This article on ethical alternatives to Amazon has looooong been on my mind.
But it always got pushed to the back burner of publishing, partly because we still used Amazon for some things that we couldn’t find elsewhere. Honestly, we hadn’t looked hard enough, because – let’s be real – Amazon is easssyyyy.
The other reason I’ve been sitting on this article is because we’re a travel blog, and we wanted to focus on travel content. But no one’s traveling much these days, and we want to help our readers first and foremost. Given that more people are ordering online than ever before, and the first place everyone turns is Amazon, we thought it was high time to look into some ethical alternatives to Amazon.
Amazon is easy and often the cheapest out there. It can be hard to cut the Amazon cord. This is especially true if you live in suburban or rural areas where you either have to drive far to get necessities or cannot find particular ethical products near you. As much as it may be hard for our European readers to believe, this is the reality for large swathes of the United States.
And depending on how far you’d have to travel, ordering online can actually be more environmentally friendly than driving all over the place to get a bunch of different items at different places. It can be less miles to ship directly from the warehouse to you instead of warehouse to store, which you then drive to in order to buy the item.
We know many of you may be in the same boat – wanting to stop using Amazon, but not knowing what to use instead. This article on ethical alternatives to Amazon is for you!
Obviously there are so many places to get ethical items than the ones listed here. We always suggest trying to support local businesses first, which will vary greatly depending on where you live. Also note that this article is written for our largely U.S. based audience, so we’re going to be focusing on ethical alternatives to Amazon in the USA.
Table of Contents
Why You Shouldn’t Use Amazon
Before we move onto ethical alternatives to Amazon, let’s first look at why not to use Amazon. You may have an idea that “Amazon is bad” but not you’re really sure why.
To give you an idea of how bad things are, EthicalConsumer.Org, which rates companies based on their ethics, gave Amazon a big, fat ZERO for their “ethiscore” rating. They’ve been calling for an Amazon boycott since 2018.
In this section, we want to highlight some of the (many) issues with Amazon and lead you to resources where you can dig deeper. After all, this is an article about Amazon alternatives, so if you’re here, you probably already know a bit about why Amazon should be avoided.
In researching this article, I went down a literal rabbit hole of all the controversies and unethical behaviors that Amazon has engaged in over the years, and some of them are truly horrific, such as back in 2010 when they sold the book The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: a Child-lover’s Code of Conduct and then defended the decision because Amazon “believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable.” They’ve also allowed the sale of “I Love Hitler” t-shirts in the past. Are you fucking kidding me.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Things have gotten so bad that Congress is investigating Amazon (along with other tech giants) because of the “unprecedented power they wield over the way Americans shop, search, and communicate online.”
Here are some of the main problems with Amazon:
Amazon is Infamous for Worker Exploitation
Amazon has been called out time and time again for poor treatment of workers, but this has only been exacerbated by the covid-19 public health crisis. With stores closed and millions quarantined at home, more and more have turned to Amazon to get goods and products delivered to their door. This perfect storm has led to outbreaks in fulfillment facilities, an even more grueling pace of work, longer hours, and more inhumane conditions.
It’s important to note that poor worker treatment is absolutely nothing new. Just read this interview with an Amazon worker from early 2018. And in 2019, The Atlantic investigated workplace injury and worker treatment at Amazon, finding that injury rates were 4x higher than industry average, workers were required to work grueling 12 hour days, aggressive firings for not meeting insane speeds and quotas, cover-ups of literal deaths of workers on the job, and more gruesome details from Amazon’s frontlines.
It’s impossible to get better pay and conditions, since Amazon refuses to let workers unionize, literally firing workers who try to do so.
And before we leave this section, it’s also important to point out that this doesn’t just apply to workers in Amazon’s fulfillment warehouses. Delivery drivers are also pushed to the breaking point with ridiculous quotas and lack of protection, literally causing death and injuries wherever they go.
Needless to say, all of this is absolutely disgusting, but especially when considering that CEO Jeff Bezos net worth is estimated at around $124.7 billion (and growing).
Amazon is Racist
With the renewed resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Amazon’s “Rekognition” facial recognition software has rightfully come under fire again. Studies in the past have found that this surveillance software is fundamentally racially biased, which (obviously) contributes to the already racist police state.
These technologies, currently in the hands of undisclosed law enforcement agencies, could be used by police to track protestors speaking out against racial injustice. Amazon has not responded to any requests for information on to whom this tech is being sold, or if it would be used for surveillance of anti-racism protestors. Read more: Amazon “Stands in Solidarity” Against Police Racism While Selling Racist Tech to Police
Add racist algorithms, making money off racism and hate, and calling a Black Amazon worker and union organizer “not smart or articulate” (before firing him), and it’s absolutely no stretch to say that Amazon is pretty damn racist.
