This Saturday, Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is running a promotion that is making a lot of people very mad: Use the company’s Price Check mobile app to compare prices in bricks-and-mortar stores to those on Amazon, and you’ll get a 5 percent discount–up to $5–off Amazon’s price on “up to three qualifying products in eligible categories, including electronics, toys, music, sporting goods and DVDs.” Judging by the reaction to this, you would think that Amazon representatives are walking into independent bookstores and ripping books out of shoppers’ hands.
Amazon does a lot of things I don’t like (like this), but the Price Check app promotion isn’t really one of them. Here’s why.
Amazon’s Price Check App Isn’t New, And Neither Are Price-Check Apps In General. Amazon’s Price Check app has been available for iOS since November 2010. Another barcode-scanning price-check app, Red Laser, has been available since May 2009, and was bought by eBay (NSDQ: EBAY) last year. It has been downloaded over 12 million times.
Books Aren’t Included In This Promotion, But Even If They Were, It Wouldn’t Change Anything. Much of the anger about this promotion is coming from some members of the publishing and bookselling community who mistakenly believe that books are included in this promotion. “Amazon offers people $15 to walk out of bookstores,” writes Dennis Johnson at Moby Lives. Publishers Weekly writes, “While books aren’t specifically included, a number of sidelines typically found in bookstores are” and quotes one bookseller who calls the Price Check app “the virtual equivalent of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil gas station strategy.”
These sentiments have intensified this week after the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) called attention to new research from the Codex Group that shows an increasing number of book shoppers using bricks-and-mortar bookstores as “showrooms” to discover new titles, then buying online. That is certainly unfortunate for the bricks-and-mortar bookstores. But the practice has nothing to do with this particular Amazon promotion, which doesn’t include books. And even if it did include books, everybody already knows that books are cheaper on Amazon. Nobody goes into an independent bookstore expecting to find really cheap books there. People visit independent bookstores for other reasons, and those who do place a high priority on supporting their local indie weren’t going to march in and start scanning book barcodes anyway.
Only Big-Box Shoppers Or Jerks Are Going To Take Advantage Of This Promotion. Most of the Amazon Price Check app usage that goes on this Saturday is going to take place in big-box stores like Best Buy and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT). Sales tax issues aside (and yes, Amazon’s avoidance of paying sales tax in most states is an issue, but it’s no more of an issue in this particular instance than it is at any other time), can you really say in your heart that you are upset that someone might buy their Blu-Ray player on Amazon instead of at Best Buy? (Unless you are a Best Buy employee, that is.)
Are some, maybe, a few people going to walk into their local–well, it can’t be a bookstore, but, okay, their mom-and-pop sporting-goods store–and scan stuff and then march out and buy it on Amazon? Probably, but those people are precisely the ones who didn’t support buy-local anyway.
Amazon Is Already Collecting A Ton Of Competitors’ Pricing Data. That, we know. That is what this app has been doing since its release a year ago, and it is also what Amazon does all the time. Whatever additional data the company gleans from the use of this app on Saturday is a drop in the bucket.
The Publishing Community Must Pick Its Battles Against Amazon. It is a waste of time to get mad about everything that Amazon does. And–I speak to the bookselling and publishing community here–not everything Amazon does is about books. There are plenty of other businesses for it to cut into, too! So let’s save the outrage for the stuff that is worth it, because there’s guaranteed to be plenty.