After shopping regularly on Amazon since 2004, I recently quit entirely.
This post will tell you how I did it, how I made the transition to life-after-Amazon as easeful as possible, and how this decision has helped me step into deeper integrity.
Importantly, I am primarily writing this for people who already understand Amazon is detrimental to society, and desire to make the switch, but are overwhelmed by the ubiquity of Amazon and don’t know how to go about it.
I’m not going to lie to you — it will take an effort to break from the biggest retailer in the country. However, my hope is that the strategies & reflections below will cut through the complacency, and bring that part of you that wants to more fully to the forefront.
The post is written section-by-section, so feel free to bounce around the table of contents.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Quitting Amazon Will Ask of You
- 2 How to Quit / What Are the Alternatives?
- 3 Can You Really Quit Amazon?
- 4 Why Quit Amazon
- 5 Summary
What Quitting Amazon Will Ask of You
While it’s easy to focus on looking for alternative retailers, the real way to transform our behavior is to look inside.
Personally, my ability to seamlessly quit Amazon, as well as other things over the years, such as alcohol, fast food & dairy, has come more through introspection than strategy. In turn, here are a few points for consideration that I’ve found very helpful:
Be okay with a little discomfort
I notice three primary types of quitting-Amazon-discomfort, and while I will explore each one in detail, the unifying question is this:
“what’s more important to you: integrity or comfort?”
Really, you could disregard the rest of this post, and just focus entirely on that question. If you maintain a strong conviction that Amazon violates your personal value set, then the details of quitting will work themselves out. But in any case, here are some thoughts on the three types of discomfort:
- Money discomfort. Yes, you might occasionally have to spend 10% more to get your items elsewhere. And yes, it’s very possible you’ll get a little reactivity at spending $20 more to shop elsewhere for your bed-frame-in-a-box, a bottle of vitamins, or a new Vitamix. However, while the typical American ethos is, how far can I stretch my dollars to get as accumulate as possible, I reframe theethos to, how can I make sure that every purchase lines up with my integrity. In other words, instead of focusing on how much more it costs, I focus on how aligned my purchases are with my values — and that delight-of-mind is priceless.
- Convenience discomfort. Yes, Amazon has positioned itself to be by far the most convenient place to shop. However, with some of the tools I offer below, especially Wikibuy & eBay, it’s still surprisingly convenient to shop elsewhere. But let’s pretend it’s not, and it’s rather the most annoying thing in the world. If I have to spend a little more time finding alternate retailers, or actually going somewhere in person, I do not frame that as it would be so much more convenient to just buy Amazon, but rather, it feels really good to be in integrity with my purchases.
- Time discomfort. Yes, you might not be able to get items within 24 or 48 hours if you buy elsewhere, unless of course you leave the house and use your dollars to vote for your local economy. However, do you really need items that quickly? Up until the past few years, getting things immediately was virtually unheard of. If you’re noticing this impatience arise, it’s a good opportunity to look at your relationship with consumerism (see below).
- Summary: when discomfort dissolves. Initially, the emotional discomfort will feel more pronounced, but as time goes on, and you fully “buy-in” to the new mode of being, your comparing mind will stop complaining, and the discomfort eventually drops entirely!
Internalize the why on an emotional level
While taking in information and building a critical understanding of the problem is certainly useful, it’s generally not enough to instigate true behavioral change. For that, there needs to some emotional movement.
This can happen in many ways — watching a powerful documentary, hearing the conviction of people you respect, seeing firsthand the negative impact, or doing your own research and allowing yourself to really feel the impact, etc.
For me, the “emotional movement” came with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though my income was dramatically cut, and I certainly had fear-responses kick in that said, I need to live as cheaply & conveniently as possible, I deeply reflected on that, and considered an entirely different question: what feels like the most important thing in the world to put my limited resources towards? What I landed on was a desire to make sure I was using my dollars, however many I had left, to make society a better place.
In turn, on an emotional level, it felt very clear to me that one way to do this was supporting small businesses, and people like you & me struggling to make ends meet. Inversely, it was just as clear that support Amazon was like pouring gasoline on the societal fire.
In summary, there are many routes to emotional resonance, but it’s an essential step.
Contemplate your relationship with consumerism
There is a difference between capitalism and consumerism.
Capitalism refers to an economic system that allows for the easy exchange of goods and services among individuals. In contrast, consumerism is an ethos that suggests the ultimate good is found in having bigger, more, better, and increasingly novel possessions and experiences. More simply, we’re talking about an exchange system vs. an approach to life.
However, consumerism is so deeply entangled with modern capitalism that we even define societal success by looking at GDP — commonly understand as economic growth, but more literally, how much was consumed.