As we talked about in our podcast episode about how to be an effective activist, one of the ways is through conscious consumerism – avoiding racist companies and supporting ethical and Black owned businesses.
Amazon is a Massive Tax-Avoider
In 2019, the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy reported that for yet another year, Amazon would be paying $0 federal income taxes. This is despite earning $11.2 billion dollars in 2018, up from $5.6 billion the previous year. If that’s not infuriating enough, Amazon got a tax rebate of $129 million.
Dollars that could have been used to alleviate many of the numerous problems plaguing this country, such as homeleness, food insecurity, lack of and inadequate healthcare, and so much more. Read more: Avoiding tax may be legal, but can it ever be ethical?
I’m seeing red as I type these words.
Amazon Sucks for Small Authors and Creators
Lastly, I’d like to share our experience with Amazon from a side that not many people experience or think about: as authors, bloggers, and creators in general. This is how our anti-Amazon journey started. Because let’s be real: we’re human, and normally, humans don’t make real, lasting change until something impacts us directly.
When we published our second book, The House Sitting Handbook, we spent a lot of time debating whether or not we’d publish on Amazon. It wasn’t such an easy decision. Amazon makes it super easy to self-publish and distribute your book in Kindle and paperback on demand. Then there’s brand recognition. People trust Amazon and probably already have an account set up, making buying your book even easier. The less friction between buying your product/book, the better it is for sales.
Ultimately, we decided not to publish on Amazon and instead published directly through our website. We didn’t want Amazon profiting off of our labor of love and giving us pennies in return.
With Amazon’s royalty payscale, authors earn:
- 35% royalty for books priced below $2.99 and above $9.99.
- 70% royalty for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
To earn the same per book that we do with Gumroad, we’d have to price our books at $70 each on Amazon! We firmly believe that all authors should be paid for their work, and that means earning more than pennies per book.
Similarly, for bloggers, recommending products via Amazon can be a big money making venture. Amazon is a big (possibly the biggest?) affiliate network. That means that if we link to a product on Amazon and someone buys that product (and/or any others after they’ve clicked the link), we earn a (tiny) commission. People trust Amazon to buy from since it’s a big company, and that’s no small thing. Bloggers build entire “Amazon niche sites” entirely dedicated to recommending products in a specific area on Amazon and garnering commissions. That’s how big the Amazon cash cow can be.
Yet in the midst of the pandemic, Amazon slashed commission rates in key categories, hurting website owners that count on Amazon affiliate commissions as one of their income streams, despite Amazon reporting record increases in sales during the pandemic.
All that is to say that stepping away from Amazon can be hard for creatives and bloggers. We still link to Amazon products on this website, because sometimes it’s the only place you can find something. However, going forward, we’re going to be even stricter about this and will be going back to swap out these links across our site.
Ethical Alternatives to Amazon for Shopping Secondhand
There’s no way I could write an article on alternatives to Amazon without first encouraging secondhand shopping. This should be your first course of action when you truly need an item. There’s nothing more sustainable than reusing something that has already been produced. (It’s one of the reasons we have advocated for years that house sitting is the perfect sustainable accommodation).
Obviously things are a little bit trickier given the pandemic. Thrift stores may not be open and you may not be comfortable buying secondhand at this time. That’s completely understandable, since we’ve all heard that COVID-19 can live on surfaces for up to a few days. The way that you could get the virus via secondhand items would be by touching or buying something that an infected person had coughed or sneezed on, and then touching your face or mouth. Read more here on secondhand shopping safety and coronavirus.
But as per the CDC, the main way this virus is spread is through person to person contact, not surface to person contact. Though remember that we are still learning about this virus every day, so nothing is for certain. Of course, if you do not feel comfortable shopping secondhand, don’t do it!
If you do feel comfortable, here are some places to start:
- Thrift Stores: We love thrifting and always have fun exploring thrift shops in new places. Most of our wardrobe is thrifted at this point! I mean…where else can you get hilarious cat t-shirts for a few dollars? But thrifting is so much more than clothing. You can get furniture, books, household appliances, yard tools, and more. Find thrift stores near you with a simple Google search or even by searching directly on Google Maps.
- Craigslist: Don’t diss it til you’ve tried it! We have friends who have furnished their entire houses via furniture bought on Craigslist. It’s great for bigger items as you’ll usually have to go pick things up, so it’s worth the trek if you’re buying a used bike, but maybe not for a shirt. Often, there’s even a “free” section where people will post what they’re putting out on the curb and you can come pick it up for free!
