The Financial Post has a piece looking at claims from (former) Amazon customers that they will be boycotting Amazon in the wake of new revelations about Amazon’s work environment. I’ve already noted that such boycotts tend to be ineffective, given that it is difficult to get a large-enough fraction of an entity’s customer base to take action for the entity even to notice a change. But this article has another point: through its Amazon Web Services division, Amazon now underpins such a large proportion of the web that it’s difficult even to know what to boycott if you don’t want to use its services anymore.
Furthermore, it’s not so easy to boycott Amazon even if you want to stop buying from just the retailer itself.
“Lots of families will spend a significant percentage of their income at a store like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. or Target Corp. or Amazon,” [UNC business professor Larry Chavis] said. “Changing that involves changing a whole lot of habits and may mean, for some families, a significant change in their buying power and what they can afford.”
The article suggests Amazon’s putative mistreatment of workers can be attributed to the way the company runs on such a tight margin, making only $92 million in profit on $23.2 billion in revenue. Spending extra on amenities for employees could run into the bottom line.
A Forrester Research Analyst proposes an “anti-boycott,” which puts me a little in mind of that idea to play independent artists on streaming music services in September—buy a lot of items such as diapers and toilet paper that actually cost Amazon money to carry but it does so anyway for the sake of customer satisfaction. But even that seems unlikely to do much harm to the business in the long run. It would take “an Enron-like scandal” to do real damage to Amazon’s reputation.
And, though the article doesn’t really go into it, the comments below the article demonstrate that there’s also the question of whether people even want to boycott Amazon to begin with. Lots of people seem decidedly unsympathetic to Amazon workers’ plights—if Amazon is abusing them, the thinking goes, they always have the choice to quit and go work somewhere else that doesn’t.
The upshot is, for various reasons a boycott seems unlikely to have any effect in the long run. It remains to be seen if there is anything else that can.