My year without Amazon

December 6, 2014

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

Image Removed
The Centro Logístico (fulfillment center) for Amazon España in Madrid. Photo by Álvaro Ibáñez via Wikimedia Commons.

Exactly a year ago today I wrote a piece on this blog called The day I closed my Amazon account.  It set out why, and how, I had decided that Amazon was so at odds with my values that I was withdrawing my support for good.  It turned out to be the most popular thing I wrote that year.  It was even translated into German and put on YouTube.  I thought it might be useful to offer some reflections on how a year free of Amazon has been. (Spoiler Alert: it’s been great).  

At the end of that article, I wrote:

"It feels surprisingly unsettling, as one does after ending a relationship, but it was the right thing to do.  It may be a drop in the ocean, but if enough people do it…."

It appears that a year later I’m not the only one deliberately crossing the road to avoid that great behemoth of an online retailer.  A campaign called Amazon Anonymous has invited people to pledge to not support Amazon this Christmas, because they:

“don’t pay their workers a living wage. They dodge their tax. They take money away from our local shops”.  

Indeed.  So far signatories have pledged to not spend just over £3 million with Amazon.  Of course in the big picture of Christmas spending, £3 million is but a drop in Amazon’s vast ocean, they probably wouldn’t stop to pick it up if they dropped it, but it’s a powerful statement nonetheless that has generated a lot of press coverage.  

Amazon Anonymous also offer a great list of alternatives for an Amazon Free Christmas.  I would really recommend it if you are looking for alternatives.  So how has it been, going ‘clean’ of Amazon for a year?  I can honestly say that it’s been great, the detox didn’t take very long, and I don’t miss it at all.  I don’t wake up in the night in a cold sweat longing, aching, for the ‘Featured Recommendations’ or dreaming of my cursor hovering tantalisingly over that enticing ‘Place Your Order’ button.  Here are some the insights I have gleaned over the last 12 months:

  • Local bookstores can be faster: If I let my local bookstore know that I want something before lunchtime they will have it for me the following afternoon.  Personally speaking I don’t actually need it any faster than that.  While some might yearn for the day when a minimum-wage paid student might actually run round to your house with your purchase, handing it over to you while panting furiously, leaning on your doorframe and dripping with sweat, or when a remote controlled drone might drop it into your lap within an hour of ordering it, actually a day is fine for me.  I recognise that waiting for things is actually part of just how things are.  Of course it’s nice to get things quickly, but not instantly!
  • I do a lot less impulse purchases: in my Amazon days I was a bit of a sucker for "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" stuff.  Especially the special deals and the delights of just clicking on stuff because it was so easy.  Often that stuff wasn’t actually that good.  I find now that any purchases I make are much more considered, I buy less, but I buy better.Image Removed
  • I value good curation: Amazon would be just as happy to sell me a CD as it would a barbecue set or a pack of nappies.  It doesn’t love what it sells.  While people’s comments on books, for example, can be illuminating, I have increasingly come to value the recommendations of good curators, people whose taste I admire and respect.  Drift Records in Totnes do a great job of that.  Every year they do a brilliant ‘Best of the Year’ booklet, beautifully designed, with interviews and what they consider to be the year’s best releases.  I can listen to a track of new releases on their website, or pop in the shop and they’ll play it for me.  And they love it.  And they don’t sell any One Direction records or SatNav systems.  I buy less music, whether CD or vinyl, than in my Amazon days, but I love what I have bought so much more. 
  • I go straight to the publisher: I have discovered the joy of looking for the website of the publisher of the book and going straight to them.  In terms of music, going straight to the band’s website is great too, you get much more of a sense of them and what else they do, and when you order straight from them they often chuck other goodies in too.  I have also a couple of times bought books via Unbound, contributing to a book being published, and then when you do get your copy, you’re listed in the credits! How cool is that?!
  • I love second hand books: Some Oxfam shops have become great second hand record shops, and their very well-curated book sections are a revelation.  As good as any bookshop!

In short, I buy less, but I buy better.  I value what I have bought more than I did.  An article in the Guardian about Amazon Anonymous state "the campaigners acknowledge that ‘going cold turkey is hard’”.  But is it?  Do I miss Amazon?  Not a bit.  I do sometimes use it as a reference tool, when I want to find out who published something, but that’s it.  It’s no great loss, in fact it has opened up other, far richer options.  Options where people are paid a Living Wage, where they re-inforce local economies, where the company pays its tax, where staff aren’t exposed to alarming levels of mental stress or sacked if they are sick more than three times in three months.  

So this Christmas there will be no smiley Amazon boxes arriving at Hopkins Towers.  Once again I am choosing to spend my money in ways that reflect my values.  Amazon is bereft of any of those values, and I personally think the world would be far improved if Amazon ceased to exist in the morning.  The fact that it is quick and easy is no longer sufficient justification.  

So my message to you is "come on in, the water’s lovely".  There is life beyond Amazon, a life where less is more, and where thinking about where things come from is a valuable and rewarding experience, and where new horizons open up in ways that the perceived ease of using Amazon shuts down. 

Image Removed
A nightmare scenario? Imagine the sky above your house full of these bloody things.

Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins is a cofounder of Transition Town Totnes and Transition Network, and the author of The Transition Handbook, The Transition Companion, The Power of Just Doing Stuff, 21 Stories of Transition and most recently, From What Is to What If: unleashing the power of imagination to create the future we want. He presents the podcast series ‘From What If to What Next‘ which invites listeners to send in their “what if” questions and then explores how to make them a reality.  In 2012, he was voted one of the Independent’s top 100 environmentalists and was on Nesta and the Observer’s list of Britain’s 50 New Radicals. Hopkins has also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Four Thought and A Good Read, in the French film phenomenon Demain and its sequel Apres Demain, and has spoken at TEDGlobal and three TEDx events. An Ashoka Fellow, Hopkins also holds a doctorate degree from the University of Plymouth and has received two honorary doctorates from the University of the West of England and the University of Namur. He is a keen gardener, a founder of New Lion Brewery in Totnes, and a director of Totnes Community Development Society, the group behind Atmos Totnes, an ambitious, community-led development project. He blogs at and and tweets at @robintransition.

Tags: amazon, Consumerism