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Maybe you’ve seen the headlines about Amazon’s alleged unsustainable and unfair working conditions. Maybe you’ve grown concerned about the massive wealth chasm between the company’s founder and its 1.3 million employees.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed several mom and pop-owned businesses close their doors during the pandemic, while Amazon earned billions. You may be embarrassed about the amount of money you spend at the retail behemoth. Or maybe you just want to better support minority-owned businesses.
Whatever the reason, you may be compelled to quit Amazon for good.
In our house, we receive anywhere from five to 10 boxes per month from Amazon (or an Amazon subsidiary like Zappos) and do the majority of our grocery shopping at Whole Foods, now owned by — you guessed it — Amazon. The company has a wider reach than you may know.
So, is it even possible to ban Amazon from your life?
Julie Scelfo, a New York-based journalist, author, and mother, officially kicked her Amazon habit in 2019 for “a combination of reasons,” she told me. Between the excessive packaging that made recycling a “part-time job,” the financial toll on mom-and-pop stores, and the overtime delivery teams suffered around the holidays to get Amazon packages to doorsteps, Scelfo had witnessed enough. The site was once her go-to for everything from laundry detergent to books, baby gifts, and kid clothes, but she banned it altogether.
As an activist, this isn’t Scelfo’s first retail boycott. Several years ago, she gave up the Gap when she saw the clothing store monopolizing city street corners and edging out smaller shops. “I’ve always tried to spend my dollars in line with my values.” But, she admits, “it’s not so easy.”
If you’re interested in shifting your spending away from Amazon, here’s how to begin, from strategies and mindset shifts to tips on finding your new favorite businesses.
Start with Baby Steps
While Scelfo went cold turkey two years ago, for others this may be difficult.
Living in a central location like New York City, it may be easier to avoid Amazon and shop at alternative retailers and still receive deliveries in a reasonable amount of time. But if you live in more remote parts of the country, your options may be limited.
And certain Amazon-related routines might be harder — or even impossible — to break. (Sorry, but my Twitter habit isn’t going anywhere.)
If you’re intent on moving away from Amazon, you can start gradually. Vow to avoid the online retailer during the holidays or birthdays, for example, which will mean planning your gift purchases well in advance if you hope to get them delivered on time. This will also ease the fear that you have to maintain this new routine forever.
You can also start by shifting your spending away from Amazon in a single category of merchandise (like clothes, pantry goods or toys) and toward alternative vendors. (More on how to do that below.)
Personally, I try to avoid purchasing books from Amazon and, when possible, buy from our local bookseller in town. If not in stock, a book usually takes a week to arrive at the store, at which point I drive over to pick it up. It’s not a big deal and worth it to know I’m supporting a favorite local business.
Squash that Overwhelming Sense of Urgency
The convenience of Amazon may feel impossible to live without because we’ve been conditioned to expect items to arrive within 24 to 48 hours at our doorstep. And we’ve grown to love this. But just because you can get some items at lightning speed, do you really need to?
Scelfo was further convinced banning Amazon was the right move for her family after noticing her kids would complain when items didn’t arrive within a couple days. (Sound familiar?) “I don’t want to live in a world where the expectation is that you snap your fingers and the Pokemon toy from the other side of the world shows up the next morning,” she says.
“We’re accustomed to having access to so many things night and day,” says Scelfo. “But to have this kind of immediate gratification I think is really troubling and certainly not worth putting people’s lives at risk.” There have been multiple recent reports about Amazon warehouse workers being overworked during the pandemic.
If the item is something you need urgently like prescriptions or milk, I get it. Paying extra to have these items delivered — especially during a pandemic — can be money well spent. But better planning (i.e. anticipating what you’ll run out of in a week and stocking up now) can go a long way in avoiding those last-minute necessities.
And for all those “wants,” which, let’s be honest, are most of our purchases, we can experiment by opting for slower shipments or in-store pick-up. Try it for a week.
