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Amazon holds more and more sway as the dominant retailer of our time. While it yet does not do as much business as Walmart, Amazon’s presence online and in our collective consciousness arguably make it far more relevant and, thus, influential. Besides, just like Walmart, Amazon has a direct pipeline into a most basic human desire – to have things at the lowest possible costs. Unfortunately, again just like Walmart, the delivery of those lowest possible costs comes at huge prices in ways hidden and in ways that affect the lives of (other) people, almost always the companies’ employees. In the discussion that follows, I examine several of the ways in which Amazon is the most powerful, most influential player in retail, and follow up by considering the costs of that power and influence – in terms of how those costs run up against several values and aspects of ethics, the stakeholders involved, the dilemmas involved, and the ethical theories in which analysis may be conducted. And, finally, I offer a small, relatively simple solution, a first step toward addressing the dilemma that is Amazon’s place in our consumerist lives.
Amazon – facts, situations, and context
One massive way in which Amazon’s platform has revolutionized retail is in its ability to manipulate prices on a scale unheard of and impossible for brick-and-mortar retail outfits. One estimate from the last few weeks states that “[d]uring the Christmas shopping season we will see Amazon change prices on as many as 80 million products during a single day…since they want to provide customers with the lowest prices and best value across their vast selection” (Loeb, 2014, my emphasis). As Loeb points out, this fact puts nearly unbearable pressure on Amazon’s primarily brick-and-mortar rivals, who do not have nearly as much power to adjust prices at such frequency and volume. It is the power of having an entire retail enterprise exist entirely digitally – no store associates have to go out to the aisles, locate the right places on the right shelves, find item tags, and change prices manually. Besides the likelihood of Amazon’s prices being low, there are other advantages for customers – unlike in a brick-and-mortar store, when one sees a price on Amazon, there is considerable confidence that it is the ‘correct’ price, not some mistake that may or may not be caught and rectified during checkout. Unsurprisingly, because of the tremendous competitive pressure...
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