Not missing Amazon this Christmas


Like tens of thousands of others, I’m avoiding Amazon for Christmas with Amazon Anonymous. I got an email from them today, asking me to write to Amazon Customer services with my reasons. Here they are:


I’ve spent thousands of pounds at Amazon over the last fifteen years, on books music, electronics, kids’ toys and a lot of printer ink, so I thought it would be much harder to do the Amazon Christmas challenge than it actually turns out to be.

This year I’ve spent my money online with a lot of different smaller retailers instead, rather than starting my searches at Amazon. It’s been a bit slower than usual but worth it I think to help make a really important point.

I do like the idea behind Amazon a lot – you’ve been a consistent force for change online and a track record on innovation means you’ve pioneered so much of what now are conventions of online shopping. One-click ordering, affiliate marketing, multiple merchant inventory, long tail shopping, wrap round packaging, and fast delivery even on the slowest options. I remember building my first online store in a previous job, wondering how our “wait 28 days for delivery” policy would stack up against Amazon. It didn’t.

I just wish the good side of relentlessly innovative Amazon didn’t come with the relentless innovation on the dark side too. Innovations like:

  • Working out it’s cheaper to hire ambulances to sit outside your US warehouses in summer months to cart workers away if they collapse from heatstroke, rather than to make working conditions more bearable.
  • Deciding the loss of goodwill and respect from your US staff for making them wait hours a week unpaid to be searched for stolen stock before they can go off shift is a trade worth making.
  • Seeking out areas for new distribution centres where you can get local government infrastructure subsidy on the promise of bringing jobs, but then delivering only jobs so short term and insecure that you can just cycle them in and out of unemployment, to avoid giving them employment rights.
  • A three points discipline system that’s so easy to trigger you can keep firing and rehiring people as you need them.
  • Technologically monitoring people working for you so closely you can justify sacking them for being unproductive for “several minutes”, regardless of the fact the majority in the UK report walking more than 10 miles for you in a shift.
  • Spotting the opportunities of the economic downturn to offer desperate people an even smaller slice to do work you would have paid more for years ago. What did it for me was Amazon deliveries made by parents in their private cars late into the evening, with the kids trying to sleep in the back.
  • The double tax subsidy – Paying your people so little that the taxpayer has to make up their wages, whilst finding new ways to duck corporate taxes – £4.24 million tax on £10.82 billion sales in the last 3 years on record: a tax rate of less than 0.5%

Amazon is a beautiful digital front on what is the retail equivalent of strip mining.

Fundamentally, the dark side of your business is about cutting everything to the bone, running a low profit company for years in order to kill off any older and more established competition and form yourselves an unbreakable monopoly in publishing and in retail – maybe in broadcasting next, who knows?

This is a relentless drive that doesn’t care that the older ways of doing things have sometimes become ‘established’ precisely because they’ve been found over time to work out a little better for everyone in society.

But ultimately if your drive for innovation isn’t going to be useful for society, then what’s the point?

I know people at Amazon aren’t bad – you have some fantastic people working for you in developing all the neat stuff. I understand you’re looking at solving some big questions, and making things work better.

Just please put a bit of that talent into seeing where the dark side is leading you. Hey, even Anakin Skywalker came good in the end…

Best wishes for Christmas – without me as a customer this time,

If you can write your own Christmas letter to Amazon, please do. Here’s where you can do it, via Amazon Anonymous.

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