It’s become a fact of our sad, meaningless lives that Amazon is big. The $810 billion e-commerce giant is taking over our world in almost every capacity. It’s both extremely visible and disturbingly invisible, building new headquarters in U.S. metropolises, amassing unprecedented tax benefits, buying up more companies in nearly every industry, and commanding an ever-larger share of online sales. For conscientious consumers, now may be the time to start thinking about ways to resist.
There are more than a few reasons why people should consider halting their Amazon use, beyond its sheer immensity. For instance, the company has a notably poor record when it comes to its warehouse conditions, and these warehouses are becoming more prevalent as Jeff Bezos expands his domain. The founder himself is one of the richest people in the world, and as his company rakes in profits, it has been squeezing smaller entities out of business. The Amazon playbook is to extract as much labor out of its workforce for as little money as possible through technology and automation. Meanwhile, small businesses continue to flounder as a result of its domination.
The only real way to fight back is with your wallet, but for such a large company, it may feel impossible. Here’s our guide for beginning the journey to boycotting Amazon:
That one simple thing…
First, let’s get to the easy stuff. If you want to live the Amazon-free life, the first step is … not shopping at Amazon! Get rid of your Amazon Prime account. Don’t shop on the website. While we’re at it, stop using Amazon products like Echo. Voila!
The best alternative is shopping local. I know this sounds trite, but it’s also true. Shopping from smaller shops will probably be more expensive than Amazon’s low prices–but if you’re able to shell out a few extra bucks, it’s definitely worth it. Go to a local bookstore. Brick-mortar retail stores are dying out, so if there’s a small one near you, why not support it?
If you need to shop online, maybe try the website of your favorite local store, or even eBay or Etsy, which will also support individual merchants. You may be tempted to look toward other bigger platforms like Jet, which is owned by Walmart, and while it’s not Amazon, it’s not much better, either. Target is another viable option, although it, too, is a big corporation, albeit a less ubiquitous one than the Amazon behemoth.
The ethics of shopping online can be challenging, especially since Amazon secretly owns a lot of companies you may not even know it owns. If you’re serious about going Amazon-free, here’s a list of Amazon subsidiaries to avoid.
- AWS Elemental
- Alexa Internet
- Blink Home
- Brilliance Audio
- Double Helix Games
- TenMarks Education
- Whole Foods
Watch what you watch
Entertainment is another growing area for Amazon, and there’s only one way to avoid it: Stop watching Amazon Prime Video. This means no The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Transparent, or Homecoming. You’ll have to make do with streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (and soon Disney).
Amazon also owns IMDb, which is the go-to source for film industry information. You could also stop using that, although this might prove difficult if you work in the movie business. If you’re a filmmaker, you should also know that Amazon owns Withoutabox, the movie-submission platform.
Look at the politics
Another way Amazon is growing its clout is in the political realm. As it builds new headquarters and expands its operations, it often tries to curry favor with local lawmakers. There are a few reasons for this. One, the company is trying to pave the way for favorable legislation, but it’s also hoping to accrue new clients.
Stacy Mitchell, a co-director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), explained to me via email that many local governments are now signing large contracts with Amazon for office and classroom supplies. The ILSR investigated the contract that Amazon signs with local communities and found that it “lacks standard safeguards to protect public dollars, and it puts cities and schools at significant risk of paying more.”
“When cities shop with Amazon, they are, in many cases, undermining their own tax base by shifting their spending away from local companies that create jobs and pay taxes locally,” Mitchell explains. She also recommends people contact local and state governments to urge them to rethink their business dealings with the company.
I reached out to Amazon about these criticisms. The company provided me with the following statement regarding the ILSR report:
In September of 2016, Prince William County Public Schools issued a formal request for proposals (RFP), subject to full and open competition, for an online marketplace covering ten purchase categories. Amazon Business was one of 12 suppliers that responded and, after formal evaluation, which included performance and cost criteria, we were awarded the contract. As a result, we signed a multi-year contract whereby U.S. Communities-participating agencies can now take advantage of Amazon Business’ dynamic marketplace pricing, helping to ensure competitiveness and best-value pricing for education and public sector organizations.
