Amazon has a place in many Americans' lives because of its low prices and seemingly endless array of goods. But Amazon — which commands about 20 percent of all U.S. e-commerce — has its own problems, too.
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German workers are striking to unionize, its dealings with publishers such as Hachette and media companies such as Time Warner have been criticized as bullying, and some injuries and at least one death at U.S. distribution centers have drawn a federal investigation and questions about how well it and its staffing contractors treat workers.
Some shoppers have decided it's time to throw in the towel.
But how? If you're searching online for anything from beauty products to books, the largest U.S. retailer is hard to avoid. Still, it can be done. Here are ways to have an Amazon-like shopping experience while avoiding the behemoth itself.
SHOP THE COMPETITION
There are some obvious and not-so-obvious alternatives to the Web's biggest one-stop shopping site.
An old standby that may offer more than you think is eBay. Though it made its name as the world's biggest auction, it has expanded in recent years to host a vast array of new and used merchandise from third-party sellers, often for flat prices.
"We don't see a lot of people going to eBay as their first stop in the way we see people going to Amazon," said Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "But there's an opportunity for people to find the same items they're looking for at different retailers."
Other one-stop shopping discount sites include Overstock.com, which offers retailers' excess inventory, ranging from mattresses to clothing and gifts.
Another option is the little-known Aliexpress.com, a site operated by Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba.com. The site offers Chinese goods to shoppers in the U.S. and some other countries. And while quality varies, the prices are definitely hard to beat. Or check out Rakuten.com, a similar site from Japan that delivers to other countries.
FREE SHIPPING WITHOUT PRIME
One of the biggest perks of the $99 annual Amazon loyalty program is free two-day shipping on many items. But with a little legwork you can find other free shipping offers.
Mark LoCastro, a spokesman at Dealnews.com, says ShopRunner.com, which partners with many retailers to offer free two-day shipping, is a good alternative. You pay an annual $79 membership, about $20 less than Amazon's fee. And ShopRunner works with major retailers such as Neiman Marcus and American Eagle and smaller brands such as the NFL Shop and Beauty.com.
A service by Sears and Kmart called Shop Your Way Max also offers free two-day shipping for a $39 annual charge that follows a 90-day free trial.
Another option, if you've got the coin: Shop luxury, LoCastro says. Many upscale stores such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom offer free shipping with no minimum purchase.
Or wait until the November-December holiday shopping season. At least 41 percent of retailers plan to offer free shipping, according to ChannelAdvisor.
CONSULT THE SPECIALISTS
Amazon is a good one-stop site for discounts, but category-specific sites can have deals, too. For books, check out independent sites including Alibris.com and Powells.com. Niche toy stores online such as Fatbraintoys.com or Melissaanddoug.com offer a wide range of toys.
Electronics stores like Newegg.com can offer deals on gadgets.
But how do you know that you are actually getting a good price? Use a price-comparison service. Pricegrabber.com, Shopzilla.com, Google Shopping and eBay's Decide.com all can help you weigh how good the deals are.
GROCERIES ON YOUR DOORSTEP
Amazon has been pushing its same-day grocery delivery service in cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Brooklyn, with free delivery on orders over $35 for Prime members who pay the $299 annual fee for the loyalty program plus the delivery service.
But there is plenty of competition in groceries, though it depends where you live.
Instacart offers a service in about 15 cities that lets you shop online, and then have the food delivered from local grocery stores like Whole Foods, Costco and Kroger. It costs $3.99 for two hour delivery and $5.99 for one-hour delivery when you spend $35 or more.
Google Express offers a similar service that includes stores like Costco and local grocery stores for $10 a month or $95 a year, with free delivery for orders over $15. It currently serves parts of California, New York and Los Angeles and recently added Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Boston.
Peapod operates in East Coast and Midwestern states; it costs $9.95 to deliver orders under $100 and $6.95 for orders over $100. And major grocery store operators such as Kroger and Publix are testing programs that let you shop online and pick up the items at stores.