Protocol | Workplace

The growing pains of canceling Prime: Why holiday shoppers are boycotting Amazon, even when it’s hard

Getting out of the "two-day free shipping" mindset is hard but worth it for a growing group of shoppers.

The growing pains of canceling Prime: Why holiday shoppers are boycotting Amazon, even when it’s hard

The shift away from Amazon might be generational, according to advocates and customers who are moving away from the platform.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

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Danny Caine is used to not shopping on Amazon. As the owner of an independent bookstore as well as the author of the book "How to Resist Amazon and Why," to do so would be against everything he stands for.

But until recently, he found himself more or less an anomaly in a world where two-day Prime shipping is the norm and brown boxes dot the front porches and lobbies of millions of homes around the world. Today, "the conversation is growing in intensity," he said, and more people are joining him in hopping off the Amazon bandwagon.

As much as he would like to attribute the shift in consumer behavior to his book, Caine said he knows greater forces are at work. Not only are bookstores and small businesses like his getting better at talking about how Amazon harms their business, everyone from the Federal Trade Commission to the media is shedding more light on antitrust reform, environmental issues and privacy lapses, as well as growing labor concerns around union-busting and treatment of warehouse workers.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment from Protocol.

Miryam Jivotovski, a product manager at a tech company, is one of those recent converts. She said for her, the moment something switched was reading media reports of Amazon drivers peeing in bottles under pressure to skip bathroom breaks.

"I definitely used to feel OK about [shopping at Amazon]," she said, but something shifted after the 2016 election. "A lot of things happened around my understanding of the world and my values," she told Protocol.

'It's hard to practice waiting.'

Tsion McNichols stopped shopping on Amazon in 2020. She deleted her Prime account after the pandemic forced her to rethink "where I put my money and time and effort." Doing so has been "harder than I anticipated," she said.

Part of the impetus came during Prime Day 2019 when she "went crazy" and bought a lot of things: a portable laptop accessory, a swimsuit for her upcoming vacation and sunglasses. Then the boxes started arriving. Instead of coming in one big package, they came one at a time. The sunglasses turned out to be cheaply made, and the swimsuit was also of poor quality and didn't fit. She suddenly became very conscious of the packaging waste, as well as the hassle of returning all of the items. When her favorite local bar closed during the pandemic, she became vigilant about patronizing local businesses.

The shift is generational, according to advocates and customers who are moving away from the platform. While some people are avoiding Amazon, many of their friends and family still have no qualms about shopping on the site. Her parents and other older relatives don't have the same priorities around "slow consumption" and "intentional living" that McNichols and her friends care about.

"Of course, there's cheating days," the 26-year-old edtech employee told Protocol. It's hard to suddenly shake off the expectation of clicking "Add to Cart" and seeing that item arrive on your doorstep in under two days. "It's hard to practice waiting," she said, recalling one time she and her roommate were missing a wine bottle opener, and it was pouring rain outside. Neither of them wanted to brave the elements, and it would have been so much easier to just order one on Amazon.

"Part of my own personal journey has been to stop expecting and relying on convenience," said Naomi Crawford, owner of Lunchette, a restaurant and zero-waste store in Petaluma, California. "You have to make adjustments," she said. "They do feel like sacrifices."

'Having a little bit of friction to make purchases is a good thing.'

Benji Lampel is an enterprise platform architect at a startup and is based in Brooklyn. He hasn't had a Prime membership in over five years. The last thing he bought on Amazon was a toolset he purchased from his brother's wedding registry last year.

For him, the decision to consciously avoid Amazon started with an Alexa device he bought in college: an Amazon Echo. Lampel recalls sitting alone in his studio apartment one day and hearing the device turn itself on and announce that a new device had just been connected. "I remember thinking, 'Oh no, I have to get this out of my house immediately,'" he said. As someone who studied tech in college, he's always felt that smart home devices are "super insecure."

That aversion began to trickle into the way he felt about the rest of the tech giant's offerings. In Lampel's view, shopping on Amazon is different from shopping at other major retailers like Walmart or Target, in that he views it as a walled garden ecosystem, designed to keep your attention and "rewire your brain."

"Having a little bit of friction to make purchases is a good thing," Lampel said. His roommate works for Amazon, and he knows that Lampel doesn't shop there: "He's OK with it. I don't try to make him feel bad for working there either."

Crawford also finds Amazon "harder to stomach" than other traditional retailers. Although "there's no way" she'll be using Amazon for her holiday shopping, "I'm not anti-anything. I'm just pro-community." This holiday season, she'll be buying her gifts from "as many stores in my town as possible." As a small-business owner herself, she's conscious that giving local businesses her dollars translates to a paycheck for those businesses' employees who could then spend it on a meal or product at Lunchette.

'There is no ethical consumption under capitalism.'

Jivotovski broke her foot this year, which she said made it difficult for her to shop in her local community. Recently, she purchased some cleaning supplies on Amazon.

At the end of the day, "consumers shouldn't be responsible for what businesses do," she said. "There's no ethical consumption under capitalism."

As for McNichols, this holiday season she plans on purchasing gifts for her friends and family from her local businesses. She's thinking about buying gift cards, specifically, not only so that they can decide what they want for themselves, but also as a way to circumvent the potential supply chain issues that have been predicted for this holiday shopping season.

Better than avoiding Amazon is buying nothing

Environmental advocates argue that buying local — or even better, buying nothing — is even more convenient than buying on Amazon. Liesl Clark is the co-founder of the Buy Nothing Project, a social movement dedicated to building hyperlocal gift economies. Members of Buy Nothing groups give away and request items from other members, all without exchanging payment. In her view, not buying on Amazon is actually more convenient. If you have a robust gift community — say you're in search of a coffee maker and your neighbor has an extra lying around — transactions can happen within an hour.

"It's important for us to not be thinking of ourselves as consumers but as connected people who are resourceful and who can say no to manufacturers," Clark said.

Robert Martin, the executive director of The Independent Booksellers Consortium, agrees. Buying something in a store is "zero-day shipping," he said. Moreover, "the pleasure that can be derived from looking at merchandise in a store will always surpass scrolling through a website."

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