It’s Amazon Prime Day and we’re all lining Jeff Bezos' pockets. But should we really be taking part?

Even some of the small businesses that make good money through the service file it under the category of ‘mixed blessing’

James Moore
Tuesday 13 October 2020 15:23
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Rejoice, for Amazon Prime Day is here
Rejoice, for Amazon Prime Day is here

Welcome to Amazon Prime Day: your opportunity to make the world’s richest man even richer. Just what we all need to be doing with coronavirus cases surging, new restrictions being imposed, and the number of people out of work rising like floodwater after a week of solid rain.  

The flow of worrying news has regrettably done nothing to curb the worst excesses of the marketing, advertising and PR people who feast like blood-sucking parasites on the event because, well, who cares about decency?  

Marketeers’ activities have combined to create an ugly black oil slick in my inbox. Did you know “Brits” – it’s always “Brits” – are going to spend record amounts through the company this Christmas? No, I didn’t and I don’t care. It’d be nice, and I might pay attention, if some of that money were to find its way to the British food banks that will also be doing record business this Christmas. I’m just not holding my breath.  

This year it’s different. It isn’t just about the idea of contributing to buying Bezos a new Lear, or a second yacht to moor off the Pacific, or a mansion on the moon with an Amazon distribution centre next door. There’s a secondary purpose, too. We're celebrating small businesses!  

Prime members were even incentivised to use them. Well, at least the ones that sell via Amazon’s Marketplace. Those spending a tenner got a £10 credit to spend on the Prime Day event, which is actually two days but never mind.  

This is becoming something of a theme with big tech at a time when rumblings about the way some companies do business are growing louder by the day. Unsurprisingly, what has followed have been attempts to tout all the good Amazon does for small businesses.

Look see, the marketing suggests, we’re not the evil megacorps the smarter science fiction writers warned about in the 1960s. We help mom and pop operations and their entrepreneurial children working from lock-ups. With us, small specialist retailers can sell their wares nationally, hell, internationally.  

Philip K Dick never conceived of anything like that, Amazon and its peers could argue (and with an element of truth). There are indeed a lot of people whose businesses rely on Amazon Marketplace and a lot more that use it as a revenue-boosting channel in addition to their own websites and other methods of selling.

Trouble is, not all businesses are able to benefit from the help of Amazon. And even some of the ones that make good money through the service file it under the category of “mixed blessing”.  

Amazon is, for many consumers, a go-to. Given how big and dominant it has become, as a business, you’re probably cutting off your nose to spite your face if you don’t use it and pay the fees the company levies, which you have no ability to influence. That also means putting up with the obvious conflict of interest that will confront you.  

Amazon is an everything shop, which means it may very well be selling the same thing as you are, except that it’s likely that its products and prices will be the first customers see. It also has an advantage over some services in terms of ease of postage, let alone the sheer number of vendors businesses have to compete with to sell products.  

The evil megacorp Vought in Prime Video’s twisted, 18-rated, superhero drama The Boys (yes, I have Prime and I’m not proud of that but Amazon Studios does do some commendably inventive and interesting stuff) is not a retailer, nor a tech company.  

But one of the possibly unintentionally satirical things about the drama is that it could still serve as a proxy for big tech, including Amazon. I know, I know, they aren’t homicidal, but like Vought, their tendrils extend far deeper than many realise. And they’re certainly capable of scaring the bejesus out of you when they’ve a mind to.  

Amazon’s rap sheet includes allegations of mistreating workers (which the company has refuted, claiming it knows “for a fact that recordable incidents do not increase during peak”), as well as accusations of planning to track union activity, which looks pretty questionable to me. Amazon responded to the latest charge, which reportedly emerged from a leaked memo, by saying: “We respect our employees' right to join, form or not to join a labour union or other lawful organisation of their own selection, without fear of retaliation, intimidation or harassment.

"Across Amazon, including in our fulfilment centres, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work [to] make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture."

So on this Prime Day, if you really do want to do something for all the smaller businesses out there – and they probably need all the help they can get – go direct and spend with them. Thanks to the efforts of the competition watchdogs, you might even secure a better price.  

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