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How to Stop Shopping at Amazon When You Know It's Bad but Do It Anyway

What if I told you that breaking with a cartoonishly evil company wouldn’t mean the end of free shipping and great deals?
February 25, 2021, 6:08pm
A woman sitting on a bed and onlwith a phone, a credit card, and a laptop
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I signed up for Amazon Prime in 2016, and then I pretty much stopped thinking about it for a few years. Because everyone does it, right? More than 150 million people subscribe to Prime because it's easy, fast, cheap, and has almost everything anyone could ever need. (Among the purchases I made in 2020: Halloween skeleton yard flamingos, a book about rock picking along Lake Superior, the writing desk on which I’m currently typing this story.) 

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But if you’re anything like me, a person who would loudly agree that “Amazon is evil!” without necessarily canceling a Prime subscription about it, it’s only getting harder to avoid the reality of just how evil it is: Amazon supports police surveillance, has swept the deaths of workers on their warehouse floors under the rug, spies on and undermines labor and environmental rights groups, forces warehouse employees to work 10-hour graveyard “megacycles” or lose their jobs, and is killing the planet

Now—say it with me, class—there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. There are a host of situations that can make Amazon harder to say no to, even if you know all about its dangerous counterfeiting problem or the loss of life and dignity inherent to next-day delivery. If you don’t live near a major city, have a disability, don’t have access to a car, work long shifts, or support a large family, you might rely on it to help you out. Especially when “Amazon is like dairy—you can’t escape it,” as a lactose-intolerant friend recently quipped. For a long time, that was the mentality I held on to in justifying my Prime account: It’s everywhere, so why try to avoid it? 

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Even if shaking the site altogether is nearly impossible if you want to continue using the internet, I’m not sure I really need to be funneling $12.99 a month for Prime—$155 a year!—into Jeff Bezos’s already overstuffed pockets (plus whatever the profits from my skeleton flamingos are). Below, we’ve assembled some tips on lessening your reliance on the shopping/streaming/surveilling giant, along with online and IRL alternatives where you can shop in a way that’s easy, fast, and cheap—but not dehumanizingly easy, fast, and cheap.

Reframe your expectations—and make an actual shopping schedule.

Amazon has trained us to think that we can and should be able to get anything under the sun within two days, so part of reducing your reliance on the platform is reducing your desire for the endorphin hit that comes with that near-instant gratification. Think about what you’re really paying for, too. Counterfeit S’Well water bottles are one thing, but remember all the times your orders arrived wrong, had missing parts, needed to be replaced after breaking quickly, or were just… low-quality? Is that really any more convenient than getting something you actually want elsewhere?

Think about wants versus needs: Do you absolutely have to have this thing right now? Why? Is there a reason you can’t wait a week, or get it another way? Keep running lists of things you regularly need and use so you don’t forget them when you go to the store, and if ever you have a little extra cash on hand, pick up extras of the stuff you always need, like toothpaste and deodorant, when they’re on sale.

Seek out businesses in your area that offer free same-day or otherwise fast delivery.

Free, speedy delivery is the most useful when you’re shopping for a non-negotiable need—you have to have the thing right this second. If you’re truly strapped for time, or can’t plan ahead for whatever other reason, and the last thing you want to hear is to make a list about it: You have an alternative. 

When you search online for something you want to buy, the top results come from Amazon almost 100 percent of the time. Search instead for that thing and your location to find a small business in the area that sells what you’re looking for, and you might even find one that offers free delivery! In researching this story, I turned up a nearby pet supply store that has free same-day delivery, several neighborhood bookstores that’ll drop purchases off free of charge, and at least three local coffee companies that deliver to your door.

Also? Don’t discount the neighborhood hardware store! The less-handy among us may not have been inside one in years, but stores like ACE typically carry a lot more than hammers and nails, whether you’re looking for kitchen supplies, dog toys, or medicine cabinet staples, and most offer free curbside pickup or delivery by a local associate.

Find intentionally ethical online alternatives for your staple purchases.

If you live somewhere more remote, or if there otherwise isn’t a nearby business that delivers what you want, you have the rest of the non-Amazon internet at your disposal when it comes to finding alternatives that’ll ship to you. Try shopping at an online-but-ethical retailer—something like Reel Paper, a Black-owned, eco-friendly bamboo toilet paper and paper towel company that uses parts of its profits to fund illness-reducing sanitation efforts with SOIL, or BLK + GRN, a Black-owned green personal care company that works like a marketplace for Black-owned natural beauty, body, and bath products. 

Do your online shopping at a not-as-evil version of “the everything store.”

