For Many Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Amazon Has Become the Marketplace of Choice

September 5, 2019 | Letizia Miranda
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Fifty-eight percent of the purchases made on Amazon are not from the company itself but from smaller retailers who have permission to sell their wares on the website. Of these third-party vendors, some 15 percent are estimated to be businesses owned by Orthodox Jews, half of which are based in a single Brooklyn zip code. Letizia Miranda writes:

With the expansion of third-party marketplaces online, the bar to entry into the retail business [has lowered considerably]—which means ultra-Orthodox Jews, . . . many of whom lack college degrees, have found careers that balance their religious lives with the modern marketplace. . . . The prospect of building a business on Amazon has led to a boom across the Orthodox Jewish community in New Jersey and New York.

James Thomson, a manager with Amazon Business Services from 2007 to 2013, told BuzzFeed News that he noticed his third-party seller clients were mainly concentrated in only a handful of neighborhoods—Brooklyn, NY and Fair Lawn and Lakewood, NJ—with large concentrations of Orthodox Jews. “Before I left Amazon, some of my clients were Orthodox sellers, and I saw incredibly sophisticated entrepreneurs and saw business models that weren’t taught in business school,” he said. “It became natural that we’d do anything to make sure we worked with them.”

Amazon’s seller marketplace has also opened a new path for Orthodox women to begin their careers in business. There is such a business in Newark, NJ, on the second floor of a nondescript brick warehouse. The front door opens up to a small office with a set of desks in the front for a receptionist, warehouse manager, and accountant, while an Orthodox man types away on a computer. At the other end sits the owner of this multimillion-dollar online business wearing . . . a wig, a modest blouse, cardigan, and knee-length skirt.

For many Ḥaredim, this line of work is particularly appealing because it allows them to shape their workdays around the rhythms of Torah study, daily prayer, Sabbaths, and holidays. Some have even taken to punning on the company’s name, calling it am mazon—rough Hebrew for “it feeds the people.”

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