By: Andrew Shibuya
It’s Prime Day–an almost dystopian new holiday of sorts, rivaling Black Friday itself and joining the ranks of those days that celebrate the contemporary culture of excessive consumerism. And perhaps almost as equally as dystopian as the day itself is the subsequent full throttle media push from news publications and influencers alike, listing the best deals and items to keep an eye out for.
And it’s not just Amazon that’s having a sale today. Retail giants Target and Walmart began their sales yesterday and today, too, attempting to both rival and outdo Amazon’s own sales. With this comes a massive ripple effect, with almost every large retailer and store offering their own imitative sales. Though indicative of Amazon’s obvious influence over the market, this ripple effect is similarly indicative of some greater ills of the post-modern capitalist world.
The event itself has been objectively well-crafted and carefully engineered. Beginning in 2015 to celebrate Amazon’s twentieth anniversary, Prime Day was introduced as a member’s only sale. And though the event was never truly a celebration for all as the company makes it out to be, now, the sales are hardly even sales. The bargains that are so celebrated are often merely engineered illusions, with prices being hiked initially, only for the appearance of a greater discount, and many items are often lackluster and unwanted models.
So, what is it about Prime Day and the subsequent market spike that keeps customers coming back? There are almost innumerable reasons behind why days like Prime Day and Black Friday are so successful, and there can be little doubt that there is a host of behavioral psychologists called upon to make Prime Day so successful. In general, Amazon employs numerous tried and true marketing and sales tricks that appeal to customers at a psychological level. From the rush of trying to snatch up a “Lightning Deal” to the fear of missing out on “a once in a lifetime” deal, Amazon certainly pulls out all the stops to generate perceived value around Prime Day’s deals.
This Prime Day, the first as the world begins its exit into a post-pandemic society, is worth considering sitting out. Out of everyone in the world, Amazon is one of the only entities for which the pandemic came with remarkable benefits. The net worth of Amazon and subsequently Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos skyrocketed over the pandemic. In 2020 alone, Amazon saw a reported 70% increase in earnings in the first nine months of the year. And from March to June, Bezos’ net worth grew $48 billion.
It would be one thing – not a good thing by any means – but it would be something else entirely if Amazon did not have numerous documented issues with their working conditions. And these issues are said to only have grown worse with the pandemic. So as more people turned to Amazon as the pandemic forced everyone to remain at home, and as Bezos’ net worth grew, so too did claims of timed bathroom breaks, unreachable productivity requirements, and general unsafe working conditions.
In addition to these concerns regarding Amazon employees is the fact that Amazon in general has a vast environmental footprint. In 2019 alone, the company was reported to have generated 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste. In air pillows alone, Amazon’s packaging waste would circle the planet more than 500 times. The fact that events like Prime Day are so successful is remarkable to see as the greater world comes to terms with or, in fact, does not come to terms with global warming and the vast detrimental effects of consumerism culture.
But what is most astonishing about the success of Prime Day is that these great drawbacks to the event, and to Amazon in general, are no secret. People are generally not shy about their criticisms of Amazon and Bezos himself. Tens of thousands of people have recently signed a petition to stop Bezos’ return to Earth following his trip to space next month. Innumerable thought pieces are written weekly indicting Amazon’s practices. And still, it’s one of the biggest companies in the world. Is Amazon now inevitable?
Between multibillion dollar business acquisitions and new real estate expansions, Amazon continues to expand its reach physically and to a wider audience. For a company that began as a bookstore alternative, Amazon now owns wholly unrelated companies to its online offerings such as Ring, Twitch, and Whole Foods.
And while perhaps not unexpected, the sheer variety and scale of Amazon’s holdings raise concerns of a further and more dominant monopoly across the entire marketplace. This is especially concerning in a year when more than 200,000 small businesses across the United States closed due to the coronavirus and ensuing lockdowns.
These concerns, of course, lead to the primary issues with Prime Day. Even if the discounts were truly exceptional, are the glaring issues with Amazon – from irreversible environmental damages to its troubling work conditions – worth its vast selection and free two-day shipping? It is this dilemma that will be a primary issue of the coming years as the cost and convenience of these trademark Amazon offerings are overshadowed by the inevitable environmental impact and implications of Amazon’s burgeoning monopoly.
Moreover, with respect to Prime Day itself, how often do people buy things that they actually need? Oftentimes, as with many sales, people buy items that they would not otherwise, save for the fact that they are on sale. Putting aside Amazon’s own issues with packaging and other waste, this sort of rampant consumerism in itself has led to an increase in pollutant emissions, increased deforestation, as well as an acceleration of global warming.
And while these issues are rather glaring and easy to point out, the solution is not so easily within reach. Ultimately, it will come down to if the convenience of Amazon is outweighed by their ever becoming ethically or morally untenable, whether because of their environmental or social impact. Until then, it seems that Prime Day will continue to succeed, Amazon will simply continue to grow, and so too will the number of complaints and worries. And thus, Amazon has become the company that everybody loves to criticize but few can resist.