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Boycott Amazon? It's not an easy choice

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos walks onstage for the launch of the Fire Phone last year in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

There are plenty of examples of consumers flexing their economic muscle in response to what they see as businesses behaving badly.

Take the boycott of California grapes in the 1960s over mistreatment of farmworkers. Or the boycott of Chick-fil-A in 2012 over the fast-food chain's opposition to same-sex marriage.

So what, if anything, should be done about Amazon.com?

The world's largest e-tailer has been in hot water all week after the New York Times ran a front-page story about the company's employment practices. It included tales of workers being bullied, harassed and basically made to feel miserable.

The enduring image from the story was that of Amazon staffers routinely breaking down in tears at their desks.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive, didn't deny the allegations. He just said this was all news to him.

"The article doesn't describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day," Bezos said in a memo to employees.

The story, he said, "claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don't recognize this Amazon, and I very much hope you don't, either."

Be that as it may, Amazon customers face a quandary. Do they continue shopping on the site as if nothing were amiss? Or do they respond in some way so the company understands their concern?

"These are very interesting questions," said Lars Perner, an assistant professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. "You might think about boycotting, but that's difficult given the sheer size of Amazon."

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