Who Wants Amazon Basics?
Like any worthy adversary, Amazon inspires creative backlash. Last October, I wrote about the “boxed out” event, as seen at my local bookstore. One slogan read: Amazon, please leave the dystopia to Orwell.
A few days ago, Peak Design released “A Tale of Two Slings.” The ad parodies how Amazon blatantly copied a best-selling camera bag, then rebranded the product as an Amazon Basics item, for a third of the price.
Was Peak Design “calling” out Amazon, though? If you watch the ad, you might think they were taunting their potential customers:
If you’re tired of supporting companies who innovate and just not willing to pay for responsibly made products — don’t.
The “boxed out” slogans nudged consumers, too:
Don’t let indie bookstores become a work of fiction.
If we believe the messages in these anti-Amazon ads, we feel that we, the consumers, must do our part — by choosing quality over convenience.
I was impressed by the “boxed out” and “two slings” approach, but I don’t think the ads will have a lasting effect on consumers’ habits. I wish they did — I wish it was as simple as clever marketing.
To be clear, I’m pissed that Amazon screwed over Peak Design. But does anyone prefer the Amazon Basics bag? Or are they buying it, because it fits their budget?
As one YouTuber pointed out, the knockoff camera bag is functional, but the design and quality don’t match the original. The reviewer echoed the sentiment in the Peak Design ad: You get exactly what you pay for.
And that’s exactly what Amazon understands about consumers. Many people want something that’s just good enough, for the price.
Many consumers probably feel disappointed with Amazon Basics products. At some point, the thing is going to fall apart or not function properly. And what will they do? Throw it away, replace it.
Putting the responsibility on the consumers isn’t going to lead to meaningful change, though. Individuals feel like their choices only affect them. And I understand that feeling. I’ve been making “better” choices for decades, by shopping locally or secondhand, but society hasn’t changed. If anything, convenience is only gaining in popularity, now that everything can be delivered with the click of a button.
I don’t think it’s helpful to guilt-trip consumers for shopping at big retailers like Amazon. But I do hope there are enough people who care about supporting smaller companies. I like having a local bookstore, and I like the fact that some businesses care enough to produce eco-friendly, durable items.
Are we, the consumers, “willing” to pay for quality? I think that’s the wrong question. The language in the Peak Design ad implies that consumers are too “tired” to care about responsible consumerism. Why should the burden rest on us, as we make individual choices? Why isn’t there a collective sense of the best way to spend and shop?
It’s upsetting how a large retailer can easily undercut smaller companies. It’s also upsetting how our culture has normalized careless consumption. We’re supposed to believe that buying stuff is a worthy trade-off — for the time we spent working so hard — for the money we now want to spend. The cycle feels so pointless, it leaves me not wanting to spend money on anything at all.
I can think of one example where I witnessed a significant shift in consumer behavior. In the early aughts, some eco-conscious friends encouraged me to start carrying reusable bags. For several years, I endured scoffs and eye-rolls when I insisted on using my own bags at grocery stores.
Fast forward to today, the two American cities where I’ve spent most of my time (and money) — Austin and New York — now expect shoppers to bring reusable bags.
What changed? Laws. The cities now require retailers to charge money for reusable bags, in lieu of free plastic bags. When behavior gets codified, individuals don’t have to think about every decision as a personal battle. It’s easier to do the “right” thing when you don’t have to act against common social practices.
So, the real question is, Why is Amazon allowed to get away with blatantly copying Peak Design? How can they build a product line — Amazon Basics — off the hard work of startups and entrepreneurs? It’s not fair that Peak Design spent years developing their products, only to be undercut by Amazon.
Unfortunately, Amazon is so powerful, companies like Peak Design would rather release snarky ads than pursue legal action for their patented design. And now, we the consumers, need to feel guilty for saving money when we buy a crappy camera bag.
And who wants a knockoff camera bag, anyway? Maybe it’s good enough for the amateur photography equipment — purchased for taking photos on vacation — while taking a break from working hard — to feel refreshed enough to return to work — to earn more money for the next vacation.
I feel tired just thinking about it.