You can quit Amazon Prime.
I did it last week, in response to Amazon firing user experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa. They were protesting the company’s firing of warehouse workers who were themselves protesting for better working conditions.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit “essential workers” hardest, a category that includes doctors and the workers who pack and deliver your online purchases. Some of those workers are currently on strike, demanding hazard pay, adequate sick leave, protective gear, and transparency about the number of coronavirus cases in each Amazon warehouse. The company didn’t immediately respond to Mashable for comment, but it told The Intercept it objects to the “irresponsible actions of labor groups in spreading misinformation.”
Around the same time Amazon was firing those workers, the Wall Street Journal reported that the company has been using data from other retailers to launch competing products — something it testified to the House that it didn’t do.
Imagine a future where the only retailer is Amazon selling its own branded products, and you’ll understand why this isn’t sitting well with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other progressive politicians.
So, back to Prime.
In 2014, the year I joined the subscription service, I barely bought anything on the site. But after you fork over that membership fee, currently $119, it becomes easier and easier to justify buying everything on Amazon. As time goes by, you forget about the fee and start to take two-day shipping for granted.
Imagine a future where the only retailer is Amazon selling its own branded products.
“Well, I’m buying a book. I might as well add some laundry detergent. Oh yeah, and I need a vacuum cleaner. Oh, those shoes look nice…”
But over the last few years, major brands have stopped playing Amazon’s game. Nike pulled its products from the site. So did Birkenstock and PopSockets. In fact, many of my favorite brands don’t sell their products on Amazon. Third-party retailers sell some of them on Amazon Marketplace, which has become a kind of Wild West of unvetted sellers and product reviews.
Meanwhile, other retailers have started offering free, fast shipping, too. (Although, it’s worth reconsidering if you really need that T-shirt in two days’ time.) Fast, free shipping isn’t free of environmental costs, though. As an MIT professor told Bloomberg about two-day shipping: “If you are willing to wait a week, it’s like killing just 20 trees instead of 100 trees.”
And Amazon isn’t the only place to buy books online anymore. Local bookstores are still an option — something I’ve always tried to support. But that became harder once the pandemic hit. Many bookstores are still fulfilling orders online and if you can wait a few weeks for your books, it’s best to buy from them directly. Bookshop.org is a new Amazon alternative that gives a large cut of its profits to independent bookstores.
Look, I get it. Amazon Prime is convenient. You have everything in one place and shipping is free. But here’s the problem: It’s a yoke that not only disincentivizes you from shopping around for better products (sometimes at lower prices), but also encourages you to buy stuff you might not need.
If you’re going to make an impulse purchase, you might as well support a plethora of businesses, instead of making Jeff Bezos even richer (the pandemic actually increased his fortune by $33 billion.) Amazon owns nearly 40 percent of the e-commerce market right now. The coronavirus is going to wipe out many small businesses. Even large retailers like J. Crew and Neiman Marcus could go bankrupt.
When the dust settles, I don’t want there to be only one or two companies left standing. I certainly don’t want my only option to be a retail empire that aggressively fights unions and helps companies extract fossil fuels more efficiently.
At first, I was only curious about quitting Prime. So, on April 20, I signed into my account settings to see when my Prime membership would end. To my surprise, it was set to expire that exact day, with my membership poised to automatically renew the next day.
I resented not being warned I was about to hand Bezos another $119. I was finding stuff I wanted to order elsewhere. And I was scared of how Amazon was taking over the economy.
So it made sense to quit. And even in quarantine, I don’t regret it a bit.