- Facebook Marketplace: The new Craigslist. Works pretty much the same: find second hand goods in your area. Can be hit or miss, especially since messages go into people’s “other” folders to die on FB when you’re not already confirmed friends on the platform. I’ve never had someone actually get back to me on FB marketplace, though I know other people who have gotten great things through here. Worth a try, anyway.
- eBay: Flashback from the early 2000s, right? But ebay can be great for shopping secondhand. I’ve gotten refurbished phones here before, and I know people who snag higher-ticket clothing items at incredible prices. Definitely something to look into.
- Poshmark: Secondhand fashion. They have a website and app where you can browse and purchase from sellers who will then ship to you.
- Freecycle: find things for free near you!
Online Ordering: Alternatives to Amazon Marketplace
Due to the environmental impact of shipping (both miles traveled and packaging), we try to avoid ordering online whenever possible. However, there are a few things that we haven’t been able to find in local stores. And of course, not everyone is able to get to a store in person, especially these days!
Again, remember that online ordering isn’t always the worst option, environmentally speaking. It’s actually better to get things shipped directly to your house then having to drive all over the place to multiple different stores to pick up the items that you want.
If you live in a city where you can get everything you need via walking, biking, or public transportation, that’s great! But for a lot of the U.S., this is still unfortunately not the case, even within cities.
Billion Vegans quite literally brands itself as the “The Ethical Amazon,” and it really is. This your one stop shop for all kinds of ethical, vegan items in a huge variety of categories: grocery, fashion, beauty, home, pets, health, shoes, kids, etc.
Even cooler is that you can search by “eco-friendly” “women owned” “vegan company” “organic” “gluten-free” “fair trade” and more to find exactly what you’re looking for in the categories that are important to you.
They also offer cheaper prices on bulk orders, plus 20% off when you sign up for their mailing list.
Billion Vegans is super transparent and donates 10% of their profits to vegan non-profits, yay!
Done Good curates a variety of brands that they have personally looked into in order to fit sustainability metrics. All brands pay fair wages and use eco-friendly practices. Done Good has even been called “The Amazon of Social Good” by Forbes!
They also publish articles regularly in order to help you in your sustainable purchasing power. They recently published a resource for supporting sustainable black-owned businesses.
Their website is incredibly user friendly and you can search by a huge variety of sub-sections to shop for products that pay attention to issues that are important to you. For example, you can shop by “vegan,” “women/POC owned,” “recycled/upcycled materials,” “made in the USA” and more.
Done Good has also curated groups of brands by what major brands, highlighting alternatives to H&M, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and more. They make it super easy to shop for styles that you love, so there’s no excuse not to shop ethically! 😉
Public Goods is an awesome ethical alternative to Amazon, and actually part of the inspiration for this article. Thanks Public Goods!
Public Goods works within the membership model to bring you ethical, sustainable home, health, and wellness goods at cost. They’ve recently added a grocery section as well, crucial for these pandemic times. Their concept is that of cutting out the middleman (storefronts) so they can bring products directly to you for cheaper. It’s $59/year, with a 14 day trial period, so you can order some items and see how you like them before you commit to a yearly membership.
We’ve partnered with Public Goods to offer you guys a 15% discount on your first purchase, just use code “ALTPGA” when checking out!
You can search within filters to find products that are important to you, with filters like “vegan” “organic” “non-GMO” and more. You can find items like body and wellness products like face masks, hand sanitizer, shampoo bars, biodegradable bamboo menstrual products; home goods like compostable bags, reusable produce bags; grocery items like tea, jam, chips, and canned goods.
Public Goods uses the most sustainable options available, with sugar cane bottles, tree free paper, and more. They’re always working to reduce their carbon footprint and integrate more sustainable options into their shipping and packaging process. In our experience, the packages have come with tree free paper and minimal plastic packaging (the only thing we’ve gotten that was in plastic was a washcloth).
Another cool thing about Public Goods is that for every order placed, a tree is planted to help offset the carbon cost of shipping. They do this through partnering with Eden Reforestation Projects, whose initiatives work to reduce extreme poverty and restore healthy forests by employing local villagers to plant millions of trees every year. Through Eden Reforestation Projects, Public Goods has planted nearly 100,000 trees and counting.
They’ve also got a very active blog with many different (paid) contributors, talking all about ethics and sustainability. To give you an idea of the diverse range of subjects the Public Goods blog covers, recent articles include What Managing a Factory in Senegal Taught Me About Sustainability, Where to Donate Your Clothes: National and Local Charities, and Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe: A Vegan, Gluten-Free Treat.
