This post first appeared in our weekly Make Waves Mondays email series on June 14, 2021.
Okay, friend. It’s time. We gotta do the thing. We gotta talk about Amazon.
Prime Day is coming. Let’s be prepared for the onslaught of marketing coming our way.
(This is a long one! You may wanna listen to this one like a podcast!)
Back in January, I posted the following in the EcoWarrior Pod:
Okay, fam, I have a question.
I don't understand Amazon Prime. Like, straight up, my brain cannot understand the appeal. I've never had it, and I've never felt like I'm missing out. I don't find it any more convenient than buying from anywhere else (and I'm one of the laziest people I know), and I still get free shipping on the very rare occasion that I do order from Amazon.
So the other day I chatted with a friend about it, and here's how it went:
Him: "Well, you just don't buy stuff."
Him: "So that's the difference. You don't need Prime because you don't buy stuff."
Me: "But don't you just buy stuff because you have Prime?"
Me: "So if you didn't have Prime, you wouldn't buy as much stuff?"
Him: "Yeah, but I like Prime because I buy stuff."
Me: "So you're spending money on a membership that does nothing else but get you to spend more money on stuff you don't need?"
Him: "I mean....yeah....but you don't buy stuff so that's why you don't get it."
So you see, friends, it was very circular and I'm still not convinced. Can ANYONE explain the appeal of Amazon? Or the logic? This is a real question, I really want to understand it - I'm not slamming anyone (except Amazon, I'm always slamming Amazon, come at me, Bezos 💪).
I got a lot of really helpful responses, but in the end the thread just led me deeper down my path of avoiding Amazon. And in preparation for today’s post, I did a lot of research. And, honestly, it was really hard. Even as someone who doesn’t shop from Amazon, has never had a Prime membership, and doesn’t understand the appeal, reading the news articles surrounding Amazon and Bezos was infuriating.
But, you know me by now, and you know that I don’t operate out of anger, guilt, anxiety, or despair.
I operate out of hope and for a vision of what our world could be. I’ve got big dreams for the world and I’m not letting them go.
So, yes, first we’re gonna dive a little deeper into the problems with Amazon, but you can be certain that once we’re through that, there’s gonna be a ton of resources and tips to help you break up with Amazon once and for all.
Oh and we’ll have a healthy sprinkling of gifs along the way.
Let’s do this. 💪
When you search “how many boxes does Amazon ship every day?”, the automatic result is 1,600,000 packages. But, uh, that number is from a decade ago.
In July 2020, Amazon shipped 415,000,000 packages.
That’s more than 13,000,000 packages, Every. Single. Day. 13 MILLION.
Amazon shipped more packages in one month than there are people in the entire United States.
So what does that mean for waste?
These are all very rough numbers and don’t take into account plastic envelopes, but we can produce about 151 cardboard boxes from one tree. That means that every single day in July 2020, Amazon was using the equivalent of more than 86,000 trees - just for boxes. Every. Single. Day.
And what about emissions?
In 2019, Amazon released a report that they emitted 44.4 million tons of carbon in 2018. Apparently, that’s about the same as the entire country of Norway’s emissions in a year. We would have to plant more than 734 million trees and let them grow for 10 years to offset those emissions.
Then, Bezos announced in late 2020 that he will be donating $10 billion to a new project he’s created - the Bezos Earth Fund - to fight climate change. This sum of money is the equivalent of just 5% of his [current] net worth. And also, will apparently be spent over the next decade. In comparison, experts estimate we’ll need somewhere between $300 billion and $50 trillion to solve the climate crisis in the next two decades.
So is $10 billion a sh*tton of money? Yes. Absolutely.
But for someone whose net worth grew by $75 billion in one year and paid literally zero taxes on it, and whose company saw an 84% increase in profit in the middle of a global pandemic, and will be slowly spending this money over the course of a full decade when two years ago scientists told us we had just 12 years to solve the climate crisis? Do better, Bezos. Do better.
Related blog post: The Environmental Impact of Online Shopping
Small Business Impact
Let’s talk about AmazonBasics for a hot sec. AmazonBasics on the surface seems great for consumers. Lower prices, easy to find on the Amazon listings, quality products (question mark?).
