“Each consumer has the power of their wallet and their voice. They can exercise that.”

David Droga, Businessman

Last month’s Prime Day 2019 taught marketers a valuable lesson—provided they were paying close enough attention. Leading up to the two-day period, which offered Amazon Prime members Black Friday-caliber deals more than four months before the start of the post-Thanksgiving holiday rush, Amazon was earning some of its worst press ever.

On June 30, HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver ran a more-than-20-minute piece on warehouses that mostly focused on the allegedly deplorable working conditions that many Amazon-ians, particularly warehouse workers, endure on a daily basis. Soon after—and within days of Prime Day—Amazon workers, pilots, engineers and immigrants’ rights organizations demonstrated in San Francisco, Minnesota, New York, Seattle and parts of Europe to protest the very things Oliver’s piece had brought to light, and created the hashtags #AmazonStrike and #AmazonBoycott to encourage customers to ignore Prime Day, as well as Amazon subsidiaries, en masse.

But despite all the criticism, including reports of the protests on all major networks, Amazon shattered records for sales, selling more than 175 million items, and surpassing sales for the previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined. Further, more people signed up for Amazon Prime on the first day of Prime Day than any other day in its 25-year history, and nearly equaled that number on the second day. In other words, the protestors white noise was essentially ineffectual.

So, what gives? For years we’ve been hearing about how important it is to consumers that brands have ethics and be socially conscious. A 2018 Cone Communications survey found that 87% of consumer are more likely to purchase a product from a company that supports a cause they care about, while a survey conducted by Accenture reveals that six in 10 consumers under 30 closely consider a company’s ethical value and authenticity before buying their products.

These statistics would seemingly bely the Prime Day motherlode in the wake of Amazon’s alleged mistreatment of employees. There are any number of ways a customer can choose to rationalize allegedly unethical behavior: For one thing, they can choose to ignore it or simply accept Amazon’s statement of defense of it that reads, in part “these groups are conjuring misinformation to work in their favor…we can only conclude that the people who plan to attend the [protest] event on Monday are simply not informed.” Or the customer could decide that not buying from Amazon penalizes Amazon, but it also penalizes the innocent-bystander brands it sells.

Ultimately the customer knows that Amazon won’t feel a thing if they decide to pass on Prime Day, they won’t get any special credit for doing so, and they could potentially miss out on great deals if they do

So, really, the question isn’t whether or not it matters if a brand has a conscience, it matters if they believe cost and convenience matter more.

~ Marketing Workshop