Yes, they’re behemoth. But does that mean they’re bad?
Amazon is a brand that’s full of contradictions – criticized for low pay, exploitative labor practices, and monopolistic tendencies, yet consistently near the top of the list for the world’s most admired corporations.
Millions of people have become all but addicted to the convenience, selection, and value of the Amazon platform, even if they’re squeamish about some company policies. Plus, let’s just admit it: Some of us would never have survived the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020 without the help of Amazon.
At Cause Consumer, our core message is that every spending decision is a chance to do something good. As a rule, we believe in shopping locally, because 48 cents out of dollar spent will re-circulate in your own community. That’s a clear example of choosing to do something good with your consumer spending.
But sometimes – like during a pandemic, for instance – it’s not possible to buy locally. And that got us wondering: Is it possible to have a positive impact while shopping with one of the world’s largest retailers?
Turns out the answer is yes … times three.
Make a Charity “Smile”
If you want to shop with impact online, the most important thing you can do is to delete your bookmark for Amazon.com. That’s right get rid of it, because you’re essentially taking money away from a worthy charity.
Use smile.amazon.com instead. Same prices, same selection, but when you shop through the AmazonSmile site, the company automatically donates .5% of every sale to the charity of your choice.
If that doesn’t seem like a lot of money, keep in mind that states and cities sometimes debate for years over raising their sales tax by half a percent. Lawmakers understand that an extra half-penny can add up when consumers are forced to pay it every time they shop.
But in this case, the money is coming out of Amazon’s pocket, not yours. The company is essentially taxing itself on all the things you buy. And that “tax” definitely adds up – more than $183 million donated so far.
Many Amazon shoppers choose big, national charities like ASPCA, Meals on Wheels, or Save the Children, and that means the numbers can add up on the receiving end, as well. In just the last quarter, for instance, ASPCA received nearly $551,000 from Amazon sales, and its total donations to date exceed $8.1 million.
Shoppers aren’t restricted to national nonprofits, however. In fact, more than 1 million charities are eligible for AmazonSmile donations, and you can search by city or zip code to find a homegrown organization worthy of your support.
Amazon makes the Smile program as simple as possible. You’ll be asked to select your charity the first time you visit, but then there’s nothing else to do, and the site remembers your selection on subsequent visits. There’s also a one-time activation required if you’re shopping on the app; just look for AmazonSmile under the Settings menu.
Here’s the bottom line: If you care about creating positive impact with your spending, there’s absolutely no reason you’d ever use amazon.com. Just by adding a “smile” and “dot” in your browser, you can use OPM – other people’s money – to support your favorite cause.
We’re pretty sure Jeff Bezos won’t feel the pinch.
Grant Some Worthwhile Wishes
Every nonprofit organization loves getting cash, but many also need in-kind donations, and since Amazon sells everything under the sun, it’s the perfect platform for filling those wish lists.
The Charity Lists program at AmazonSmile may not be well known with consumers, but charities love it. Thousands of nonprofits have curated lists of needed items that shoppers can buy with just a few clicks.
For instance, SBP is a disaster response organization with current rebuilding projects across seven states. Not surprisingly their wish list is full of items like hammers, brooms, and paint brushes. The average shopper wouldn’t know what kind of saw blade is needed to rebuild damaged homes, but Charity Lists removes the guess work by allowing SBP to link to the exact blade they’re looking for.
“We are so grateful that AmazonSmile’s Charity Lists program is helping disaster-impacted families rebuild their homes and lives, including those in the New Orleans area,” says Elizabeth Eglé, the group’s Chief Development Officer. “Having the ability to request specific products allows SBP to get what we need to rebuild homes quickly and affordably and gives donors a direct view into how they’ve helped a family in need.”
Nonprofits participating in the Charity List program are searchable by mission area and by location. Best of all, because the wish lists are a part of AmazonSmile, every purchase also generates that .5% cash gift to the charity you’ve already chosen as your permanent donation partner.
Support a Small Artisan
Amazon may be best known as a source of cheap, mass-produced goods, but since 2015 Amazon Handmade has been helping small artisans tap into one of the world’s largest pools of online shoppers.
Etsy was the first mover in this space, and it still has plenty of devoted followers. But the company gave up its B Corp. certification in 2017 and is now publicly traded just like Amazon. Without the benefit corporation “halo,” many artisans now view Etsy as just another sales platform – and one without the same reach as Amazon (approximately 40 million vs. 300 million).
“While there is some overlap, I think the average Etsy shopper is not the same as the average Amazon shopper,” says David Minnery, who sells handmade wooden toys under the Manzanita Kids brand. “For us, it’s about expanding the audience and that can never be a bad thing.”
With Amazon, artisans get their own dedicated section on the website, so it’s easy for fans of handmade products to find what they’re looking for. But Amazon’s search algorithm favors sales above all else, and that means artisans with a strong sales record can get noticed even by customers who didn’t come looking specifically for handmade products.
In other words, by shopping Amazon Handmade, you can help artisans boost their search rank and be discovered by even more shoppers. Buy wooden blocks from Manzanita today, and you might help put them alongside Mattel when someone searches for “wooden blocks” tomorrow.
Ironically enough, given Amazon’s reputation as a killer of local mom-and-pop stores, the Handmade category may actually favor local in a way that even Etsy does not. By clicking on the prominent “Support local Makers” campaign, users can choose their geographic region and then drill down further by product category, making it easy to find small artisans right in their own backyards.
The irony isn’t lost on David Minnery. “It’s always easy to point to the big guy as the enemy, but I have not found that to be the case,” he says.
“All of the shops on Amazon Handmade are small businesses just like ours. I believe that we vote with our spending, and the votes we are getting through the local maker campaign reflect that people are interested in supporting smaller, local shops. I think there is room for all of us and Amazon is not going away.”
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