The Financial Post has a piece looking at claims from (former) Amazon customers that they will be boycotting Amazon in the wake of new revelations about Amazon’s work environment. I’ve already noted that such boycotts tend to be ineffective, given that it is difficult to get a large-enough fraction of an entity’s customer base to take action for the entity even to notice a change. But this article has another point: through its Amazon Web Services division, Amazon now underpins such a large proportion of the web that it’s difficult even to know what to boycott if you don’t want to use its services anymore.

Furthermore, it’s not so easy to boycott Amazon even if you want to stop buying from just the retailer itself.

“Lots of families will spend a significant percentage of their income at a store like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. or Target Corp. or Amazon,” [UNC business professor Larry Chavis] said. “Changing that involves changing a whole lot of habits and may mean, for some families, a significant change in their buying power and what they can afford.”

The article suggests Amazon’s putative mistreatment of workers can be attributed to the way the company runs on such a tight margin, making only $92 million in profit on $23.2 billion in revenue. Spending extra on amenities for employees could run into the bottom line.

A Forrester Research Analyst proposes an “anti-boycott,” which puts me a little in mind of that idea to play independent artists on streaming music services in September—buy a lot of items such as diapers and toilet paper that actually cost Amazon money to carry but it does so anyway for the sake of customer satisfaction. But even that seems unlikely to do much harm to the business in the long run. It would take “an Enron-like scandal” to do real damage to Amazon’s reputation.

And, though the article doesn’t really go into it, the comments below the article demonstrate that there’s also the question of whether people even want to boycott Amazon to begin with. Lots of people seem decidedly unsympathetic to Amazon workers’ plights—if Amazon is abusing them, the thinking goes, they always have the choice to quit and go work somewhere else that doesn’t.

The upshot is, for various reasons a boycott seems unlikely to have any effect in the long run. It remains to be seen if there is anything else that can.


  1. For years, SuperTarget was my main grocery store. I liked their prices and their products. However, when their data breach happened a couple of years ago, and when my checking account was hacked at about the same time (interesting cooincidence), the customer non-service I was subjected to made me swear never to darken their doorstep again. It was just about the worst customer service experience I’ve ever had – in my face rude and nasty, hangups, passed from dept to dept, etc. Never. Again. I now use a regular grocery store, Walmart, and more from Amazon.

    Give me Amazon any day. They ALWAYS fix problems quickly and are ALWAYS polite and helpful. Service is great with few screw ups.

    Like anywhere else in a free market (although ours isn’t so free thanks to the government), if people find it so onerous to work there, they are free to quit. If enough people quit that Amazon can’t keep enough quality employees to run their business, they’ll change their practices. If you are a low-skilled employee and don’t like it, gain some skills or increase your education to get a better job with more pay and more freedom.

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