How Much Does Amazon Cost?

This morning I realized I was on my last roll of toilet paper. This wasn’t an emergency since I still had a whole roll to use, but what happened next is relatable to millions across America. I sat down, went on my phone, opened Amazon and ordered a new pack to arrive the next day. I knew I would forget to grab some at the store next time I was there, and this is something I wouldn’t dare risk forgetting. So Amazon it was. And at that moment I realized how much our lives have changed because of Amazon. One day free delivery, decent prices, order at the tap of a button– we truly are living in a connected, globalized world. Then I got to thinking– at what cost?

The Cost Of A Monopoly

amazon-building-logoIf you go on Amazon right now and look up toilet paper, you’ll find an almost endless selection of every size, softness, and strength. You can get anything you want for a wide array of good prices, almost all of which are available for next day delivery. But you won’t actually see the whole selection. In fact, you probably won’t even get down to the fourth line of products before you pick and order. Now look at that top line closely and you’ll find something interesting. The first three search results are marked as “Sponsored”. These results have been purchased to be at the top. And the next row of products is essentially all Amazon’s own brand. You have to get down past the third line to see results that are relatively organic.

These practices by Amazon have been criticized by businesses big and small alike. Showing sponsored products first and Amazons own brand second is a surefire way for Amazon to maximize profits at every corner even though it creates a large market entry barrier for other brands. Amazon is undoubtedly the king of eCommerce– no other company comes close to competing. If you’re a new or small company that can’t afford to sponsor your products, you’re unlikely to get on those first two rows or even on the first search page on Amazon. On top of that, Amazon has its own brand of products which they’ll always push harder than any others. Not to mention that Prime works to lock in their customers. With few other options for online sales, your market entry barrier is at maximum. You can’t afford to make money on Amazon and can’t afford to sell anywhere else. This is how Amazon effectively can stifle competitors and only increase their own power to monopolize.

The Cost Of Innovation

light-bulb-to-show-innovationAmazon’s power and influence is a cultural phenomenon we’re seeing more and more every day. They have a speaker in our living rooms, they’re running the dominant online marketplace and they’ve even entered the entertainment and produce markets. Many choose to see their progress in many of these fields as innovation. How innovative is it to get household items the very next day at the click of a button? Pretty damn innovative. But let’s look deeper.

Innovation is driven by competition. It’s no secret that internet providers like Spectrum, Comcast and Cox have stayed out of each other’s way to avoid competition and raise prices without changing much in the way of service. If you look at countries like South Korea, you’ll find they are required to have competition in internet providers among other policies. As a result, they have the fastest internet in the world at a fraction of the price we pay in the U.S. Competition is great for innovation and Amazon may never see competition on the eCommerce front. 

Any new company that would attempt to tackle Amazon’s hold on the online market would fail almost instantly. The uphill battle would start with a lack of investors, many of whom are on the Amazon bandwagon. If they were still able to secure capital to launch, they would never topple Amazon’s iron grip on the online market. Just like Google is synonymous with a search engine, Amazon is synonymous with buying online. With a lack of any competitors, innovation is not fueled but stifled. The innovative company is actually hurting our progress.

The Cost Of The Environment

amazon-fullfillment-centerHere’s the other big one– the environment. Amazon’s one-day delivery can save us all a lot of the hassle of going out to the store but the entire infrastructure required to make it happen is a huge environmental burden. Let’s go over how that toilet paper made it to my apartment overnight.

Amazon has a slew of products (about a million different ones) stored at their “Fulfillment Centers”. These are strategically located near urban areas and are massive. Let me be more specific– the average Fulfillment Center is about 1.2 million square feet and employs around 1500 people. They’re gigantic and there’s over 75 of them in the U.S. alone. My toilet paper started its journey from the manufacturer and made it to the Fulfillment Center closest to me. When I ordered the paper, it was processed, packed, hopped on a delivery truck and got sent out. The next day, voila! I can restock and carry on with my life.

Between the flying of the products, the driving for the delivery, the operation of the Fulfillment Centers, and the packing materials (boxes, packaging, tape) there’s a lot of emissions and waste. That’s not considering the other operations of Amazon such as data centers, HQ and more. It comes as no surprise to me why Amazon chooses to be so secretive about their emissions data. The numbers must be staggering and alarming. 

