As the holiday shopping season gets into full swing, the question of whether to support the gargantuan online retailer Amazon or Petaluma’s locally owned and operated businesses should be an easy one to answer. For our part, we strongly encourage Petaluma gift shoppers to take full advantage of the many benefits afforded by shopping locally, and to avoid using Amazon.
While Amazon purports to offer consumers convenience and savings, a closer looks reveals that this global titan is sucking the economic lifeblood from communities like Petaluma.
Before you sit down to your computer and call up the Amazon website, consider the following conclusions from a report entitled “How Amazon’s Tightening Grip on the Economy is stifling Competition, Eroding Jobs and Threatening Communities,” produced by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
As Amazon displaces sales at brick-and-mortar stores, including many here in Petaluma, it is causing more job losses than gains. An analysis by ISLF of the corporation’s impact on employment found that at the end of 2015, Amazon had 146,000 employees in the U.S., but had displaced enough sales at stores to force the elimination of 295,000 retail jobs.
That works out to a net loss of 149,000 jobs. These job losses will only climb as Amazon takes over more of the retail sector and ramps up its reliance on robots and drones for packing and delivering orders.
Despite the arduous work, the people who work in Amazon warehouses earn less than their counterparts in the rest of the industry. Amazon’s wages average 15 percent lower than the prevailing wage for comparable work in 11 metropolitan areas.
Amazon staffs its warehouses with large numbers of temporary employees. Although the company often calls these positions “seasonal,” it relies on this arrangement year-round.
The work at Amazon is often dehumanizing, with very high production quotas. According to the International Business Times, “Amazon’s productivity numbers are apparently purposely designed to be unattainable for most workers so that employees feel that they are falling down on the job and push harder to hit the impracticable levels.” In 2016, Amazon was fined by federal regulators for not recording employee injuries, including some that were severe.
If none of this gives you pause about using Amazon for your Christmas shopping, then consider the many positive benefits of shopping locally.
Here in Petaluma, sales tax revenue is the single largest source of funding for city services. Every dollar spent locally generates sales taxes which directly support our police and fire departments, parks, street maintenance and emergency disaster response such as that seen throughout Sonoma County during the historic and devastating wildfires that burned thousands of homes here last month.
Studies show that each dollar you spend at an independent business returns three times more money to the local economy than one spent at a chain store, and almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer like Amazon.
Moreover, your investment returns to strengthen the community in the form of local jobs and generous donations by Petaluma business owners who support a myriad of local non-profit organizations. When you spend your money at local businesses, you are helping keep Petaluma’s non-profit organizations strong.
By choosing local and independent businesses for your services, shopping, dining and other needs, you not only enjoy a more distinctive and personal experience, but the casual encounters you enjoy when shopping locally build relationships and community cohesiveness.