I had been buying at local independent bookshops and feeling much better for it, but Christmas loomed, time was short, amazon deliveries are generally timely and prices competitive. I took the easy way out, felt pretty bad about the whole thing but did it anyway.
Today, with the Christmas shopping fast approaching yet again I decided to take another look at amazon to see what had changed and if I could feel a bit better about using their services this time around . It appears that things are on the move. Diverted profits legislation passed this year has forced the company to pass all it's UK business through HMRC for the first time since 2004. However:
"That development is unlikely to lead to a leap in Amazon’s UK tax bill, however, as the company continues to use further controversial structures to shift profits out of Amazon EU Sarl – which reported a loss last year – and back to the US."
So the answer to whether or not I can feel any better about shopping at amazon is "sort of", but not really. The ethos/character of the company hasn't changed, they're just finding it harder to do the same things and will keep on trying until all the loopholes are blocked. In fact their employee relations has been back in the news again. There is no evidence that they have any intention of reforming themselves into good guys any time soon.
So it's obvious that I can't persuade myself that it's now OK to go ahead and buy from them without guilt. However is boycotting them the best way of making my feelings about all this known or even really hitting them where it hurts?
Of course it's not easy to calculate how effective boycotts are as it's very difficult to count how many people didn't buy things, but last Christmas amazon anonymous had pledges from over 11,500 people to spend more than £2.5 million elsewhere. This was a very high profile boycott with backing from Ethical Consumer, probably just as effective a boycott you're likely to get, still the monetary effect it seems to have had doesn't look immense. In addition it didn't seem to have any impact on amazon's basic modus operandi as they only began to change when legislation forced them to do.
The trouble is that not enough of us were bothered enough to do something about it, and that is overwhelmingly the case where a very popular, convenient and high profile service/product like amazon is concerned. Boycotting amazon won't work, a small minority will put their money where their mouth is, whilst the majority will just make the right noises.
Apparently however, that "noise" is what companies should fear more than the slight fall in sales a boycott can produce. In fact the 2014 Deloitte global survey on reputation risk goes so far as to say:
"According to a study by the World Economic Forum, on average more than 25 percent of a company’s market value is directly attributable to its reputation"The evidence suggests that companies should take the tag-line "It's got our name on it" very seriously indeed and Jefferey Bezos would be wise to be concerned about the reputation of his company. The fact that he rushed to its defence following the allegations this August proves that he knows this.
In the end though reputation is one thing and character another (the reputation of Volkswagen was obviously built on fairly sandy ground), and there must be serious doubts that the "character"/ethos of companies that continually fall foul of public opinion is sound. This is why our strongest weapon against immoral business practises isn't always in our purse, but in our democratic ability to influence legislation via our politicians. Collective conscience forcing standards of behaviour on business is far more powerful than individual action in this situation.
So, I will be going ahead and buying from amazon this Christmas. However I will also be moaning about them to anyone who'll listen whenever I'm given the opportunity. This post being a case in point :-)
(Oh and by the way, of course I realise that amazon's cheap prices are partly down to the very business practises which put it in the news, but there's also a lot of individual profit involved (for shareholders too, of which I am undoubtedly one). In 2014 Mr Bezos paid himself over the equivalent of £11 million. Paying a little more to get things right is sometimes necessary, and I would argue that people would see this if they are given the full information and choice about what they're actually buying - so long as they're not on the breadline of course.)