Why giving up Amazon should be your New Year’s resolution

Whilst we’re on the subject of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve got a thought provoking guest post from Georgina Rawes from Ethical Consumer, on Amazon and why finding alternatives to Amazon should be a priority in 2017:

Lose weight.  Stop smoking.  Worry less.  Most of us will be making New Year’s resolutions in January and many of them involve giving up bad habits.

If you are one of the millions of people who purchased books online through Amazon in 2016, we at Ethical Consumer suggest that you give up something a little different this year: the retail Goliath that is Amazon.

boycott amazon

You might think that shopping is a bit of a strange focus for a New Year’s resolution, but the way in which we choose to spend our money has far reaching consequences.  Breaking a bad buying habit could do more than you realise.

In December 2016, we carried out a review of booksellers in the UK ranking them according to their ethical practice across 23 different categories.

Amazon scored 0/20.  Across every single category, they showed a sweeping disregard for ethical practice, including:

Using suppliers with appalling records of human rights violations.

Having no company-wide targets to reduce their environmental impact and energy use.

Selling products that have been tested on animals and selling controversial whale meat products in Japan.

Using tax avoidance tactics and tax havens.

Amazon and tax avoidance

Of all the problems associated with Amazon perhaps the most pernicious is their tax avoidance.

Unless you been living in a cave for the last year, you’ll have heard about some of the unethical tax avoidance tactics of companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple.  Multi-billion pound organisations that hire teams of accountants to ensure that they pay as little tax as possible.  And you might have brushed it off as little more than media hype since, after all, it’s not illegal ‘just’ unethical.

We don’t always like it, but we do it.  We all have to pay our taxes and most of us handover at least 20% of our hard-earned wages.  Seeing that deduction on our wage slip isn’t always pleasant, but we know that it’s necessary.  Taxes make democracy work and provide the services that we rely on every day, from road repairs to the emergency services.

So, whilst you might be paying upwards of 20% on earnings, Amazon paid around 0.16% in corporation tax on UK sales in 2015.  On earnings of £6.3bn, they handed over just £9.8m to HMRC.

Tax avoidance destroys markets

In relation to bookshops, their tax avoidance really does cause some big problems in the market.  How many times have you discovered a book in a shop but used the phrase ‘It might be cheaper on Amazon’?  The sad fact is that it probably will be.

And there’s a reason for this.  When businesses don’t pay their fair share of taxes, they are able to offer the cheapest prices.  Sound familiar?

The result: a sweeping and uncontrolled domination of the market.  Mintel reports that there were only 894 independent bookshops left in 2016, a decrease of 42% since 2005.  And it isn’t just small businesses that are ruined, Waterstones is the only remaining national high street bookseller left (holding 30% of the non-Amazon market).  Tax avoidance, which helps Amazon to cut prices, is the main reason behind this decimation of our bookselling industry.

How do we give up our Amazon addiction?

Amazon is already making huge tracks into other retail categories through their online sales platforms, as well as growing their monopoly in audible and electronic books and new television offering with Amazon Prime.

So, how do we give up this bad habit that started with the purchase of a humble book?

We boycott.  We tell Amazon that until they start to contribute properly to the UK economy and treat their workers and the environment fairly then they are not welcome here.

There are alternatives and they don’t cost the earth.

Our booksellers report, available on the Ethical Consumer website, highlights several recommended ethical booksellers:

amazon ethics

Buy second-hand.

It’s cheaper and better for the environment than buying new.  Our report highlights Oxfam as the recommended best buy in the second-hand category with its high performance across all scoring criteria and with all profits being fed into their charity work.

Other recommended booksellers include:

Ebooks.com – coming a close second to Oxfam and offering a wide range of ebooks for tablets and computers.

Better World Books – an online bookseller who sell second-hand and new books and donate a portion of their profit to charity.

Hive.co.uk  – selling books and ebooks online and donating a percentage of each sale to local independent booksellers.

Books etc. and Guardian Books are also recommended for new books.

If you’re based in London, then Near St.  is definitely worth a look.  The site lists stock in hundreds of independent bookshops helping you to find the book you need quickly and support the smaller shop that stocks it.