But did you know that AmazonBasics is literally preying on small businesses? The ultimate predatory move.
Amazon is a marketplace, ideally for other businesses to showcase their products to consumers who would otherwise not find them. But what’s really happening below the surface is...well, unfortunately, not all that shocking.
Amazon uses its massive access to big data to track what products sell well on its platform. When they find a product doing well, they’ll turn around, mass produce that exact same item themselves, then use their own technology to boost their product in the listings and push the original product to the bottom.
Yes, this is actually happening. And it’s legal.
Amazon has created, on the surface, a marketplace for businesses around the world, but just below the surface, it is a platform for mining data to put small businesses out of business and profit off their own products in the process.
Do better, Bezos.
Audible - an Amazon service - is gatekeeping access to audiobooks through their Audible Originals program. They offer premium rates to authors who publish their audiobooks exclusively with Audible, which obviously incentivises authors to do just that.
This means that no other independent bookstores OR LIBRARIES can access these audiobooks.
Amazon literally has a monopoly on certain knowledge and entertainment, and keeps them behind a paywall.
Do better, Bezos.
I feel like Amazon is constantly in the news for its poor treatment of its employees, specifically its warehouse workers (the entire backbone of their company), so I won’t dive too far into this because it’s already everywhere.
But I will highlight two things I learned in my research.
First, Amazon has the highest injury rate among warehouse workers. In 2020, this meant 5.9 accidents per 100 employees working full-time for a year. Across non-Amazon warehouses, that number is 3.1 accidents.
As if that number isn’t bad enough, it actually DECREASED significantly from 2019, when it was at 7.8 accidents per 100 employees working full-time for a year.
The reason this number decreased?
Because Amazon loosened performance metrics and gave their employees more time to wash their hands.
If more time for employees to wash their hands reduces your injury rate by 24% - wtf are you doing, bro?! How incredibly hazardous are your daily working conditions that just giving people 20 SECONDS to wash their hands reduces their injury rate by that much?!
*deep breath, Krystina*
And second, I’m just gonna copy this quote from a USA Today article from an Amazon warehouse employee who was injured on the job.
“In my warehouse in Tulsa, Amazon distributes a pamphlet to workers that calls us “industrial athletes.” The pamphlet outlines how we should take care of ourselves like professional athletes, and how some positions require us to carry 20,000 pounds or walk 13 miles every day, while burning 400 calories per hour. It recommends we get massages to increase circulation and allow muscles to relax and to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables and lots of fish and nuts.
The thing is, we’re not professional athletes earning millions; we’re regular people who are paid as little as $15 an hour, working 10-hour shifts and forced overtime with little rest in between shifts.”
I have nothing more to say to that.
Oh except, do better Bezos.
In 2020, 130,000 independent businesses closed - most of them likely forever. And this number doesn’t even include micro-businesses without any employees (technically ya girl falls in that category).
From April 2019 to April 2020, the number of people who were self-employed dropped by 20.2%.
But when we break that number down even more, we learn that for Black and Asian Americans, that number was 37.6% and 37.1%, respectively. 26% for Hispanic Americans and 22.1% for women.
Shocker, the people least impacted were white men.
While all of this was going on, Amazon’s revenue increased by 38% from 2019 - an increase of $100 BILLION.
And their profit? Well that increased by a whopping 84%. If your revenue (the total amount of money coming into your business) is increasing by 38% but your profit (the amount left over after all expenses) is increasing by 84%... that feels shady.
And while their profit increased by 84%, Audible (aka Amazon) had the AUDACITY to launch a campaign asking bloggers to do pro bono work for them. This one left me speechless. If there is literally any company that should never be asking for pro bono work, it’s freaking Amazon.
Probably how their profit increased by so much…
Do better, Bezos.
Money savings impacts?
Let’s go back up to my initial conversation with a friend that sparked this whole thing. I couldn’t understand the appeal of Prime, when it seems to me that the only reason to have Prime is to buy things you don’t really need but want to buy because you have Prime.
