Alternatives to Amazon
August 22, 2015 12:19 PM   Subscribe

What are my options for more ethical alternatives to Amazon?

I'm sorry if this has been asked I couldn't find it. What can I do to detangle myself from Amazon.com? I use it for everything, and with the recent exposures I've thought more about it and it's making me feel terrible.

I use it for almost everything, I live in a small town; my main in person shopping alternatives would be driving some distance to reach a Target/Walmart.

I am a Prime subscriber, use Instant Video and my Kindle extensively, Subscribe and Save most of my monthly household/toiletry items, buy almost all the gifts I give from there (on short notice with the quick shipping), buy books/dvds, supplies for my office (K cups, candy, sugar, etc), maintain a gift wish list that helps family pick things I might actually want when they insist on getting me gifts and to track ideas for gift-giving, have private lists to track reading and watching options (400+ items long). I would say other than the local grocery store I buy 80% of the things I own through Amazon. I tried some basic searches for more ethical options and don't know how to tell if the listed alternatives are any better (Powells? Overstock?) and feels like that leaves me starting accounts 15 places to replace 1.

I just feel overwhelmed and like I've been ignoring bad practices for too long just for that reason, but it's getting harder for me to accept putting my own ease and comfort so much above those working for the company (though I realize there is a whole another level of issues with where all the products are produced in the first place). Help?
posted by Sweetums to Shopping (29 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly, the best solution is just to buy less stuff. There is really nothing perfect, but you can invest a serious amount of time and money figuring out the best American-made products and how to source them from a locally owned business. If it's coming from China, or another developing country, there are major concerns with the whole supply chain that are pretty much unavoidable.

Another option is to buy as much used as possible.

And remember that 40%+ of items sold on Amazon are sold by 3rd-party merchants, who are often small businesses in the US. By not buying on Amazon, you are hurting them.

Also if you're buying disposable K Cups you're doing a terrible thing for the environment, not to mention wasting serious money.

Basically if not shopping at Amazon and ordering/buying from another large corporation makes you feel better, go for it. But don't think you're making a great choice, you're just ignoring the less-publicized problems those merchants have.
posted by paulcole at 12:37 PM on August 22, 2015 [16 favorites]


There are many charities and independent media outlets that have Amazon affiliate links on their sites, so they get a tiny cut of each referral to Amazon. You could continue to shop at Amazon, but only use these links so that you're helping fund a charity or indie podcast you like.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:46 PM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


Boycotting a company only hurts the workers. Less business, less work, more people who can't afford to feed their family. If workers do not like the company that they are working for, they can look for other work or band together to make changes from the inside. You not using Amazon Prime will not help them in any way. So, enjoy your Amazon guilt free.

Since your question was that you wanted an alternative, join Target's redcard program. Free shipping and a discount.
posted by myselfasme at 12:55 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


fleethejungle.com
posted by O9scar at 1:00 PM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


Take the money you save from shopping at Amazon, and donate it to a political organization devoted to workers' rights. Here are a few examples. When you spend your money at Amazon, at least you know where your money will go to - selling stuff (Amazon doesn't make profit). When you spend your money at a more "ethical" organization, you have generally have no idea where your money goes. There's nothing saying your local hippy-oriented co-op spends the extra money you spend there on, say, worker's wages, especially when they generally have to pay higher amounts for goods than Amazon does (in which case, you "waste" even more money from your perspective). When you donate to an advocacy organization, you know exactly what your money is going towards.
posted by saeculorum at 1:09 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


My assumption is that other online retailers try hard to emulate Amazon. It's a low-margin industry with a world full of competitors.

I quit Amazon and Prime a few weeks ago. Even though I didn't rely on it as much as you, I haven't found an acceptable alternative.

Perhaps the "least worst" option is to stay with Amazon while looking for ways to communicate your concerns.
posted by justcorbly at 1:14 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're willing to sacrifice free shipping and the convenience of a one-stop-shop, then I do suggest discontinuing Amazon for buying books. Ironic, since it's how they started out, but independent bookstores are really struggling these days.