Make the Amazon boycott part of your New Year’s resolution.

Together we can make a difference, we can bring back our once thriving independent bookshops and level the playing field for everyone.

To learn more about how you can take action visit the Ethical Consumer Amazon boycott page.

At Ethical Consumer, we’ve produced reports on over 40,000 companies, brands and products, using calculations to assess and rank companies in all aspects of ethical behaviour.  To view the full range visit ethicalconsumer.org.

Title image Creative Commons “The New York Trilogy”, Paul Auster, by pistocasero is licensed under CC BY 2.0, all other images used courtesy of Ethical Consumer.

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15 comments

  1. This is on my New Years list of things to change – I’ve made the shift with books but now I’m stumbling on buying ethical electronics! I need to do more research and think about second hand alternatives…. thanks for the article! ?

    Reply
    • Hmm, I haven’t thought too much about ethical electronics, possibly because we don’t buy electronics very often. Our TV came from the British Heart Foundation charity shop, which I can heartily recommend (all their electronics at PAT tested) but if I come up with any other ideas I will put a post together!

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  2. I stopped buying from Amazon about a year or more ago because of the tax issue, the domination of markets and the insane amount of packaging they use to name just 3 reasons. I hope you succeed in getting this message across to people. I also will not purchase anything from Apple, never have and never will, I feel very strong feelings of dislike towards them, mainly after seeing a news report where they were opening a new shop, the queues were big and they had people coming out and whipping the crowd into a frenzy – it’s only phones – what on earth is that all about.

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  3. It’s so easy to get sucked in to low prices when cash is a bit tight, but this is pretty shocking. I’ve tried to boycott Amazon but ended up creeping back to them for convenience. I’ll definitely remember this next time!
    The only downside of buying second hand, with regards to books and music, is that many authors and musicians are on very tight incomes anyway – http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/most-authors-earn-less-than-minimum-wage-from-their-writing-survey-finds-10191009.html – and every ‘new’ sale can benefit them (as can library loans though, my preference!). Saying that, I’m with you on buying less and buying more mindfully whenever possible. This is a really useful reminder – thank you.

    Reply
    • That’s a very fair point Gwen! With regards to music one reader once recommended buying direct from the artist or label so that they get as much money as possible from the sale, and I’ve done this a few times now. Sometimes it feels a bit more special buying directly from the artist!

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      • Agreed on this point for sure. I keep getting sucked back into buying on Amazon (for new copies of vinyl) because they always include a digital copy and not all vinyl comes with that. I prefer to buy direct from the artist or local second-hand, so this year I’m trying to find an easy-to-use system to transfer my records to MP3 so I have a backup copy of all of my music.

        Thanks for posting this article. I’ve been suspecting this about Amazon for a while, which is unfortunate because I think they started out as a small business and only recently (believe it or not) started turning a profit.

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  4. I think, many shoppers use Amazon, because it is convenient and fast. For me it feels like Amazon is always there in Google Search Engine Result Pages regardless the search terms. Therefore I feel proud that I bought all 2016 Christmas presents from dedicated, local on-line shops. After reading this article I will forget Amazon for good.

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  5. I have to confess that while I’ve always had niggling doubts about buying from Amazon, mostly because I’m concerned how they barge the independent booksellers out of the market with their buying power, up until now their bargain basement prices have tempted me despite my doubts. Hopefully your article will help me make better choices from now on.

    Reply
    • Hi Melanie, I get you on the price thing. I’ve used Wordery for when I’ve purchased new a few times (they rank higher than Waterstones) and found them to be on a par, or often cheaper than Amazon, and they offer free delivery too.

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  6. Thanks for this. Do you have any insight into the relative benefits of using Amazon to access secondary sellers? I use it a lot this way, because I like buying secondhand, and if I’m buying new, I’ll check direct with wordery, book depository etc. Sometimes it’s cheaper direct than via Amazon.

    Reply
    • Amazon is indeed a good way to find small scale secondary sellers, for whom Google might not be so favourable to. What I have done in the past is trying to google the marketplace seller’s shop name in order to buy from them directly. Quite a few of the Marketplace shops have their own retail sites and will be more than happy to avoid a middleman and the associated fees.

      Reply

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