It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Amazon would soon be releasing an app that would allow anyone with a smart phone to 'scan' an item's barcode and compare prices between whatever retailer they happened to be in against Amazon's. As if that isn't bad enough, as the app has gone live they've added a sweetener to draw people to use it: a $5 discount when it is used to make a sale. This has been covered in a variety of media; here's story from Marketplace Media that aired in Seattle on KUOW during Morning Edition. The host is former Seattle resident John Moe: Amazon wants you to be a spy.
According to a story in the New York Times, this is not only a way for Amazon to collect more customers, it is also a means for them to gather intelligence on what other retailers are doing. As Claire Cain Miller writes "Amazon is also trying a crowdsourced approach, recruiting shoppers to collect prices in offline stores so it can try to beat them. The company says that it already scours stores and ads for competitors’ prices, and that it will help if users share the prices they find."
A local TV station posted a story on their website in which West Seattle bike shop owner Stu Hennessey fumes over the new app: "Take a pic and find out what Amazon will sell that same product for. In other words, a business' showroom just became Amazon's showroom. "It disturbs me that I pay rent each month and I support the property owners as well as putting the effort into the display work,' said Hennessey."
When is enough enough? Doesn't this bring to mind the exchange in Chinatown where Gittes asks Noah Cross
Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake Gittes: I just wanna know what you're worth. More than 10 million?
Noah Cross: Oh my, yes!
Jake Gittes: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can't already afford?
Really - how much of the market does Amazon want?
All of it, obviously.
Supporting Amazon is like cheering for the Empire and Lord Vader when the Death Star destroys Alderan. They're both the instrument of destruction and the weilders of it. Supporting Amazon is like going to an early James Bond movie and cheering for SPECTRE.
SPECTRE wasn't out to create anything beneficial - they just wanted power and money. You may argue that Amazon is creating lower prices for people and, yes, they are. But at what price? The destruction of the small independents, whether they're selling bicycles or books? Aren't we poorer for losing the variety of small independent shops than we are richer for saving a few dollars on the sale of a single item? Have we learned nothing from the WalMart affect and how their drive to lower prices have driven jobs off-shore to where goods can be made for less than if Americans made them? Is the lowest price possible the end of the line? Seems like it.
There's an ugly circularity to it: we expect the lowest prices possible which requires the goods we demand to be made as cheaply as possible by people who are paid as little as possible. Those who used to make the goods being sold lose their jobs because they're too expensive to employ. Because so many people are out of work or are living on miniscule budgets they have to look for bargains and demand ever-lower prices simply to survive, which feeds the lunacy. The mega-sellers can adopt the cut-throat pricing but that destroys the marketplace for main street independents, more small shops close, more people are out of work, more people have less disposable income, more people look for bargains. It is a recipe for disaster, a death spiral, a Slip-N-Slide into the far side of the twilight zone.
Got your ticket?
Supporting Amazon is like burning old tires in your fireplace for heat. You'll stay warm tonight but you're speeding the destruction of the planet by adding to the Greenhouse Effect. Who cares if the oceans rise - you don't live on the shore! Who cares if the tax breaks are only for the rich - you might be rich some day too! Who cares if the streets and bridges fall apart - at least your own taxes are lower! What does it matter if you don't vote - they're all crooks anyway and are only going to screw you if they're elected! Who cares if the small independents all vanish - you can always order from Amazon without leaving your house!
If you want to live in a world where the only place you can shop is Amazon, well, the way things are heading, you may get your wish. What does that mean for the rest of us, those who don't work for Amazon and don't want to enrich Amazon? Do we get a voice in this new game?
Only if we're willing to pay to be heard. Or speak up.
**** And just so you don't think we're the only ones pointing out problems ****
American Booksellers Association Responds to Amazon App Promo
This week Amazon.com announced that customers who go into bricks-and-mortar stores on Saturday, December 10, use the company’s smartphone price check app on select products, and then purchase that product from Amazon will receive a discount of up to $5. While books were not included in the promotion, indie bookstores, like other Main Street retailers, were outraged by the online giant’s latest move. ABA CEO Oren Teicher has written an open letter (below) to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, highlighting the glaring discrepancy between the company’s recent statements in support of sales tax fairness and this latest exploitation of an inequitable strategic advantage.
Dear Jeff Bezos,
We’re not shocked, just disappointed.
Despite your company’s recent pledge to be a better corporate citizen and to obey the law and collect sales tax, you created a price-check app that allows shoppers to browse Main Street stores that do collect sales tax, scan a product, ask for expertise, and walk out empty-handed in order to buy on Amazon. We suppose we should be flattered that an online sales behemoth needs a Main Street retail showroom.
Forgive us if we’re not.
We could call your $5 bounty to app-users a cheesy marketing move and leave it at that. In fact, it is the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries.
But maybe we've misunderstood.
Even though you've spent millions on lobbyists, fired affiliates in seven states, and threatened to shut warehouses to avoid collecting sales tax, maybe you really mean it now when you say you support a level playing field.
It's up to you to show us.
In the meantime, indie retailers remain the heart of countless communities -- offering discovery, energy, support, and unique experiences. See you on Main Street.
Sincerely, Oren Teicher, CEO American Booksellers Association
And while we're on the subject of Amazon and their apps, we ran across a furor over how they treat those who create apps. While it seems to fit with everything else we've heard about them - how they treat small publishers, some authors and the publishing industry as a whole - it is still blood-chilling: Amazon App Store: Rotten To The Core
When are people going to realize that Amazon is the 1% and independent businesses are the 99%?