A Month without Amazon

£3,410.55.

That’s how much money I spent on Amazon.co.uk last year. Plus $66 on Amazon.com for a really cool popcorn bowl that lets you pop corn in the microwave in 2 minutes.

It’s scary how it adds up. And it’s frankly terrifying what I spent it on – £250 on Converse, and £1500 on electronics of various sorts -  a new camera body, a tablet for my Mum, a new mobile phone, another new mobile phone to replace the first mobile when I left it on a plane, £70 for a spare mobile when I realised I needed a second handset that wasn’t linked to work…

Some of it was fairly random. Automated cat feeder – £37.90 (surely it must be cheaper to train cats to open tins). Then there was a new guitar and guitar stand, a life jacket, a mug shaped like the Tardis and – why not?  - a box of grits. As you do. Amazon was my go-to store for all sorts of things.

Somewhere before Christmas, though, I started to wonder if it wasn’t time to wean myself off Amazon.

I was always slightly appalled by the derisory amount of tax that Amazon gets away with paying in the UK.  Then I started reading articles about the way Amazon runs its fulfilment centres, the lack of employment rights and benefits – or even contracts. I chatted with friends who run independent businesses and they told me about the pressures of trying to compete with Amazon – and the equally tough pressures of selling product through the site.

Then I read this blog post – and there were a couple of things in it that really, really hit home for me.

First, what sort of employment landscape do I want my daughter to enter as an adult? Because by that time, Amazon could be pretty much selling everything we need. That means more fulfilment centres, and fewer real world shops and websites that employ people and pay benefits, and tax, and all that good stuff.

Second, where do you draw the line? What was I waiting to hear that would be enough for me to stop lending them my support?  When I look at it, honestly, hasn’t the line already been crossed?

I asked friends whether they felt like me. And to be fair – most of them didn’t. Some hadn’t read the newspaper articles or seen the TV programmes. Some of them had but said that Amazon tends to be cheaper than other retailers, and so they have to go to Amazon, even if they’d rather not…

Luckily, I’m never one to let everyone disagreeing with me stop me from doing something, so I decided that, wherever possible, in 2014 I would shop locally, and if that wasn’t possible, I would buy online from an independent retailer, or a retailer that employs people fairly, and pays taxes in the UK.

So what happened?

Well, it’s certainly not impossible. I’ve gone from virtual Amazon junkie to not spending there at all. I’m lucky to live in a town that has incredible local shopping. I can pretty much buy most of what we need and want within a 5 minute walk of my house. But sometimes I do need to buy online.

My first challenge – I dropped my camera and urgently needed a replacement lens – usually something I’d have picked up at Amazon. But I found the lens I wanted on Jessops’ website at just £8 more than the same item on Amazon. 

With a new lens I needed a new camera bag – again, something I’d typically buy at Amazon, but I bought from Camera King for £9 less than the same product on Amazon, and I got great delivery, including emails from Royal Mail when the bag was out for delivery.  Perfect!

Next up – we’ve booked a trip to California this summer, and I wanted to get some detailed road maps and guides to the area – I found the exact maps and books I wanted on both Waterstones and WHSmith, but the price on WHSmith was £5 cheaper than Amazon. SCORE!

The biggest test, though, was buying a wall decoration. I found a decal of one of my favourite EVER quotes on Amazon.com – I’ve had an eye out for something just like this for several years, with a view to putting it on my bedroom wall. But how to get it without going through Amazon?

I did some Googling to find the original retailer, and went to them direct. This guy wouldn’t ship to the UK, no matter how nicely I asked. What to do?

In the end, I asked a friend in the US to accept delivery of the decal then post it on to me. This added a week to the delivery process, but in the grand scheme of things, no big deal – and buying direct saved me $15, which covered the additional postage cost. Although buying direct meant I was tempted into buying a second decal for the new kitchen, when it’s finished, so…

So one month in, have I missed Amazon? Not so far.

I don’t intend to preach to anyone else, this really is just an experiment for me based on my feelings about the way Amazon conducts its business. But it’s interesting to find that, overall, shopping off-Amazon hasn’t cost me more, and if delivery is sometimes slower, that’s okay considering I’m saving £50 a year not paying for Amazon’s Prime service.

What about you –  could you shop without Amazon? Do you?

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the HIBS100, Foodies100 and Tots100 - an online community of more than 15,000 UK bloggers. She is also a busy single Mum to Flea, the world's coolest eight year old.

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54 Comments

    • says

      I agree – although I would say only the decal really took additional time – everything else, it was just a case of Googling (other search engines are available) and seeing what else was out there.

