Earlier this morning, Poseidon forwarded to me the New York Times opinion article written last week, "Amazon's Jungle Logic" by Richard Russo. This opinion piece is in response to the infamous Amazon app, Price Check, that seems to be causing so much uproar, most notably from small/local bookstores. I also read a few other articles on the subject today (between XML code changes and researching error messages...you know, my day job "stuff"), and I understand the clamor and the Amazon "backlash," but I also understand Amazon.
I don't claim to be an expert, but as a reader of books and habitué of all things internet, I'm right down the middle on this one, and here are my thoughts on the matter (worth probably 1/2 cent).
The Amazon Price Check app (which I do not have by the way) gives customers the ability, while shopping at any brick-and-mortar store, to scan the barcodes of items also sold by Amazon.com, to get instant price comparisons between the store and Amazon.com. What shopper wouldn't love this? Of course, the issue under scrutiny is that Amazon's promotion of the Price Check app gives customers $5 off (up to $15) purchases made through the app at Amazon.
There are, as I see it, two major bones of contention with Amazon's new app and I'm spouting off on both:
1. Many view this is as an ingenious (others might say insidious) strategy for gathering price data from competitors. This concept is nothing new folks.
A friend of mine who got his MBA back in 1991 started his new job, with a very well known company (no longer in business by the way), as a price gatherer--though I don't know what the actual professional term was for this position way back when. His duties required him to drive around the southeast to visit the retail stores of his company's competitors, check their prices on certain items, and report back. His company would publish coupons in local papers for consumers to cut out, take in, and rake in. The only difference I see in the Amazon Price Check app promotion and the days of yore couponing? Technology. Technological advances since the early 90s allow Amazon to save gas and staff salaries, and consumers who want to spend less (including not paying sales tax) do the leg work.
2. As I mentioned earlier, it appears that small mom-and-pop book stores are the most offended with Amazon and their Price Check app. I'll say one or two things about this. First, the Amazon Price Check promotion does not include book sales, or so I've read...again, I don't have the app and won't be downloading it. The melee could simply end here, but of course, it doesn't.
I like, no I love going to small independent book sellers in our area and that won't change. As long as books are still printed on paper, I'll be perusing the shelves. Why would I do that when the book prices are sometimes more than Amazon's prices and I have to pay local sales tax? Because I can't "browse" the shelves of Amazon.com in person. Book stores are like candy stores to me. I like looking at the book covers, seeing the artwork up close and personal, thumbing through the pages, and more importantly, people watching. I can't (and don't really want to, honestly) people watch on Amazon. I'm not a coffee drinker, but believe it or not, some civilized folks actually enjoy a nice cup of coffee while reading in the comfort of a local book seller's brick-and-mortar establishment while listening to some cool beat music from the past.
For those worried about your favorite independent book stores closing up shop due to the likes of Amazon, don't, and I highly recommend this Forbes blog post, "Amazon and the Starbucks Effect" by E.D. Kain. Kain has actually written a few posts on the topic of the internet and future of local businesses, and in another blog post, "The Future of Local Business is Selling an Experience" he says, "That’s the future of local businesses – a multi-faceted experience that goes beyond the product itself."
Kain summarizes this entire issue better than I ever could in yet another blog post, "Shop everywhere. I do. I shop at Amazon regularly. But I wouldn’t dream of spying on my local bookseller for the behemoth in the market."
As demanders of the latest and greatest, we have only ourselves to blame. If the technology exists, and can exist (and there is no going back now), businesses, both Herculean online entities and local retailers will use the technology they can afford to do what they've always done: vie for our business. We require they court us and woo us with something, whether it be an experience or a coupon...be careful what you ask for.