Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Transition: The day I closed my Amazon account…

In Mendo Island Transition on December 10, 2013 at 8:49 am

Amazon fulfilment centre

From ROB HOPKINS
Transition Culture

I’ve done it.  I’ve closed my Amazon account.  I now stand before you as an ex-Amazon account-holder.  I feel curiously shaky, but at the same time empowered, excited even.  While opening a new Amazon account is easy as pie, closing one is another matter altogether.  I’d like to share with you how, and why, I did it.

Was it the recent Panorama programme about working conditions in those vast Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ that tipped me across into doing something?  Was it the stories about the appallingly low levels of tax Amazon pay in the UK?  Was it the recent video showing Amazon’s plans to be delivering across the UK within 30 minutes through the use of drones? Was it hearing the level of taxpayers’ money that goes in sweeteners to attracting Amazon to open up in different communities, while the profits generated pour out of those same places?  What actually tipped me across was a conversation I had with a book seller in my town. It was that that led me, finally, to build the steely resolve needed to close down my Amazon account.

Yes, I confess, I had an Amazon account.  I buy music from my local record shop, I support my local book shops, but there are times when I need a book quickly, or feel I do, and it’s just easier and more convenient.  And, if I’m honest, I love getting exciting parcels in the post. And isn’t it cheap?  But as Carole Cadwalladr, who went undercover in Amazon’s Swansea ‘fulfilment centre’ for The Guardian puts it:

Our lust for cheap, discounted goods delivered to our doors promptly and efficiently has a price. We just haven’t worked out what it is yet.

I’ve always had that nagging conscience that it’s not OK really, but I have just had it ticking away in the background and carried on using it on occasion.  The conversation that tipped it for me, with my local bookseller, was around “what would it take for you to stop supporting Amazon?”  His example was Primark, recently implicated in child labour in the manufacturing of some its clothes.  We know that’s the case, but we still shop there.  If we knew that 8 year olds work there, would we stop shopping there?  Or 5 year olds?  If we knew that every day they arrive for work they get hit with a stick, would we still pop in there for a cheap new shirt?  And if they got hit 3 times, and then again in the middle of the day?  Where do we draw the line?

Our tendency is to draw a line, but then for that line to slip.  What swung it for me was thinking that actually, what I already know should be enough to make me withdraw my support.  Also, it was thinking about where the world will be in 5 years time if we continue to give Amazon our support.  More and more low paid jobs, with little Union protection, in conditions described in the BBC documentary as “… all the bad stuff at once. The characteristics of this type of job, the evidence shows increased risk of mental illness and physical illness.”

We’ll see Amazon ‘fulfilment centres’ that look like a wasp’s nest, with drones flying in and out.  High streets swept clean of bookshops, indeed of most shops, as Amazon spread into selling virtually everything that local economies sell, but far cheaper.  It made me think about what kind of a world I’m creating for my sons as they enter the work place.  What kind of opportunities will Amazon offer them, as they gut local economies and focus economic activity into vast warehouses along the side of motorways?

I give so much of my time every day to trying to create a different, more just, more resilient world, yet my shopping decisions undermine that.  There is also an extraordinary arrogance to thinking that it is OK for you to fill peoples’ airspace, the sky above their heads, with your drones, delivering your products to people for your profit.  What happens for a company to get so huge that that is considered acceptable?  It is about getting too big.  Amazon is too big.  Far too big.  But it clearly sees that it has only just started.  That’s not good.

So, decision made, and with a commitment to source those things in other ways, I went to the website to close my account. Closing an account with Amazon is like breaking up with a girlfriend whose level of obsessive denial is such that the possibility you might want to split up with her doesn’t even enter her consciousness.  It’s a fascinating process.  Opening an account with Amazon is so easy.  Closing an account is, as my 15 year-old son might put it, a right mission.

Click on ‘Your account’ and there is no option anywhere of “Close my account”.  Nothing.  Like it’s not even a possibility that it might entertain.  I had to Google (and don’t get me started on them) “closing your Amazon account”.  If you search the Amazon site for “close my account” it yields no results.  See below:

Close my account

The Google link took me to their Help section, on pages that bear the slogan “we’re the people with the smile on the box”, prompting the thought that the inside of their box-like warehouses are probably somewhat bereft of smiles.  If offers you a drop-down menu under the helpful title “what can we help you with?”.  Surely that’s where I’ll find “Close my Account”?  No. You get a range of choices, “An order I placed”, “Kindle”, “Digital services” and, er, “Something else”.  Guess I’m “something else” then.  So I click that.

