Last week, Amazon.com set off a firestorm of outrage from bricks-and-mortar stores, as well as authors and many in the media, when it announced a new promotion urging customers who go into bricks-and-mortar stores on Saturday, December 10, to use the company’s smartphone price check app on select products. If the customer then purchased that product from Amazon, they would receive a discount of up to $5.
One of those outraged retailers is Betsy Burton, co-owner of The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, who, in response to Amazon’s promotion, penned a Letter to the Editor that appeared in today’s Salt Lake Tribune. She is also encouraging other booksellers to take some time during this busy holiday season to write letters and/or op-ed pieces in order to capitalize on the recent media attention to focus on why indies matter.
Burton told BTW via e-mail that Amazon.com’s latest promotion felt “like an invasion: actually recruiting people to come into my store and virtually conduct a clandestine operation, scanning my inventory, getting money (or more accurately credit) ... it was some combination of sleazy and creepily other-worldly that made me ill, made me think this isn’t a world I can accept without at least trying to say something.”
In the Letter to the Editor, Burton writes: “Seldom has such behavior been so egregious as this past week when Amazon urged its customers to take their phone cameras into bookstores around this country and, using their price-check app, scan our inventory, then go to Amazon to buy what they’d seen in our stores — offering them up to $5 in credit to do so.” (To read the full text of Burton’s letter, click here). Burton noted to BTW that other booksellers should feel free to adapt the letter to send to their local newspapers.)
The King’s English did not offer a counter promotion this past Saturday, and Burton said the store tried to take the high road and “simply ignore Amazon.com’s tactics.” Moreover, she did not wish to “dignify Amazon’s actions by doing anything that seemed in any way to accept them by being a participant even, in an ‘anti’ way. I’m hoping the letter will do what needs doing — e.g., letting the public know what levels Amazon is willing to stoop to (although actually the campaign itself did that).
If corporations can have characters (and I think they can, in terms of corporate culture), and if actions are indicative of character, then Amazon has damned itself publicly and completely with this campaign. Those of our customers who had heard about it were as appalled as we were. This truly is low behavior — even for them.”
The good news, Burton added, is that none of her customers participated as far as she could tell. “We saw no one, be they known customers or strangers, with cell phone cameras in hand. This seems to be the case across the country as reported by other booksellers.”
Watch for news of Indie Spring, a “Why Indies Matter” campaign, which ABA will launch early in the new year.
Salt Lake City is a wonderful city — strong on community; for the most part accepting of and supportive of other religions, races, lifestyles; lovely to look at, a joy to live in. Like any city, its members sometimes get up to no good, trying to take advantage of a regulation (or lack thereof) to catch a break, get an edge up, take advantage.
And as always, large corporate entities do this more effectively, on a larger scale, than anyone else. But seldom has such behavior been so egregious as this past week when Amazon urged its customers to take their phone cameras into bookstores around this country and, using their price-check app, scan our inventory, then go to Amazon to buy what they’d seen in our stores — offering them up to $5 in credit to do so.
Urging our community members to spy on us? Paying them to do so? Isn’t it bad enough that in addition to supporting a bricks-and-mortar establishment and being active and actively contributing members of the community, we have trouble competing against Amazon because they don’t have to collect sales tax and we do? This gives them a grossly unfair 10 percent advantage off the top (a practice that we hope our legislators address). Add to this insult the injury of corporate spying and it seems our task is insurmountable.
But here’s where community comes into play. Have our customers come into our store and clicked pictures of our inventory? No. Have strangers? No. Happily, thankfully, we haven’t seen a single person engaged in corporate espionage in The King’s English.
Why? Because of community. Because everyone understands that we all live here together, all contribute together to this city we all love. They understand that engaging in shady corporate tactics to save a buck or two in the long run hurts the place they live.
Amazon has become positively cartoonish in its attempts to take over the book industry. Already vilified as bad corporate citizens for using every nefarious means at their disposal to avoid collecting sales tax, now they are employing tactics so underhanded they would embarrass Boris Badenov himself.
And, like dear old Boris (for those old enough to remember, the cartoon villain of “Rocky and Bullwinkle”), they keep shooting themselves in the foot, underestimating the essential decency of people — in Salt Lake and everywhere else.