With great power comes great responsibility. This iconic phrase from Spider-Man has been applied to politics and law enforcement to remind us of the importance that comes with those positions. Where we do not associate this phrase however is for large corporations and the responsibilities that they have. In this time of great uncertainty, there should be a consequence of larger companies acting irresponsibly. What of the world’s largest retailer then? Let’s look at how Amazon has handled this crisis and why we should expect more from the retailer.
The Magnitude of Amazon
Amazon as a company and its CEO Jeff Bezos have what can modestly be called an embarrassment of riches. The company has a market cap that frequently flirts with the $1 Trillion thresholds and in the eyes of many consumers is the default place to shop for anything. While online sales only account for roughly 13% of total sales, this number is rapidly increasing and Amazon is the driving force behind it.
Amazon’s Prime membership numbers have been increasing every year since 2013 and only seem to be increasing. The companies free 2-day shipping and in some markets same day shipping have become selling points of shopping on the service. The efficiency of the service has led to quite a few people to use Amazon for their staples and necessities. This success has led to the acquisition of Whole Foods, giving Amazon a brick and mortar presence in addition to its online dominance.
The company is dominating on so many fronts these days from its consumer-facing online retail website to Amazon Web Services (AWS) that has dominated the server-side cloud business. To put it bluntly, the company is ambitious, successful, and enormous in scope. This has led to the pop culture impact of the company, where Amazon ordering sprees have become meme fodder. Whenever the company is in the news, tech outlets pay attention. Amazon matters, which is what makes the way that they have conducted business during this pandemic especially troubling.
We Should Expect Better
We live in extremely dangerous times. Not only because of the medical threat posed by COVID-19 but rather by the lack of humanity that has been shown by society in response to the illness. We have seen hoarding of essential supplies, a direct violation of social distancing guidelines, and the politicizing of the virus. All things that make us lose hope for the future of society. But how does this all relate to Amazon? The company has become a poster child for this sort of behavior on the corporate level.
Amazon has never had a sterling reputation when it comes to their warehouses. The company has been accused of unrealistic expectations in regards to their warehouse workers, in many cases to the point of workers not being able to take bathroom breaks in fear of falling behind in an order queue. These issues have only increased during the pandemic, with reports of multiple warehouse employees dying from the virus and the company’s refusal to acknowledge how many are sick. As one of the largest companies on the planet, this is simply unacceptable. The optics here snowball from being negligent to being greedy.
The company seems to be the sole bright spot in the stock market currently, as the company has seen incredible profits due to customers mass purchasing essential goods from the company. To the company’s credit, they have committed to using their Q2 2020 profit on Coronavirus relief and also have prioritized the shipment of essential goods. All of this would be well and good if they had not remained silent on rampant price gouging that has gone largely unchecked on the company’s website.
A Lack of Accountability
Here in the United States, we have a very capitalist way of thinking. Whenever there is an opportunity for us to flex our financial and business acumen, we do it. Amazon has a Marketplace system that allows people to sell products outside of the company’s Prime setup. Normally this is great since it allows people to make money on Amazon and potentially offer the customer some cost savings. All of this goes out of the window in a time of the pandemic.
The capitalist mind will naturally raise the price of items that people were mass purchasing, a simple example of supply and demand. Amazon has acknowledged that this is a problem, and has requested that a law be created to stop this from happening. Yet the issue with the company going this route is skirting responsibility. As it currently stands, the company will only stop an item being exorbitantly priced if an algorithm detects it or if enough users complain about the price from a specific seller.
A company the size of Amazon has tools at its disposal to be able to more effectively manage this sort of retail crisis. By not policing its platform the company is sending a message of apathy to its users that trust their website. In many ways, this is predatory and overly opportunistic disguised as capitalism.
And now the company is ending its hazard pay raises for warehouse workers at the end of May, further showing that the company is looking to only do the bare minimum when it comes to the safety of its employees and the financial justice of their customers. Meanwhile, the net worth of the company and it’s CEO continue to rise exponentially. Using a lack of law is a convenient excuse when the company should be able to regulate its sellers on its platform.
Avoiding the Monopoly
As crazy as it sounds in the wake of all of this and all of the shenanigans of the company, I have quit Amazon cold turkey. The internet is a vast place where many different marketplaces exist. In most cases, free shipping has become more commonplace. The mentality of people has been to exclusively shop on Amazon when higher quality items are available from other retailers.
Years ago, I knew many people that refused to shop at Walmart because of the way that they compensated their employees. A statement that was very commonplace about not shopping at Walmart was “I would gladly pay a few more dollars for something at Target than to spend my money at Walmart”. This is the mentality that I have taken with Amazon and urge you to consider doing the same.
If there is one thing that this pandemic has shown me on a large scale level it is that we need to hold our companies more accountable and support the ones that are responsible world citizens. There are so many more retailers and independent creators that sell items more ethically. At this moment we should remember the companies and people that showed their humanity instead of financial ruthlessness. I will forever remember 2020 as the year that I quit Amazon. For the sake of human decency, I hope more people do the same.