  1. says

    A great blog. Delighted you have chosen to support both the local community and online independent retailers, like me!!! We offer the personal touch, great customer service and are always happy to help…

  2. Nikki says

    Great stuff Sally! I do think smaller retailers could make it even easier for customers though by increasing the amount of pay pal or similar options on their sites – as that’s what often puts people (me!) off – having to enter account information on numerous sites each time they buy.

    • says

      Thanks Nikki – I definitely agree about Paypal, I bought some DVDs from a US site today and the fact they had Paypal also made me more confident about buying from a retailer I’d never used before (I was seeking Amazon alternatives for a DVD that hasn’t been released in the UK)

    • says

      Funnily enough, Amazon is often not the cheapest option, and once you factor in delivery AND the removal of the free postage for items under £10, then… often the delivery on other sites isn’t so much slower, and while it’s tempting for me to think I NEED that DVD tomorrow… I need to be more patient, too :)

  3. says

    After you posted the question on FB a while back I did a bit of research (I hadn’t heard anything about the fulfillment centers) and didn’t like what I read- I decided to cancel my Amazon prime and have not bought anything on Amazon. Not sure how long that will last but I don’t like way they run the fulfilment centers added to that the kerfuffle over taxes and I thought I should put my money where my mouth is- I’m always spouting off about shopping local and when I looked at it I realised I did very little of that.
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  4. says

    Wow, just wow. I’ve just read the article that you have linked to and I have to say that I had absolutely no idea. Now I need to get off my backside and stop giving Amazon so much of my business. Need to rethink my affiliation with them too.Well done for making a difference. Our shops in our town aren’t brilliant but we can survive of that I am sure!!
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    • says

      It’s thought-provoking, isn’t it? Certainly, I think if I want to live in a vibrant local community where money stays in the community, I need to put my money where my mouth is.

  5. says

    Good for you! Amazon used to be my go-to shop too, but over the past year I’ve tried to stay away from them. I saw that blog post too, plus another about how they have no qualms about selling a book that advocates corporal punishment for children. Go figure…
    The one place where I really fail to avoid them, however, is the Kindle. We live in Italy where English books cost a fortune, and I read A LOT. So the Kindle, which we got as a present, has been a lifesaver. Maybe next time I visit the UK I should stuff my suitcase with books bought at an indie book shop?!
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    • says

      I am going to do a separate post on eBooks as I have a Kindle and there are alternatives, if you’re prepared to be a bit more adventurous :)

  6. says

    I stopped using Amazon a few years ago. There were things about it that just didn’t sit well with me, like the tax thing. So I have done something very similar to what you have been doing, shopping locally, shopping from other companies, we moved to a town with actual shops and I have rediscovered the joys of browsing bookshops and cookery shops. I know I sometimes pay a bit higher a price, but the knowledge of the shop assistants in a small town like ours, the chat with them, the fact that they get to know me for my face and accent as opposed to my client number… those are all things that to me have become priceless in my old(er) age. Plus there is the knowlege that perhaps I have contributed to help them fight the big bad giant by turning into an epic retail female warrior and well, what can I say, that is just karma ;)
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    • says

      Thanks for commenting Maria – I do think I pay a little more shopping locally, but I consider that an investment in my town, and my community, and the world my daughter is going to live in when she’s older. If that means buying a little less, well… personally I’m okay with that. I spend too much on nonsense, as it is.

  7. says

    Could I avoid it? Yes, especially given they’ve dropped the free delivery on books under a tenner. Should I? Well that’s a grey area. I suppose somewhere you have to start to make a stand and it’s probably easier to do it with a retailer than a manufacturer of stuff you like.

    So much in terms of consumer electronics is made at OEMs like Foxconn (they do more than make Apple stuff, ASUS, Barnes & Nobel, Acer, Dell, HP, MSI and yes, Amazon), who have well documented worker welfare issues, that it makes me feel a bit hopeless in a way. Yes, I can click on 7dayshop.com, or digital depot but the fatalist in me notes wearily I’m doing it on either a macbook or a PC with a MSI motherboard and thereby tacitly supporting the sort of company I’m making a stand against.

    The problem is, the more you dig into it, the more the logical conclusion is that you’ll end up living in the middle of the field with a homemade semaphore system for communication with others if you truly want to make a stand. There are so many value judgements to make along the way I’d end up feeling like a hypocrite thinking, well I’m only doing without that particular thing because I can do without it, I’ll ignore the blasphemies on humanity this company commits because I like their products too much…

    Sorry, it’s been a Loooong January (accountants are allowed to say that you know).
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    • says

      Personally, I think if I tried to solve EVERY problem and live perfectly, I’d do nothing. So I look at my life, my priorities, the things I feel most strongly about, and I do SOMETHING. I’m not arguing against the capitalist model, I’m just saying that I feel Amazon is damaging to local economies and the national economy, and I choose to do what I can (as little as it may be) to support my local economy, and businesses that pay what I feel is a fair rate into the UK tax system.

