Editorial: Consider level of need before using Prime’s grocery delivery services

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Amazon Prime members are now receiving yet another benefit from their monthly membership — free grocery delivery.

Prime members once had to pay an additional monthly fee of $14.99 in order to have their groceries delivered to their doorstep. Amazon announced that it is in the process of removing the fee for members, as of November, and are phasing in free grocery delivery.

Members can purchase groceries from Whole Foods and Amazon Pantry — Amazon’s online grocery store. This is wonderful news for disabled folks who find grocery stores inaccessible, and also for those who live in food deserts — an area where at least 33% of the population live more than a mile from a grocery store, or 10 miles in rural areas.

These changes also pose an ethical problem, though. Amazon has been repeatedly accused of treating workers like robots — overworking employees to a point of dangerous exhaustion, while paying them extremely low wages. These free food delivery services add yet another task for the workers, likely leading to further employee exploitation. Those who live in food deserts or who feel they need the services for other accessibility reasons, such as disability, should receive them. However, those who do have time and relatively easy access to grocery stores should continue shopping themselves until Amazon makes deliberate changes to treat its workers fairly.

Food deserts are often lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables the most, and since these items are scarce, the prices are high in surrounding areas. This makes the maintenance of a healthy diet more difficult for those who have to travel far to purchase food. A University of Michigan study published in April found that grocery delivery services in food deserts and transportation-scarce areas led to healthier food choices by the residents.

“We can’t be sure if this was a function of having healthier food accessible, or if people are more selective when purchasing online,” lead researcher Tawanna Dillahunt said. “It’s possible that this type of shopping removes impulsive shopping habits, especially for those with children, and people are less likely to buy sweet cereals, for instance.”

Either way, this is an improvement, and first-person reports also find that meal kit delivery helps the disabled and elderly. Grocery delivery would likely have the same effect, especially when people can pick their groceries online, rather than relying on someone like a family member to follow a vague list or pick the food for them.

These populations should use food delivery, but students, for example, largely have the resources to grocery shop on their own if they set aside an hour or two a week. Students and other Prime users who find grocery delivery more convenient, but not absolutely necessary or vital for health and wellness, should consider the ethics of using the grocery service.

A majority of Amazon employees reported their work conditions to be psychologically distressing, due to the speed of Amazon’s promised delivery process, according to Vox. The company offers free two-day shipping to all Prime members. The free two-hour grocery delivery will likely only make these conditions worse for workers.

Until Amazon can improve working conditions, we should be honest and only use the Prime grocery delivery if we absolutely need to.