I’ve been shopping on Amazon since the late ’90s and have been a member of Amazon Prime since 2006. That was back when buying things online was the exception rather than the rule.
At that time, the key pain points of online shopping (beyond the technical limitations) were the cost of shipping and the length of time it took to receive an item. Why would I buy anything online when I could get it locally, without playing the $6 to $12 shipping fee? Returns were a nightmare, too. So even though I dabbled in online shopping, I avoided buying clothing or big-ticket items like furniture.
When Amazon launched Prime in 2005, they removed these barriers by offering free two-day shipping for $79 year and easy returns. (Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post. The Lily is a publication of The Washington Post.)
When I first joined Prime, it was obvious to me that the cost of membership would pay for itself just during the holidays alone. That’s exactly how I justified it to my skeptical husband.
“It’ll be great,” I recall saying when I made the case for paying the hefty $79 annual fee. “We’ll avoid the crowded mall and save some money, plus we can always cancel the membership next year if it turns out to be useless.”
Thanks to Prime, 2006 was the first year I purchased more Christmas presents online than from our local mall, or any other local store. There were some glitches that year — gifts that didn’t arrive on time or arrived damaged, but I forgave Amazon, figuring they’d get better at handling the high volume of orders around the holidays
I was right. Amazon got much better at delivering items quickly and on time and added new perks and incentives for Prime members in a successful bid to keep us hooked on the service. But it’s been at the expense of the environment, the health and safety of Amazon’s own employees, and small businesses in communities pretty much everywhere.
Even big businesses are struggling. In the past 10 years, our local mall has died and many local retailers are closing or struggling, whether they’re large chains like Pier 1 Imports (slated to close next month) or tiny boutiques owned by friends and fellow community members.
In April, Amazon began rolling out free one-day shipping to its Prime members and simultaneously reduced its minimum purchase amount for orders that qualified for free shipping. The move was meant encourage customers to buy small, low-cost items (e.g., razors, batteries, etc.) more often. This has detrimental implications for the environment and adds to the increasing burden put on Amazon’s drivers, warehouse workers and shipping partners to deliver more packages more quickly.
I am, frankly, tired of contributing to all of the above. I don’t want my order of gel pens or lightbulbs to cause a warehouse worker’s death. I’m tired of all the cardboard and the plastic wrap. I’m sick of the waste.
As I enter my 14th year as a Prime member and Amazon addict, I’m inspired to take a good hard look at my toxic shopping habits. I’m not sure why it took me this long, but the madness stops now.
At the start of January, I made the decision not to buy a single item from Amazon for the entire month. Instead, whenever I had the urge to open my Amazon app or visit the website, I wrote what I wanted down. I’ve been keeping this running list in a notebook (far away from my computer and my phone.)
I’m not proud to admit it was really hard to get through the first week without making a purchase. I’ve gotten so used to ordering items whenever I want, that it felt like an actual hardship when I stopped. Seeing the stuff I wanted to buy in one long list made me realize that I didn’t actually need most of it and what I did need, I could easily purchase locally.
Here’s a sample of my list so far: extra power cord for my computer, rolling cat carrier, forks, spoons, socks, foaming hand soap, iPhone charging cord, pill box, three ring binder, gel pens, sketchbook, origami paper, sports bras, digital thermometer, spatula, dog sweater, pillar candles, reusable shopping bags.
In the past, I likely would have purchased about 80 percent of what’s on the above list from Amazon without a second thought.
As of today, I haven’t bought any of it — at least, not from Amazon. I bought the sketchbook and gel pens from an art supply store and the origami paper from an Etsy shop. I got the binder at Staples.
Something unexpected happened when I curbed my knee-jerk reaction to buy whatever I want whenever I want — I stopped wanting stuff.
About two weeks into this exercise, the frequency that I thought about buying things began to dwindle.
I’m now well into week three and I haven’t visited Amazon’s website or app once, at least, not to purchase anything. I have watched a few shows and movies, but I try to do this from the Amazon Video app rather than via the website because it’s very easy to get pulled into a shopping rabbit hole on the website.
The altruistic person within me wants to cancel Prime because it’s clearly contributing to bad shopping behavior. The realist in me isn’t ready to give it up — at least not yet.
For now, Prime will remain part of my family’s budget, but that doesn’t mean I can’t change my behavior. Just because I can buy fuzzy socks and gel pens with one click and have them delivered within 24 hours, doesn’t mean I should.
After three weeks of avoiding Amazon, it’s apparent that I need to be much more conscious about how I shop. Keeping a running list of items throughout the month turned out to be a great way to do this because it helped me pause and evaluate whether the item I wanted was really necessary. It also enabled me to assess whether Amazon was the best choice for a particular item versus shopping locally.
I think it’s also important to give myself a bit of a break. Amazon is a machine with a powerful algorithm designed to make shopping addictive. Plus, they already know me — hell, they’re one of my oldest friends. They have my payment information locked and loaded and I can order just about anything I want with one click.
I struggled with a shopping addiction before Amazon launched Prime. I’ve curbed this quite a bit in the last few years, but buying things on Amazon seemed different. Maybe that’s because so many of the things I bought were household items or gifts that I convinced myself I needed. The reality is that I ended up buying more stuff more often whether I needed it or not.
Going forward, when I shop on Amazon, I plan to select longer shipping times or choose Amazon Day Delivery — a new perk for Prime members which allows you to group items together for delivery on a specific day of the week that you choose.
I’m not the only one pumping the brakes on mindless online Prime purchases. Vox published a piece in 2018 which lists many of the same concerns. The piece discusses the phenomenon of Prime “backlash” involving a small (but growing) group of people who are canceling Prime as a way to protest some of the poor (and abusive) business practices that Amazon’s guilty of.
Ultimately, canceling Prime may be my next step. Once I’ve culled my purchases down to one or two a month, the benefits of a $119 annual membership will dwindle. For now, I’ll continue weaning myself from my Prime addiction and focus on being a more deliberate consumer.