Amazon: It was nice knowing you but I’m out

Amazon: It was nice knowing you but I’m out

Half the world and more is in lockdown, people on furlough, ill, lost their jobs or significant business income. Some are unable or too afraid to leave home and heavily rely on delivery for essential items.  And I write to stop using Amazon!  Regardless of this, some companies are absolutely raking it in, including one I have used a lot in the past few years – Amazon. Here’s why I finally stop using Amazon – and how I am better of for it!

Every week, some articles popped up in blog reader on how Amazon has, during the crisis, cut affiliate commissions despite making huge turnover during the crisis, combined with widespread criticism on their business practices. While some are not new, the drastic cutting of commission rates was, and has led me to question my own support of this company – both as a customer and an affiliate.

Why I have used Amazon for many years

My relationship with Amazon begann about 20 years ago. Keen to make some extra money in addition to my stipend, I was approached by German Amazon and wrote a ton of book reviews for their otherwise somewhat bare German site – all of books I had read, I hasten to add. That was that, and for a long time I knew of their existence. A few years later, living in a small German town, I could not find the English language books I loved in the local bookshop and started buying a lot of English language books from the UK site. There were odd orders to feed my reading habit, which were joined by orders for new and used work textbooks – so convenient!

Books that I did not buy on Amazon
My Smiths/Morrissey book shelf. Not to find on Amazon, most of them

And for a while it was just books.

Then, living in another German small town, I started buying everyday things I needed and could not get locally too – bicycle tools, specialist gin, window blinds, engine oil… if I look back at my 2015 and 2016 purchases, I blush at my spend on Amazon. Still mostly books, whether I needed them all, is questionable, but slowly slowly, craft stuff and everyday necessities crept in. I got lazy! Well, partially lazy. I worked 60-hour weeks. My shopping consisted of a bike ride to two supermarkets (One cheap, one fancy) with my basket. Every so often, I visit the small drugstore next to it, and every two months, the hairdresser next to the drugstore. Everything was there in my little ghetto!

I rarely cycled all the way into town for the more specialist stores. The electronics shop in town was a joke. So… Hallo, Amazon, for everything else! The habit crept in and was difficult to shift. I first thought about my shopping habit more when my mother, a small business owner said that I can send her my birthday gift wish list, but she ain’t shopping on Amazon because it treats their employees poorly.

Amazon sells everything everywhere – at a cost to us all

At first, Amazon was mainly books – then other media, entertainment electronics… Meanwhile, its everything! And here is part of my problem. You need something. You don’t go to a shop or a variety of websites, because you know, Amazon has it.

On a small level, you often end up paying more. Not on big ticket items perhaps because most people compare prices. But small bits and bobs that you just add because it’s convenient. I noticed when I bought some paper glue brand I really like. Three weeks late,r I pass the glue display at my local arts supply shop, and there is the same glue – but about a third cheaper. I know I know, its not a lot, but it adds up.

Aleppo Soap
When you can even buy Aleppo Soap on Amazon, where is the limit?

On another level, by being loyal Amazon customers, we help build them a monopoly (which they’ve already built anyway) which will dictate prices –  to both customers and suppliers. It will bite us in the arse, at some point.

Last not least, third party sellers have seen the Terms and Conditions changed to their disadvantage, and sometimes got kicked off the platform for no valid reason, being accused of violating Terms and Conditions or selling Counterfeit goods. There has been at least one investigation into Amazon using third party seller data to promote their own products.

Then there’s the little issue with tax

As a US company, Amazon pays very little federal taxes despite soaring profits. Amazon Europe  – not much better. Their European operation is registered in Luxembourg and they are currently fighting a EU tax order in court.

According to Heise Media (in German), Amazon paid approximately 1.2% income tax in the US in 2019.

