Despite a banner year for Amazon, key audiences are ambivalent — here’s how retailers can prevail in 2021

As orders for essentials such as groceries surged 50-fold, Amazon struggled to keep pace. But thousands of hires and millions of prioritized shipments later, the online giant has regained its stride, and then some. 

Consumers have come to rely on Amazon as a pandemic lifeline, and view the company more favorably than ever. Convey’s second annual Amazon consumer survey found that not only has site usage jumped 83% since the start of the pandemic; positive perceptions are at an all-time high. 

More than half of the survey’s 1,100 U.S. respondents now believe Amazon is a force for good in retail, a 14% positive shift. When it comes to the environment, sentiment has swung even more markedly, with 36% saying Amazon is having a somewhat or very positive impact — up 36% since the onset of the pandemic.

That means independent retailers face an uphill battle. Even though 95% of survey respondents pledge to support local businesses hurt by COVID-19 shutdowns, just 13% of them say they always support independents over Amazon. And even among that small percentage, fully 28% report buying at least half their goods from Amazon. 

Still, key audiences remain ambivalent about Amazon’s impact on retail and the environment: 

  • The young. Just over a quarter of respondents ages 18 to 29 say Amazon is harmful to retail overall, an uptick of 4% in negative sentiment since the start of the pandemic. Among these shoppers, one in four do at least half their shopping on Amazon — 21% fewer than older shoppers with concerns about the company’s impact on retail and 37% lower than the survey average overall. And when it comes to the environment, 31% of 18-to-29-year-olds believe Amazon has a damaging effect, the highest of any age cohort. 
  • Top earners. Those with household incomes over $75,000 hold contradictory positions when it comes to Amazon. While close to 8 in 10 (79%) are members of Amazon’s Prime free shipping club, their negative sentiments about the company are also strong: 24% believe Amazon has a negative impact on the environment, while 31% say the company is damaging the planet. 

Given that both of these audiences have high potential lifetime customer value, it’s worthwhile for retailers to position themselves as a more sustainable alternative to Amazon. And because consumers overall expect brands to lead on advocacy for social and environmental justice, any initiatives retailers undertake in this area may well have a broad positive impact. To get started:

  • Tend to internal safety, sustainability, and equity. From COVID-19 prevention measures for staff and customers to diversity practices in hiring and promotion, transparency around internal initiatives is now a prerequisite for credibility when it comes to cause marketing.
  • Promote greener fulfillment. By spotlighting cheaper, slower shipping methods as the sustainable choice, retailers can help steer shoppers away from resource-heavy LTL express delivery. Similarly, using local courier and delivery services and promoting store pickup as quick fulfillment options give shoppers alternatives that make the most of local inventory and cut down on transport from faraway distribution hubs.
  • Adopt end-to-end sustainability initiatives. Earth-friendly and reusable packaging, product recycling, refill options for replenishment items, and even peer-to-peer resale opportunities can help boost brands’ sustainability reputations.

Amazon’s dominance has only grown during the global pandemic. But with agility, diversified fulfillment, and a commitment to authentic sustainability initiatives, brands can stake their claim to success in 2021, and beyond.