by Hannah Shewan Stevens
'Why are we not more considerate of exactly whose pocket our hard-earned cash is going into?'
In the midst of a global pandemic, I assumed purse strings would tighten and online retailers would suffer, but online sales grew 31.2% in June and shoppers are not slowing down. It appears even lockdown cannot put a stop to overspending and thoughtless consumerism, especially when buying from companies like Amazon. Considering that many of us still need to buy necessities during this time, a complete disruption of online shopping would be an unreasonable expectation, however, I had hoped that the lockdown would encourage more people to reconsider where they spend their money. Every individual carries immense power in their pockets, each pound we spend helps to determine a company’s marketing, advertising, restocking, product placement and so much more, so why are we not more considerate of exactly whose pocket our hard-earned cash is going into?
The simplest answer is ease. We are creatures of habit who are accustomed to a world that delivers our desires at a click of a button with next day delivery. When we have to think harder about whom each purchase will benefit and hurt, many of us, myself included, often choose not to think about it. While we surf Amazon for every product imaginable, we rarely spare a thought for the workers struggling to retain their jobs with Amazon’s brutal 6-points-and-you're-out system, which penalises workers for taking sick days and other minor or imaginary offences. We forget that the cheery delivery drivers dropping our parcels off are often working up to 12 hours on zero hour contracts and often work unpaid overtime because the distances between drop offs are not factored into their pay.
'It is quite impossible to become a billionaire without exploiting the services and skills of other people'
We also do not consider the gross fortune of a man like Jeff Bezos or how he really earned that money. It is quite impossible to become a billionaire without exploiting the services and skills of other people, which is exactly how Jeff became the richest person in the world - soon to be the world’s first trillionaire - with a net worth of over $112 billion. He exploits the skills and desperation of workers in need of a steady job. He undercuts markets and sellers to push his products and he does so without remorse or reflection, demonstrated by his call for people to donate to support his workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even with all his wealth and status, he was unwilling to support his workers through the pandemic, an attitude we have seen many times before when reports of his overworked and underpaid staff are splashed all over the papers.
Despite this, Amazon remains one of the most successful companies in the world. Its products are shipped all day, every day to millions of people around the world, many of whom do not spare a second’s thought to exactly how their precious packages arrive at their doors. I could use this article to claim moral superiority and rant about how every individual should boycott Amazon and only use independent sellers, but I would be forgetting an important fact about the company. For many people, Amazon is a lifeline. An accessible one that cuts costs for low-income households, permits easy delivery for disabled people and provides jobs for nearly one million people. In short, it is a necessary evil for those of us who have a limited income and cannot afford to buy purely sustainable products or from independent businesses.
'...using Amazon is a choice, one I try to avoid wherever possible.'
I still use Amazon semi-regularly because I am on a low income and there are some products that I simply cannot afford to buy anywhere else. However, using Amazon is a choice, one I try to avoid wherever possible. I avoid fast fashion and elect to buy my clothes from sustainable sellers, vintage and charity shops. I try to use independent sellers for other products and I am endeavouring to learn more about where the products I buy come from and exactly who benefits from their purchase.
For those who have a more flexible income, Amazon is a choice many could opt out of. If you have the extra funds to spend 10% more on a product from an independent seller, switch over!
Understandably, making an account, paying for postage and waiting for delivery from a new seller takes away from the ease of ordering from Amazon, but if you are willing to put in an extra ten minutes of work every now and then, you could make a huge impact on a small business owner’s livelihood. In comparison, Amazon effortlessly makes millions per day, so who would you prefer to enjoy your hard earned money?
'...are we permitting consumerist culture to control us instead of us controlling it?'
By continuing to ignore the underlying corruption of companies like Amazon, we are electing to ignore the abuse of workers in favour of cheap products and fast delivery. Consumerism is an inescapable aspect of our society, but if we allow our spending to be driven by convenience instead of consideration, are we permitting consumerist culture to control us instead of us controlling it?
Due to varying incomes, switching to sustainable sellers and independent shops is an easier choice for some than others. For those of us on a lower income, like myself, a slow transition is a necessity, however, for others it is a simple choice that only requires research and patience. If you have the ability to do so, consider stepping back to analyse how your money benefits the businesses you shop with.
Does your money tend to go to big conglomerates that could lose your sales without blinking? Or does your cash go to independent and smaller businesses that will thrive as a result of your conscientious spending?
Every aspect of our lives is a choice: who we choose to give our money to should be one of the most careful decisions we make on a daily basis. It is time we all stopped being so careless with our power and spent our money in a more ethical, considered and sustainable way. The responsibility to change the market may lay with the government but every individual has the ability to make changes on a micro-level. But to steal a line from that well-known supermarket and rebrand it for a sustainable mindset, every little helps!
Hannah Shewan Stevens is a freelance writer, press representative and TV researcher based in Birmingham. Her work primarily focuses on health, disability issues, sex and relationships and opinion writing. She is also training to become a sex educator and aspires to write non-fiction and fiction books.