The perils of Prime time (also, don’t burn your face off)

I don’t honestly know how I missed it before this morning, but yesterday and today have been Amazon’s (annual? semi-annual? who the heck knows anymore?) made-up-in-2014 sale holiday known as Prime Day. 

It may be too late, and I’m really sorry that I didn’t remind y’all of this sooner, but: 

Sales are just advertisements. 

Sale holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Prime Day exist to convince you to buy things you probably weren’t going to buy otherwise, which means that if you do that… you aren’t actually saving money. 

If you were going to buy something and waiting for it to go on sale and are snagging a deal on something you already planned on getting, that’s good for your wallet. 

But these sales are also tied to significantly higher risks of injury to the people who are fulfilling those sales. As Tanja Hester recommends in this post, “If you can, avoid shopping Prime Day. If you can’t, select the slowest possible shipping, both so you won’t contribute to workers getting hurt while hurrying, and to minimize packaging waste.” Not proud to admit that I never really thought about the human-centered benefits of slower shipping before now, but I’m still learning; please don’t kick me off the iceberg.  

At times like this, companies like Bookshop.org are capitalizing on their contrast with Amazon. (Although it’s worth noting that while Bookshop is probably a more ethical choice than Amazon if you’re already planning to buy online, they may also be an imperfect solution to the problem of saving local bookstores. As someone who has long fantasized about being trapped in a hostage situation in a bookstore, this whole conundrum has me twisted into several unpleasant emotional pretzels.)

The dangers of a really good sale

Another word of caution: be REALLY careful about buying discounted products from third-party online sellers like those found on Amazon, today and always. My rule of thumb at this point is that if I’m buying anything where it matters if it’s genuine, I don’t ever buy third-party. A well-reviewed home decor item or a beach coverup or a budget planner? Hard to get those wrong. And while we’ve accidentally bought what turned out to be pretty obviously counterfeit DVDs, they still worked. But things that go on or in my body or that could potentially fry my phone or computer or harm my kiddos? I exercise more due diligence.

I especially never buy beauty or personal care products from an online seller I don’t trust. Because being a beauty product fraud investigator sounds like a genuine dream job to me (I love beauty products! I love investigating fraud!), I’ve looked into this a little bit. Horror stories abound (“arsenic, mercury, lead, and rat feces”). And persist (“acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections”). And were exacerbated by the pandemic-driven pivot to online shopping.  Which continues (“scaly, itchy, painful, blistered, swollen and even disfiguring”). 

If you’re still tempted by a low price on a hot personal care item, here are some steps you can take to keep yourself safer, and remember that — as with everything — if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let a low price trick you into burning your face off with fake skin care. You’re too cool for that.

Ok. Wow. So… what now? 

This isn’t really an Amazon-bashing post (heck, I use Amazon affiliate links on this site sometimes). Even though Jeff Bezos does seem like he has enough money by now, and there’s a nonzero chance you paid more taxes than he does, and more than 86,000 people have signed a petition to deny him reentry to Earth after his little space jaunt (a meaningless but still amusing gesture). And this isn’t a moral superiority lecture, either. I’m not anywhere near a perfect consumer, and I do not doubt that you could poke giant holes in all kinds of things that I do in my life that aren’t planet-friendly or as mindful as they should be.

As a gal who likes saving money, I’m a fan of a sale, but I don’t like being driven towards mindless consumption. And as somebody who also cares about the planet and my fellow beings, I do feel a little bit accountable when I learn that my consuming behaviors may contribute to environmental and safety problems. So this Prime Day has been food for thought, for me. 

I used to be an all-or-nothing kind of person. But the more I learn, the more I realize… small, incremental changes matter. So take this or leave it, but if you feel like shopping even a little bit less or a little more mindfully, I’m rooting for you. And if you have any tips, please share them! We’re going to be talking about sustainability on a budget here in the future, and I’d love to get your thoughts.

(And again… don’t burn your face off.)

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