amazon misinforms consumers to sell products with fake reviews proliferating on the platform, boosting the sales of subquality or counterfeit products.
Because Amazon’s behavior has proven so exploitative during this crisis, we should, at the very least, stop using its platform. Here are some unexpected Amazon-owned products you might be using and ethical alternatives to help you get through the quarantine, Amazon-free.
In the past few years, Amazon has also moved more and more into the tech space. The Kindle e-reader was launched in 2007 and now has over 70% market share. Eero mesh Wi-Fi networks, Amazon Fire, Ring doorbells, Twitch live streaming, and Whole Foods Market are all part of the Amazon empire, turning what was once a website to order books to an all-encompassing platform that can control everything you purchase.
The product that may pose the biggest growth opportunity and risks to consumers is Alexa, the leading voice-controlled A.I.-enabled assistant, which has allowed Amazon to enter our homes and listen to us — all the time. And then there’s Amazon Web Services (AWS), which powers Netflix, Adobe, ESPN, Lyft, Slack, and so many other apps and websites that it is nearly unavoidable.
We may not be able to avoid AWS, but we can choose to shop elsewhere, to pay a little more at a local retailer, and support our local economy.
Today, Amazon is the third biggest company in the world by market capitalization, and one of the big four tech giants. As it grows its tech footprint, its dominance of e-commerce has become nearly complete. Amazon gets upwards of 2 billion monthly visits — more than that of the next nine largest e-commerce sites combined. The truth is, many of us no longer know where else we can buy things online besides Amazon.
So when we’re all locked in our homes, this company that has done so much harm is being called, without irony, the “winner” of Covid-19.
In many ways, Amazon reflects America. Despite a growing economy, we have more poor children, a larger homeless population, and more low paying jobs than ever before. When real wages have barely budged in decades, it’s not surprising that Amazon’s low prices, like those of Walmart before it, are what people desire. Others have no choice, such as residents in food deserts, rural regions, or other places where local alternatives no longer exist.
We may not be able to avoid AWS, but we can choose to shop elsewhere, to pay a little more at a local retailer, and support our local economy. Amazon’s biggest markets are some of the richest regions of the United States. San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., have one-hour delivery for a reason. Amazon has penetrated the urban middle and upper classes in a way that Walmart, long a retailer of the suburbs and rural America, never has.
Instead of Amazon, try these alternatives — from companies that keep money in the community, treat workers fairly, and care about their responsibility to the planet — now, and after the lockdown is lifted.
Ethical and local alternatives
Safeway and Kroger, the parent company of several grocery stores such as Ralphs, Dillons, Fred Meyer, and QFC are both mostly unionized and provide workers decent wages and benefits. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1439 is currently fighting against Kroger’s decision to stop giving workers a $2/hour hazard pay. Meanwhile, unionization is something Amazon has actively, aggressively resisted.
Costco requires a membership and sells mostly in bulk, but they’ve been paying fair wages (and benefits) to its mostly full-time employees for years, and ranked first in wages among major U.S. retailers.
For sportswear and outdoor clothing, REI is a consumer cooperative — meaning members own shares in the company — and is known for treating workers well, and playing an active role in social issues. Meanwhile, Patagonia can be pricey but they are among the leaders in ethical fashion.
Online only ethical brands like Fair Trade certified Pact Apparel, Fair Indigo, and Prana are also worth checking out. When the lockdown is lifted, consider taking a trip to your local thrift store, such as Goodwill and The Salvation Army, where the proceeds of sales go to nonprofit charities.
For e-books, Kobo is an alternative e-reader to Kindle that directly integrates with Overdrive’s Libby App. This allows you to check out library books in e-pub format. Amazon, which wants you to only buy and rent from its store, no longer directly supports this, requiring you to use complicated workarounds.
There aren’t many independent electronics stores anymore, but you can still find Best Buy in most major metropolitan regions, and they deliver nationally. They will often price match Amazon, too. You might also consider eBay. Costco sells electronics, too.
Have a brand in mind? Try buying from them direct — and cut out the Amazon in the middle.
If you are able, visit your local corner store, farmer’s market, or ethnic grocery store. They are likely struggling due to Covid-19 and often carry a wide range of essentials — some have even reported that they are more likely to have toilet paper in stock than Amazon or big box retailers.
Small changes matter
Amazon is a reflection of an increasingly unequal America where wealth is being concentrated in even fewer hands.
Our communities suffered as local businesses were unable to compete with a giant that disregarded its role as a corporate steward. It’s too late for Amazon to redeem itself. Our purchases have power. From today, and thereafter for as long as possible, send a statement. Amazon’s low costs are too high a price for society to bear.