The anti-Amazon sentiment that’s been building in the wake of the company’s much-derided HQ2 decision is reaching a new peak. Amazon is a many-armed beast, weaving its tentacles into every facet of consumers’ lives. It lives in our homes, it ravages our cities, it strong-arms our politicians, and, most of all, it is the be-all and end-all of shopping. According to a new survey, 80 percent of consumers will use Amazon for the holiday shopping season, up from a year in which Amazon completely dominated holiday e-sales. Given that the retail giant’s sales started November 1, it’s little surprise how totally it owns the season. And per a recent, very revealing Vox interview with a former Amazon warehouse worker, there is a human cost to this increased buying.
For some Amazon shoppers, these factors are becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Customers are dependent on Amazon, and breaking free completely is a near impossibility for anyone who plans to shop online: After all, a sizable portion of the internet runs on AWS (Amazon Web Services, a mega-platform that provides cloud-computing services). The biggest caveat: Avoiding Amazon will require extra work and more than a little willpower. The most obvious alternative is to shop at a locally owned retailer, but if that’s not doable or convenient enough, there are online shopping choices that will help limit the number of smiling cardboard boxes sent out this holiday shopping season.
Browser extensions can help you comparison shop and find promo codes.
There are a handful of plugins that can help make quitting Amazon easier. Offers.com, Shopbrain, and Honey each create pop-ups when shoppers are on a product page to alert them if there’s a cheaper option elsewhere, if there are promo codes available, and/or if there are price changes to a product. They each work a little differently, but they essentially give users a built-in browser drop-down that displays a list of the best deals on an item. Here’s the rub: Plenty of times, one of the options—perhaps even the best option—is going to be Amazon. Honey even has an option to link it with an Amazon account, which I suggest skipping if you’re truly committed. (Personally, I’m a fan of Honey’s service.) Is it faster than just succumbing to Amazon? No. Is it faster than traipsing around the web trying to do it yourself? Yes, by a landslide.
When all else fails, install Amazon contemplate—a third-party extension that simply asks if you really need whatever it is you’re buying on Amazon—and think about your life choices.
Find what you want on Instagram.
When speaking of corporate evildoing, Instagram is hardly more innocent than Amazon. The photo-sharing platform is, of course, owned by Facebook, a company embroiled in constant scandal while trying to maintain its hold in every nook and cranny of our lives. But Amazon comparably controls e-commerce, and most of us can cut only one addiction at a time. For those who prefer to keep IG and give up Amazon, there is the Instagram boutique phenomenon. There are a whole slew of Instagram-only (or at least -mostly) retailers, many of which have become wildly popular. (Here are a few good examples.)
And shoppers can also buy local: Reselling gently used and vintage items is also a well-known Instagram activity. Use the location tab to find sellers in your area, and if you are open to paying for shipping, then go ahead and look beyond your own area for more options. For a great Instagram browsing add-on, the LiketoKnow.it app analyzes photos from sites like Pinterest or Instagram to show you where you can buy the items.
Try a big alternative retailer.
For most people, nothing ticks the affordability and convenience boxes like Amazon. There are, however, alternative online retail aggregators like Wish that try to. The San Francisco–based app, available via iOS, Android, and desktop, pulls in items from global manufacturers—mostly, products that are being shipped from China. Wish doesn’t have two-day free shipping, but it does have express shipping (items come in a few days or a week) and deep discounts. It’s not unusual to find items for 90 percent off on the site: Here’s a Free People dress for $27, marked down from $128. In general, you should expect to see many cheaply made items, but there are quality finds as well. Brands like the North Face, KitchenAid, and Polo are available on Wish. Also, be sure to check shipping dates; if you’re ordering for the holidays, you should use the “express shipping” toggle to find items that will arrive sooner.
There’s also Brandless, an online retailer that peddles its own wares, thus avoiding the brand tax, and sells everything for $3. The items for sale are mostly household products, and thus might not make for the most exciting gifts. There are decent options within the beauty and skincare and kitchenware categories, though, and the candy and snack section is impressive as well—there’s some major stocking-stuffer potential here. Plus, you get free shipping on purchases over $39.
Target is a familiar Amazon alternative. In order to compete during the holiday shopping season, Target is offering free two-day shipping through December 22, with no minimum purchase required (though the company says this is available for “hundreds of thousand of items,” meaning some products might not be eligible). Additionally, many Target stores are offering drive-up pickup, in which shoppers can buy online and employees will deliver to their cars, as well as in-store mobile checkout so customers can skip the line.
Amazon isn’t the only company that offers free shipping.
For Amazon Prime members, the main issue with leaving Amazon is losing that sweet, sweet free two-day shipping. (Although it’s not actually free; it costs the price of a Prime membership, and arguably a piece of your soul.) There are other sites that offer free shipping, though—some for a fairly low minimum fee. Money Crashers has a good roundup of options (including Amazon, of course), and FreeShipping alerts users when stores are offering free shipping or helps them immediately fill out and send in a rebate form to make up the cost. There’s also the option to sign up for a membership trial with a specific retailer that offers free shipping for members—you just have to remember to cancel it if you don’t want to pay for the whole year. If you can’t commit to one store, a ShopRunner membership includes free two-day shipping and returns at hundreds of brands: It costs $79 a year, and offers a free 30-day trial. (For comparison’s sake, an Amazon Prime membership is $99 a year, though of course that also includes streaming services.)
Go directly to the source.
Actually visiting a brand’s website to purchase something is an increasingly uncommon practice, but there are myriad benefits to doing so. Amazon sometimes has limited options: customers won’t always find the exact desired type, size, or color of a brand’s item there. Plus, first-time buyers on a brand’s site are frequently gifted with a 10 to 20 percent discount on their initial order if they sign up to receive a newsletter and promotion email. Yes, more email—but for a discount, just accept it and immediately unsubscribe. (Alternatively, you could create a junk email address—or many of them—for this purpose alone.)
Also, the aforementioned browser extension Honey will alert you if there are any coupons or promo codes available. Other popular places to check for promo codes include RetailMeNot and Coupons.com. (RetailMeNot often has “free shipping” coupons as well.)
Make your wish list somewhere else.
If you’re anything like me, then the most frustrating wrinkle of not using Amazon will be losing the wish list feature. I use the wish list as a collector, adding items to it casually as I go, accruing a gift inventory I completely forget about until every November when someone (usually my mom or husband) asks me, “What do you want this year?” Instead of making an actual list like a child, I send prospective gift-buyers a link to my Amazon Wish List, which is full of both things I need and want, practical and impractical.
The obvious benefit of using a non-Amazon wish list option is that you aren’t restricted to Amazon. Shoptagr saves items from online shops across the web via a one-click browser extension, and also sends out alerts when they go on sale. Gift Hero and SaveList are also great alternatives; they allow for multiple lists and let you share them easily. And of course there are broader-use options like Pinterest or Wunderlist: Create a board or a list of items from shops across the web and make them public. (Both have one-click browser extension options as well.)
Becoming an ethical consumer is difficult (if not impossible), and there’s no time more challenging than the holiday shopping season. Untying ourselves from our corporate overlords may be a complex and difficult process, but small, mindful changes are not meaningless.