Welp. Turns out this isn’t just in my head.
Amazon Prime members actually spend about $1,400 every year on Amazon. Toss on $119 for the membership itself and you’re looking at more than $1,500 every year.
The average consumer spends about $600 a year.
So, like, is that free shipping really saving you money? Or is Bezos convincing you to spend MORE money because, well, “free” shipping?
Speaking of free shipping…
I have to put this out there, too. Free shipping isn’t really free. And it’s killing small businesses.
Amazon has put this expectation into the world that everything should ship free and ship fast.
And Amazon can do that pretty well because they run their employees ragged and do most of the shipping themselves - or use Amazon Flex where everyday people deliver their packages for them and pay for gas, insurance, and taxes out of pocket.
But small businesses… We rely on services like USPS to deliver your packages to you. And they charge us for it (as they should; they have people and bills to pay, too). And depending on where we ship and how heavy or how large our products are, that can get expensive.
But if we don’t offer free shipping, our businesses are less likely to survive. So we either have to eat the cost (with typically small margins on our products to begin with), or we have to raise the prices of our products to compensate for the price of shipping.
It’s the cost of doing business, yes, but the point here is that free shipping isn’t actually free. Someone is paying for it, and Amazon has made this cost of doing business even more costly for small businesses.
Also...in the case of Amazon Prime, you’re already paying for the price of the membership so free shipping is definitely not free anyway.
Marketing psychology is fascinating. But that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another day.
Now, the part you really came here for.
How to break up with Amazon
Okay, enough of the bad. Let’s move onto some tips and resources for finally ditching Amazon.
Pledge to Shop 1 in 5
Sometimes, we just gotta make the decision to do something, right?
Well, last winter, after the havoc COVID wreaked on small businesses, the women behind The Product Boss podcast launched the “Shop 1 in 5 Pledge.” The Shop 1 in 5 Pledge encourages us all to make just one in five of our purchases from a small business - whether online or offline.
One in five is doable, right?
Maybe it’s shopping at the mom and pop grocery store in town, maybe it’s a dinner out with your SO, maybe it’s a bath bomb for the new mom that needs a little “me” time.
Whatever it is - will you take the pledge to make one in five of your purchases from a small business?
When you buy from a small business, a real person does a real happy dance. You’re helping them pay rent, send their kid to dance lessons, care for their parents, and further support local economies.
Jeff Bezos doesn’t do a happy dance when you order from him. No, siree.
How do I find small businesses?
First, hello! I’m Krystina and I’m the owner of this little business right in front of you - A Drop in the Ocean. We’ve got all the sustainable essentials to keep your life fun, beautiful, and simple.
Second, if you’re in Tacoma and on Facebook, check out the Helping Small Businesses of Tacoma Facebook page. It’s a great community of people all looking to support small and local businesses in their everyday purchases - everything from soaps to roof repairs.
Third, no matter where you live, Google “small businesses near me.” When I do this, I get a ton of results from the city, from social media, from independent websites, all with lists of local, small businesses to support.
And lastly, when they made the Shop 1 in 5 Pledge, the ladies over at The Product Boss also created a massive directory of small businesses.
The directory is broken down into 15 different categories, so you can easily find what you’re looking for. Baby & Kids, Wedding & Party, Pets, Food & Treats - just a few of the categories in the directory.
When I asked the EcoWarrior Pod that first question, several responses mentioned the ability to send food and care packages to family members across the country. And now, with the small business directory - there are so many small food businesses to choose from!
And on that note…
What if I want to send a gift?
The most common response I got to my question was that it was easy to send gifts to friends and family from Amazon.
But remember that happy dance I mentioned? Yeah, at least for me, that happy dance is even bigger when I see an order with a note that says “This is a gift! Can you include a note that says [message]?”
HECK YES I WILL DO THAT FOR YOU! And I will do it with the goofiest grin on my face.
You see, my friend, it is an honor to receive an order in my shop. Truly, an honor.