In turn, seemingly around every corner (and webpage) is someone trying to get you to buy something. The notion that you already have enough, or that there could even be a thing called enough is the ultimate taboo. This runs so deep that most of us never actually stop to question the matrix we’ve found ourselves in.
Coming back to Amazon, one powerful way to release our grasp on its comfort is to deeply contemplate our understanding of what constitutes happiness. What if it came more from being content with little than from having a lot? What if it was more about how much we gave? What if related to the sustainability and ethical standards of the organizations and products we were purchasing? Does buying as cheaply and conveniently as possible really help create a world I want to live in?
Bringing this all together, I’ve found a single question has been very powerful in shifting my relationship to consumerism, and, by extension, to Amazon:
“what’s motivating my purchasing habits?”
How to Quit / What Are the Alternatives?
This is a browser extension that will display a little widget on shopping pages, such as Amazon, that will show you other places online where you can buy the same item. This has been the most helpful tool I’ve discovered thus far.
Largely due to the vast amount of reviews on Amazon, I still often search on Amazon, but instead of making the purchase there, I click the Wikibuy widget and get taken elsewhere online. In the off-chance there is nowhere else, I look for a competitor’s product. Highly recommended tool. Note that I linked the download page opposed to the marketing page with all the features.
Just about anything you can find on Amazon, you can also find on eBay. Once upon a time, eBay was all auction-style used items, but they’ve come a long way, and have enormous amounts of brand new merchandise from reputable businesses. Since I stopped buying on Amazon, I’ve probably moved half my online purchases to eBay. As a bonus, their used & refurbished merchandise selection is actually much greater than Amazon.
The linked article is well organized and lists loads of ethical Amazon alternatives both for general shopping, and for many category-specific items. Highly, highly recommended!
The benefits of buying local are very large, but in trying to avoid convenience-discomfort, it can be very easy to just purchase online. However, I’ve found that with only a little more inner commitment to practicing integrity with my purchasing habits, I’ve been able to shift around 20% of my purchases from online to local with minimal inconvenience on my life.
A great starting point is Craigslist, though there are also countless brick and mortar stores that have much of what you’d want.
For example, I bought a board game on Amazon a few months ago that I could have just bought from the game store a mile away. And even just yesterday, I needed a product for my vehicle that I usually would have purchased on Amazon, but this time I went to an automotive store on the way to the grocery store, and just bought it there.
Do you really need it?
This stems directly from the contemplation of what motivates our purchasing habits. Curiously, when I’ve told this one to people in person, they usually just shrug it off, but it’s actually a serious question!
When I scanned through my Amazon purchase history of the past few years, I noticed around 10% of the items were pretty clear I don’t actually need this purchases. And another 10-20% were things that were nice and helpful, but I could have easily done without.
Basically, what if this was the opening question for all your purchases, on Amazon or elsewhere?
Books & audiobooks
Amazon controls an obscene amount of book market, as well as also the audiobook market through its subsidiary, Audible.
As a Portlander, I’m immediately inclined to shop at Powell’s books, but indiebooks.org and bookshop.org both present solid alternatives to Amazon book buying. If you are keen on audiobooks, this article offers an excellent shortlist of other ways to get audiobooks.
Other big box retailers
As much as possible, I also try to avoid the big box stores, such as Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Walgreens, Lowes or Costco, but at times I will shop at them, as there are certain products it seems are only available through big box stores.
Importantly, even though all of these companies are certainly cogs in the consumerism system, I see them as much better than Amazon for two reasons.
Firstly, they do not have as much market share, and thus have nowhere near the monopoly-like sway or impact that Amazon does — for capitalism to be beneficial for the masses, healthy competition is essential. Secondly, from what I understand, these companies actually pay a reasonable share of taxes, both local and national, which has a societal benefit.
Can You Really Quit Amazon?
As this short article outlines, it’s actually much harder to boycott Amazon than one might think. Sure, you could successfully stop shopping on Amazon.com, and even skip Amazon subsidiaries, such as Whole Foods, the Washington Post, Zappos, Alexa and IMDb, but Amazon hosting services run a significant portion of the internet. Even major websites such as Netflix, Spotify and Reddit are hosted by Amazon.
Amazon has also apparently made its way into supplying local and government contracts with various supplies.
In other words, they are exercising monopoly-like influence, and it’s actually very hard to fully boycott them. And, even if you do, a gazillion other people won’t, and their influence will only grow.
I say this all to get across an essential point, that is perhaps one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life:
Your well-being relies more on your intentionality, and your commitment to your own integrity, than it does the outcomes of your actions.
Of course, our actions do matter, but as a wise person once said, “no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” In turn, I find that when I commit myself to my own integrity, to aligning my actions with my values, to my little slice of something —regardless of what I’m up against—that is when I have the most powerful impact on the world.
