*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
A few weeks back, I wanted to get a dear friend of mine a gift.
It wasn’t her birthday. It wasn’t her wedding anniversary. I just wanted to say thank you because she’d been there for me over the past heinous year that was 2021. Even now, she calls me almost every day, checks on me constantly, forces me to get on Zoom and talk to her a minimum of once a week so she can “see” me, looks for lines under my eyes, scolds me for not eating, and then scolds me for binge-eating and spoiling my health and the recovery process, then stays quiet and lets me vent when I bawl my eyes out or ramble on and on about those I lost in December 2020.
So, yes. I wanted to say thank you to this amazing human in my life.
I knew my gift had to be thoughtful. Something heartfelt. Something that told her I cared, appreciated, and, most of all, was incredibly grateful for her continued presence in my life.
I also knew that she was shopping for a brand-new carpet for her bedroom. And as much as I wanted to get her a one-of-a-kind carpet, I knew that something unique would probably be expensive (especially to ship, since she lives in a different country), and I am on a budget.
So, I did the next best thing. I went online, browsed through Amazon, and bought what appeared to be a pretty amazing looking carpet that was well within my budget. Then I clicked and had it delivered to her. My friend was thrilled with my “very thoughtful gesture.” She hadn’t expected or needed me to get her a gift, but she was happy, nevertheless.
I sighed in relief that I was able to send something as bulky as a carpet to a friend who lived in a different country, and one that was literally thousands of miles away from me. I said a quiet thank you to Amazon, a company that has made buying, selling, and sending a lot easier for people like me.
Then I remembered reading an article a few weeks back that listed 40 ways Amazon exploits its workers.
And another one that explains a few disturbing reasons why we should boycott Amazon.
Over the years, I’ve read many such articles—even here on Elephant—about why we should boycott the likes of Amazon and Walmart. Apart from awful work conditions, these companies shortchange their employees by overworking them and paying them less than minimum wage, and get subsidies from governments that they don’t pass on to their customers or their employees. Back in 2020, Walmart was found to be paying its employees “starvation wages,” with many relying on food stamps. (In February 2021, Walmart announced that they were raising wages, but with only roughly half of their employees getting bumped up to at least $15/hour.)
The Jeff Bezoses and Waltons of the world get richer and richer while refusing to share that wealth with those who work for them or the customers who buy from them. Not to mention the thousands of small and local businesses that have shut down because of them.
And when I read these articles, I understand. Oh, I so f*cking understand. I understand and empathize. And I get as angry and livid as the writers of these pieces.
For instance, when I read this article my anger went through the roof and I cussed Bezos from here to Sunday.
Just how many multi-million-dollar homes does one person need? His home in Washington, D.C. covers a total area of 27,000 square feet. As a single woman, I find myself hard-pressed to use the second bedroom in my apartment!
Trust me, the sheer excess, the gaudiness of flaunting one’s wealth in today’s world, is disgusting to me.
But then—like a true hypocrite—I go right back and shop on Amazon myself.
The way I see it, given where I am in my life right now, I often feel like I don’t have any good choices. I have a financial goal ahead of me and that means saving money where I can. And the fact is: shopping on Amazon is cheaper for a lot more than just buying a carpet. And given my larger goal of being financially secure within the next few years, I tend to go where things are cheaper.
And Amazon and Walmart are, sadly, more affordable.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some heinous person who doesn’t want to support small businesses. I do. I just can’t always afford to. Because activism and “doing the right thing” aside, for me and many others, most times it’s just not practical.
The rug I sent? It cost me under $200 to have it sent to my friend’s doorstep in a different country. The same rug, if I were to send it through a local business, would’ve cost me upwards of $1,000.
The thing with activism is that it often doesn’t account for how impractical and expensive it can be to make the more ethical choice.
A friend once told me that you have to be rich in order to be a consumer activist. It costs money to shop locally and support small, local businesses; because of their high overhead costs, small businesses tend to charge more than larger retail stores, like Walmart and Target, and online portals, like Amazon.
And, although we may wish things were different, not everyone can afford to shop locally.
I feel the same way when nutritionists urge you to eat organic food. It can break your bank to shop organic, which is something few people talk about when suggesting it as an option.
So, as much as I hate the Jeff Bezoses and Waltons of the world, I still use Amazon and Walmart for much of my shopping. I’m probably upsetting a lot of people with this story, even on this platform, but I believe in being honest about where I’m at in my life.
I want to do the right thing. But it turns out that convenience and being able to afford something can sometimes trump “doing the right thing.” And as sad as it is to say, I often feel like I’m just not rich enough to always make the ethical and moral choice.
And while I want to do the right thing, I get that wanting to do it is not enough. Wanting to make the responsible and decent choice is not the same as actually doing it. I understand that, and I’m sorry about it.
I’d love for those of you who’ve found a way to shop small and either avoid or minimize your use of Amazon and Walmart without breaking the bank to share your tips in the comments!