Shopping in the Digital Age

Shopping in the Digital Age

It seems every time Amazon does something (including getting a little press), haters come out of the woodwork to lob disdain in their direction. Twitter exploded when they announced their market for published fanfiction. And while I have strong opinions on that issue, I’m not going to boycott Amazon over it.

I get annoyed when people tell me not to shop on Amazon. I grit my teeth when I see people go after others for wanting to shop on Amazon, or worse blame the people who shop online for the closure of other retail outlets.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to be Amazon’s white knight. I’m not a fan of corporate capitalism and its culture. One giant, soulless corporation is, in my opinion, largely the same as any other. While it’s easy to shout ‘buy indie’ or ‘buy local’, I think many people fail to consider all the circumstances before they jump on others for choosing to shop online retail outlets like Amazon. For instance, living in Canada with a rather large family in the US makes it difficult to purchase gifts that don’t cost an arm and a leg in shipping. But I can go on amazon.com and send people gift certificates (which never expire) in their native currency (and vice versa when they want to buy gifts for me using amazon.ca).

At the time of this writing, I live in a French town in northern Quebec. Every time I bemoan my inability to find a book, people tell me to try my local library or bookstore. Which is generally good advice; except in Quebec my local book store can only sell me books published in French. There are strict language laws in the province which prevent retailers from selling certain things in English, which means my local bookstore couldn’t order me a copy of a book I could read no matter how much they wanted to. I’m not sure if the same language laws would apply to libraries, but I assume that’s the case. And before anyone gets their knickers in a twist over how I’m exaggerating about the language laws, keep in mind that I live in the same province where a restaurant owner had to pay hefty fines over using the word ‘pasta’ in his classic Italian restaurant (a debacle later termed ‘pastagate’). More recently they threatened to deport a parrot from a Montreal botanical garden to the Toronto Zoo because ‘it had learned too much English.’ (But that’s a whole other blog post.)

The point is, I can walk down the main street in my town and buy beautiful handmade crafts, vases, candle holders, jewelry and paintings. But I can’t buy books in a language I can read. And the nearest English book store of any size is probably about four hours away, in North Bay. Let’s face it; considering how often I buy books, a trip like that just isn’t plausible. Amazon, on the other hand, delivers to my door (not to mention fills my kindle to bursting with digital books that don’t take up physical space).

It might seem strange that I’d write a blog post defending a giant, soulless corporation when I profess to hate them. I’m not really here to sing Amazon’s praises. But I don’t appreciate people trying guilt me over choosing the most viable option for my situation.

The truth is I’ve never had a bad experience dealing with Amazon. Sears sent me a dirty pair of brand new sheets and Home Depot sent me a pair of rugs that in no way match the color in the photographs on their site (or indeed the label attached to said rugs when they arrived). Plus Amazon’s customer service has always been pleasant, friendly, and actually cared about solving my issues (unlike pretty much every other retailer I’ve ever dealt with).

Are there tons of things Amazon, the company, does that I don’t approve of? Sure. What company doesn’t? Let’s not forget that there are lots of good things Amazon does too. Take their direct-to-kindle publishing option which allows several indie-published authors to make a living off their work when the traditional publishing market has either rejected or failed them. Is the call of “buy Indie” meant to include those whose books were not published by large, traditional companies and are thus not available in physical book stores? I fully support the idea of buying local and supporting local shops, especially those that aren’t part of big retail chains. But in the digital world, there are plenty of people trying to make a living without the support of large businesses that can’t get their books into physical book stores (indie or not) no matter how hard they try. Should they be punished for that? No, I don’t think so.

As the digital world sinks into more aspects of our daily lives, online purchases, like everything else the Internet has brought with it, are going to become more prominent. Those who adapt will remain strong; those who don’t will be left behind. Such is the way the world works. Just as readers aren’t beholden to certain authors to purchase every book they write simply because they liked one, or to leave behind reviews or feedback of work they enjoyed, customers aren’t beholden to shop in certain places just because of their physical location. Funny that the onus of fostering relationships suddenly seems to fall on the customer, when businesses ceased the practice long ago.

Should my personal situation change (as it will shortly after this writing), my shopping habits may as well. But that wouldn’t give me any right to criticize the choices of others. If you don’t like Amazon, don’t shop there. But don’t bitch at me because I do.

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