NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon has a place in many Americans' lives because of its low prices and seemingly endless array of goods. But Amazon — which commands about 20 percent of all U.S. e-commerce — has its own problems, too.
German workers are striking to unionize, its dealings with publishers such as Hachette and media companies such as Time Warner have been criticized as bullying, and some injuries and at least one death at U.S. distribution centers have drawn a federal investigation and questions about how well it and its staffing contractors treat workers.
Some shoppers have decided it's time to throw in the towel.
But how? If you're searching online for anything from beauty products to books, the largest U.S. retailer is hard to avoid. Still, it can be done. Here are ways to have an Amazon-like shopping experience while avoiding the behemoth itself.
SHOP THE COMPETITION
There are some obvious and not-so-obvious alternatives to the Web's biggest one-stop shopping site.
An old standby that may offer more than you think is eBay. Though it made its name as the world's biggest auction, it has expanded in recent years to host a vast array of new and used merchandise from third-party sellers, often for flat prices.
"We don't see a lot of people going to eBay as their first stop in the way we see people going to Amazon," said Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru. "But there's an opportunity for people to find the same items they're looking for at different retailers."
Other one-stop shopping discount sites include Overstock.com, which offers retailers' excess inventory, ranging from mattresses to clothing and gifts.
Another option is the little-known Aliexpress.com, a site operated by Chinese e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba.com. The site offers Chinese goods to shoppers in the U.S. and some other countries. And while quality varies, the prices are definitely hard to beat. Or check out Rakuten.com, a similar site from Japan that delivers to other countries.
FREE SHIPPING WITHOUT PRIME
One of the biggest perks of the $99 annual Amazon loyalty program is free two-day shipping on many items. But with a little legwork you can find other free shipping offers.
Mark LoCastro, a spokesman at Dealnews.com, says ShopRunner.com, which partners with many retailers to offer free two-day shipping, is a good alternative. You pay an annual $79 membership, about $20 less than Amazon's fee. And ShopRunner works with major retailers such as Neiman Marcus and American Eagle and smaller brands such as the NFL Shop and Beauty.com.
A service by Sears and Kmart called Shop Your Way Max also offers free two-day shipping for a $39 annual charge that follows a 90-day free trial.
Another option, if you've got the coin: Shop luxury, LoCastro says. Many upscale stores such as Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom offer free shipping with no minimum purchase.
Or wait until the November-December holiday shopping season. At least 41 percent of retailers plan to offer free shipping, according to ChannelAdvisor.
CONSULT THE SPECIALISTS
Amazon is a good one-stop site for discounts, but category-specific sites can have deals, too. For books, check out independent sites including Alibris.com and Powells.com. Niche toy stores online such as Fatbraintoys.com or Melissaanddoug.com offer a wide range of toys.
Electronics stores like Newegg.com can offer deals on gadgets.
But how do you know that you are actually getting a good price? Use a price-comparison service. Pricegrabber.com, Shopzilla.com, Google Shopping and eBay's Decide.com all can help you weigh how good the deals are.
GROCERIES ON YOUR DOORSTEP
Amazon has been pushing its same-day grocery delivery service in cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Brooklyn, with free delivery on orders over $35 for Prime members who pay the $299 annual fee for the loyalty program plus the delivery service.
But there is plenty of competition in groceries, though it depends where you live.
Instacart offers a service in about 15 cities that lets you shop online, and then have the food delivered from local grocery stores like Whole Foods, Costco and Kroger. It costs $3.99 for two hour delivery and $5.99 for one-hour delivery when you spend $35 or more.
Google Express offers a similar service that includes stores like Costco and local grocery stores for $10 a month or $95 a year, with free delivery for orders over $15. It currently serves parts of California, New York and Los Angeles and recently added Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Boston.
Peapod operates in East Coast and Midwestern states; it costs $9.95 to deliver orders under $100 and $6.95 for orders over $100. And major grocery store operators such as Kroger and Publix are testing programs that let you shop online and pick up the items at stores.
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A small plane lost power after takeoff and crashed into a building while trying to return to a Kansas airport Thursday, killing at least four people, injuring at least five others and igniting a fire that sent up towering plumes of black smoke that could be seen for miles around Wichita, officials and witnesses said.