If it’s getting too annoying to shop at 10 different online retailers, not all of which offer free shipping, there’s Done Good. As an Amazon alt, it’s great, because it has a wide range of products, including affordable housewares, cleaning supplies, clothing, and self-care stuff. Unlike Amazon, their whole thing is only carrying companies that pay fair wages, have safe working conditions, and use eco-friendly production practices.

Amazon might have the best SEO, but there are other online retailers that can almost match its breadth of options. There’s eBay for both new and secondhand stuff—be it Crock-Pots or Playstation games, middle-finger dart flights or certified refurbished electronics—and, like Amazon, daily deals. Etsy rules for housewares, home goods, office supplies, art, soap, planters, tee shirts, and more, with the added benefit that you’re often supporting an independent artist, artisan, or vintage seller. If you make an account and start favoriting shops and stores, Etsy offers increasingly (and, for your bank account, dangerously) targeted suggestions, which is how I came to own an acid-wash Slipknot shirt and why I know this Baja Blast-scented candle exists.

For grocery delivery, don’t turn to Instacart or Whole Foods (which Amazon owns). Instead, buy food and household staples from a smaller site.

Amazon owns Whole Foods, but they have a competitor in Thrive Market. With memberships starting at $5 a month—which is under half of what Prime costs—Thrive offers pantry staples at a discount from retail, with shipping that’s fast, but carbon neutral. Your membership sponsors the membership for a low-income family or first responder, and you can test it out with a free 30-day trial membership. You could also try Misfits Market, which reduces food waste and offers organic produce and shelf-stable groceries. 

For cleaning products, Grove Collaborative delivers cruelty-free, nontoxic household and personal care products, either with a subscription or on a product-by-product basis. In a similar ecology-minded vein, there’s Life Without Plastic and Package Free Shop.

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Lots of pet owners swear by Chewy, an online retailer that carries food, pharmacy items, litter boxes, cat condos—even Halloween costumes. They offer free delivery and auto-ship discounts, and have 24/7 customer service, including a live chat option. For treats and toys, BarkBox is fun—once a month, they’ll deliver your dog a themed box of treats and toys customized by size, dietary need, and chewing type. 

Set up a recurring subscription to take care of household basics.

There are subscription services that schedule your monthly deliveries of laundry detergent (Dropps, Frey), toothbrush heads (Quip, Burst), toilet paper (Who Gives A Crap, No. 2), air filters (Second Nature), planet-conscious cleaning products (Blueland), sponges (Skura Style)—basically, anything you could need for your house or your body. They’ll do the remembering for you.

Get books at independent and used bookstores, or from their publishers. (Or don’t buy them at all.)

Before it was the everything store, Amazon sold discounted books. Today, Amazon still sells discounted books—but so does Bookshop.org, and they do so while giving some of your money back to indie bookstores. The site has raised nearly $12,000,000 in donations to date, and you can even shop at a local bookstore—say, a Black woman–owned bookstore like Black Garnet Books—through their interface.

Or try ordering directly from the publisher. I recently went through Penguin Random House to buy Lil Nas X’s children’s book for a friend; the order was placed on January 28, shipped on January 29, and arrived on February 3.

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If you prefer audiobooks, try Libro.fm—unlike Audible, it’s a non-Amazon affiliate. Your library might have an audiobook rental service, too: In Minneapolis, where I live, Hennepin County Public Library offers all kinds of ebooks and digital audio books that you can access without leaving home. 

Just… cancel Prime and see how it goes. You don’t have to be perfect right away to reduce the amount you use Amazon.

I got rid of my Prime subscription on January 27 and was promptly refunded $14.03, because I guess there are taxes on that $12.99 a month (so I was actually shelling out $168.36 a year). That means I haven’t watched the new Owen Wilson/Salma Hayek movie yet; luckily it looks like folks hated it anyway.

As for whether I’ve been able to cut the site out entirely… well, I got $40 in referral rewards from a dog DNA testing company (shut up!) that could only be spent at Amazon, which I used to buy a monitor stand. Like I can afford to just leave money on the table? And then I really wanted these floating corner shelves that my roommate got, and the retailer was sold out, but Amazon still had a few in stock, so.

I have started making some changes, though. I thought to look at the corner-shelf retailer’s website before smashing the “Buy Now” button, which is technically a step in the right direction. When I needed a soap dish, I found a cute concrete one from Cedar and Stone Garden’s Etsy store. I just bought my first book from Bookshop—Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings—through Black Garnet. At the checkout, a little clapping hand emoji told me that my purchase raised $7.80 for local bookstores. With a little effort—and enough websites telling me how Good I am—I might even be able to wean myself off Bezos’s bosom entirely. (Also, if Etsy’s recommendations for me keep including things like a pocket amplifier in a Spam can called the Spamp.)

Follow Emily Cassel on Twitter.