But when you order something as a gift for someone else… omg. It’s the best feeling in the world. Because that means that not only do you like the products I’ve curated here, but you like them so much you want to share them with a friend. THAT’S HUGE. That is - omg - the biggest compliment and such an honor. I’ll hand-write that note any day.
Like, I’m excited just thinking about these moments.
Obviously, I can’t speak for every small business owner, but I know I can’t be the only one that feels this way. And you’ll only get that from small businesses.
You could even reach out with a budget and a theme and I’ll put together a gift pack for you. And again, I know other small businesses that will do the same.
Gifts are the bestest.
Breaking the Habit
Okay, friend. You’ve got the resources now. But let’s back up for a second.
Remember how I said Prime members spend about $1,400 a year at Amazon compared to non-members who spend about $600? Turns out Amazon addiction is a real thing.
And as we strive to live lighter on the planet, we need to remember that we cannot consume our way into a sustainable future. Even if the things we’re buying are “eco-friendly,” they become less eco-friendly if we could have done without it in the first place.
Remember the 6 Rs of Zero Waste?
Those first three are all about bringing less “stuff” into our lives in the first place.
Kathryn Kellogg over at Going Zero Waste has a 30 day rule. If she thinks she wants something, she makes herself wait a full 30 days before buying it. This way, she knows whether she actually wanted or needed it, or if it would have been an impulse buy.
Can you give this a try for a month, too? Maybe even start with waiting two weeks, instead of a full month. See how it goes!
And while you’re perusing the virtual Amazon shelves, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I really need this particular item right now?
- Do I already have something I can use in its place?
- Can I get it from my local Buy Nothing group?
- Can I borrow it?
- Can I find it secondhand?
- Can I buy it somewhere else?
- Can I buy it directly from the brand?
- Is buying this item from Amazon worth supporting Amazon’s harmful practices - for both planet and people?
I’ve pulled together some of my favorite alternatives to buying from Amazon, to make it as easy-peasy as possible to start.
- Buy Nothing group
- Library (many libraries have audiobook options, too!)
- Libby - an app that connects to your library for e-books and audiobooks
- A tool library (we’re super lucky to have one of these in Tacoma - maybe your city has one too!)
- Friends and family
- Coworkers (I got my food processor by asking in an inter-office communication board if anyone had one lying around they didn’t want.)
- Facebook Marketplace
- Local independent bookstores (if you read books, please help keep these in business!)
- Libro.fm - an Audible alternative app that lets you buy audiobooks directly from your local bookstore
- Go directly to the vendor you find on Amazon
- Small business directory
If you have any resources to add to this list, please comment below and share with everyone! I’d love to hear more ideas.
I’ve also pulled together my favorite zero waste resources and added a whole new page to our website. It’s not an exhaustive list, but I’ll continue to update it as I think of new ones :)
*phew* Dang, that was a lot. How are ya feeling? Hopefully empowered and excited to start breaking up with Amazon!
If you’re ready to start, I wanna hear how it goes! I’d love to hear any progress or breakthroughs you have. Can I please celebrate with you?!
Alrighty, my friend. I’m tired of typing now 🤣 So I’m gonna go get some ice cream from a local shop, and I’ll see you next week.
Sources + Additional Reading
Forbes: Amazon’s Net Profit Soars 84% With Sales Hitting $386 Billion
LinkedIn: How to support small businesses selling on Amazon
The Atlantic: Stop Believing in Free Shipping
Mashable: Elizabeth Warren is coming after AmazonBasics. Why Amazon shouldn’t fight it.
Mel Magazine: The Unsettling Psychology of an Amazon Prime Addiction
Philanthropy News Digest: Bezos Earth Fund names president and CEO, will spend down by 2030
SBA: The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Small Businesses
Statista: Average annual amount spent on Amazon according to U.S. Amazon Prime and non-Prime members as of March 2019
The Morning Call: Amazon workers left out in the cold
The Wall Street Journal: Covid-19’s Toll on US Businesses?
USA Today: Hoisting heavy bins, racing the rush of orders, Amazon doesn’t keep employees like me safe
Wired: Jeff Bezos wants to fix climate change. He can start with Amazon.