Only the pilot was on the plane, but it wasn't immediately clear how many people were inside the building at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport where at least four people found dead, authorities said. Four more people remained unaccounted for hours after the crash, but a search was halted at midday after a portion of the building collapsed.
Wichita Fire Marshal Brad Crisp assured onlookers the search would resume as soon as the building was stable.
"We understand that this is a very difficult time, especially for folks who have family members who are working out here and they don't know," Crisp said.
The plane, identified as a twin-engine Beechcraft King Air, crashed into a building that FlightSafety International uses to train pilots to fly Cessna planes, company spokesman Steve Phillips said.
It appeared to strike the top of the building and ignite what Wichita Fire Chief Ronald D. Blackwell described as a "horrific" fire.
Jay Boyle, who works at the airport, said he saw people standing outside and pointing, then spotted the crash site.
"I could see from a distance the cutout in the side of the building where it looked like a wing had gone through and you could actually see the aircraft landing gear through a hole in the building," he said.
The crash did not appear to be significantly disrupting passenger traffic at the airport as planes could be seen taking off from other runways.
Located several miles west of downtown Wichita, a longtime aircraft manufacturing hub, Wichita Mid-Continent is used by private aircraft and served by several airlines and their regional affiliates, including American, Southwest, Delta, United and Allegiant. It saw more than 13,000 departures and about 1.4 million passengers last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The crash is the latest in a string of incidents at the airport. In December, an avionics technician was arrested after a months-long undercover sting when he allegedly tried to drive a van filled with inert explosives onto the tarmac in a plot prosecutors say was intended to kill as many people as possible. Then in January, an Oklahoma man rammed his pickup truck through a security gate at the airport. In September, the airport conducted a large-scale disaster exercise featuring the mock crash of a 737 aircraft.
FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said it is "too early to rule anything out" about the cause of Thursday's crash and confirmed the FBI is assisting in the investigation, but stressed the agency's protocol is to respond to "any and all plane crashes at airports."
Reporters Heather Hollingsworth, Margaret Stafford and Greg Moore in Kansas City, Mo., contributed to this story.
GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — From slick video ads online to scrawled chalk messages on college campus sidewalks, intense get-out-the-vote drives are mobilizing in Oregon and Alaska to legalize retail sales of marijuana to anyone old enough to drink.
But backers of the legal-pot ballot measures in both states have a challenge that their predecessors in Colorado and Washington state didn't face two years ago — increasing turnout of young voters in a midterm election.
Young voters, who as a generation are more likely to support recreational marijuana, usually turn out during presidential years like 2012, but stay home during midterms, when the electorate skews older and more conservative.
If young people 18 to 29 years old vote like they did in 2012, Oregon's Measure 91, for example, would pass, said Ethan Nadelmann, head of Drug Policy Action, a major contributor in the national campaign to legalize marijuana.
"That's really what it boils down to," he said.
Washington, D.C., is voting on whether to make it legal to possess marijuana, but not sell it.
Whatever happens in the states and the nation's capital, advocates plan to quickly shift their attention to the 2016 presidential elections and the big prize: California, where hopes are high for approval of legal pot despite a 2010 rejection.
"Even if all those things go down to defeat, I still think it's a clean slate in 2016," said Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the Cato Institute who follows national drug policy.
Mark Kleiman, a drug policy consultant who helped Washington set up its legal marijuana industry, said the outcomes in Oregon and Alaska "will help determine the enthusiasm of funders financing the legalization campaign in California."
In the meantime, the focus is on Oregon and Alaska.
Oregon is a blue state that decriminalized marijuana in 1973 and authorized medical marijuana in 1998.
The state's southwestern corner is renowned for growing some of the nation's best marijuana, and attracts outlaw growers from the U.S. and Mexico. Medical pot dispensaries were approved last year to sell to nearly 70,000 patients.
Alaska, by contrast, is more conservative, but there's a strong libertarian streak, and small amounts of marijuana have been legal for personal use since a 1975 state Supreme Court ruling. Medical pot is legal, but not dispensaries.
