Avoiding the tax avoiders this Christmas

Features Sarah Dobbs Dec 16, 2012

Angry about big corporations not paying their fair share of tax in the UK? Sarah Dobbs finds alternative sites for Christmas shopping…

You’ll have seen the headlines by now. Several massive US-based corporations have been avoiding paying tax, and a lot of people are very angry about it. Angry enough to think about boycotting several big names, because although there’s not much any of us can do to force companies to pay the amount of tax we think they ought to, there is one thing we can do to punish them, and that’s to stop giving them our money.

But Christmas is coming up, and since Amazon and eBay are among the main offenders, if you’re planning to boycott them you might need to get a bit more creative about your gift shopping. Like us, though, we bet you’d still prefer to do the bulk of your present-buying online, rather than brave crowds on the high street. So we did a bit of research and came up with some alternatives to Amazon that you can feel good about buying from (as far as we can tell, anyway):

John Lewis (www.johnlewis.com)

John Lewis has grabbed a few headlines of its own over this whole Amazon furore, as its managing director, Andy Street, has been outspoken about the risk Amazon’s tax avoidance poses to other UK businesses; put bluntly, businesses that pay UK taxes find it harder to compete with ones who don’t, because net profits are lower. So John Lewis’s website might be a good place to start looking for presents.

Although it’s perceived as a fairly up-market department store, a quick browse through John Lewis’s Christmas gift section shows that it’s not much more expensive than Amazon on things like iPads, Samsung Galaxy tablets, and TomTom satnavs (as a few random examples). It also sell homewares, clothes, toys, sports equipment, and various other things you might have defaulted to Amazon to buy. You’ll usually have to pay for delivery, but not if you spend over £50, so do all your shopping in one go and you’ll be sorted.

Currys (www.currys.co.uk)

After Andy Street’s comments about Amazon hit the press, Sebastian James, chief executive of Dixons Retail PLC, tweeted his agreement, saying “retailers making profits in the UK should pay tax in the UK.” Assuming he practises what he preaches, that means Currys and PC World (part of the same group) are also a good bet.

Obviously that’s only useful for tech-related products, but if you’re thinking of buying any cameras, phones, laptops, or MP3 players as presents, check the Currys website. Standard delivery is free, though it’ll take 3 to 5 working days for your order to show up; you can pay to get your stuff the next day, or even pick a specific timeslot to suit you (though that’s not cheap).

Marks & Spencer (www.marksandspencer.com)

A regional branch of UK Uncut held a sit-down protest in branches of M&S a couple of years ago, but a spokesperson for the company said they’d got their facts wrong – Marks & Spencer is a UK domiciled company that pays its tax in the UK. Which is good news!

Like John Lewis, Marks and Spencer sells pretty much everything you can think of, from jewellery to clothing to gadgets, toys, and toiletries. Even random stocking filler-y type stuff is available from Marks & Spencer as part of its handy “under £10” gift section. We’re buying everyone we know Elvis-shaped washing up sponges, because... why not?

You do have to pay for delivery from M&S, though, unless you’ve splashed out (or done the whole present shop in one place) and you’re spending more than £150. However, the costs for having things bought to your door starts at £3.50, which isn’t too bad - or you can get your stuff delivered to your nearest store for free, which is pretty cool.

Guardian Bookshop (www.guardianbookshop.co.uk)

The Guardian Bookshop, as you’ve probably worked out from the name, is owned by the Guardian newspaper. It’s on a separate website from its news coverage, though, and uses Bertrams Books to supply the stock it carries. Bertrams, as part of Smiths News PLC, does pay its tax. So, in short, if you need a non-Amazon bookseller that doesn’t avoid tax, this is a good one.

It’s a well-stocked shop, which sells pretty much everything you can think of. Its prices are a little above Amazon’s, though usually they’re lower than the RRP, which means they’re usually cheaper than buying in a shop - Amazon’s prices are often unrealistically low anyway, which is a separate issue!