The competitively-solicited contract helps education and public sector organizations purchase directly from the Amazon Business marketplace, which includes small, local and socio-economically diverse businesses. More than 90,000 public sector organizations, from individual schools to school districts to higher education institutions across the nation, can now access multiple purchasing categories in an online marketplace, as well as be confident that they are receiving dynamic and competitive pricing. We have seen great progress to date and look forward to continuing to work with Prince William County Public Schools and U.S. Communities.
Going beyond commerce
Now let’s get to the harder stuff. One of Amazon’s burgeoning businesses is digital advertising. Though it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to Google and Facebook, this segment of Amazon’s business is growing larger and larger every year. And the company has been known to advertise on some questionable properties–which has led to calls for boycotts. You can read up on movements like Sleeping Giants that have tried to make people aware of Amazon’s advertising program.
If you still have your Amazon account, try to limit the amount of data the company collects from you. You can go to your advertising preferences and choose to not receive personalized ads. While this won’t stop the company from placing digital ads in front of you, it will mean it isn’t using your online history to power its advertising engine.
Meanwhile, you can stop the company from tracking your browsing by clicking “browsing history” at the top bar, “Manage history,” and then turning browsing history to the “off” mode. These are all small steps, which ironically involve you having an Amazon account in the first place, but they limit the amount of data the company can use to further its advertising ambitions. Your data is every tech company’s currency, and your best defense is to limit the amount they have.
Facing the dark cloud
Finally, we have the toughest cookie to crack: Amazon Web Services. While Amazon is known for e-commerce, one of the ways it’s been able to make so much money is by secretly underpinning much of the web through its hosting services. In Q3 of 2018, AWS earned $6.68 billion of revenue, which accounted for 56% of Amazon’s entire operating income. As the company hosts more sites, the more ubiquitous and powerful the entire business becomes. Many competitors are realizing this threat and have decided to use other hosting services, but that hasn’t stopped this segment from growing. (And boy is it growing!)
One easy way to fight this is to stop hosting your websites on AWS. It’s as simple as that. Another extreme measure you can take is not visit AWS-powered sites. This is actually possible, as it turns out: One enterprising person built a helpful script–it’s a bit technical, but you can find the instructions here. When implemented, it makes it impossible to visit any AWS site, although a word to the wise, doing this will significantly handicap your web viewing experience. Indeed, services and apps including Netflix, Spotify, Reddit, and even this article here are hosted on Amazon’s servers.
The bottom line
Of course, it’s true that an Amazon boycott very likely won’t accomplish much. The company is so vast–and has become so engrained in our culture–that it’s nigh impossible for a critical enough mass to make a real dent. Still, decoupling your relationship with Amazon any way possible helps you, at the very least, become a more conscious consumer. Amazon’s business imperative is to make everything frictionless and easy–it wants there to be no choice but the cheap Amazon products right in front of you with the click of a button; it wants all consumption to be powered by its own engines.
Think about Amazon Go, the company’s cashier-less stores that are slowly expanding to cities around the United States. Here is a very blatant example of Jeff Bezos’s aspirations. He wants consumers to go into a store, see an item they like, and then pick it up and leave without even thinking of it like a purchase. He also wants to erase the need for human labor like cashiers. By creating even a mental distance from this dystopia, you are fighting the future the company is slowly building.
Currently, there are legal movements to define and limit Amazon’s conquest. One scholar named Lina Khan wrote a paper about the company’s antitrust leanings, and how current legal frameworks aren’t adequate to address the threat posed by Amazon’s size and dominance. She’s now advising various politicians and organizations about how to prevent Amazon from becoming over-encompassing. Meanwhile, the company has an uphill regulatory battle in Europe, which already implements much stricter antitrust laws.
Put together, there is a growing movement to quell Amazon’s recalcitrant growth. It may seem like an un-winnable battle, but if Amazon’s size concerns you, the only way to go forward in the coming year is to be both informed and intentional. And those are two words that go against Amazon’s business strategy.