Both states have seen previous initiatives to legalize marijuana fail. This time around, campaigns have major contributions from out-of-state donors who want see the legal pot movement garner more victories.
In Alaska, supporters of Measure 2 have raised more than $890,000, nearly all of it from the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest federal spender on marijuana advocacy. Opponents have raised nearly $150,000.
Despite the difference, the no campaign — "Big Marijuana. Big Mistake — is not giving up, relying heavily on volunteers, social media, letters to the editor and word of mouth.
"More and more Alaskans are donating to the no campaign," said spokeswoman Deborah Williams. "They're convinced we need to defeat this measure. And we will win this measure."
In Oregon, two groups backing Measure 91 have raised a total of nearly $4 million, most of it spent on TV ads. Opponents have raised $168,000.
In the state, where elections are settled exclusively by mail ballots, "closing the deal" means a two-step process, said Liz Kaufman, campaign director for Yes on 91. People need to mark their ballots, and then turn them in.
The campaign is reaching out with TV, phone trees, door-to-door canvassing and chalking on college campuses.
"You'd be surprised how many people mark up their ballots and don't turn them in," Kaufman said.
In Alaska, a recent poll for initiative proponents shows overwhelming support among voters under 35, with the measure winning by 18 points. Another for opponents shows it losing by 10 points.
"It's a very polarized race," said Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore, who conducted the poll for the initiative sponsor. "Young people like it and old people don't. And the trouble for the yes side is that old people vote and young people don't."
Another key demographic is mothers.
With only $168,000 to spend, the No-on-91 campaign in Oregon used most of it to mail 155,000 postcards to mothers from Portland to Eugene. It focused on fears that marijuana-infused candy and sodas pose a danger to kids.
They have also flown in people from Colorado to speak out, said Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin, a leader of the no campaign. "It's really difficult," he said. "We've got daytime jobs. The potheads don't. This is their job to get this legalized."
Polls in Oregon have shown support for legalization declining as election day approaches, but still with a fair chance of passing, said Seattle pollster Stuart Elway.
"In Washington's experience, the measure out-performed the polls," he said. "What we have in Oregon right now is a statistical dead heat. It's going to depend in large part on who votes."
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) — Liberia is making some progress in containing the Ebola outbreak while the crisis in Sierra Leone is going to get worse, the top anti-Ebola officials in the two countries said.
International assistance is still desperately needed and the people of both countries must redouble efforts to stop the disease, which has infected more than 13,000 people and killed nearly 5,000, the officials said.
Their assessments underscore that Ebola remains a constant threat until the outbreak is wiped out. It can appear to be on the wane, only to re-emerge in the same place or balloon elsewhere if people don't avoid touching Ebola patients or the bodies of those who succumb to the disease.
To help respond to the growing crisis in Sierra Leone, a British naval ship, carrying hundreds of troops, medical supplies, helicopters and trucks, docked in the capital on Thursday.
"With all these facilities, they will go a long way in the ongoing fight against the Ebola disease," Alfred Palo Conteh, the new head of the country's National Ebola Response Center, said Thursday, as he greeted the arriving ship.
On Wednesday, Conteh had warned that more needed to be done.
"We are in a crisis situation which is going to get worse," Conteh told reporters. "What is happening now should have been done three months ago."
The stark warning and call to action were echoed by others, even in neighboring Liberia, where the World Health Organization has said the rate of infection appears to be slowing, perhaps by as much by 25 percent week over week.
"We need to re-galvanize our efforts, accelerate the interventions, remain vigilant," said Tolbert Nyenswah, the assistant minister of health who leads the Liberian government's Ebola response.
The WHO announcement has given Liberia a reason "to put our shoulders to the wheel so that Ebola can be something of the past," Deputy Information Minister Isaac Jackson told a news conference Thursday. "We are not going to relax."
World Health Organization officials also urged caution in giving the news, saying the gains could be reversed.
But others went further. Alfred Brownell, an activist in Liberia, remembered the moment in the spring when Liberians thought the crisis was over, but then it got worse. Now he is bracing for another potential wave of cases, he said.
