Why I Went a Year Without Amazon and What I Learned
I enjoy making New Year’s resolutions. Typically, I make a different one every year.
One year, I deleted Facebook for a full year. Another year, I set a goal of going to the gym five days a week, which wasn’t too hard considering I had a gym at work and another one at my apartment complex—no excuses! Another year, I visited a new place at least once a month—it didn’t matter whether it was a new city, state, country, or a neighborhood in my current city, it just had to be someplace I’d never been.
For 2019, my resolution was a bit different and perhaps the most challenging one I’ve taken on to date. After some prodding from my girlfriend, I decided to stop shopping on Amazon for a full year.
"For 2019, my resolution was a bit different and perhaps the most challenging one I’ve taken on to date... I decided to stop shopping on Amazon for a full year."
Now before you think, “Well, that shouldn’t be too hard,” let me give you some context.
I’ve been an avid Amazon shopper since my college days in 2006 and an Amazon Prime member since 2011. Before I made this resolution, I took a look back at how much I’ve spent on the site and found that in 2018 alone, I spent more than $4,000 on Amazon. What’s more, since 2006 when I first started shopping on the site, I’ve spent more than $19,000.
Clearly, I spend a lot of money online.
With Amazon, in particular, I always liked how I could find pretty much anything I wanted and get most of those items easily with free, two-day shipping. I’m pretty busy during the week, much like you are, I’m sure, so it’s convenient to order something online and have it delivered fast.
Amazon’s not the only online retailer to offer free shipping, though. Lots of ecommerce brands do. But many can’t offer such a fast free shipping option.
So why did I make a New Year’s resolution to stop shopping on a site that’s previously earned so much of my business? For a few reasons.
"Why did I make a New Year’s resolution to stop shopping on a site that’s previously earned so much of my business? For a few reasons."
First, I wanted to see how difficult it would be to avoid shopping on a site as omnipresent as Amazon.
I also wanted to see if I could buy the same things I’d typically buy on Amazon on other ecommerce sites or locally, and see how much prices would differ.
I also wanted to branch out and see how certain companies handle their online and offline selling approaches—how they personalize their communications based on what they know about me and their approaches to customer service.
Lastly, I’m extremely competitive so when my girlfriend dared me to do this and said I wouldn’t be able to complete the resolution, I accepted the challenge.
Working at Klaviyo actually made it pretty easy to take on this resolution.
Here, I’m exposed to tens of thousands of ecommerce brands that I can discover and order from directly. And knowing a bit more about them now, I know they work really hard to build direct relationships with their customers—something I’ve come to value but also something that Amazon doesn’t really let them do.
Brands that sell on Amazon get exposure to new customers, which is great, but they also get very little information about those customers in return, which is not great. Amazon controls the buying cycle, so brands that sell on the platform don’t get the customer information they need to develop personalized experiences that ultimately help them create long-term relationships with their customers.
"Brands that sell on Amazon get exposure to new customers, which is great, but they also get very little information about those customers in return, which is not great."
Say you run a business and you sell your products on Amazon. Now imagine if Amazon suddenly said you couldn’t sell your products through their marketplace anymore or if they raised their fees. It’s easy to see how many brands might not be able to weather that storm.
Amazon currently represents nearly half of all online ecommerce sales in the U.S. (49 percent), according to emarketer. Yet many brands are realizing it’s unsustainable to do so much of their business through one platform that has so much control over what you can and can’t do to run your business and connect with your customers.
Many brands are choosing to reduce their reliance on Amazon or move off the platform completely, and instead, use owned marketing and the channels that are directly within their control (like their website, email, and mobile apps) to build relationships with customers and grow their businesses.
Personally, I don’t think one company should have as much power and control over online retail as Amazon does, so that’s a big part of why I made the resolution to stop shopping on the site for a year. Instead, I decided to shop online directly with ecommerce brands so, on January 1, 2019, I canceled my Prime membership and began my year without Amazon.
What I learned
Here are some of my top takeaways from my year without Amazon.
My repeat purchases increased.
When I was an Amazon shopper, I didn’t really have a ton of brand loyalty. I’d buy whatever was cheapest and I’d frequently jump around to different brands to try different things.
With my resolution in mind, though, I started buying items regularly from the same brands and websites. By purchasing directly from brands online, I learned a lot more about them and the whole experience was more enjoyable as a consumer, which led me to become a more loyal customer to those brands.
I discovered more products that were interesting to me.
The brands I shopped from directly throughout the year sent me content that was relevant to my personal interests, like recommendations for other products similar to those that I previously purchased or information on how to use the products I purchased in different ways.
For example, the homebrew supply website I use, Northern Brewer, sent me tips on what types of foods to pair with different beer recipes I purchased from them.
I enjoyed supporting small businesses.
I like supporting small businesses, whether I shop with them in-store or online.
By shopping directly with brands online during my year off Amazon, I learned that the brands I bought from earned more from each purchase I made from them than if I had bought the same item from them on Amazon (even at the same price) since Amazon takes a decent percentage of sales made on the platform.
Personally, I’d rather have my dollar go to support a smaller business that can help them grow rather than a large corporation.
My impulse purchases went WAY down.
Because Amazon is so easy and convenient, I often purchased things I didn’t really need. I’ve become much more intentional with my purchases with this resolution. I now make a list of things I want or need, and then wait a bit before deciding whether to find them online or in a local store.
Being more intentional with my purchases has helped me to avoid overspending. If I did make an impulse purchase, I found it was for something I really wanted because of the personalized recommendations I received from the brands I subscribed to.
I didn’t spend more money than I would have spent by shopping on Amazon.