- The used booksellers on Abebooks.com are often the same booksellers on Amazon, with competitive pricing, and they'll save all your credit card and shipping information, making checkouts just as easy. I mean, I don't really know anything about Abe Books' ethical practices, but I've been a happy customer for a long time.

- For new books, consider ordering directly from the small press publisher, or going though a large indie bookstore located somewhere in your state.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:31 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


You could switch to a Kobo ereader and then set up your account so a portion of your digital purchases go to your local independent bookstore.
posted by brookeb at 1:34 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Amazon bought Abebooks, but i’ve used Alibris, which has been around for years. Many sellers list there as well as on Amazon-owned places.

I did my first mail order with Powell’s earlier this year, which went fine.

Amazon royally screwed up a simple book order (multiple problems, entirely their fault) a few months ago so i’m done with them.


Boycotting a company only hurts the workers. Less business, less work, more people who can't afford to feed their family.

If someone is buying the items elsewhere workers in the economy are still being employed/paid.
posted by D.C. at 1:50 PM on August 22, 2015 [7 favorites]


I use it for almost everything, I live in a small town; my main in person shopping alternatives would be driving some distance to reach a Target/Walmart

Walmart would be 1000x worse using any ethical standards.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:00 PM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


The used booksellers on Abebooks.com are often the same booksellers on Amazon

Alas, Abebooks is Amazon. But there are Alibris and Biblio.

that leaves me starting accounts 15 places to replace 1.

I'm afraid there's no way around this one. It's kind of intrinsic to the nature of Amazon's evils.
posted by Shmuel510 at 2:08 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Drugstore.com has a subscribe-and-save type thing for various household items, basically anything you could buy in a Walgreens (who they are owned by).

Newegg for electronics. They are tireless crusaders against patent trolls.

Shoprunner offers free 2 day shipping across various sites (including Drugstore.com and some Newegg items). Membership is free if you have an American Express card.
posted by zsazsa at 2:12 PM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe just start by trying to move *some* of your shopping to other outlets. You mention Target: it's not perfect but as a big box store, it's often considered a "good actor" in the space. You could use Target.com and the advantage is in person returns/exchanges.

Are there no local stores in your area to support? Can you move gift giving to other options: gift cards? Cash? Etsy?

As creepy as Amazon's white collar practices are, I'd focus on their warehouse/distribution practices and maybe worry less about the instant video.
posted by vunder at 2:32 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with vunder that it might be best to start with moving a few purchases away from Amazon. Books are easy, and as Juliet Banana said, your local bookstore could really use your patronage. You can always call the bookstore ahead of time to see if they have the book in stock. My local bookstore can order something and have it within usually a few days if they don't have it in stock.

For gift ideas, I use private boards on Pinterest. Any time I come across something cool online I pin it. I find a lot of cool stuff on Uncommon Goods.

We have an Apple TV, so we use Netflix and Hulu for subscription streaming, and rent stuff as necessary through iTunes.
posted by radioamy at 3:14 PM on August 22, 2015


I use BetterWorldBooks.com as much as possible for books. They fund literacy programs out of sales and there's free shipping with no minimum purchase.

I still use Amazon's wishlist as a place to store gift ideas and my "want to read" list.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:47 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Better World Books is one of the biggest 3rd-party book sellers on Amazon.com. If someone is not interested in supporting Amazon, should they support a company that relies on Amazon for a large amount of their income?

Not being contrary, just showing that there's no great solution to this dilemma.
posted by paulcole at 4:40 PM on August 22, 2015


And remember that 40%+ of items sold on Amazon are sold by 3rd-party merchants, who are often small businesses in the US

Microbusinesses, in many cases. Selling on Amazon is a low-bar-to-entry, potentially decently profitable, job that people without conventional jobs can do -- at-home parents or other caregivers, people with disabilities that keep them out of conventional employment, students with unreliable hours of availability, etc.

One thing that does not go unnoticed by your mom-and-pop type online sellers is that prices are usually higher for X on Amazon than they are on eBay. Shopping on eBay, with an eye towards supporting the smaller sellers, might be a way to go.

