el cheapo · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · waxing philosophical

Day 331: It’s hard to leave the jungle

And by “jungle,” I mean Amazon.

Over the last year or so Mr. December and I have discussed reducing our Amazon use.

(Cue laugh track here—reducing Amazon use during a pandemic? Oh, I am so hilarious!)

But really, we’re trying to find ways to support smaller businesses, or, failing that, Canadian businesses of any size. It’s not that I have a particular hate-on for Amazon, it’s just that I think it’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one foreign-owned basket. I will say, however, that I realize that Amazon employs a large number of people locally and those people benefit from my Amazon use, so it’s a balance.

The thing is, I’ve been seriously spoiled by Amazon for the last twelve years.

I remember when Mr. December and I took baby K to California for a week to combine a visit to friends with a business trip. We didn’t own a travel crib yet, and we knew we’d need one. Mr. December suggested that I order one on Amazon and have it delivered to our friends’ house. The next day, I got an email from our friend that it had arrived.

One day? I was flabbergasted. Things arrive in one day? Here it takes two weeks!

When Amazon started their subscription service in Canada, it was a godsend. I placed my order once… and for the next two or three years, diapers and wipes showed up at my door on a regular basis. For a mom with three kids under the age of five, this was a big deal—no more shopping and schlepping! It definitely improved my quality of life.

Over the last decade I’ve bought hundreds of things from Amazon, from the mundane (dishwasher detergent and hair elastics) to the unique things I couldn’t find anywhere else (like Dimwit, my adorable reading lamp.) It’s been great—but now we’re trying to change our shopping habits.

There’s just one problem: Amazon is so good at what it does. Where else in Canada can you get a playground swing in January? Or fifty assorted rubber ducks? Amazon was the only place I could find kosher jelly candies for K’s bat mitzvah without leaving the house (we were in lockdown, remember,) and nobody else had a small bag of regular sand for our science experiment about igneous rocks. I can’t count the number of times I’ve spent hours looking for something online in all the Canadian stores I can think of and ended up ordering off Amazon.

Before you ask, it’s not a price issue; we’re willing to pay more to support local businesses. It’s sometimes a simple availability problem, and sometimes it’s a question of delivery time: I don’t usually need things tomorrow, but it would be nice to get them in fewer than three weeks. But sometimes, the actual experience of ordering is so terrible with Canadian companies that it feels like a punishment just to order some toilet paper.

Canadian Tire is a great example. Many times I’ve tried to order from them for shipping to my home, but wasn’t allowed to put the item in my cart because the local store didn’t have it in stock. I can sometimes get around it by selecting a different store as my favourite and then putting the item in my cart, but that’s an extra few steps I’d rather not take. And if one item is in stock in my closest store, but the second item is only available at another store that doesn’t have the first item, forget it.

My pretty new tea infusers, each with its own matching drip tray. From Amazon, of course.

I haven’t even gotten into the insane amount of choice that Amazon offers. It opens up a whole other world of products. Two weeks ago I decided I’d like to use the loose leaf tea in our pantry; I couldn’t, though, because I had no tea ball or tea strainer. I looked online at a few Canadian retailers: Kitchen Stuff Plus, Canadian Tire, Hudson’s Bay, even a few smaller kitchen supply stores. They each had a simple mesh ball on a chain. When I got to Amazon and entered “tea ball” in the search box, I got an astonishing variety: tea balls shaped like submarines or aquatic animals, reusable silicone tea bags, even a tea ball shaped like an elephant with its forelegs and trunk peeking out over the top of the teacup. With that kind of colourful variety available, it’s very difficult to choose the boring old mesh ball, no matter how Canadian it is.

It’s ridiculous to expect smaller local companies to compete with Amazon; their advantage lies in the personalized service they offer. But if larger Canadian companies just made a few changes to their online shopping platforms, it would be far easier to support them. I’ll gladly pay a bit extra for products that weren’t made in China, or for shipping—even if it takes a few days more. But I’m less and less inclined to pay in time and frustration because Canadian retailers haven’t put enough thought into their online customer experience. It’s 2021, guys. Time to get with the (virtual) program.

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