Dr. Laura Johnson
Amazon Prime and the Impact of Two-Day Shipping
It’s that time of the year again. It’s the holidays where we plan to sit down with family, eat a filling dinner, and exchange a bunch of gifts. However, you just realized that you forgot to order that toy online for your little cousin Timmy and Christmas is only a few days away. Don’t worry though you’re in luck because you only need two days. So, you log onto some site like Amazon, you put the item in your cart and place the order. Your job is done and all you must do is wrap it when it gets to your home. We’re a creature that likes immediate gratification, such as when you push the crosswalk button and hope that it will change the light immediately. The same thing applies to clicking the order button. We don’t want to have to wait that whole week, we want that four-day delivery, but why stop there why not two- or one-day delivery. With a service such as Amazon prime it makes all your shopping and shipping problems things of the past. I believe there is nothing wrong with wanting to be able to get your packages in two days, because in all honesty it is a nice luxury to have. The only issue that I find is what happens in the process for your package to get to you. The process of two-day shipping has a toll on the environment because of all the driving and flying and other tools it takes to get to you. It also causes a toll on the people that are required to get your package to you, especially during this season of high demand.
It wasn’t so long ago when I remember quite a lot of shopping was done in stores. It wasn’t until 2005 that Amazon released their “Amazon Prime”. Before it has provided everything that it does now such as video streaming, music, books, etcetera, it provided free two-day shipping. This two-day shipping started out in the US at first and in 2007 is when they made the jump to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan. Since then Amazon has spread its horizons expanding to a total of 17 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia as of 2019. Before 2019 Amazon started having more bonuses for Amazon prime members. If the wait of two-day shipping has become too much to bear it was in 2015 where for certain metropolitan areas Amazon started to offer one day delivery. In 2016 they continued to expand the horizon of one day delivery offering it in a total of 27 metropolitan areas. In 2019 one-day shipping is providing all it can with one-day shipping on being available on over 10 million items. As well in Amazon reports of 2016 it says that nearly half of all U.S. households have a membership of Amazon prime. I believe that now it has probably grown and half if not more U.S. households have Amazon prime. Amazon prime is now much more than just a luxury but a standard commodity for most households.
Lens / Framework 1:
When we’re looking at the environmental impact that quick shipping causes it adds lots of CO2 emissions to our atmosphere. We can see from graphs that with the rise of CO2 within our atmosphere we also see a trend of increased global average temp as well as sea level rise. In the article, The Role of International Policy in Mitigating Global Shipping Emissions, authors James Corbett, and James Winebrake state, “Each freight mode carries the cargo for part of the distance; for most international trade, no single mode can successfully deliver door-to-door” (Corbett & Winebrake, 144). To receive any item, it takes a lot of modes of transportation to get from the factory to your home. There are statistics that have shown that when someone delivers your package it can be a bit less environmentally damaging in terms of emissions when compared to you driving to the store. We usually will see this in the best-case scenarios though with optimized routes, and when you have all the packages in an area ready. When it’s not optimized it can emit more fuels, and it is not optimized with prime only quickened. For example in the news article The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping, by Nicole Nguyen she explains that with two-day, one-day, and even two hour shipping “[Amazon] increasingly relies on hundreds of thousands of independent contractors with passenger cars to make those deliveries” (Nguyen). When left to independent contractors it mostly goes through regular people in standard passenger cars who are making these deliveries. A standard car of course has standard emissions, but often these cars aren’t filled with packages like other delivery companies. As well we see that these independent cars must return to the main hub to get more packages once they deliver the first ones, causing them to go back and forth often. Another issue that we see is that with things needing to be delivered within two days is that it requires a lot of modes of transports including planes if need be. In the article Trade Costs, CO2, and the Environment author Joseph S. Shapiro states, “Airplanes emit nearly 100 times as much CO2 as ships do to move one ton-km” (Shapiro, 234). When consumers are selecting their two day shipping Amazon has a guarantee to get it there in two days, preferably they’d like to use ground shipping because of its cheaper cost, but planes have to be used when getting shipment from far distances in the U.S or even from other countries.