All orders from the Guardian Bookshop in the UK qualify for free delivery, so if you’re looking to buy books for Christmas presents, this should make the switch from Amazon fairly painless.

Hive (www.hive.co.uk)

If you like the idea of supporting independent bookshops but don’t want to give up on the convenience of shopping online, Hive might be a nice halfway house. You can use it to buy books and DVDs online, just like any other online retailer – just search the store, find what you want, hand over your money, and have it delivered to your home or office. Delivery costs 75p per item, and is free for orders over £15.

Or, you can support your local bookshop by having your purchases delivered there for free instead. There are hundreds of independent bookshops around the UK that are taking part in the Hive network, and you can use the website to find your nearest one by entering your postcode. If you tend to find that you have to traipse up to the Post Office to collect your Amazon parcels on a Saturday, this might be a good alternative – the queues at the bookshop will probably be shorter than the ones at the Post Office, after all.

Folksy (www.folksy.com)

Folksy isn’t exactly a shop – it’s more like lots of shops all in one place. It’s actually kind of like eBay for craftspeople, and online craft fair, if you will: anyone can set up their own shopfront on Folksy to sell things they’ve made themselves.

You might’ve heard of Etsy, which does a similar thing. While that’s also another good option, most of the sellers there are based in the US so you’ll have to pay postage, import tax (if applicable), and you’ll also face longer wait times. Folksy is solely for British sellers, which cuts out a lot of that faff.

If you’re looking for branded items, suffice it to say you won’t find it here. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, maybe even unique, and you also like the idea of supporting independent designers, this is where you’ll find them. It’s possible to find inspiration for presents for even the most awkward relatives on Folksy – it turns out there are people busily making everything you can imagine, from handcrafted silver necklaces to embroidered laptop cases to hand sewn octopus-shaped doorstops. If you’ve got enough time, you could even contact a seller whose stuff you like to get something personalised made up, which should earn you extra brownie points from the recipient!

Not On The High Street (www.notonthehighstreet.com)

Like Folksy, Not On The High Street is an outlet for all kinds of independent designers to sell their wares in one place. It feels a bit slicker than Folksy, though, and usually you’ll find you’re buying from a small company rather than an individual.

The range of things on offer here is staggering, and the search filters are surprisingly comprehensive, allowing you to look specifically for items that come with free delivery, which can be gift wrapped or personalised, or which are made in Britain. The curated gift guides are pretty decent, too.

Now, we can’t promise that every single business that sells through Not On The High Street pays their taxes, but we’re pretty confident none of them is avoiding millions of pounds worth of tax. Supporting small businesses just feels better than giving your money to massive corporations, doesn’t it?

Oxfam (www.oxfam.org.uk/shop)

You might immediately assume that buying from a charity means buying something second-hand, but that’s not necessarily the case. Oxfam’s shop sells a lot of new items, many of which are Fair Trade. There are a lot of handcrafted things, like jewellery and accessories, as well as food and drink items; there are also recycled products, and eco-friendly gadgets like wind-up radios and solar-powered lamps.

If you’re buying for someone who’d like that sort of thing, there’s also the ‘Oxfam Unwrapped’ section, which is all about charity gifts. You can choose to buy things like chickens or toilets for people in developing countries, and the person you’re buying for gets a giftcard that explains all about where the money you would’ve spent on their pressie has gone. For the person who’s got everything, that might be a nice idea.

And though we said the Oxfam website wasn’t just full of second-hand stuff, you can actually buy some second-hand products online – which makes for a good substitute for Amazon Marketplace, if you really don’t want to give Amazon a cut of your shopping.

A final note

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list of every non-Amazon retailer in the world; it’s just a taste. And we’re not going to force you to boycott anyone, either. It’s hard, when you know you can buy the same product cheaper on Amazon, to fork over full price in other shops. So if you want to keep shopping there, go for it. We’re kind of reconsidering our options, though, and this article should have shown that there is a world beyond Amazon and eBay, if you can extricate yourself from the sticky web of Buy It Now deals and one-click buying!