How to shop small in the age of Amazon Prime

Green Apple Books on Clement Street. USF FILE PHOTO

In the rise of our “You can just get it on Amazon” culture, it’s extremely important to support small and local businesses, especially during this era of COVID-19. The Foghorn believes we must do more to support local businesses beyond just posting “shop local” hashtags because so many of them have had to close their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since many companies, such as Amazon, Netflix, and Clorox, are in fact profiting off the pandemic, small businesses need all of the help they can get. They are often owned and run by people who depend on them for their livelihoods, and, on the opposite side of the pendulum, Jeff Bezos (founder and CEO of Amazon) is set for life — or around 850 lifetimes. Local artisans and businesses owned by people of color are impacted by our Amazon Prime culture too, and we need to take action to combat its eventual suffocation of them.

As convenient as Amazon is, we need to remember that it’s not the only place selling what we want. If we’ve found something we like on Amazon, all it takes is a quick Google search to see if a small business carries it instead, or we can type books’ ISBN numbers into local bookstores’ online catalogs to see if we can buy them someplace nearby. The web of convenience makes it too easy for Amazon to depart with our money and leave small businesses out of the equation. You’ll be thankful the sooner you sever your dependency. 

When making the switch, there are a few things to consider — cost and patience. Amazon typically has cheaper prices and free shipping, but being able to spend a few extra bucks can really support an individual or family, as well as the U.S. Postal Service, which is also in dire need of our support. While there are going to be times when we need that two-day rush shipping, it’s important to pause for a second and realize that most late-night stress purchases aren’t emergencies, and we can wait a week to get them.

The specific nature of our pandemic has discouraged shopping in the dank, close-quartered shops we love and instead encouraged buying in bulk online, but there are several ways we can still support small businesses from the comfort and safety of our homes, especially because most small businesses at this point in the pandemic have created websites in order to survive.

Etsy is like the Amazon of small businesses. There are so many unique items that are all relatively inexpensive and sold by individual creators, so it’s a great place to support people of color, as well. The independent art site, Redbubble, is also a great platform because it does an excellent job of listing every pop culture design imaginable and printing them on the plethora of products they offer, like hoodies, stickers, and pillows. On top of that, a lot of the artists on there are making items by hand, so it feels good to support someone’s work and get a little gift for yourself or someone else in return. 

Independent bookstores are definitely some of the small businesses we at the Foghorn support the most, with a few favorites being Clement Street’s Green Apple Books and, if you’re looking to get out of San Francisco for a few hours, the Black-owned Marcus Books in Oakland. Scoping out local bookstores owned by members of minority communities also serves as an opportunity to further our education on important issues while familiarizing ourselves with the broader communities we are a part of, and picking up a new haul of books to read and relax with. You can sometimes find textbooks there at a fraction of the cost of what online retailers are selling them for — it just takes a bit of walking or a short drive. 

Ultimately, Amazon can never compete with the community element of shopping small. It feels so good to know who you’re buying from, and it’s tiring to talk to random customer service representatives or salespeople when we could instead receive a shiny package in the mail with a hand-written address, speak to a kind voice on the phone who helped us pick out a product that’s just right, or support the Etsy artist who communicated with us at every step of production. The human experience of shopping small, right there, makes up for the $5 price difference we might find on Amazon.


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