"The present epidemic is unpredictable: We have seen a lull in cases in one area only to see the numbers spike again later. More aid is needed on the ground. It's time now to step up contact tracing, safe body management practices and community surveillance," said Fasil Tezera, head of Doctors Without Border's mission in Liberia, even while noting that their 250-bed center in the capital has only about 80 beds occupied.
Liberia is the hardest hit country in the Ebola outbreak sweeping West Africa that has also ravaged Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Still, there are some signs of hope. In Liberia, there has been a decrease in the number of patients seeking Ebola treatment, the number of bodies collected and the number of lab-confirmed cases, according to Nyenswah.
In Sierra Leone, even though the outbreak is now hitting areas in and around the capital, the country's east has seen the disease wane. Conteh, the country's top anti-Ebola official, urged people to follow the example of Kailahun and Kenema Districts, by not touching the sick or dead.
He added that international assistance is growing: Up to 700 beds will be set up in treatment centers and the United Nations has four helicopters in the country.
The British ship the Argus docked Thursday in the country carrying 300 military personnel, 32 pick-up trucks, three helicopters, and medical and other supplies. Although it has a hospital on board, it will not accept patients on this mission. Instead, it will serve as a hangar and take-off and landing zone for the helicopters. The helicopters will ferry supplies and people to hard-to-reach areas of the country, said Commanding Officer Ross Spooner.
The outbreak has taken a particularly high toll on health workers, sickening more than 520, and greatly reducing the health system's capacity to respond in the three most-affected countries.
The World Bank announced Thursday that it will give an additional $100 million to help bring in more foreign health workers. The new funds will be used to train, pay and house health workers while they're in the Ebola hot zone and provide medical care or evacuation for anyone infected.
If the virus continues to surge in the worst-affected countries and spreads to neighboring countries, the financial impact could reach $32.6 billion by the end of 2015, the bank has warned.
Paye-Layleh reported from Monrovia, Liberia. Associated Press writer Francis Kokutse in Accra, Ghana, contributed to this report.
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Gregg Allman has been dropped from a lawsuit by the family of a film worker killed by a train during shooting of a biographical movie about the Allman Brothers Band singer, attorneys said Thursday.
Lawyers for the parents of 27-year-old Sarah Jones said they decided to dismiss all claims against Allman and two other parties after reviewing thousands of documents and other evidence in the case. Jones, a camera assistant, died Feb. 20, during the first day of filming "Midnight Rider" when a freight train slammed into the movie crew on a railroad bridge in southeast Georgia. Six other workers were injured in the crash.
"It is clear that Mr. Allman ... had no involvement in any of the decisions that resulted in Sarah's death," Jeff Harris, an Atlanta attorney for Jones' parents, said in a statement Thursday.
Allman, in his capacity as an executive producer of the movie based on his life story, was among 10 individuals and eight corporations named as defendants in May when Richard and Elizabeth Jones of Columbia, South Carolina, filed their lawsuit in Savannah. The couple is still seeking damages from others including director Randall Miller, railroad company CSX Transportation and Rayonier Performance Fibers, which owns the property surrounding the crash site.
Miller and three other filmmakers have also been indicted on criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and trespassing in rural Wayne County where the crash occurred. Sheriff's investigators concluded the filmmakers went onto the railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River to shoot footage after CSX denied them permission.
Allman's attorney, David Long-Daniels, did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment Thursday.
The Jones family's attorneys said they also dropped claims against Michael Lehman, an executive producer on the film, and Open Road Films, a film distribution and marketing company.
BAGHDAD (AP) â The Islamic State group wanted to send a warning against anyone who might plot against its rule.
Back when the extremists took over the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June, police Col. Mohammed Hassan was among some Sunnis in the security forces who surrendered, handed over their weapons and pledged to cut ties with the police. In return, the militants gave them "repentance badges" granting them some safety. But now, the Islamic State group suspected Hassan was engaging in activities against it.
