The Grinch this year is not out of a book, but selling them … along with toys, electronics, and dvds. The online megalith Amazon has hatched a scheme to pay customers to walk out of retail stores on Saturday Dec 10 without making a purchase. Amazon wants shoppers to scan the price of electronics, toys, or dvd’s with their Price Check app (thus sending them this data), and then walk out of the store to get a discount of up to $5 on that item online. It’s a pretty low blow—despicable—considering that retail stores are already suffering in this tough economy and that this is typically their make-or-break time of year.
It’s also sort of creepy and nefarious if you think about it. It’s basically corporate espionage—a horde of non-customers fanning out with digital monitors to spy on law-abiding retailers. It’s like something out of 1984, and Amazon is “Big Brother.”
But now it’s not just bookstores or the Mom-and-Pops in Amazon’s sightlines. By specifically targeting toys, electronics, and dvds, Amazon is launching an attack on larger chains like Best Buy and Target.
So this Saturday, Dec 1, please consider boycotting Amazon and make your purchases elsewhere.
It’s not like Amazon needs this underhanded tactic. They continue to gain market share over brick-and-mortar stores—both Main Street shops and big-box chains. Amazon already has an edge over these businesses because they don’t have to collect sales tax. The company has lobbied aggressively and waged a fierce legal campaign to avoid sales taxes, using the spurious argument that they shouldn’t because they have no physical stores. This has proven a real problem for independent retailers, especially bookstores, who are also too small to compete with Amazon’s cut-rate pricing.
Other online retailers like REI, LL Bean, Barnes & Noble, Target, and Best Buy all have to add sales tax onto online purchases transacted in states where they have stores. That’s right—these companies are effectively penalized for having retail presences that contribute jobs and money to local communities. If anything this situation should be reversed. Retailers should get tax incentives for operating stores which employ more people. Amazon is like a giant conveyor belt, so their work force does not really grow in pace with expanded business and profits. REI does more than half of their business online, but they just opened a store in my town. I’m so grateful they have arrived with added local jobs. Also, I just love wandering around outdoor gear stores (after bookstores, of course).
If you think this doesn’t matter to you because you don’t care whether you are buying something from Amazon, or say Best Buy, then I have one word: Netflix. Remember back when Netflix had real competition from local rental shops and from Blockbuster? What happened when those businesses went under? Netflix doubled their prices. When the competition folds, do you really think that Amazon will be selling you that flat-screen TV for half-price or offering free shipping? One thing we have learned about a market economy is that competition is healthy and monopoly is not.
Beyond being a holiday Grinch, Amazon is also somewhat of a Scrooge. Wal-Mart and Target rank consistently among Forbes’s list of most charitable corporations. Best Buy donates 1.5% of it’s pre-tax earnings. Barnes & Noble last year collected over 1 million books and 20,000 toys for donation. By contrast, and despite earning more than $34 billion in revenues last year, Amazon has become notorious for its lack of charitable giving. Even in their own hometown of Seattle, the company is conspicuously absent from the funding of local arts and community projects, even though other corporate giants like Starbucks, Boeing, and Microsoft give generously. Slate.com reported that there are lemonade stands which give more money to charity than the 34+ billion-in-revenues Amazon.
In fairness, there are many good points to make about Amazon. They pioneered e-business at a time before anyone believed there could be viable online enterprise. They helped change our thinking about digital applications and information. They invented e-reader technology with the hugely popular Kindle. They developed a sophisticated online inventory management system that is utilized by many other companies.
Still, what I’m arguing for is a fair playing field for retailer. It seems, from their slippery business strategies, that Amazon does not want any playing field at all.
At the end of the day, I do understand if you are attached to your Kindle, and I too have enjoyed the allure and satisfaction of the one-click purchase. Though now I pretty much always go to my local bookstore or other brick-and-mortar retailer instead. But please seriously consider spreading some of your dollar to other stores. Most independent bookstores now also sell e-books via their websites.
And please consider boycotting Amazon on Saturday, Dec 1, in protest of their predatory customer-walkout scheme.
Amazon not only wants to own the competition. Amazon wants to own you … and everything that you want to own.