In 2013, my goal was to read a book a week, and to get that book anywhere but from Amazon. Though Amazon sells more books than any other retailer, its pricing is so aggressive that it’s damaged profit margins for publishers. It has been widely criticized for its labor practices. And it’s putting independent booksellers out of business, like the Starbucks to your neighborhood coffee shop, only worse because it’s cheaper and delivers.
Just recounting this narrative sounds naïve to me now, but in 2013, I thought about it daily. I tried my hardest not to buy anything from Amazon for the whole year. I lived in a neighborhood of Brooklyn with stores on every corner, and I didn’t order much from Amazon beyond books, so the challenge didn’t seem steep at the time.
But I didn’t know the dark secret truth of Amazon, which is that it is the lifeblood of many parents. I didn’t know, because I didn’t have any children. I didn’t know that I was GOING to have children. When I found out that I was pregnant in June of 2013, I didn’t expect it to have an impact on my anti-Amazon stance. I was completely unprepared for what happened when the baby was actually born.
To start with, my daughter was born a few weeks early, via C-section, in February. It was freezing cold and awful out, she was tiny and fragile, and I was deep in recovery from surgery. Because we were in Brooklyn, normally, we walked everywhere. But suddenly, the prospect of popping out to buy diapers seemed daunting.
At some point I signed up for something called Amazon Mom, which now seems to have been rebranded as Amazon Family (finally!). When I signed up, Amazon Mom offered a 20 percent discount on a bunch of baby-related items: diapers, certain skin-care products, wipes, things like that. All you needed was an Amazon Prime account, which gives you free shipping on an unlimited number of orders for $99 a year. I had that, so here we go!
But I wasn’t thinking about deep discounts, because I hadn’t ingested fully how expensive an eight-pound baby could actually be. I was simply responding to events around me quickly and efficiently: Baby’s skin seems irritated by that organic lotion I bought two months before she was born? It’s blizzarding outside and not an emergency buying situation? Order the Johnson’s stuff they used at the hospital on Amazon. It was quick and easy to order items from my phone, and I didn’t even need to sit down and make a list: I just added shit to my cart when I thought of it as I made my way through each of those early disastrous days. Then, at the end of a long day, I placed the order and POOF! — items appeared, sometimes the next morning. It was so fast and easy, all of my ethical concerns flew out the window.
Amazon weaseled its way into my Most Loved apps and bookmarks without friction. It happened literally overnight. And though Amazon hurts your local bodega or drugstore just as much as it does the beloved indie bookstore, for a period, I felt completely powerless to fight it.
The convenience of the stuff simply showing up on my doorstep converted me, but the monetary savings kept me. I’m not really a sale shopper, mostly because I am too lazy, though I am by nature consciously frugal. But because I’m not a comparison shopper or an avid couponer, I was unaware of how different the prices of the same items could even be at different retailers.
“Their diaper prices simply must be illegal,” I said to myself, as I ordered my second pallet of Huggies that week for nearly half the price (I’m not joking, nearly 50 percent) of what I paid at a drugstore. This led me to begin purchasing other things — toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products — from Amazon at likewise-steep price differences from what I was apparently accustomed to paying. “I had no idea I was getting ripped off all this time!” I yelled to myself as I added another case of baby wipes to my subscription service. The mailman hated me, but I was feeling increasingly proud of myself.
In the first year of my daughter’s life, I bought 2,344 diapers, not counting the ones I bought at random stores in life-or-death emergency situations. I bought a stroller and a baby carrier, sunscreen and Aquaphor. I returned probably nearly as much as I bought, because I couldn’t try things out (that’s one of the huge downsides of shopping online), but it was still faster and easier than going to a store sometimes.
That was two years ago. Priorities change. Sometimes, convenience wins. I’ve swung back in the other direction recently. I can’t give up Amazon completely; I’m too lazy or savings-hungry. I still get cases of training pants and baby wipes sent to my front door every month.
But I don’t buy books from there anymore. I gave that up again for 2016. Even when you have a kid, you still need to have some principles.