The New York Times has an excellent op-ed piece by Moira Weigel, an assistant professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, in which she argues that Amazon has successfully rewired the retail experience in a way that may not ultimately be good for consumers or society - interposing itself between sellers and customers in a way that prevents any level of transparency about the third-part sellers from whom are sourced so many of the items sold via Amazon.
"If you are like most Americans, you think you know Amazon. Recent polling shows that 72 percent of us view the company favorably. This makes it the second-most-trusted institution in the country, after the military. A 2018 study found that Amazon is the only institution to appear among the five most trusted by both Democrats and Republicans. And the Covid pandemic has made Amazon ever more dominant. Industry research estimates that there are now 153 million Prime members in the United States, nearly as many as the number of voters in the 2020 election. About 40 percent of online purchases in the country take place on the site, at the low range of estimates — compared with roughly 7 percent on the site of its closest competitor, Walmart.
"Over the past few years, Amazon has mostly avoided the crisis of trust that has engulfed other tech companies. It has had no Cambridge Analytica scandal. There have been no Amazon Papers. Despite some initial difficulties, the pandemic has strengthened its position. Amazon stock prices increased by more than a third since March 2020. This year, as the value of Meta crashed, Amazon’s stock suffered a relatively minor decline. CNN ran its stock market story with the headline 'Amazon Is the Anti-Facebook.'
"If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you’re an Amazon customer. And if you feel guilty about that, it is probably because you are thinking about the warehouse and delivery workers whose labor Amazon exploits, the small merchants whose successful products Amazon copies, the beloved local bookstores whose bottom lines they undercut. Or maybe you just think about all the boxes piling up by your door.
"You should feel guilty. I do, anyway. Convenience is not a good reason to participate in exploitation or waste. But guilt is a weak political emotion. In my experience, it can easily lose out to the 3 a.m. realization that Baby Two has soaked through her sleepsack and we need more Huggies Overnites ASAP.
"But a series of product safety cases that have been brought against Amazon over the past few years makes clear that its rewiring of retail poses risks to customers as well. Above all, the cases highlight a significant gap between how most people understand the world’s largest e-commerce company and what that company actually does.
Conversations about Amazon tend to emphasize the company’s omniscience — the cutting-edge technologies that it uses to gather data on its competitors and customers and to discipline its workers. But in reality, as the scholar Miriam Posner has written, supply chains that drive global capitalism depend on 'partial sight.' Companies are able to get customers so many things so cheap and fast because they know only what they have to; toward everything else, they often turn a blind eye."
You can read the entire piece here.