I also agree that the genuinely ethical option is "buy less junk." There's just not going to be a perfectly morally clean way to buy something like a disposable K-Cup.

Are you in any sort of reasonable driving distance of a Costco? I live in a small town with no shopping too; I space out and plan for Costco benders. They're paying decent wages, their return policy is terrific, it's worth having to buy everything in Holy-Roman-Emperor-size and to wait a bit inbetween running out of this and that (or, have a years' worth of garbage bags hoarded up in the basement when it's not like the nice dried mushrooms and you really can't run out of it) because I'm good with supporting Costco, which keeps selling me a good product at a good price and by all accounts being decent to its employees.
posted by kmennie at 4:46 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Better World Books has a lot of sketchy practices, as well, in how they attain their books, their pricing strategies, and questions about how much of that is going to charity in reality.
I am a third-party seller on Amazon as well as Biblio and 6 other sites. I'm just as happy to send you a book through one of the alternative sites as any of the others, if not more so. My prices are consistent across all venues in general, as most third-party sellers are, I feel.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:06 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you're not able to stop shopping at Amazon.com entirely, start all your Amazon purchases at smile.amazon.com. Amazon will donate 0.5% of eligible Smile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice, so at least you're doing some good while shopping.
posted by lovelygirl at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


My son lives in a small, isolated town with not even a Target or (ugh) Walmart, and he relies on Amazon much as you do. I don’t think there’s any way you can replace Amazon without doing the “15 places to replace 1”. Probably it will be more than that. There’s a price for everything, and you’ll have to decide whether you place a higher value on ethics or convenience.

That said, I agree with the incremental steps proposed by others: buy less stuff, choose more of the third-party merchants at Amazon, and handpick some alternate suppliers.

Mostly I’m commenting to say that Powell’s Books is an excellent bookstore for new and used books. In the past they’ve had their problems with treatment of employees – but nothing like Amazon. Powell’s is unionized. You can read their Glassdoor reviews. I always buy my books from Powell’s, even if the Amazon price is much lower. (Well, to be fair, Powell’s is local for me.)
posted by LovelyAngel at 5:47 PM on August 22, 2015


Totally agree with Costco, if you can manage it. It's very easy to make the membership pay for itself, especially with stuff for your office.

Otherwise, identifying local businesses you would like to support is a feel-good thing that brings immediate benefits. You can absolutely buy your ebooks through a local independent. Eat at local, non-chain restaurants. We started eating only at independent restaurants after watching yet another one close and feeling bad about it. We've been rewarded with relationships and appreciation from the owners. (We also do a bit less eating out out of laziness.) You may not feel you can dispense with Amazon entirely, but at least you will have the satisfaction of keeping local people employed.
posted by BibiRose at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


...feels like that leaves me starting accounts 15 places to replace 1.

Use a browser password manager add on like LastPass , and it won't be a problem to have 15 different accounts.
posted by Leontine at 7:48 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I think your best bet is to convince your friends and family who live in larger population centers to decrease their use of Amazon. Their alternatives are a lot easier and closer to hand than yours are.

If you really want to concentrate only on your own consumption, you could also cancel Prime, which is basically there to get you to impulse-purchase things you wouldn't otherwise buy. Given how much you spend at Amazon, I doubt you'd constantly be hit with shipping fees for not having $25.00 worth of stuff in your checkout.
posted by escabeche at 8:08 PM on August 22, 2015


Walmart would be 1000x worse using any ethical standards.

Not necessarily.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:32 PM on August 22, 2015


^Above should be

Sorry.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:47 PM on August 22, 2015


I've been struggling with this same question, Sweetums, though for different reasons. I live in a big city, but illness combined with a stressful job means I don't have a lot of time and energy to run around doing errands, so being able to quickly order things online is a often a life saver. My approach has been a combination of (as suggested above) a) reducing what I buy, b) choosing local stores, including asking them to order things for me when possible, which they are usually happy to do if they recognize me as a repeat customer or c) ordering from stores like Powell's that are better than Amazon when I can't find something locally (though I rarely need to order books). I totally agree it's not as easy as just relying on one store to have everything, but that solution begets the problem, so it's never going to not have a steep cost (if that makes sense). And I do use a password manager, which does make life miles easier.