I share this because I know a common response to the enormity of Amazon is becoming apathetic and not wanting to bother, but if you realize that your actions do matter, even if they might be small, then you have discovered one of the essential building blocks to a happy and meaningful life.
Why Quit Amazon
I write this post primarily for people who already understand the why; however, I will still offer a few reflections on which reasons stirred me emotionally (and rationally), and led to my change-of-behavior.
Although, please note, I make no effort to be a proper journalist, and encourage you to take this section with a grain of salt. If you remain curious about the why, you could read this 79-page research report, aptly entitled, Amazon’s Stranglehold: How the Company’s Grip is Stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs, and Threatening Communities. Inversely, you could also just google, “why is amazon bad,” and follow the rabbit hole. Anyhow, here’s three specific reasons:
Bad for the economy
There are a number of great articles about this on the web, including the above report, and this one from the Sun, which focuses on their monopoly-like status, but here are some thoughts:
- A poignant quote: “a September 2016 report from economic analysis firm Civic Economics says that Amazon online sales — in 2015 alone — accounted for a loss of more than $1.2 billion of revenue to state and local governments. The report also estimates that in just one year Amazon sales displaced the equivalent of 39,000 retail storefronts and 220,000 retail jobs.” My understanding is that those figures factor in jobs Amazon has added.
- As in the quote, there is a strong correlation between Amazon gaining marketshare, and local businesses going out of business — sure this is a general trend of online vs. local, but it’s made worse by the fact that Amazon intentionally sells products at a loss to (1) pay a fraction of the taxes other businesses do, and (2) gain marketshare by putting their competitors out of business.
How does this work?
One reason is that they actually make over half their revenue from their web hosting services. In other words, they make so much money from their other businesses, that they can run Amazon.com at a loss, undercutting their competition until they go out of business, and then gaining market share. Another way this works is that since they are gaining marketshare, even though they don’t officially turn a profit, their stock price skyrockets, and thus their leadership becomes obscenely wealthy. If you read the Sun article, you’ll see how they actually have employed this in a very unethical way to put other real businesses out of business.
- They seem like a free & open marketplace, but they steer business towards their own products, or people who use other Amazon services, rather than towards the truly best product.
- As local businesses shut down, you have more people jumping at their $15 an hour warehouse jobs instead of running small businesses that would earn significantly more than that. Consider this: would you seriously be able to support your family on $15 an hour?
Bad for workers
I’ll keep this one simple: numerous articles depict them treating workers more like robots than humans. To Amazon, human labor is disposable, and rather than nurturing and developing a labor force, the impression I get is they try to de-humanize workers as much as possible, instilling noteworthy hurdles to things like using the restroom, talking to other humans or, you know, basic compassion.
The heartbreaking thing is people are actually flocking to these jobs; although, I suspect not because they feel good about them, but because they’re desperate. I’ve been in those shoes before, struggling to pay rent, and I would have worked just about anything to not go under — it’s difficult to understand this reality unless you’ve lived it, but for a large segment of the population, this is the water they swim in.
Of course, the problem here is much bigger than Amazon, but as in the “bad for the economy” section, they represent the essential case-study of how capitalism can go sour when one company has too much power.
Buying from Amazon is supporting an economy that increases the sector of people who don’t make a living wage, increases the wealth disparity, and also creates a larger scale work environment that rips apart the human spirit.
Jeff Bezos has questionable ethics
Obviously, I don’t actually know Jeff Bezos, so this section is largely speculation. However, as a general note, it’s not my style to ride the corporate-executives-are-evil train, and I actually have favorable opinions of the founders/owners of a few of the other largest corporations in America.
All that being said, everything I’ve read about Mr. Bezos, the owner of Amazon, suggests to me he is a person with very little empathy, incredibly cutthroat, and is primarily motivated by a pathological degree of competitiveness and desire for power. He is not a person I feel good about having a major influence on the flow of our country. This article paints an interesting overview.
On a bright note, after a long history of practically very zero philanthropy, he did recently commit 10 billion, around 7% of his wealth, to climate change. So I’d like to throw him a little bone there, but it’s going to take a lot more than that to radically change my take on him.
In any case, rather than taking my word for it, I encourage you to do your own research, and come to your own conclusions.
The purpose of this post is not to shame anyone for their purchasing habits, or to suggest that boycotting Amazon is even the best way to go about life. Rather, I am merely sharing my process and some decisions that have helped me step into deeper layers of peace and alignment.
I welcome everyone to have their own opinion and approach on how to best live this precious life. In turn, I leave you with a more general question to help you come more fully into your own:
With respect to your purchasing decisions, how could you step into fuller integrity?