One of my evolving dreams, related to money, is for the revival of small local business. I’ve made a personal commitment to
(1) do as much of my shopping locally as I possibly can; and
(2) avoid non-local business as much as I possibly can.
And note, when I say local, I don’t mean the local chain superstore. I mean the local business owner. Ideally, I mean the local business owner who is selling locally made goods.
Granted, there are some things this simply won’t work with. I don’t know of any small local manufacturers of toilet paper, for example. Avocados, which I love with a passion, don’t grow around here. Also, I am literally, physically, unable to exist without coffee, and coffee only comes from far, far away. So for those things, I just have to go as local as possible and buy from a locally-owned market instead of from a big box store.
I have lots of reasons for moving in this direction. Some are economic, some are cultural, and some are environmental. Some, in fact, are emotional.
I’ll admit it up front: I am kind of mad at big business.
I am especially mad at the ones who have set themselves up to be “too big to fail,” so that we the taxpayers are bailing them out. And at the same time, those guys we’re bailing out aren’t really doing anything to bail us out. I’d just as soon not do business with them.
A propos of this topic, I was just over at Amazon looking up a book, and saw that Jeff Bezos has an open letter on the home page. In the letter, he announces that Amazon has been ranked #1 in the National Retail Federation Customers’ Choice Awards. He reminds us that Amazon’s mission is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.
You know what? I appreciate that. I have never had anything but stellar customer service from Amazon. I’ve never looked for something that I couldn’t find on Amazon. Shipping has always been lickety-split, even when I order all my Christmas presents on December 22 and need them in two days. On the rare occasion when I’ve needed to return something, it’s been no problem and my credit card has been promptly refunded. No complaints whatsoever on the customer service front.
As big a fan as I am, though, I do have complaints on another front.
Amazon is a behemoth. It is pioneering e-book production, sales, and delivery. And it is gouging the heck out of those of us who are moving to e-book platforms out of a desire to save trees, open the marketplace to more authors and more ideas, and share a love of books worldwide.
My Amazon e-books typically cost more than if I bought a physical book. I’ve noticed that phenomenon creeping up over the last year or so. At first it was occasional. Now it seems every e-book I buy is at least a dollar or two higher than the price of the physical book. In fact, I have a suspicion that my e-book prices are subsidizing the low prices Amazon offers on physical books.
Now, maybe it’s not just Amazon running up the price on e-books and dropping the price on physical books; maybe it’s the publishers, clinging to their old business model. If so, perhaps they should read what happened to newspapers and the record industry.
But hey, change is hard.
My point is, even if the publishing industry is at the root of the problem, Amazon has more than enough power to chip away at that. We, the consumers, are the primary source of Amazon’s power. After all, we’re the ones buying the products, writing the reviews that sell more products, and becoming life-long habitual hybrid marketer/customers with some pretty big lifetime value numbers.
Personally, I think Amazon has an obligation to change the world on our behalf.
In fact, I think any big business that wants my patronage should embrace that very same obligation.
I’d like to see big business do a few things to reinvigorate local business instead of vacuuming it up like so much detritus under the heel of its very big boot.
I’d like to see big business help communities thrive instead of paying such lean wages that employees are living on discount boxes of mac and cheese and working second and third jobs.
I’d like to see big business acknowledge that even the possibility of peak oil and global warming is enough motivation to make some business model changes.
I’d like to see big business produce sustainable products that last, instead of cheap trendy products that are headed for the dump almost before they’re out of the bag.
In short, I think if I’m going to do business with any big business, I should be holding it to a higher standard. Because yeah, I think big business owes me something.
It owes me attention to the environment. Unemployment. The decline of local communities. The evaporation of the tax base and the corresponding gutting of infrastructure programs and services that every single one of us needs.
So Amazon, thanks for the free shipping. Thanks for the variety and the great customer service. Thanks for being there whenever I get a whim to find a book (or a pair of garden sheers, or a pressure cooker, or just about anything else I can think of). Now get to work. Because after all, to quote the Good Book, for everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.