Once in a while I see people demanding to buy products in stores rather than on Amazon. It is interesting that Amazon is seen as the only online retailer, but as it certainly is the biggest retailer in Germany I will focus on it for now.
To make the following simpler to write, lets say Steven wants Alice to buy stuff in shops while Alice usually uses Amazon.
Why Amazon replaces Retail Stores
- Price: Alice mainly cares about the price. And in many cases, Amazon sells the product for the cheapest price or is at least competitive.
- Range of products: Amazon offers pretty much everything. There are only a few products which you can find in stores but not on Amazon. Why should Alice bother to go to a store if she might end up buying it on Amazon anyway because the store does not have the production she is looking for?
- Reliability: At the beginning, Alice worried what she could do if something went wrong. If the product she bought didn't arrive. If it was damaged. If she changed her mind and wanted to give it back. But after a couple of years she built up trust. In contrast to the local store, she knows Amazon. She never had a problem. She doesn't even know anybody personally who ever had a problem which could not be resolved. But with local shops, she already had a couple of problems. The most simple was is loosing the receipt.
- Simple to use: Alice goes on amazon.de, searches for the product name (and he doesn't need to remember the correct name due to fuzzy search). She clicks on the product, on buy. That's it. Buying a product can be done within a few seconds. No need to go out of the house. Alice already has an Amazon account, so there is no need to create a new account.
- Anonymity: For some products, Alice might feel uncomfortable to buy them from a person. It doesn't matter that the information that the user bought a product is stored by Amazon. It's not a top-secret thing. And Alice trusts Amazon that they do not make her purchases public.
- Recommendations: Once in a while Alice goes to Amazon to buy something and gets a good recommendation for another product. It's just so simple to buy this one, too.
So quite a bit of the advantage is just that online shops have advantages over local shops. The other bit is the massive size of Amazon and the data it gets.
Steven predicts that local shops will close if Alice doesn't buy her stuff in those shops. This is a really shitty argument. Why should a person who does not buy something in a store care if the store is closed? It might even be desirable because there is more room for stores Alice actually cares about. Or more room for apartments.
Steven continues that people working in local shops will loose their jobs. Alice mentions coachman, litter carriers and wagon makers who lost their jobs by the automobile, bank clerks who are replaced by cash dispensers, Charcoal burners, type setters, ... Probably all of them demanded not to use the technology by which they lost their jobs. What is different in this case?
Steven says Amazon does not pay taxes and does not treat their workers fair. Well, this might be a valid reason. But then you would have to check the conditions of the shops which you use instead, too. And, after all, it is the duty of politics and worker organizations to force all employers to have fair working conditions.
How to fix it
Most advantages of Amazon are mainly advantages of online shops. Except for cloths, food and a few very special items Alice does not need to see the item before she buys it. She only needs to know the specifications.
If single shops really wanted to break the power of Amazon, they could collaboratively create one online shop. Not every shop on its own, but together. One open shopping platform. Many small shops and some bigger shops could be shareholders of this platform. Probably the government should also be a big shareholder of it. Just to make sure that the interests of many people are considered.
It might not even be necessary to actually sell the product online, but just to have a list of currently available products online. Then Alice could check where the closest shop is that has this product and buy it there instead of Amazon.
Apparently, the situation of those small shops is not so bad. Otherwise they could start creating such a shop. The Einzelhandelsverband, for example, claims to have 100 000 members. Seems to be big enough to start such an open platform. In fact, there is a platform called fairmondo which tried this. But the retails did not join it.
The real problems
Amazon is a monopoly. One company dominates online sales. Businesses can use Amazons platform to sell their products, but Amazon can also not allow some of them to sell it. Amazon can (and does) analyze which kind of product is easy to produce and get sold often. They have the data what kinds of features are important to the customers. So they can shift product by product from only a platform which sells products to producing the products themselves.
Now, what happens if Amazon is down? What happens if the US government decides to put sanctions on a country?
Also, Amazon is bigger than you might think. But Amazon AWS is probably another topic.