Big Sales Expose Bigger Problem of Overconsumption


Graphic by Isabella Amador

Shoppers indulge in Prime Early Access Sale despite Amazon’s ethics problems.

While Amazon Prime Day took place in July, Amazon offered another pre-holiday savings event–The Prime Early Access Sale–for Prime members on Oct. 11 and 12. Some may have taken the opportunity to stock up on discounted everyday essentials, buy gifts before the holiday shortages, or splurge on their wishlist. 

Nonetheless, the Prime Early Access Sale highlights a more significant issue: flash sales coerce customers to overspend and reinforce poor ethics for labor.

Low prices, especially on clothing and handmade goods, are clear signs of worker exploitation. Ethically, the cost of a piece of art or item that takes someone hours to make should not be below a minimum livable wage.

For example, every crochet item you see in stores or online has been handmade because the stitches cannot be made with a machine. Martha Agaba crotchets crop tops and sells them for $25, factoring in material costs and her own labor, which she says typically takes 1-2 hours.

“Crocheted items are strictly handmade, so when I see dresses that go for $13.99 it truly breaks my heart to see someone put their time and energy into a carefully made garment,” said senior Martha Agaba. 

Agaba is a Rockville HS student and small business owner. She argues large retailers like Amazon underprice their products and make fair pricing hard for small businesses to sustain.

“By selling crocheted items for as cheap as $10, it creates this narrative that all crocheted items should be sold at this price,” said Agaba. “I have actually been asked if I can sell one of my bags for half the price I sell them for and I had to respectfully decline.”

In addition, flash sales cause consumers to spend unnecessarily, leading to more spending than normal. Flash sales cause consumers to rationalize impulsive spending by offering items at a reduced price for a limited time. The Prime Early Access Sale inspires excitement, competition, and urgency among shoppers, leading them to spend money on items they don’t want or need.

“I think sometimes sales cause people to buy unnecessary products,” said senior Kara Mitchell. “Even though I may not need something, if it’s on sale, I’m more likely to buy and if it’s included in a bundle sale, then I’m left with a ton of stuff I don’t need.”

Most will argue that Amazon is one piece in a more significant issue of poor ethics and overspending. They may reason that their choice to shop from Amazon makes no difference in the long run. Whether this consumption affects workers, consumers, or the environment, there will inevitably be casualties of capitalism due to the cyclical nature of this greedy system. 

Tailored shopping experiences, free and fast shipping and new item reminders make the online shopping experience convenient and pleasant. The streamlined process of ordering your holiday gifts early and for a discount outweighs the ethical pitfalls of large retailers. Consumers cannot control how big businesses choose to operate.

However, the phrase “there is no ethical consumption under capitalism” should not be used to excuse the indulgence of $500 fast fashion hauls for people who have the privilege of patronizing slow fashion or small businesses. Instead, that phrase should be used to defend the people who don’t have the luxury of shopping sustainably. 

Pushing for change means boycotting unethical businesses if you have the privilege of shopping sustainably. It means holding businesses accountable for their practices on social media, promoting businesses with moral policies implemented, and demanding legislation that prevents the abuse of workers and the environment.

“I try to buy clothes from more sustainable places. I bought two $45 shirts that hurt my bank account but were handmade and sustainably sourced,” said senior Ruben Dasgupta. “I also know it’s gonna last longer than if I were to buy a cheap shirt from Amazon.” 

Remember to shop intentionally and resist the urge to overspend at large retailers. Instead, opt to window shop at secondhand stores and small businesses, or use your discretionary income on experiences. 

“Put yourself in small business owners’ shoes. What we do is not easy and our work is constantly overlooked by bigger chains. By supporting and giving your money to larger chains, only hurts us more,” said Agaba.