I do occasionally still order from Amazon, but focus on having the categories of things I used to order the most from them (books, pharmacy stuff, pet stuff) be what I focus on finding alternate sources for, at least at first.

Are there any shops near your office you could patronize and do you have space to stock up like crazy? Does your town have a library that lets you check out ebooks and videos? I have tried to take another look at my own neighborhood, which has changed around me so I no longer feel connected to it and so tend to discount it, but I did rediscover some nearby gems I'd overlooked. They cost a little more, but if I buy less that works out and I support useful stores in my increasingly useless neighborhood. I certainly can't do most of my shopping in-neighborhood, but I can buy more here than I sometimes allow. Perhaps there is something in your small town you could support and help the town revitalize in a small way?

I have an Etsy wishlist people can order from if they need to get me a gift (though it's usually where I get gifts for myself!) With Etsy, though, you have to tread carefully these days — a lot of it is crap or made by underpaid workers. I've carefully favorited makers I've researched or who as best I can tell are making things themselves or paying their helpers fairly. Another option for gifts, could you let everyone know a charity you support that you'd be happy to have them make donations in your name to? Local charities are sometimes better received (if your friends & family are local) than national charities in my experience.

In the end, though, the politics are probably the most important thing. Voting, sending letters in support of living wages and paid sick leave and other basic workers' rights to your local politicians, and donating to people fighting for workers' rights might make more difference.
posted by rafaella gabriela sarsaparilla at 6:38 AM on August 23, 2015


Thank you everyone for your answers, this has been helpful in thinking through what my options might be. I do think buying less would be good, but some of what I'm using it for is basics like personal care items, sunscreen, dental floss - I can only find the brands I use online. I'm an hour and a half from a Costco but have never really managed that as a viable option (rafaella gabriela sarsparilla's answer gets at another layer, I just don't have the mental energy to go all over trying to get things that used to arrive at my doorstep, saving me time and gas and cheaper than anything I'd find remotely locally). Some of the 'try this', 'no that place is terrible too' responses gets at why this overwhelms me; I do think that my personal choices can matter, or at least that they matter to me, so I want to try to do better.

So! I think that moving some things elsewhere where I can, trying to find or have special ordered more things as local as I can, canceling Prime (and sending a letter why), when I do use Amazon using affiliate links, and weaning myself from my wish lists via the library, Etsy, etc. are going to be my first steps. Probably in the end I'll buy less and be better for it, I was an ideal customer falling into just the habits they'd like me to so it's probably good to get a kick in the pants there too. Thanks!
posted by Sweetums at 7:51 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think there's a real chance that you as an individual can be more effective if you take the time, energy, and money that you save by adding at Amazon and put it towards political activism. These issues will only be solved with legislative regulations and enforcement.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:32 PM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


I use it for everything, and with the recent exposures I've thought more about it and it's making me feel terrible.

The recent exposures have been focused on the white collar engineering jobs. These people are paid relatively well, and typically paid even better when they leave after two years on average. Every thread I've read on HackerNews and reddit included a couple people saying 'I work at amazon, and this must be an AWS thing.'

AWS is the cloud computing division of Amazon that provides services to a huge fraction of the internet. Notable publicly disclosed clients include:
* the CIA
* Netflix
* MetaFilter
* NASA
* reddit
* Pinterest
* Etsy (formerly)

Most crucially, this service generates cash. BBC reports AWS nets about 250 million dollars in a quarter. That's a billion dollars in income a year. Inside a company that has never posted a profit--AWS effectively subsidizes the rest of Amazon.

If you want to boycott Amazon to punish them, AWS seems like it should be included. But at this point, it's also extremely difficult to do. The layman can't easily determine what sites are and aren't powered by Amazon, and even if they could, it's a non-trivial fraction of the internet.
posted by pwnguin at 7:01 PM on August 23, 2015


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