Click here to shop Public Goods (and don’t forget to use code ALTPGA for 15% off your first purchase).
Full disclosure: we do personally know the Public Goods founder. But as always, we’ll never recommend anything that we don’t personally use and recommend.
Thrive Market is another one in the membership model vein. It’s basically an online grocery store but with a healthy/organic slant. It’s organized like grocery store aisles, so you can shop that way, or shop by diet (vegan, gluten-free, organic, etc.).
Thrive Market is committed to sustainability with carbon-neutral shipping, 100% recyclable packaging, and zero-waste warehouses. And with their Thrive Gives program, for every paid membership, they give away one membership to someone in need. Through the program, they also send staple goods to families in crisis.
They have over 6,000 products, including many of the typical health-conscious brands you’re used to, as well as a Thrive Market brand. They have a huge amount of grocery products but also home goods, bath, body, and beauty products, baby products, pet food, supplements, and more.
Thrive Market costs $60/year, with a 30 day free trial to test it out before you commit. It can be a great option if you don’t have access to these types of products at a grocery store near you.
An Amazon alternative for electronics.
They’ve got everything from laptops to video game systems, computer parts, and more. Newegg has long been the staple for PC nerds everywhere, but it’s so much more than that. They’re always expanding, and now even have more home and lifestyle items, like fitness equipment, home appliances, and more.
Newegg is also great for secondhand, refurbished electronics. I got my refurbished laptop there literally 7 years ago and I still use it every day. Refurbished does not mean not as good!
Alternatives to Amazon for Books
Remember when Amazon started as a bookstore before it turned into a freaking global behemoth with an evil overlord at its head?
Yeah…those were the days.
Most people still turn to Amazon for ordering books (again, it’s super easy and virtually every book is on there). But there are so many alternatives to amazon for books!
We love libraries! True, we are spoiled by the massive collection of the New York Public Library, which we have access to wherever we go. This is thanks to e-book lending, which we have been taking advantage of for years. We initially started getting ebooks out from the library when we lived in Spain. With libraries currently closed due to the pandemic, many people are also discovering the wonders of e-book lending. Read more about how to get ebooks from your public library here.
Your local independent bookshop
If your local bookshop is open, support them! Many bookstores are adapting to the times with curbside pickup, capped indoor capacity, and more.
If your local bookstore doesn’t have the book you’re looking for, they can usually order it in for you. It’ll take the same amount of time that you’d wait getting the book from Amazon, and you’re supporting a local business to stay open.
Bookshop.org helps you support independent bookshops through online ordering. Since you’re looking for Amazon alternatives, there’s a good chance you want to order books online. And “thanks to Bookshop, there is no reason to buy books on Amazon anymore.”
You can do that easily while supporting local bookshops through Bookshop.org. It’s a fantastic initiative!
You can either search for a specific bookshop in your area to support, or order from Bookshop knowing that your purchase will be distributed to help independent bookstores everywhere (even ones that aren’t on a platform). Bookshop is a B-Corp and gives away over 75% of their profit margin to stores, publications, and authors.
We’ve curated lists on Bookshop with some of our favorite books over in our bookshop profile, from our favorite fantasy novels to sustainability reads.
Looking for only secondhand books? Better World has got your back!
Not only do they have a massive selection of secondhand books, Better World is a B-corp committed to doing good. They have some pretty damn awesome programs making a positive impact. For every book purchased on Better World, a book is donated to someone in need. So far, they’ve donated 26 million books and raised 28 million dollars for literacy and libraries.
As part of their sustainability commitment, they never throw away books (phew!), instead recycling any book that they haven’t been able to sell. To date, they’ve recycled 300 million books! And when you order, you have the option of adding a few extra cents to “carbon balance” your shipment. So far, they have offset 87,000 tons of carbon.
Is your home filling up with too many books (a good problem to have)? Donate your gently used books at a Better World drop box near you.
Last but certainly not least is Project Gutenberg, a library of over 60,000 free e-books. These are books for whom the copyright has expired, so you won’t find the latest bestsellers here.
What you will find are classic works of literature that have been digitized thanks to volunteers. The most popular books downloaded include Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Discover more works with the top 100 books downloaded this month, or search for something in particular. E-books for the win!
That rounds up our list of ethical alternatives to Amazon. Hopefully we’ve shown why to avoid Amazon and how easy it can be to do so! Do you have any other suggestions for alternatives to Amazon marketplace? Let us know in the comments!