      AS for January – courage, mon ami, the end’s in sight.

  8. says

    Certainly food for thought. I will admit that I have buried my head in the sand a bit, I don’t really buy that much from Amazon, but I do download books. I’m also an affiliate, but may re-consider that, I’ve never earnt more than pennies anyway.
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  9. says

    I’ve avoided Amazon for a while, but got a Kindle for Christmas…tricky.
    As someone who is experiencing their first bout of depression as an adult and struggling with lots of things at the moment, I’m interested in that quote. I remember painting an Alice Walker quote on my wall as a teenager – “we pay for who we are with our lives” – and talking through with a friend who had enduring health problems. To me it meant making the most of what you had, doing good with what you had. But that Lincoln quote – I’m generally very aware of how fortunate I am and very good at counting blessings. I don’t think I’ve DECIDED to be depressed. Still, I agree, it looks good.
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    • says

      Just want to add – I am not for a moment suggesting that anything in your house or on your blog be affected one iota by anything other than your choice and the law. Sorry if my original comment suggested otherwise – it really was just a response because it sparked my interest.
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      • says

        I think Lincoln was saying that for most people, happiness isn’t something that magically lands in your lap because your life is perfect and you have everything you want. It’s something we consciously look for, adopt, and are mindful of. If you make a conscious effort to be happy, the chances are you’ll be happier than if you hadn’t made that effort. I am a huge, huge believer in the truth of that philosophy.

        Nobody is saying you can click your fingers and choose to be happy if you’re suffering with a clinical illness that affects your mood, or if your family just fell into a volcano – I’m inclined to think determined happiness in the face of deeply sad or tragic circumstance is probably a sign of psychopathy…

  10. says

    Interesting. I have certainly been trying to buy less on Amazon recently (managed to source all the kids’ Christmas presents elsewhere, for example), but it would certainly be tough to cut them out entirely, especially since I’m a reading junkie and English language books just aren’t that widely available in Moscow. Maybe I’ll manage it when I’m back in the UK – whenever that is.
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    • says

      It’s tough isn’t it, you have to really seek out the alternatives, but only if you feel strongly enough about it, which I accept lots of people don’t – as I say, I don’t preach what anyone else should do, this was just my choice, and it’s workable for me, as it turns out.

  11. says

    Thanks Nicki – I think shopping local is easy for me, and not everyone lives in that sort of community – but having said that, there are online alternatives that don’t engage in the same aggressive tax avoidance as Amazon (supported by the government, it should be said). Maybe consider broadening your virtual shopping habits if not your offline ones?

    Tardis shaped mug = also has a lid. WIN.

  12. Rebecca says

    Great post, I love amazon as well. You not the only one who spends a lot. When I spend a lot I try to cut down on spending money on it for a while but it doesn’t work that well. Now I would never add up how much money I spent on it in a year. A change might be good

    • says

      Plus side of not being married – if I earn it, I can spend it :)

      Although in my defence, cameras, phones etc are pretty much work-essentials for me. I’ve no excuse for the shoes. None whatsoever.

  13. says

    I did similar with Tesco mid last year. It’s been nearly 10 months and my has it been a ball ache. But standing up for something you believe in is never necessarily going to be easy, eh? Especially when there’s a store you’re avoiding (that sells everything you usually want) within half a mile north, east, south and west of you! My grounds were similar in terms of what I felt they were doing tearing up communities, destroying local trade and giving nothing back. The best bit about my boycott absolutely has to be the connections I’ve made with local retailers, the conversations I’ve actually had with people. Local comes at a premium (I refuse to be one of those folks that pretends otherwise) but the added feel good factor is well worth the extra – which very much loops back to your mate Lincoln’s quote I guess. Tis all so often the little things…
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    • says

      Yes, being more integrated in a community is an unexpected bonus. And you’re right – sometimes it will be more expensive. But one thought that sticks with me from the blog I read is the line about – these cheap things from Amazon have a cost – we just might not know what it is yet.

  14. says

    I made a conscious decision to use them less on Christmas 2012 – we do still use them, but not as much as we used to. We still get Amazon vouchers as presents, so it’s unavoidable.

    We’re lucky we have some great local shops who offer discounts too, so doing the whole ‘Shop Local’ thing isn’t too difficult, it’s just getting outside when the weather is bad.

