Amazon Price-Check Program’s Critics Have The Wrong Facts And The Wrong Attitude

Written by Evan Schuman
December 14th, 2011

The Amazon price-check promotion is getting mercilessly blasted by authors, a U.S. Senator, a retail trade group and various others. The strangest part is that so many are getting the actual specifics of the Amazon program wrong.

Booksellers were up in arms about Amazon encouraging people to go into their local stores to buy on Amazon, despite the fact that consumers have been doing the same thing for as long as Amazon has been around and the fact that—to be nitpicky—books were excluded from the program. U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R.-Me.) issued a statement that “incentivizing consumers to spy on local shops is a bridge too far.”

That may be true, but the price-sharing part—the spying the senator is referencing—was excluded from any incentives. The only thing Amazon was incentivizing people to do was to buy from Amazon, which seems the whole point of a promotion. The E-tailer layered it on top of its price-check app, which has also been around for quite some time and is only one of many mobile price-comparison apps (RedLaser being the most well-known) out there today.

Snowe’s statement also said “we should remember that our local restaurants, bookshops and hardware stores are the economic engines in our communities.” Bizarrely enough, none of those groups (restaurants, bookshops and hardware) was part of the promotion.

Restaurants? In an Amazon promotion? We don’t need to read the terms and conditions to raise our eyebrows at that one. The senator could have at least referenced local toy stores, sporting shops and DVD merchants, as they at least were actually covered.

Those price incentives, as we discussed last week, were impressively anemic and not likely to persuade anyone to do much of anything. The whole promotion lasted just 26 hours, and it had so many limitations in terms of the products covered (it was only Electronics, Toys, Sports, Music and DVDs) that it really begs the question: Did critics even understand what they were attacking?

An argument can be made that Amazon went out of its way to not clarify these details as part of a deliberate effort. Let the media and protest groups get the facts wrong, and let consumers think the incentives are much higher and for more products than they are for. Amazon gets what it really wants: lots of attention for its me-too mobile price-check app and lots of consumers trying it in lots of stores.

And all the while, Amazon—when and if it chooses to respond—can simply point to its Terms and Conditions and say that it didn’t actually do much of what it was accused of. Win-win. It gets the buzz for its app, with an ironclad alibi in its pocket that it did little wrong.

Last week, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) said their concern was really about the inequity of the state tax system.


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