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Despite boycotts and protests, Amazon Prime Day was bigger than ever

But activists say this year’s pushback was just the beginning.

A worker walking past a line of Amazon Prime delivery vans.
Amazon vans line up at a distribution center to pick up packages for delivery on Amazon Prime Day, July 16, 2019, in Orlando, Florida.
Paul Hennessy/Getty Images

Another Amazon Prime Day has come and gone, and some of the numbers are in.

Consumers bought over 175 million items on Amazon during the two-day sales event, according to Amazon, outperforming last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday totals combined. Though analysts have yet to estimate the dollar takeaway, the e-retailer shared that the volume of markdowns sold globally amounted to over one billion dollars “saved” for Prime customers.

“We want to thank Prime members all around the world,” said CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement. “Members purchased millions of Alexa-enabled devices, received tens of millions of dollars in savings by shopping from Whole Foods Market and bought more than $2 billion of products from independent small and medium-sized businesses. Huge thank you to Amazonians everywhere who made this day possible for customers.”

Shoppers, adds Amazon, took full advantage of expedited shipping options. “Millions of items shipped in one day or faster using Prime Free One-Day, Prime Free Same-Day, or Prime Now worldwide,” reads Amazon’s Wednesday press release, “making it the fastest Prime Day ever.”

Amazon’s speed comes with significant human cost, however. Said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in a statement provided to Vox, “The stress can be particularly hard on any day, and especially during Prime Day events. But, this year, the toll on Amazon’s workers will be considerably worse.”

This is the first Prime Day, notes Appelbaum, to not only span two full days, and but also to promise Amazon’s new policy of one-day shipping. “Amazon fulfillment workers were already facing speeds of 200-300 orders per hour in 12-hour shifts before the new policy. They were struggling to maintain that pace, even before the one-day shipping policy was announced.”

This Prime Day is unlike other Prime Days for another reason: This year, Amazon employees in the US spoke out against their employer’s practices, and consumers amplified their voice in support.

In Shakopee, Minnesota, around 75 demonstrators — including current warehouse workers, at least three Seattle-based Amazon software engineers (with the written endorsement of 200 members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice), and several former Amazon workers — assembled outside the city’s Amazon fulfillment center for a planned six-hour strike, chanting, “We work, we sweat, Amazon workers need a rest!” reports CNBC. Per The Verge, it’s Amazon’s policy to deduct the walkout from workers’ unpaid time off.

Amazon said in a statement provided to Vox on Monday that “roughly 15 associates” took part in the protest, alleging that an “outside organization used Prime Day to raise its own visibility, conjured misinformation and a few associate voices to work in their favor.” Of protests in Germany — where 2,000 warehouse workers walked out of seven fulfillment centers over poor labor practices, as in Shakopee, and low wages — Amazon told Vox in its statement, “We are seeing very limited participation across Germany with zero operational impact and therefore no impact on customer deliveries.”

Demonstrations weren’t confined to Amazon fulfillment centers. Hundreds of people attended rallies in Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Portland, Arlington, and Washington, DC, held in solidarity with warehouse workers’ rights and against Amazon’s ties to anti-immigration policy. And, with arguably more reach than in-person marches, labor unions like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) called for a mass boycott of Amazon and Amazon-owned companies on Twitter, where the hashtags #BoycottAmazon, #AmazonStrike, and #PrimeDayStrike trended. Many consumers retweeted images announcing, “It’s Strike Day!” and urged shoppers not to cross the digital picket line.

”This massive operation — and the enormous profits that come with it — depends on the labor of hundreds of thousands of workers,” says AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, who took to Twitter on Monday to beseech consumers to consider Amazon’s workers before shopping on Amazon, in an emailed statement to Vox. “They aren’t asking for the moon. They’re demanding a safe and reliable working environment, the chance to advance in their career, and the opportunity to organize and advocate for a better life.”

Amazon’s preliminary stats indicate that the calls for boycott likely didn’t put a dent in the mammoth corporation’s bottom line. Independently owned bookstores like the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, however, received strong signal boosts, thanks to high-profile Twitter users with strong followings. After author Shea Serrano mounted a Twitter campaign spotlighting Raven, the store received hundreds of new orders within the span of a few hours, surpassing Serrano’s original goal of 100 books sold before lunch.

“We had a world record not-December day,” Raven’s owner Danny Caine tells Vox. “We’re not sure exactly how much business we did as we’re still sorting through the massive pile of orders, but it suffices to say we did as much business yesterday as we typically do in a whole week this time of year.”

Caine adds that going forward, the indie bookseller plans to use its platform to educate the public about what it means to buy from Amazon, including the environmental implications and impact on small businesses.

Nonprofit Threshold’s Cancel Prime campaign uses similar measures — raising awareness of Amazon’s business practices — but is after a more targeted goal. Once the campaign receives 1 million signers, it will ask supporters to make good on their pledge to “quit Prime, Amazon and/or Whole Foods,” and invite Amazon to negotiate. The site’s ticker as of this publish is at 1,657 pledges, out of a goal of 2,500 for the week. Threshold soft-launched the campaign in May and began promoting it in early July.

“Some pundits have called Amazon ‘boycott proof,’ but the fact is that no enterprise that depends on the whims of consumers is immune to their pressure,” says Threshold founder Kipchoge Spencer. “At the end of the day, Amazon needs us more than we need them.”

Prime Day may be over, but some who called for boycotts are not backing off. Says AFL-CIO’s Shuler, “This is just the beginning of that fight. We’re not going away.”

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