Surprising Solutions to the Amazon Problem: How I Boycott Amazon and It’s Not That HardJuly 16, 2015
As was probably obvious from yesterday’s super-long anti-Amazon post, I’ve spent a decent amount of time researching Amazon and coming to the personal decision not to shop there. One common theme in those articles is how hard — some say impossible — it is to actually stop buying from Amazon.
Of course, we should probably do the right thing even if it is difficult, but life can be tough and there are about a million important causes that want our attention, so I do understand the reluctance to stop using something like Amazon that seems to make life easier. Is it annoying to quit Amazon? Sure, because it’s annoying to change pretty much anything that plays a substantial part in our lives, at least at first. Is is inconvenient to quit Amazon? Yeah, a little bit. But it’s certainly not impossible — I know, because I’ve boycotted Amazon for years now (the notable exception being my Kickstarter). And not only is it not impossible,* it’s actually pretty easy.
As is probably clear from the fact that I wrote a blog and a book (The Localist) about local shopping, I try to buy things from locally owned, independent stores whenever possible. I find almost everything I want, and certainly everything I need, in those shops. But this tactic breaks down a bit when I’m looking for electronics or office supplies, and it’s not always a viable option for people who live in small towns (where small shops have been run out of business by chains) or in huge cities like New York (where lack of individual transport forces customers to carry most purchases unless they buy them online).
So how do I avoid Amazon in those cases? By remembering that shopping responsibly isn’t black-and-white; there’s a really big gray area of good, better, best.
Why shop locally?
The two main reasons to shop locally, in my opinion, are autonomy (which decisions are made on the local level instead of the corporate one and how humanely are employees treated) and economics (how much money goes into our local and national economies). By both measures, Amazon is pretty much the worst of the worst, since it treats its workers and suppliers terribly and tries to avoid paying taxes whenever possible. Even Walmart, certainly no corporate saint, pays taxes (because, as a brick-and-mortar, they have to). In other words, to me, shopping at Walmart is better than shopping on Amazon … well, less bad, anyway. (I boycott Walmart, too, but hopefully you get my point.) If you’re wanting to avoid Amazon, here are a few tips that might make the impossible seems a lot easier:
Shop Independent, even if you don’t shop local
While it’s best to buy local and independent (and a simple Google search might reveal that a lot more products than you might think can be sourced this way), it’s also pretty great to buy from independent shops that aren’t necessarily local. You could buy books online from Powell’s or BookPeople, for example, if you can’t fine a locally owned bookstore.
Buy from Etsy and eBay
Buying independently made products gets an A+ as far as autonomy goes. As far as economy? Independently made products benefit the U.S. economy, and while that may not keep as much money in our particular state, it’s far better than sending the money overseas (where it’s likely funding cheap and inhumane labor practices). This means sites like Etsy and eBay can be good options, since they’re full of individual sellers.
Brick-and-mortar big box stores are better than online big box stores
In a pinch, it’s better for our local economy (and sometimes for autonomy as well, depending on the business) to buy from a brick-and-mortar store that’s actually in town than to buy something online, since physical stores have to pay more taxes (usually far more taxes) than online sellers do. That means I sometimes buy printer cartridges at FedEx or Rite Aid when I can’t find them locally, and I don’t feel bad about it. (Okay, I feel a little bad about it, but not too much.)
I think the best (or at least the most practical) way to be a localist is to shop local-ish. When we try to prioritize buying local and independent, we end up doing most of our shopping locally. In this case, “most” is actually pretty great. And when some really specific computer cord can’t be found anywhere else but Amazon, I personally think it’s not such a problem to buy it on Amazon. While it’s true that you might not love giving even $10 to a destructive corporate behemoth (I know I don’t), a purchase here and there is far better than pouring hundreds into the system every few months. Allowing small purchases from chain stores and even Amazon can be an important part of shopping local, because we’re more likely to commit long-term to shopping small if we don’t make the commitment so strict that it seems impossible.
Going cold turkey and quitting Amazon seems daunting, but I know from experience that it really isn’t. It’s actually pretty refreshing, and far simpler than I’d thought it would be. It also, by the way, saved me a lot of money — since pausing, thinking and searching for products does take a bit longer than simply clicking, I gave myself time to realize I didn’t really need a lot of things my trigger finger was itching to buy. It seems like a lot of people were disappointed that they didn’t save money during Amazon’s Prime Day. If you’re on that list, maybe going on an Amazon fast for a month or two might be a way to add up to more savings than even a big sale would. And it’ll really help your local economy, too.
Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.
* Amazon does own some proprietary software that’s used by other companies, and they have their hands in a lot of businesses, so it would be difficult to be sure to never use Amazon in any way. But it’s pretty easy to stop buying from them directly.