Quest for the best deal

A recent story in the New York Times about working conditions at Amazon has provoked mixed responses. Some want to use governmental action to enact change. Others think that, if people want to work long hours in the pursuit of their goals, they should be allowed to do so. Since Amazon is a big company with a prestigious name, workers are eager to get their foot into the door there and rise through the ranks. Whether the hours and competitive work environment imposed are reasonable or not is an interesting question.

I do not see that as being the only issue in this case. In the search for the cheapest possible option, consumers have long ignored other factors that should influence their purchasing habits. As of March of last year, Amazon had a 41 percent share of all new unit book purchases, and, when considering only online purchases, print and digital, they account for 65 percent of all sales. Is the best book to purchase really the cheapest?

Price has become such a primary factor when buying that companies will do almost anything to lower cost. Many consumers will purchase the least expensive items without much thought about where they came from or the impact of where they choose to shop on their local economy. The price war has led to Amazon gaining a lot of control over the American marketplace, shutting down retailers and small businesses that cannot possibly compete. Amazon also pushes their employees, as the New York Times article shows, so that the company can continue to grow and gain a larger percentage of the market share.

Amazon is able to sell goods cheaply because they can easily use their position as a large retailer to bully those who provide goods into charging the price Amazon wants, which is particularly true of books. Amazon is probably the most prominent place to promote a new book so they receive large discounts from publishers. Goodreads, which sponsors giveaways and which most readers use to catalogue a list of what they read or to find reviews before purchasing, is owned by Amazon. But Amazon is hardly the only example of the effect of price on consumer and industry habits.

If you purchase a product from Apple, it is usually shipped from China. The factory conditions there have become notorious, so much so that most people are (or should be, given the media coverage) aware of the problems, yet most continue to purchase Apple products anyway. The standard business model revolves around the idea that consumers do not care about the labor that goes into the product as long as it leads to a less expensive price. There are many examples, not just from Apple, of electronics companies and clothing companies who show a complete disregard for the human labor that creates what they sell.

However, people still chase the cheapest deal from Amazon, to the detriment of their local businesses, and buy from Apple when they know that their iPhones are produced under harsh working conditions using cheap labor. The media blames Apple or Amazon, but the problem lies equally with the consumers who do not change their purchasing habits. There is a hidden cost, which we sometimes ignore, behind the cheap goods we purchase every day.

The burden falls to the consumer. Times are tough. For some, budgets are an issue. We feel the pressure to purchase the cheapest option. Nonetheless, conditions will not change unless savvy consumers take factors other than price into account when making a purchase.