My name is Jonathan and I’m an Amazonaholic.
It’s taken a while for me to admit my addiction because it was years in the making.
As a book lover, the premise that I could get pretty much any title in the known universe delivered to my door was my gateway drug. I was sold before my first order.
Then came other items, mostly little, everyday things that I’d previously picked up on shopping trips for more important items. Toothpaste. Pens. Extension cords. Shopping at Amazon was like putting things on a shopping list only there was no subsequent shopping to do. Click and done.
The items got progressively bigger to include a lawn mower, microwave oven, and musical instruments. They got stranger and harder to find, like smelly soaps from France and tangy pickled cucumbers from Japan.
Then came the pandemic, and I discovered Amazon Fresh. Getting groceries delivered was a life-saver and there was no beating the convenience. Same goes for the benefits of watching stuff on Amazon Prime.
I’ve placed 290 orders this year (and over 450 orders in both 2020 and 2021). I don’t know where that ranks me as a power user, but in 2022 I’ve placed orders on average of almost one per day.
More fundamentally, I’ve consolidated almost all of my required purchasing and much of my impulse buying on Amazon. I’m addicted.
Now I’m going to quit. Here’s why:
Uneven quality and service — Lately, it seems that I’ve been getting more products that either don’t work or deliveries that are incomplete. Groceries have always included products that are within days of their sell-by dates and produce that looks like those moments were long past. And it turns out that Amazon isn’t responsible for items shipped from third parties, even though that fact is almost hidden on said products’ pages. Further, its customer service is difficult to access and heavily biased toward canned answers.
So it turns out that shopping at Amazon isn’t as convenient and pleasant as it once seemed.
Price opacity — I’ve always known that its Amazon Prime shipping fee and product pricing sans shipping were used to obfuscate real costs (i.e. no shipping charge/item because some additional margin was already built into the unit price). But again, lately I’ve seen product prices jump or fall by as much as 25% over the course of a few days, and then change again. I’m convinced this sort of dynamic pricing happens in real time, and it’s based on what? Certainly not intrinsic value, but rather on what Amazon knows I’m willing to pay based on past purchases, times I’ve clicked on a link to window shop, and behaviors of other customers who match my buyer profile. Or whatever. The drivers of its pricing are opaque.
But it’s clear to me that I’m probably not saving any money shopping there and perhaps spending more than I should, especially if I deduct the “cost” of the uneven quality and service noted above. And its knowledge about me and my habits no longer seems benign.
Social & environmental harm — It’s hard to remember the days when Amazon trucks weren’t buzzing through every neighborhood. Each stop they make doesn’t just disrupt traffic but represents the end point of a long, semi-centralized distribution chain that uses an incomprehensible amount of energy (transportation & storage). We wouldn’t tolerate the distances they bridge if we saw the full effects and costs of those activities. Further, every delivery represents a sale that didn’t happen locally, so some local business just inched closer to insolvency.
Buying from Amazon hurts the environment and the economic well-being of people who live and work near you and me.
Again, all of this just sorta dawned on me. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.
Amazon’s strategy isn’t to give me the best products, service, and pricing, it’s goal is to get me hooked and then gradually sell me lower quality items with poorer service for more money. The strategy is that I’ll be too buried in my addiction to notice the changes or do something about them.
It’s kinda like Uber trying to destroy the competition and then raise prices and lower service quality for its captive customers.
It’s not a technology or innovative disruption thing, it’s a monopoly thing, so it’s nothing new. And monopolies are only good at enriching the people who own them by taking money out of peoples’ pockets.
My quitting Amazon won’t change any of this, of course, but I wonder if I might be part of a broader trend that could have impact on it and the other rapacious businesses that are remaking our world.
Here’s my three-step recovery plan:
First, buy less — I’ll never read half of the books I buy and there’s no need to have two backup toilet bowl fill valves stacked on a basement shelf. I only wear one of the three pairs of pants I bought from Amazon and have gravitated to the same coat for most of this autumn (out of a half-dozen choices). I won’t bore you with the sushi making kit, gas-powered wine bottle stopper, or other devices that seemed sensible when I clicked on them but then proved to be irrelevant to my life.
What could disrupt Amazon might not be ways to buy better but rather consumers who simply buy less. I am embracing that philosophy right now.
Second, buy less often — One of the things the pandemic taught me was that the material objects that are the most useful to me don’t really change year to year. My smartphone is just as helpful now as it was in 2021. I bought the coat that I mentioned earlier in 2019, and we just finished putting together a jigsaw puzzle that could have come with the house when we bought it in 2000 for all I know. So, simply waving off replacements (or imagined “improvements”) will also contribute to buying less.
My goal is to move from an average from one purchase/day to one a week and then only a handful of purchases every month. Those numbers cannot go too low.
Third, buy local — I know, I know, this should be a no-brainer, but now I know that buying from local or nearby makers is a win for me, for them, and for us. Individual artisans, local stores, market days, even locally-based distributors for things made far away can meet almost all of my buying needs, and often by offering improved or unique quality and freshness (in contrast to Amazon’s “value equation”).
Kicking the habit won’t be easy or wholly consistent. Clicking and getting is a potent drug, and distributing my buying needs to a diverse community of sellers, however short I can make my shopping lists, will require more work and effort on my part. Different problems will replace the ones I’ve experienced with Amazon. It may cost me a bit more.
But I’m committed because I’m embarrassed and angry that I’ve allowed myself to become an Amazonaholic. Better minds than mine knew sooner that they needed to break the habit, or never succumb to it in the first place. It took me this long to get deep enough into my addiction to realize the error of my ways.
So, I’m off to make a shopping list for my visit to the grocer next weekend. I already know what coat I’m going to wear.