We may think the cost of our one-day delivery is the Prime subscription but look deeper. The cost below the surface is one that will and has changed our world in irreversible ways. Sure, there are plenty of positives to Amazon, too. After all, they are the second-largest employer in the country after the Federal Government. We must all be mindful however, of the real impact Amazon has on the future of innovation, eCommerce, the environment, and as I previously wrote about, our privacy. These tech giants are intertwined within our lives and we must be vigilant to understand how they impact the same lives they promise to change. 

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11 thoughts on “How Much Does Amazon Cost?”

  1. Frankly, never in my life I would have imagined that someone order toilet paper online. I mean, if someone lived 70 miles from the next shop/ town and only goes shopping like once every week, I would understand. Or if you were to place an order with several items anyways….
    The thought of one roll of TP being wrapped, packed into a van, driven half-way across a state or country, and the poor underpayed always-short-on-time postal delivery dude that has to drop it at my door, sometimes taking an extra route…. How do I justify that.
    The only excuse for that is lazyness or forgetfullness and both are nothing to be proud of. 😛


      It would be difficult to find a single toilet roll anywhere – the top listings on Amazon are for 9 or more rolls with many offering as many as 60 rolls per order so shopping on Amazon would encourage people to buy larger quantities at a time. Most people would order other items at the same time and I think the OP was really making a point about how we are tending to look on line first when shopping.

    2. Sergey Grankin

      Thank you for your response and thoughts on the matter! Very detailed and thought out.

      At the risk of downplaying the real point of my article, I will say this – Mindblower in his comment bellow is correct. Amazon does not to my knowledge sell, nor would I buy just one roll of toilet paper. In fact it was a whole 12 pack!

      The matter of forgetting is often merely a matter of convenience. I didn’t go into this in the article thinking it a moot point, but alas one I am now entertaining a discussion on. I live in Los Angeles where a run to the grocery store is never convenient and is scheduled out since it can take a while to drive and find parking. Much easier to get TP online the next day, often cheaper too.

      As far as the postal workers. In my area (and most urban areas) Amazon is delivered by Amazon delivery drivers. This will be the case everywhere soon. These are drivers who get paid $15 and up. Not too bad. I also live in a large apartment complex where a delivery driver drops off over two dozen packages a day, one more would hardly increase his work load.

      All those I say just to help give context to what could be misconstrued as laziness and forgetfulness, both of which all of us fall victim to more often than we’d like to admit. Thank you for calling out my instance of laziness. Now please excuse me while I go through a dozen more rolls of TP. 🙂

      1. Hi Sergey. I meant no offense, I was trying to speaking generally about modern society. English is not my 1st language. I was mistakingly speaking about one roll, but even one package does not make any difference. This is true for any item that is available at your next supermarket.

        But the individual circumstances definitely matter!

        E.g. in my area (quite rural, Southern Germany), there is still a supermarket within 10 minute reach for 99% of the population, while the next Amazon logistics center is about 100 miles away. And the postal guys over here get somewhat above the minimum wage of 9.20 € and the jobs are often outsourced to companies which pay even worse. I also saw a documentary about Amazon Flex delivery guys on Youtube and it seems rather like modern slavery.
        So what I meant is basically…. being mindful of the real costs of your convenience, esp. environmental and social. In your case it seems to make perfectly sense.

  2. Dear hackisack. Know I am wasting my time posting this reply, as your comments made me cry with joy (being sarcastic here).

    Believing anyone would order just one roll of TB, or that Amazon sells TB in one roll sizes, is totally absurd (am being as polite as possible).

    Saying more is silly and pointless (truly honest here), Mindblower!

  3. Thank you, thank you, for this insightful expose of the true cost of Amazon. I feel deep sorrow for someone who lacks the mental resources to remember to buy a package of TP while shopping – or perhaps ordering groceries online. Why not use that smart phone to make a shopping list?

    In addition to all the factors you mentioned, I’m seriously concerned that increasing reliance on online shopping will soon eradicate our few remaining local shopping options. For example, I don’t know where to look these days for boutique clothing stores. Perhaps some few remain in the city center, but not in small towns and suburbs like they were thirty years ago.