As a consumer, I had a preconceived notion that “Amazon is cheaper” so if I need something, buying it there was the smart option. I thought I’d spend more money on non-Amazon websites, and accepted this as a part of my resolution.
But that wasn’t the case.
Many of the products I bought from independent ecommerce sites were often the same price and occasionally priced less than a similar product on Amazon. It’s true that Amazon may have been much cheaper in the past as they grew and had razor-thin margins in an effort to stamp out competition, but this pricing model isn’t sustainable. Prices may increase as Amazon tries to maintain profitability, and the fees they charge to their merchants could change at any time as well.
Many merchants are receptive to price matching.
In addition to shopping directly with brands online, I also shopped locally in stores and I found the bulk of the local brick-and-mortar merchants I purchased from (like Target, Best Buy, and Staples) were open to matching Amazon’s price if I bought from them directly.
While price matching is more applicable to a brick-and-mortar setting, it’s possible for ecommerce store owners to offer price matching to their customers.
For example, Shopify has a plugin called Instant Price Match that can help to prevent customers from leaving your site if they find a better deal elsewhere.
I thought I’d miss Prime more than I did.
Occasionally, I used my Prime membership to listen to music on my Amazon Echo but after canceling my membership, I easily synced up my Spotify account with my Echo which I now use to stream music. It works just as seamlessly as Amazon music does, and I don’t even need to ask Alexa to “play [x] on Spotify” anymore. She chooses Spotify by default. I also used Prime Video occasionally (I got about halfway through “The Americans” before shutting off Prime, which I still want to finish).
Despite the additional benefits you get along with a Prime membership, I mostly used it for the free two-day shipping with no minimum order value.
While I didn’t get free two-day shipping from most of the DTC brands I bought from last year, I also didn’t frequently pay for shipping and I found I didn’t mind waiting an extra day or two for the item. If I needed something immediately, I’d either pay extra for expedited shipping or buy the item locally.
What I missed
That said, there were a few things I did miss about shopping on Amazon.
I missed having a record of all of my past purchases.
This typically hasn’t been an issue if I purchase online from a major retailer like Target, but it is an issue if I buy items in person. I’m notoriously unorganized when it comes to keeping receipts and records of the things I buy. Amazon makes it easy to look up a previous order to see how much I spent, when I purchased it, etc.
As an ecommerce store owner, having a way for customers to quickly lookup previous orders and print receipts is extremely helpful. Nobody wants to dig through emails (if they even keep them) to find receipts or contact customer service to retrieve a record of a prior purchase.
I missed being able to make lists.
I keep running lists of items to purchase for birthdays or holidays. I like being able to add something to a list and see if the price has increased or decreased since I added it. I’ve started creating lists in notes on my phone, but it’s not as easy or convenient as using lists on Amazon.
All ecommerce brands should consider providing an option for their customers to build lists on their site (and possibly receive price alert emails), or at a bare minimum, save items in their cart for later. This benefits the brand by providing additional data that can inform your marketing strategy on what products interest your customers.
I missed the convenience factor.
I hate asking associates for help and I’m the type of person who’d struggle for hours trying to find something before asking for help. This is one of the reasons I enjoy shopping online so much. I can find pretty much anything I want by simply searching for it.
Amazon takes this a step further by making it extremely easy to find basically anything. Believe it or not, Amazon is actually one of the largest product search engines in the world surpassing even Google for product searches.
Also, being able to buy pretty much anything on Amazon and receive it in two days is awesome. Between work and other commitments, I don’t have a ton of time to travel to different stores, let alone browse them for what I need.
Ecommerce brands should make sure you have a search bar on your site, easy navigation to your product categories, and do as much as you can to reduce the number of clicks it takes a shopper to get to a product from your homepage.
You should also leverage the search data on your own site to get insights into what products people are searching for and what searches may be returning no results (or different results from what the searcher intended to see).
My year without Amazon is officially over and it turns out I didn’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would. Yes, the two-day shipping with Prime is nice and, yes, being able to buy pretty much anything in one place is convenient. But that’s where it ends.
Over the last year, I purchased many of the products I’d normally buy on Amazon (like razors or homebrew supplies) directly from a brand’s ecommerce site, and I’ve actually enjoyed the experience more.
Since the brands I shopped with knew about my buying preferences and purchase habits, they sent me lots of relevant recommendations. They saved me time by helping me find things I might not otherwise find, and some helped me learn how to do new things with the products I purchased (such as).
Now that 2019 is officially over, you may be wondering if I’ll start shopping on Amazon again. The answer: yes and no.
I won’t resubscribe to Amazon Prime, but I may buy stuff from Amazon occasionally—especially if I can find a product at a lower price there than I can find it elsewhere. But I do plan to continue shopping directly with brands and being more mindful of what I purchase on Amazon.
Anytime I come across a product from a brand that I haven’t purchased from previously, I’ll do my diligence and visit their website first. If the brand turns out to be one I feel good about supporting and buying directly from them is an option at a comparable price, then I’ll buy directly from them instead.
So, what’s my New Year’s resolution for 2020?
As a big fan of craft beer, my resolution for this year is to only drink beer I brew myself. I recently got into homebrewing, so I plan to use the year ahead to hone my skills and brew the beer I enjoy.
Interestingly, the original homebrew supplies and ingredients I purchased were actually from a brand I found on Amazon. Now, though, I buy directly from their website (at the same price, too) and have access to a much larger selection of products than they sell on Amazon.
They also send me personalized recommendations and new recipes to try—both things that I wouldn’t get if I only purchased their products on Amazon.
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