    I took up the free Amazon Prime offer this Christmas just gone and used it twice – and that was only to use up vouchers (we still have about £200 left to spend, uuh!) – it’s cancelled now of course…
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  15. says

    I know I’ll get kicked for this but here goes anyway: I echo your sentiment, and I feel as if I would like to do similar, especially where supporting local businesses is concerned. But I fear I’ll never make it happen, as it is just too easy to do it all through Amazon. I do hate the idea that they will supply our everything, but I’m in that group of people who just think it’s too hard, and what difference can I possibly make, me, personally. I know that’s the sentiment that makes us go to the dogs. If I could be sure that everyone else would do it and it would make a difference then I would totally do the same.
    God I know I’m crap. Sorry.
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    • says

      Um… we don’t much go in for kicking round these parts :)

      I know most of my friends wouldn’t do what I do – like you, there’s a feeling of, “What’s the use?” and “What difference does it make?”

      I guess I tend to think, even if I don’t make a difference, in making these choices, and talking to Flea about the choices I make and why I make them, I am teaching her something about my values, and that it’s important to stand up for your beliefs, even if you’re a lone voice. I feel like that’s got to be a good thing, if nothing else.

  16. says

    I will follow your challenge with interest. I will admit that I often do order things through Amazon but this is usually down to the fact I trade in a lot of the points I make from taking online surveys for Amazon vouchers.
    I also have a Kindle, so I use the Kindle store to download e-books, although I do tend to only go for the free ones and I use their music store because it is often cheaper than iTunes.
    I could probably go without shopping there, although their free delivery has often been the killer in the past.
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  17. MrsGoofy says

    Although I do agree with you that Amazon is taking over the world, I also believe Amazon has created thousands of jobs in UK whilst we are in a recession. Shopping as a whole is evolving, we might not like change but it’s a fact of life and times. As for taxes I personally blame the government, they have smart people working for them why did they allow this loop hole??

    I am not pro Amazon but I believe you should look at the bigger picture. Love you blog BTW!

    • says

      I think the question I had to consider isn’t how many jobs have been created but what sort of jobs, and at what cost. Consider this:

      - The government subsidies encouraging Amazon to set up in these ‘deprived’ communities have meant that, effectively, Amazon gets a free ride on tax for setting up in the UK.
      - The vast majority of these new jobs are agency workers on zero day contracts, meaning they can be fired at any time, for any reason, with no notice. There are also no benefits – no pensions, no sick pay, no holidays.
      - The jobs created are linked with extremely high levels of stress and potential mental illness.
      - The money being created by these jobs isn’t staying in the local community or even in the UK – it’s being sucked out and funnelled into an overseas company.
      - At the same time, allowing Amazon to operate in this massively cost-effective way means companies in the UK that DO provide secure jobs with contracts and benefits, and which contribute to the tax system, are unable to compete because the playing field isn’t level or fair.

      That’s what I mean about the employment landscape my child and her peers will enter in a few years’ time – do I want her working as a drone in one of these centres with no job security and no job satisfaction? Or would I rather she worked in a real store, meeting people, being part of a community? It’s a no-brainer. And yes, I do (like you) hold the government at least equally responsible.

      • says

        I do sympathise with the workers, of which my mum is part of the working class working 12 hr day sewing and dad working 3 jobs. But I think they would prefer to have employment to provide for their families than none at all.

        I also find it hard to know where to draw the line?? Primak, H&M exploiting workers in India or any companies manufacturing in China (the worse human rights on record).

        But I think you are right in the sense we all need to start somewhere.

  18. says

    I decided to stop using it after reading about the way they treat their employees. Well, I do still use it, but only for updating my wishlist. Then I try to find another online (or better, bricks and mortar) retailer for the actual purchase.
    I think most people just find it convenient to have a one-stop-shop, in the same way that they buy all their food at a supermarket, and not to have to search out a separate retailer for each purchase. But I think it’s worth it. And it is often cheaper: studies show that amazon is only cheaper on a small percentage of their products.
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  19. says

    I am an Amazon junkie. I buy everything from there- tin opener, bin bags, meat pounder, nappy disposer refills, dishwasher tablets and nappies and bay wipes too! We have prime delivery which means most products get to us the next day. The convenience and the low prices makes it the ideal place to shops for busy or stay at home mums like myself. I have two under twos and getting out with them by myself especially in the winter seems like to much effort when you can get everything you want in a few clicks.

    That being said I totally agree with you the world would be a very boring place if you only had one shop. If you don’t have the option to go to different shops, look at the different displays, the style, atmosphere. Shopping is an experience whether you are buying a can of beans or a leather sofa. With Amazon it becomes nothing more then purchasing. What this means for someone like me is I have no excuse to get out with my kids, having Amazon means I am not forced out of the door to go and look for things I need, it means that not getting dressed all day is an option and a rather warm and comfortable option. However by the end of the week it means I feel frustrated that I have done nothing all week. Of course shopping is not the only activity one can do but sometimes you can only drag yourself out the door when you absolutely need to like if you don’t get more nappies you will have to use the kitchen towels to out on your children’s bottoms!
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