    I’m proud to say that my family still manages just fine without a Prime account or Amazon orders in general.

  4. Okay, Sergey, I get it about it not being convenient to run to the store for a single purchase like TP. That would be a foolish use of both time and fuel. Fortunately, there’s a third alternative: use that smart phone to make a list AS SOON AS YOU REALIZE YOU’RE RUNNING LOW, maybe as soon as you rip open the outer wrapping on your twelve-pack. Add milk, cheese, eggs salsa, apples or whatever as you notice the need. Next time you are at the store (or place on online order), you know you need 23 items, not just TP.

    Yes, I’m older than dirt and I love fondling fabric and trying before I buy. I love hefting six hammers before selecting one or flipping through the pages of books on store shelves. I’m a huge proponent of local shopping and do not want to see it disappear.

    Being older than dirt, I increasingly often have trouble remembering what I need at the store on any given day. Those new to adulting often have so much on their minds that one thing may crowd out another. Thus, we all need lists, and we need to be diligent in using them to save time, fuel, and frustration as well as the environment and all the other things you list as a disadvantage of placing an overnight order for TP.

    I don’t like the label of lazy, IMO, it’s just a matter of habit. Make lists a habit and use them. Consider this a basic adulting skill that simplifies life, leaving mental space free for writing excellent articles like this one without violating the precept they convey.

    BTW, using Amazon to order something like a new printer that you need right away and may not be able to find locally makes perfect sense. I’m talking about those routine items like TP that you can get nearly anywhere, especially if you plan ahead.

  5. Sergey Grankin

    ImaGeek! I’m glad you so thoroughly enjoyed this article.

    I’d like to refer you to my response to hackisack in regards to the charming “lack of mental resources” statement. As far as a smart phone shopping list, I often use one and agree it’s a great way to use it! It’s not always the best use of my time or gas when the only thing on the list is “Toilet Paper”. Easier to order online for just one item than to go to the store for just one thing, wouldn’t you agree?

    As far as the cost of retail, you hit the nail on the head on that one. Online shopping is a major reason retail is dying. A lot of the major retailers like JCPenny, Sears, Kmart and more are closing down their stores nation wide. In Sears case, there were other factors at play, but online shopping sealed their fate. Moreover, the boutique and mom and pop shops are disappearing like you said. Sure, some can get in on the online shopping action, but Amazon kills those small retailers online as well. New innovation is great at times but the cost is bigger than we see at face value. I sure hope we can figure out a way to bring back boutique, and small shops like that. They may never be the backbone of retail, but they should always have a place in our world.

    Thanks again!

    1. Common sense is not that common among humans. Never assume (ass/u/me) anything, ever what someone might mean, most especially if you do not know that person (personally or by posts which can shed some light on that person).

      Since time brings about change, holding onto how it used to be done in the past is like trying to hold back the hands on the clock.

      We all shop differently and use whatever method works for us. Trying to impose our values onto others never works. But it does help spark a debate, something I enjoy (being extremely honest in this entire post – no sarcasm implied or intended).

      And I like make other use the services of Amazon for various items, and some are difficult to locate locally. For the record, not every product is cheaper. From I found while browsing some are so overpriced, I cannot believe anyone would every purchase them.

      Even local stores deliver (there is a fee), since not everyone has ability to shop themselves. Some take a cab from the store because they cannot handle the load, carrying from store to home.

      Must remember we are all unique and have different needs and methods to accomplish any task, Mindblower!

  6. I take exception to your comment on the environment.

    Your comment, “I also live in a large apartment complex where a delivery driver drops off over two dozen packages a day, one more would hardly increase his work load.”

    One truck full of merchandise distributed in neighborhoods contributes less carbon than you and multitudes of individuals driving to a store getting the same stuff inside that truck..

    Less carbon, not more.

  7. You guys really amuse me. Here’s a very well thought out and well written article primarily discussing Amazon’s online monopoly, and all you guys can talk about is the comparatively minor issue of the toilet paper. Sheesh.

    I say, congratulations Sergey on a terrific article.. kudos. Oh, and by the way, any discussion is preferable to no discussion at all. 🙂

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