Sure I could tell you about their desire to sell facial recognition technology to ICE or about their employees listening to private conversations in homes via Alexa or about CEO Jeff Bezos' refusal to join the giving pledge. (Among the five richest people in America, Bezos is the only one who hasn't signed on to the philanthropic commitment.)
I could give you so many reasons as to why and how Amazon is awful and Jeff Bezos is awful, but in the interest of providing easy-to-process bullet points, I'm going to focus on three things I really despise about Amazon.
1. Amazon Sells Counterfeit Goods, With No Concern for Public Safety
Selling dangerous counterfeit goods has been a longstanding practice with Amazon. When Daily Dot covered some examples of dangerous counterfeit goods on Amazon they wrote about fake phone chargers that "hiss, overheat, stink of burning plastic, or even explode." They also wrote about pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson doing battle with Amazon over their refusal to pull expired and damaged versions of their products. (The practice of selling expired food alone is a major public safety concern.)
This isn't new. Back in 2012 a California court ordered Amazon to send a notice to 20,000 consumers duped into buying a counterfeit hair styling iron from their site. The legitimate manufacturer of the styling product sued to try to prevent Amazon from selling counterfeits of their products — at least one of which exploded in a customer's hand — but Amazon won the day, claiming they are not responsible for the counterfeit goods on their site. There was also the case in 2018 of Amazon selling counterfeit hair dryers that would shoot flames out when used.
The dangerous goods have been covered by many outlets over the years, including CNN and The Atlantic. During the eclipse craze of 2017 consumers had their vision damaged by counterfeit eclipse glasses sold by Amazon. Consumers have also had to beware of dangerous counterfeit sex toys sold by Amazon, which can result in serious health consequences. One woman was partially blinded by a defective dog leash she bought from Amazon.
Last year CNN covered the counterfeit infant car seats and swaddles Amazon sells that could potentially hurt or kill infants. Inc Magazine covered the hazards posed to babies and children when Amazon sells counterfeit pacifiers and toys. Counterfeit products for infants and children are especially dangerous and can have serious consequences. In one sad case a 4-year-old boy had to have parts of his colon and intestines removed after he'd swallowed 13 tiny magnets from a counterfeit toy that broke open.
Amazon cares about profit over people, so as long as they can get away with selling counterfeit goods that could hurt or kill you, they're going to do it. While their official stance might be that counterfeits are prohibited and that they have robust systems in place to stop them, the reality is that counterfeit goods have been on Amazon for years and continue to be present in their supply chain. Keeping them is more profitable than totally wiping them out. If your house burns down or your baby chokes, Amazon's position is that it's not their fault.
2. Amazon Ruins the Lives of Artists, Small Business Owners, and Entrepreneurs
The American dream is the self-made citizen who starts a small business and creates something of value in the world, but that's not the world Amazon wants us to live in. We find counterfeit Boredwalk merchandise on Amazon all the time, and as fast as we get one counterfeit removed a new one takes its place. We have a full time copyright enforcement agent on staff, and even she cannot keep up with the flood of fake Boredwalk on Amazon and around the web.
Counterfeit goods create a multi-tiered issue for entrepreneurs and artists. Not only do we lose income from the sale of fake versions of our products, we suffer reputation damage when customers falsely believe the inferior fake versions of our products are the same as the real thing, and thus consumers begin to associate the brand with the low-quality fakes.
This happens to thousands of American entrepreneurs and creators every day, and Amazon is the mother lode of counterfeit goods. The press has covered brands experiencing this problem, and it impacts more than just apparel brands. Companies selling a variety of products from pool floats to textile design and housewares have suffered blows to their livelihoods thanks to fakes of their products sold on Amazon. One company in the Los Angeles area faced total ruin thanks to counterfeits of their products showing up on Amazon. Footwear maker Birkenstock famously pulled their products from Amazon when they couldn't get the flood of fakes under control. Oftentimes, Amazon itself is the one knocking off the companies that sell on their platform, using sales data to decide which products to knock off.
