We all know the feeling, we need more stuff, we want it now and we’re not willing to wait. Whether it be technology, appliances, furniture or fashion, consumer behaviour is becoming all the more about the instantaneous gratification of that (largely) un-needed purchase. While those in the west gawk at the wealth disparity and oligopolistic societies of the world’s developing nations we often fail to question if we are unconsciously creating our own. The few owning the most is in no way a new occurrence, though one would like to think it is a concept that the majority oppose, yet why when we vote with our dollars, pounds and euros do we rarely take such moral objections into account. People want more services, at a cheaper rate, with fair competition but when does this somewhat laissez faire approach to the market create monopolies rather than meritocracies and does the digitalisation of modern markets expedite or delay this process? This is the question I pose when analysing Amazon and other digital networks as commanders of significant market share. My aim within this essay is not to alter the reader’s view towards Amazon but merely to question and acknowledge the power we are giving away as we allocate it a growing place in our global marketplace.
In a digital age of direct to consumer advertising and immediate product availability the ability for transnational corporations (TNCs) to affect purchasing power and our psychological thought processes is a very real dilemma. Subtle changes in the design and output of companies such as Facebook and Instagram have been shown to drastically alter the political and social activities of individuals and with Amazon holding such a large share of the e-commerce market it should be assumed they can do the same (Grassegger, 2018) .
An example of a TNC’s political sway can be found in the recent reversal of net neutrality laws by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , a serious issue of
concern for those in America seeking to access a fair, unbiased access route to the wider world through the internet (Shepardson, 2018). With companies given the ability to slow or accelerate internet speeds depending on content or website on a whim, a significant part of the web based economy has been lent in favour of TNC’s and internet providers. To hinder the ability of companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google to permanently alter the way we access the web (and how this experience affects us) the reinstatement of net neutrality is of paramount importance.
In such conditions the magnification of dangers such as predatory pricing/price gouging increase as consumers are reduced or heavily guided towards a limited number of major platforms. This limiting of choice is not necessarily a direct effort of the company itself but more the way we are learning to approach dispatch times and convenience which simply cannot be matched by smaller retailers. Can we, for example, say that the market is open to all when a service such as Amazon had an advertising budget of US$7.2 billion in 2016 (Green, 2018) and a research & development (R&D) budget of over US$23 billion (Molla, 2018). Couple this with the ability to ship a wide collection of products in under a day and you start to see major advantages in the hands of a limited few. Is this type of consumption good for consumers and is this something we want to promote? From the Neoclassical perspective one would argue yes, it's faster, easier and more efficient, but from a Humanist position it becomes another issue entirely. This approach seems to encourage mindless consumption while vastly increasing our ability to purchase and thus produce more waste something that is harmful to both our planet and wallets. With this incomparable distribution network and unrivalled R&D budget it is difficult to find a point of plateau. Without a shift in perception (and with Amazon predicted to hold over 50% of the US e-commerce market by 2021, taking 53% of 2016’s US online market growth) I would argue we are reaching a tipping point (Levy, 2018).
Furthermore it is worth considering what kind of strains companies such as Amazon are placing on the foundation of our society, namely, democracy. Something almost universally accepted is that money grants power and with the ability to fund everything from technological innovations with global repercussions such as AI and deep learning, to think-tanks or even potentially entire countries, is the power of governments being siphoned by the will of TNCs. With Amazon posting net income of US$3.03 Billion (Statista, 2018) and Burundi’s GDP sitting at US$3.007 billion (as of 2016) (Tradingeconomics.com, 2018) TNCs are being given the opportunity to funnel the wealth of entire nations directly into the accounts of a fundamentally undemocratic entity.
The future effect of this occurrence is yet to be seen, but the impact is being felt already among small and midsize businesses.As companies start to acquire such wealth (and with little disruption set to halt Amazon in the near future) are we giving corporations the same power as countries, without even realising. To argue in favour of policy specifically designed to affect Amazon would indicate a somewhat biased attempt to alter our system, though similar policies have been implemented to reduce the size of those reaching monopoly status in the past (for example AT&T) (Pagliery, 2014) .This
is not a permanent solution nor a viable/ethical decision. One could instead argue that a shift in perception of our consumer power and transnational corporations is what is needed to transform the landscape of what is likely to become our main global market (e-commerce). The ability for small companies to thrive outside the framework of an existing company is essential to capitalism and something we as a society value dearly. This being said as we pull closer towards these enormous TNCs and away from local businesses we tend to signal otherwise. Considering the inevitability of an eventual departure from the high street, it would be worthwhile for consumers to stop and think about the rate at which we desire to expedite this process (and how it may affect their futures).