But they’re not alone. I’ve always been boycotting companies that have a rather doubtful tax history in Europe. And where the EU isn’t acting. Apple? Don’t us any of their products. Google? I use Firefox and Duckduckgo and hope to uninstall the Chrome Browser completely one day.   Facebook? Well. I have an account, and I use Instagram. Way to go on Facebook. Looks like this stop using Amazon is going to set off a cull of companies I no longer want to be associated with.

I also stop using Amazon for its attitude towards employees

There have been reports around for years about the poor working conditions at Amazon – from the warehouse to marketing. There have been investigations into warehouse safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, when turnover was at a record high and millions of orders required to be fulfilled – making tons of money for Amazon. Did the employees get to experience any of these profits? Doubtful – Amazon is already counteracting by reporting while they may have record turnover of 75 billion dollars in the first quarter of this year. they also expect higher cost due to COVID-19.

Amazon Vice President Tim Bray quit over the treatment of warehouse employees earlier this month. Still, the European employer review platform Kununu gives them a score of 3.3  – that’s 0.3 more than my current employer (who I am fairly happy with and would probably rate as okay).

Amazon and  the Copycat

As if this weren’t enough for me to stop using Amazon, they also have a reputation of copying their bestselling products, producing them at lower cost and selling them for less. Here’s a shoe that Amazon allegedly copied, there’s  a laptop stand, and if you look at the Amazon “Basics” range, you might still believe in fairytales if you believe these products were all designed from scratch in-house.  If you search for a certain product, Amazon will steer you to their own product. And with Amazon growing bigger and more powerful, you know what happes to smaller companies – usually.

And since I stop using Amazon and my “Easy Ordering” habit, I saved a lot of money

So, saying this… I stopped buying on Amazon. Removed my credit card info and just used it as a pin board for things I thought I might need. I rarely buy things on a whim, but now I check things in my shopping basket to see if I actually need them. My virtual shopping list, if you like.

Recently, I wanted to buy jersey needles,  twin needles and a cleaning oil for my bicycle. I also wanted a Kai tailoring scissors. I looked them up, checked the prices, then bought the needles from an ebay seller. The rest has to wait until I actually need it, and if I haven’t picked it up in an independent shop then, I’ll buy it online somewhere. It’s a lot more trouble to buy something, so I only buy it if I really need it.

Using Amazon as an Affiliate

So why have I been buying from Amazon all these years, and even included affiliate links in my blog post in the past 18 months? Convenience and what I thought are good prices.

I wanted a book or a product, and chances are they were available on Amazon. If I wrote a blog post, and wanted to recommend a certain product, usually a book, I  linked it to Amazon. A lot of other posts, including my Cruelty-free French Pharmacy and cruelty-free scent product guides, rarely contained affiliate links but rather links to the companies own web shops.

Their Affiliate programme was easy to use, and not only did an Amazon link offer an easy purchase, there was also the opportunity to make a small commission. That I helped to collectively destroy smaller businesses, online or not and helped Amazon monopolize a consumer good market, only dawned on me slowly.

My issue isn’t so much  the decreased commissions. To be honest,  I am sick if looking for decent reviews of goods and having to wade through tons of sites which are basically affilate link slingshots to Amazon.   The  product categories I linked were mostly books, which earn a 4.5% commission (no change), beauty and health/personal care (now 3% and 1% and down 50/80%) and rarely clothes so there are some but no drastic changes. This blog is so small that my Amazon income is negligible and I’m happy to live without it. However, what they have done is shitty business attitude. I rather support businesses that value their staff, pay their taxes and don’t monopolise online shopping. I feel sorry for websites that do depend on it – but then, depending on an increasingly greedy business with poor values probably wasn’t great in the first instance.

And now?

I feel embarrassed it it took me so long to realise I am part of the problem.

Will I stop using Amazon?

Probably not completely. Ive never had a Prime membership. I probably keep my account to look up books and read reviews. And what if I want to buy the book? Then I’ll kjust have to restrain myself. Even in the past two years, I have bought most of my books secondhand. Sometimes from Amazon, but I have also used Amazon to look for a book and check which bookseller is offering it. And then bought from their site. Yup, guilty as charged – but perfectly legal, of course.