Lens / Framework 2:
All these things point towards a viewing Amazon in a political economy perspective. The textbook Environment and Society: A Critical Introduction explains this, “In a modern economy very few people own their own business and equipment, and very few have access to raw materials like oil or iron” (Robbins, 101). Many people in this world don’t have the means of production so one of the only things that people can do is provide their labor. Even though there is a lot of automation at the Amazon warehouses it does come down to the people to be able to get you your package. Without providing the workers better wages or better working conditions I do believe that a strike of sorts would be possible from the Amazon workers.
When it comes to getting your package, it must pass through the hands of workers of the company and many other delivery services most of the time. It’s often that the people who handle your package are working with long hours and poor conditions that almost seem like a dystopian world. One example of the dehumanizing conditions comes from the article Surviving the Amazon, by Nichole Gracely. She says, “Everything had a barcode – even me”. (81) This is just the start of the conditions in Amazon, it really dehumanizes a worker when they are labeled by a barcode necklace which is how they keep track of you, and your work progress. Along with the barcode it’s printed on a white ID badge, the white signifies you’re a temp worker and one thing they tempt you with to work harder is a blue ID badge showing permanent worker status. It’s a terrible stunt to get the workers of Amazon to almost be competing against one another to be able to get this job. To add on to the idea of the badge our other examples comes from the article, Stop Treating Us Like Dogs! Workers Organizing Resistance at Amazon in Poland, by Jake Immanuel Ness, talking about the Amazon warehouse conditions in Poland. Ness says, “workers log into a system that monitors each workers performance, and the data is used to set their obligatory work rates, such as the demand of the number of products scanned per hour”.( Ness, 98) This is unfair because unfortunately the demand of packages scanned doesn’t compare to the actual workload since scanning packages is only one part of the process that actually gets logged. When they aren’t scanning the system logs it in as “time off task,” and when they accumulate enough time off task it logs in as taking an extra break. Enough of these extra breaks and it’s possible for a worker to be fired, simply because they were too slow to keep up with Amazon’s requirements.
If one is able to keep up with the high demand that it takes to work at Amazon with the long and constant hours on you might end up getting sick or getting some other workplace injury and you’ll need some time off. That all sounds fine, but not when you hear what happens when you get sick leave such as, “To bring down the sickness rate, Amazon Poland hired a company in Spring 2017 which checks whether workers are at home during sick leave” (Ness, 99). This right here is without a doubt invasion of privacy. To call in sick and to have to have someone check that you’re home almost makes it feel that they don’t believe you’re responsible enough. It’s like when you were in elementary school and the school had to get a note or call from your parents if you were sick. It’s especially terrible that it’s possible to lose your job for not being home too, like if you had to call in sick to get important things besides work done for that day. Another complaint is the lack of openness in the schedule when the holidays come around. One ex worker says, “Peak season officially started in November and, during this ‘blackout’ period any absence was inexcusable. Doctor’s notes were not accepted” (Gracely, 81). “Blackout” periods are something that occurs in all of retail, where you can’t ask for days off since more workers are needed for the holidays. However, to not be allowed sick days and get your schedule changed around to meet Amazon’s needs is completely unjust to workers. It shows that Amazon values the businesses among all else and that workers are replaceable.
Living in a country that we are in it’s easy to get lost in all the luxuries that we are accustomed to. Having easy access to get something that you want delivered to your house with just the click of a button or even by using your voice now is so convenient why would you not do it? I hope that I have clearly provided some reasons to think twice when you put in your online orders through Amazon. There are many other websites where you can buy what you want and maybe you’ll have to wait a little longer to get your package, but how much of a rush is it to get your package in all honesty? Until Amazon I feel starts to provide a better work environment for all of its employees and they move to greener options for their shipping, I suggest that you try and find other companies that have standard shipping or take the bus to the mall to get your Christmas gifts.