Business

Life Without Amazon (Well, Almost)

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“Ten years ago we didn’t order toilet paper from Amazon,” said Smalls. “Maybe it’ll take you so long to get over it.”

Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago, was interviewed by the New York Times in a 2012 story about customers who left Amazon. Dr. Pollack, who teaches public health, said at the time, “I don’t feel like they’re doing the way I want to support them with my consumer dollars.” He has since written critically about Amazon, including a 2018 comment titled “Better Chances for Jeff Bezos to Spend $ 131 Billion” recommending Mr. Bezos to allocate his “profits” to philanthropy rather than space. (In 2020 that number would be somewhere north of $ 180 billion.)

Dr. Pollack, reached by phone, said his criticism of Amazon had both broadened and deepened, but he was also a frequent customer now. “It’s chastening,” he said when asked to reconsider his attitude. “I use Amazon more in my life than I am comfortable with. It’s part of the infrastructure of my life just like the infrastructure of other people’s lives is, especially during Covid. “

Dr. Pollack then offered a new analysis that tried to include, or at least acknowledge, his ambivalence. “I think my own development is a symbol of why there needs to be public order solutions,” he said, citing concerns about antitrust law, Amazon’s wider role in the economy and, like its 2012 focus, the well-being of the company’s workforce. Amazon, he said, posed “an enormous collective action problem”.

The company has invaded his life inexorably. Using Amazon makes it easy to get work reimbursements. Amazon gift cards have become the de facto standard incentive for study participants (despite the concerns of some colleagues). In addition, Dr. Pollack like most people is busy.

“Amazon offers consumers tremendous value that enables us to look beyond many things,” he said. Going forward, he plans to “do the simple things that will allow me to minimize my trust in Amazon and feel good about it, but basically I won’t do the things that are less easy. And if I’m being honest, you can’t rely on me to discipline the company. “

Mr. Smalls, the former warehouse worker, offered clients like Dr. Pollack adopts a gentle, practiced attitude: Using Amazon could be like an addiction, or at least something that requires weaning. However, in an interview earlier this year, he may have been more open to the company’s habitual consumers. “Do you think you need Amazon?” he said in April, shortly after his release. “OK, what did you do a few years ago?”

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