Finally, remembering all the extra (and harder) labor and overtime needed to get us something ASAP might convince us to select the five-day delivery button — or that we might not need the item at all.
Identify Your Many Shopping Alternatives
You might be overlooking other options simply because it’s easier to jump on to the site you know. But alternatives are out there. “There are a million different ways now that you can shop online and support local and independent stores,” says Scelfo.
A few of my go-tos include Thrive Market for some food and pantry items, Etsy for crafts, furniture, and decor, and Better World Books for gently used books.
Your local shops are, of course, a worthwhile place to spend, too. Many shops now offer curbside pick-up to minimize storewide foot traffic during the pandemic. Think of your purchases as investments in the store’s future and the ability to one day return to casually browsing. “I can’t wait for COVID to be over and be able to go out shopping again and go into the street,” says Scelfo. Check out Instagram, NextDoor, or Facebook community boards, where local business owners tend to hang out and share news, for local recommendations.
And if you just can’t find what you need at smaller shops, some “trustworthy” bigger stores were recommended by Wirecutter, a division of The New York Times, when Amazon was having supply chain issues. Their suggestions include Best Buy and Target for small appliances, Home Depot for large appliances, Buy Buy Baby and Hanna Anderrson for kids clothing, and IKEA for all things kitchen and dining.
Prepare to Pay a Little Premium
I would argue that it’s a privilege to be able to move all your purchasing decisions away from Amazon, since you might end up spending more time and money than you’re used to, at least at first.
For many households, Amazon is a speedy, reliable, and low-cost source for essentials that can be difficult to purchase in the middle of a pandemic. A friend of mine says she’s especially grateful for Amazon in recent months, as she’s been able to help her elderly parents stock their home and avoid unnecessary trips to the store.
Amazon’s savings on items in every category are hard to beat. In fact, JPMorgan once estimated that the $119 Amazon Prime membership is actually worth closer to $800, thanks to all its freebies and perks.
But if moving your money away from Amazon is personally important to you, start within reason. If an item costs more elsewhere, be sure to stock up when it goes on sale. You can also join a warehouse club like Costco to bank on bulk discounts.
Don’t think of this decision as cutting something out of your life, but rather about incorporating something new. “It’s less about how to boycott a particular vendor, but more [about] how to shop with more conviction,” Scelfo says.
Know That You’re Not Going to Save the World (But You Might Save Something)
If your goal in banning Amazon from your life is to force it to change its business practices or bring down the online commerce giant altogether, I have some unfortunate news: It probably won’t work.
The breadth and depth of Amazon’s customer base makes it almost impenetrable to small fluctuations like cancellations. Take Twitter. The social media platform recently signed on to a multi-year deal to use Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing subsidiary of Amazon that generated nearly $12 billion in revenue in the third quarter of 2020 alone.
“Put it this way: In the United States, Prime subscriptions run around $120 annually. If 100,000 subscribers simultaneously cancelled their memberships, the loss would be equivalent to 0.0005% of AWS’ annual revenue,” writes self-described journalist-activist Justin Ward, in a 2019 Medium post.
Instead, you can be confident and satisfied knowing that your spending shifts toward local and small businesses can help to move the needle in those owners’ worlds. They can better pay their bills, support their families, and keep their businesses running. That’s where your impact will make a difference — and that’s a great thing.
Keeping Voting with Your Dollars — And Your Actual Vote
The Biden administration has been vocal about being “pro-union.” The administration is proposing labor law reform that supports workers’ rights, including at Amazon.
If your boycott symbolizes your disappointment in Amazon and you are hoping for real change, let your wishes be known to your elected leaders by writing or calling your state’s governor or U.S. representative. Know that your vote matters just as much, if not more, as where you spend. In 2019, Amazon quit its plans to open a New York City headquarters after backlash from lawmakers and activists, among others.
Cutting Amazon out of your life might seem like a big move, but starting small, shopping local, and reminding yourself why you’re making the change can help enforce new habits.