So last week, IS fighters stormed Hassan's house at night. Hassan and his son fought back, killing three attackers before they were gunned down. The militants then hung his mutilated body from a fence for several days near his home as an example, according to two residents who witnessed the battle and were aware of the events leading up to it. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
The past few weeks, the Islamic State group has been hunting down former policemen and army officers in areas it controls, apparently fearing they might join a potential internal Sunni uprising against its rule.
While world attention has been focused on the battle to fend off the extremists' assault on the town of Kobani across the border in Syria, the group has killed dozens of its opponents this month in Iraq. In several instances, Sunnis have been lined up in public squares and gunned down or beheaded as a warning.
The aim is to prevent the Baghdad government and the U.S.-led alliance from finding Sunni allies against it at a time when Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have made some gains, taking back several towns from the militants.
The campaign of killings adds a new bloody chapter in the Islamic State group's legacy. In its blitz capturing a swath of Iraq and neighboring Syria, it gained a grisly notoriety for butchering its opponents and members of sects it considers heretical.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday said that the extremists carried out a mass killing of around 600 Shiite Muslim inmates being held in Mosul's main prison when the group captured the city in June. The Shiites were separated from several hundred Sunni and Christian inmates who were set free, then the Shiites â along with a number of Kurds and Yazidis â were forced to kneel on the edge of a nearby ravine and were mowed down with automatic weapons, Human Rights Watch said in a report, based on interviews with survivors.
But killings of former police are of a new, different sort â a campaign to eliminate those who the extremists fear could become the nucleus of a revolt against their control.
In new killings, the militants on Wednesday paraded 30 Sunni tribal fighters through the western city of Hit then shot them all to death on a main street, according to a provincial official and other residents. Their bodies were found later that day, followed by another mass grave of 48 tribal fighters discovered on Thursday. The fighters, mostly from the Al Bu Nimr tribe, were captured when the extremists overran Hit earlier in the month.
Mosul, the largest city in the group's self-styled "caliphate," has seen increased killings. Last week, Mosul's governor, Atheel al-Nujaifi, who was driven out of the city in the militant takeover, said pro-government Sunni militias were being formed in the city, made up of mainly of former army and police officers.
Soon after, Islamic State group militants rounded up 20 former police officers from villages south of Mosul. Hours later, their bodies â all with gunshots to the head â were handed over to the morgue, according to morgue officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
In a separate incident, the militants shot to death police Col. Issa Osman after parading him through Mosul's streets. Osman's battalion was the last unit to give up fighting in Mosul during the June takeover, and afterward he also renounced ties to the security forces, receiving a "repentance badge" from the extremists.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim also said anti-IS militant groups have been formed in Mosul. Whether they are part of armed groups or not, former police and army officers are a potential threat to the militants because they "have the expertise on how to plan an armed uprising and they have good knowledge of weapons and military operation," Maan told AP.
There have been similar slayings elsewhere under the extremists' domain the past week. Three days ago, IS fighters shot to death two former army officers and three policemen in a public square in the northern city of Beiji, residents said. They announced to a crowd that the men had carried out mortar attacks on the militants' positions in the city, according to the residents.
At the same time, about 20 former policemen and army officers were rounded up by IS fighters in the town of Shurqat and taken to an unknown location, with no word since on their fate, said an official in Salahuddin provincial council.
On Wednesday, IS fighters beheaded policeman Bahjat Salman in a public square in Ana, a town west of Bagdad, proclaiming him a "traitor," residents said. The residents of Ana and Beiji and the Salahuddin official spoke to AP on condition of anonymity for their own safety.
So far, there has been little sign of an armed revolt in Mosul or other parts of northern and western Iraq under IS control. But the killings could be a sign the extremists' confidence has been shaken by the air campaign.
The group was able to expand with lightning speed across Sunni-dominated regions of Iraq starting in June, in large part because of the minority community's deep hatred of the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. Sunnis have long complained the government discriminates against them and marginalizes them. Government forces collapsed as the extremists swept over Mosul, then south toward the capital, capturing towns and cities along the way.
But there has been resentment among some Mosul residents fueled by the group's enforcement of its extremist interpretation of Islamic law, a lack of public services and stagnation in business.
"Most Mosul people want to get rid of this savage organization," said a resident speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "We are waiting for any effort to save us."