We have made online purchases while Germany’s shops were shut during the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Glycerine, Kaolin Clay, a few books and elastic. The bloody elastic still hasn’t arrived so my colleague gave me some of hers to put in my face coverings. So, none of these absolutely essential! Supermarkets were open, and since I was out at work anyway, I did all our food shopping.

As for affiliate links  – I have terminated my Amazon Associate Account and have removed all affiliate links to Amazon on my most read post, as well as upcoming and previous 2020 posts, and I am slowly working my way through older blog posts to remove these links. I was pleased that apart from some recent link fest (to help raise money for an animal shelter) , I really didn’t have that many Amazon links.

Affiliate Marketing Alternatives for Books

Will I look for a new affiliate for books and travel gear? I am not sure.

As a avid buyer of used books, I’ve looked at Thriftbooks  and Better Works Books (which both use CJ Affiliate). Then there is the Book Depository which operates internationally.  I like the Abebooks model in principle – seemingly independent platform, 5% commission. The problem is, I haven’t bought form Abebooks in year – never found what I was looking for! And wait!!! Abebooks has been a subsidiary of Amazon since 2008. Okay, I guess they are out of the question then.

A relatively new company is Bookshop – an online “retailer” which actually ships from participating independent bookstores. A new company, they are only available in the US at present, but I really think the model is interesting and will keep them in mind.

I currently use a German used bookseller called Momox, but while they were fab at firs,t they are not without their problems. First, they buy books for pennies – there is no incentive to sell them your used books. Secondly, if they do not have the book you ordered – they give you “credit” which is sneakily hidden away somewhere – not a straight refund. It might be tome to say goodbye to them soon, too.

Non-Book Affiliate Marketing

If you buy travel equipment regularly, you probably have your trusted shops already. Almost every retailer has an online shop now anyway. I don’t know a single person who purchases their expensive camera gear on Amazon.

For example, I buy all my camera gear in one of two Berlin retailers. One is a national chain called Calumet. The other one is a traditional local specialist shop with photos studio called Foto Meyer. If possible, I buy there. You can try out/hire equipment, and they are really helpful – and honest. They are partially to blame that I have not blown money on a full-frame mirrorless camera yet… but if and when I do buy one, I will buy it there.

I use Booking.com and continue to build affiliate links to  accommodation recommendations. In general, I’m no huge fan of the “affiliate” marketing model recently. I’s sick of seeing the same SEO-optimised “Where to Stay in…”  and “Ultimate travel gear” posts where it is bloody obvious that the person recommending the stuff has got it for free and/or received a free hotel stay. But then, I don’t belong to the target customer group anyway.

Avoiding Amazon Subsidiaries and digital services

Oh yeah, then there are the companies that do not sound like Amazon at all but are in fact… owned by Amazon. Most deceiving culprit: AbeBooks! While looking for information on how Amazon and other companies are scrambled and entangled, I came across this excellent article titled “Your complete Guide to living the Amazon-free Life in 2019” which lists Amazon subsidiaries and also shines some light onto web hosting services and digital advertising, a large share of which are controlled by Amazon.

Stop using Amazon – How is you Amazon-free life going?

I’ve had the epiphany bloody late, but I am glad I have now completely removed my business associations with Amazon. Any links that might still exist are no longer functional and I am in the process of removing them. And I am looking forward to being a more conscious customer, step by step, by finally taking steps to  stop using Amazon.

Now I will be much more suspicious of any affiliate links on blogs and instagram – and delete cookies regularly. I’ll be wary of the “Swipe Up” and affiliate links to Amazon and I’ll unfollow people who use them in excess and will promote to stop using Amazon on this blog by showing alternatives. .

Are you an Amazon customer, and has your attitude towards them changed – have you used them for essential deliveries, have you stopped using them because of media reports?

 



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