It's become more than just David vs Goliath at this point. Amazon is allowed to skirt product liability law, accountability for what they sell, and gets to advertise artificially lower prices to tamp down competition from other retailers. If a brand sets their product price at one rate and counterfeiters sell a fake version on Amazon at a drastically lower rate, less savvy consumers will think they are getting a deal and choose Amazon, thus shutting out legitimate retailers that play by the rules and source authentic products from brands.
This doesn't just hurt legitimate retailers and entrepreneurs; it hurts American jobs, too. When counterfeit goods on Amazon eat into the profits of US-based businesses it forces those US-based companies to lay off workers. So not only does Amazon profit by helping overseas counterfeiters siphon profits away from US-based companies, they also profit from the US job loss that accompanies it. What's scary is they are only becoming more dominant in the marketplace, and the only people with the power to really stop them right now are consumers.
3. Amazon's Labor Practices Are Deplorable
Amazon has worked hard with its PR machine to seem like a great place to work, but the press has told us a much more distressing story. Their company has treated workers so poorly, it even prompted one senior engineer to quit after Amazon refused to offer workers protections from Coronavirus exposure.
Long before Amazon warehouses became a hotbed of pandemic exposure resulting in the death of several low wage workers, Amazon was notorious for its poor treatment of workers, particularly their low wage hourly warehouse staff. One Amazon worker who died of heart attack at work was reportedly left on the floor for 20 minutes before receiving treatment. Other Amazon workers have been hospitalized due to risk of heat stroke. Last year OSHA classified Amazon as one of the most dangerous places to work. Workers have described brutal accounts of their experiences working at Amazon, some even unable to take bathroom breaks. Amazon has also been caught stealing gig workers' tips and not allowing workers to take lunch breaks.
Amazon works hard at keeping workers from organizing. They not only work vigorously to prevent workers from organizing, they also spy on social and environmental movements as well. White collar workers may fare marginally better, but I sure wouldn't want a verbally abusive boss who says things like "Are you lazy or just incompetent?"
So where should I shop instead?
While there are plenty of Amazon alternatives, the best option is to support small and local businesses. When that's not an option, buy directly from brands that make the products you love, or buy from reputable retailers that don't allow counterfeiters to access their customers. If you'd like to know how to shop online without being ripped off, check out our tips on how to do that.
If you cannot find what you need from a local or small business, at least shop with big box stores that operate more responsibly and source authentic goods from brands. Companies like Costco and Patagonia are known for being good employers, but other big box retailers like Target and Bed Bath & Beyond can at least be trusted to sell authentic merchandise, as they have rigorous quality control protocols in place to make sure they are compliant with US consumer protection laws.
For books, supporting indie book sellers is the best option. Check out Indie Bound for suggestions. You can also find an awesome selection of used books at Thrift Books. Also, Barnes & Noble still exists!
Want more suggestions for how to shop online without Amazon?
Several other outlets have put together guides for avoiding Amazon. Here are a few I recommend:
- For the ethically-minded, The Good Trade has a list of 15 sustainable marketplaces to try and blogger Polly Barks also suggests 25+ ethical alternatives to Amazon
- For the budget-minded, here are 13 sites with better deals and free shipping
- The Verge and New York Times have guides broken out by shopping categories
A lot of people might make the point that Amazon helps some small businesses by giving them a platform to sell their products. Most of those small businesses have their own websites, though, and orders they receive directly through their websites are a better deal for those sellers. So if you want to support them, search for the seller's name and buy items directly from their website. That way the small seller keeps 100% of the sale and Amazon doesn't get a cut. If anything, Amazon is set up to enable the sabotage of those small sellers, so supporting them isn't really doing small businesses all that much of a favor.
I know the siren song of convenient one-stop shopping is strong, but Amazon continues to get away with its horrible practices because consumers continue to support them. I personally quit shopping on Amazon 4 years ago and it's incredibly easy to do. I never think about shopping there and don't miss it. I'm happier knowing I'm not lining the pockets of a toxic corporate behemoth, and if savings is your worry, they're often not the cheapest place to buy stuff anyway. Even if you can't cut them out 100%, start by finding ways to reduce spending with them. You might surprise yourself and realize you don't need them as much as you think you do.