On the heels of the announcement that Amazon would not be opening its second headquarters in New York, we wanted to know more about what shoppers think about Amazon.
Amazon continues to grow; it’s revolutionizing retail. Seemingly, there’s nothing stopping this behemoth. It’s the 4th most valuable public company in the world as of Dec 31, 2018. It employs the 2nd most people in the US, after Walmart in 2017. We keep hearing that more people are signing up for Amazon Prime Memberships. As of Q1 2018, 63% of US households are Prime Members.
However, there is a small, but growing, group who are canceling their Prime Memberships. We conducted a survey across North America to understand why shoppers – not just journalists and idealists – are opting out of the free shipping and access to original content. The underlying theme was consumers’ unease over Amazon’s omnipresence. Raised voices and expletives colored the interviews. The people we spoke with didn’t respond with the dispassion one might expect about simple shopping experiences.
The survey surfaced feedback in four categories. See below for selected qualitative responses:
1) Shipping Isn’t 2 Days. Many respondents vented their frustrations at lengthening shipping times. Other retailers ship shampoo and laundry detergent just as quickly. The overall feel was that Amazon’s historically-reliable expedited shipping is faltering.
“I broke my husband’s French press. I ordered another one on Prime. It said two days. I ordered it early on Saturday, and it’s coming Wednesday. I know it’s not the end of the world, but I don’t want to pay for it either.”“I cancelled because the ‘two day’ shipping was actually four or five. Why pay for ‘two day’ shipping when standard shipping takes the same time and is free?”
2) It’s Too Expensive. Amazon’s prices aren’t the lowest anymore. Respondents cited cheaper prices at other retailers, both via delivery and in stores.
“Honestly, their prices aren’t the lowest anymore. Target has 2-day shipping for orders over $35 or free in-store pick-up. The [Amazon] price hike to $119 just wasn’t worth it to us anymore.”“Free standard shipping is the same cost as it would be with Amazon Prime free shipping. Also, I never need anything THAT bad that I have to have it that quick. If I need it that badly I’ll run out and get it.”
3) Poor and Worsening Customer Service. With increasing volumes and cost cutting, shoppers griped about the online shopping experience and inevitable delivery and product quirks.
“We’ve been ordering less from Amazon. Any other company I have dealt with (Costco, Best Buy, Target, etc.) has always been responsive to a problem. But Amazon literally did not respond at all. So, I quit Amazon, and I haven’t looked back. I switched all my basic household items and diapers to Costco. I still don’t have to leave the house most of the time for basic necessities.”
“Friday, we got a package with nothing in it. It took 43 minutes and 3 transfers to get them to understand. Really? Another item arrived leaking, a third was torn. Outer packages were fine. What the whaty what?”
4) Concerns about Amazon’s Ethical Practices, like worker treatment, boarding up local businesses, and physical package waste.
“Lots of people I know are boycotting Amazon and cancelling their Prime Memberships because they treat their workers like absolute garbage. Local business are forced to shut down while Jeff Bezos is the richest man in the world. Not cool with supporting that with our Membership fee.”
“Shipping multiple packages to individuals is wasteful. All the extra packaging and single-use boxes are needlessly filling up landfills.”
Nevertheless, over a 100 million shoppers depend on Amazon’s amenities. One respondent cried “you’ll have to pry my Prime Membership from my dead body!”
What started as annoyance at Amazon’s declining performance has swelled to outrage over larger business practices. While acknowledging convenience, shoppers resent Amazon’s proliferation into an unstoppable, monopolistic force in the retail world. Many consumers fear the impact to society that one single retailer is the Everything Store.
Perhaps, if Amazon’s level of service remained high, typical shoppers would ignore other community, ethical, or environmental issues. There would still be a dedicated moralistic group who balk at these concerns. However, if coffee filters and toilet paper arrived in neat boxes in two days, the many millions may not care. In sales, there is a phrase “sales cover sins.” Meaning, when profits roll in, businesses tend to ignore pesky issues like operational inefficiencies or poor individual performance.
While there are still relatively few shoppers canceling their Prime Memberships today, opposition to the Long Island City, NY HQ2 also began as a small voice.