I’m then given another 4 options, none of which are “Close my account”.  I’m asked to “tell us more about your issue”, and given another list where my option is “other non-order question”.  Given that still, the idea that I might have got this far could mean I want to close my account is clearly unimaginable, I am then given an option to email, to phone, or to “chat”.  So I click on “chat”, and am told “a customer service associate will be here in a moment”.

A charming man then begins to chat with me.  Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: I want to close my account please. How do I do that?

Tom (not his real name): Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk. My name is Tom. May I know your name, please?

Me: Rob

Tom: Thank you.  I’m sorry to hear that you want to close the account.  May I know the reason for closing the account please?

Me: Certainly. I am appalled by the way Amazon operate as highlighted in the recent BBC Panorama programme. I am appalled at the recent story on Amazon considering deliveries in future by drone. I am appalled by the low level of tax Amazon pay in the UK. I have been a customer for years, but I feel Amazon has become too big, and eats everything in its path. It is no longer something I wish to support.

Tom: I’m sorry for the situation. For confidentiality reasons, I’m not able to close your account for you in chat, so I’m going to send you an e-mail with the information to close the account. When you receive it, please respond to that e-mail so that we will close your account.

Me: Thank you Tom. I would really like my reasons for leaving to be registered somehow, as I think a lot more people will be closing their accounts for similar reasons, and it would be good for that to be noted by those in charge. Will that be possible?

Tom: Unfortunately we will not be able to comment on this issue. However, I will send you an email regarding the closing of the account. Is there any thing else I can help you with?

Me: I am not asking you to comment on the issue. I am asking you to make sure that the reasons for my closing my account are passed on to management. If I ran a business I would want to know why my customers were closing their accounts. Is that not the case at Amazon?

Tom: Sure, all the information’s will be recorded and forwarded to the appropriate department.

Me: Thank you Tom. I appreciate your help.

Tom: Thanks for your understanding.  We hope to see you again soon! Have a Nice Day!

I later received an email from Customer Support to say:

“We appreciate your feedback and have forwarded it to the appropriate team internally. We are proud to provide a safe and positive working environment for all of our associates. Information about working at our fulfilment centres can be found at the following link: www.amazon.co.uk/fcpractices

Amazon may be cheap, but cheap comes at a cost for someone else.  And, after all, much of what is bought on there is throwaway rubbish.  As Carole Cadwalladr puts it:

The warehouse is 800,000 square feet, or, in what is Amazon’s standard unit of measurement, the size of 11 football pitches (its Dunfermline warehouse, the UK’s largest, is 14 football pitches). It is a quarter of a mile from end to end. There is space, it turns out, for an awful lot of crap.

Me, I resolve to buy less, but better.  Less, but longer-lasting.  Less, but local.  The thought of where we will end up in 5 years time, 10 years time, 20 years time, if companies like Amazon continue as they are, really frightens me. It’s not good, it’s not right.  It’s not about our needs, it’s about the needs of huge investors.  I want a different world for my boys.

I can’t, on my own, do that much about it.  I can’t insist that the UK government legislate so that, as in Holland, the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) is the legal minimum at which any book can be sold, although I think that is grounds for a really timely campaign.  Because of that, Amazon don’t really operate in Holland.  Bring back the RRP for books here, and let’s have a level playing field.  As I say, I can’t do much, but I can withdraw my support. I just have withdrawn my support.  It feels surprisingly unsettling, as one does after ending a relationship, but it was the right thing to do.  It may be a drop in the ocean, but if enough people do it….
~~

  1. I agree. We didn’t have an account but we ordered books from them. Not anymore. Our son who must have seen that undercover story told us about the very bad working conditions and how if people complain, they get fired because so many people need jobs. That’s pitiful. Is that where we are headed? I hope not.

  2. I just had an amusing little chuckle to myself…I googled “Rob Hopkins Transition Culture Amazon” and the link “The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to … – Amazon.com‎ was the second one to pop up. When I clicked it, it took me directly to his book The Transition Handbook on, you guessed it, amazon.com!
    What irony.

    • Claudia: I think that is unfair. He’s encouraging you by example to purchase from other than Amazon, but he is not asking anyone not to sell on Amazon, which in the case of books would be suicide for an author. That is the problem of monopoly capitalism which narrows choices.

      • So true Dave,

        We live in an engineered Panopticon with a few regimented choices, by and large. I try not to do business with them either, but living out here on the outer planet Boonville, I am forced to at times. Rereading Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction by Barry C. Lynn. It is being more revealing about how the process works this time around. It really is a process, no actual humans involved, and it leads inevitably to a crash.

        y

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