An op-ed in The New York Times discusses Amazon’s holiday assault on brick-and-mortar bookstores. It’s a Scrooge left hook, followed by a Grinch uppercut, leading to a Mr. Potter TKO.
I first heard of Amazon’s new “promotion” from my bookseller daughter, Emily, in an e-mail with the subject line “Can You Hear Me Screaming in Brooklyn?” According to a link Emily supplied, Amazon was encouraging customers to go into brick-and-mortar bookstores on Saturday, and use its price-check app (which allows shoppers in physical stores to see, by scanning a bar code, if they can get a better price online) to earn a 5 percent credit on Amazon purchases (up to $5 per item, and up to three items).
This promotion has received a good deal of negative press. Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut President Tony Sheridan called it a “new low” and a “slap in the face to all small business owners.” Sam Hall at Amazon disagreed.
“We are enabling customers to use the Price Check app to share in-store prices while they search for the best deals,” (Hall said). “This is a powerful opportunity for customers to get involved and ensures Amazon customers get the best possible prices.”
It’s not new for a store to offer to match or even beat the price offered at a competitor, but those are usually fairer battles. Small retailers aren’t in the same weight class as Amazon, which like Wal-Mart can afford to lower prices for the time it takes to crush the competition.
Another example of the app in action:
Valerie Lewis opened the slender book, cradled it lovingly in her hands and began to read a story about a bear who lost his hat. As co-owner of Hicklebee’s Books in Willow Glen, she has done this a thousand times.
Then Lewis turned the book over and allowed a visitor with an iPhone to scan the bar code using Amazon’s Price Check app. Within seconds, the Amazon price popped up: $9.59. “Let’s see what Hicklebee’s has it for,” Lewis said, then pointed to the amount imprinted on the book jacket: $15.99.
A clerk standing nearby was unable to resist mentioning the obvious — that Amazon would probably ship the book free and not charge any sales tax, further increasing its $6.40 price advantage over the venerable San Jose children’s bookstore.
Complaints in the press and on Facebook status message aside, I’m sure Amazon’s promotion wil be a succes. The U.S. consumer is the ultimate mob wife: She knows something’s up — it’s all a little suspicious — but she doesn’t ask questions.
I’m a Kindle user — I even read comics on an app these days — but in my younger and more vulnerable days, I haunted physical bookstores. My favorite was Gotham Books in Manhattan, which Katharine Hepburn described as the “greatest bookstore in New York and thus the world” (I think… the exact quote is on the bookmark you got when you bought a book there and all my books are currently in storage). I watched as my homes from home slowly closed one by one. Their replacements were the mammoth Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, Books-A-Million, Book Hut, and so on. They had a wider selection but were antiseptic with employees who either didn’t have the time or the ablity to talk to you about a book you might want to purchase. There was little passion in those stores. Once we accepted that, we were bound to embrace Amazon, which is now intent on wiping out the remaining bookstores with the same cold ruthlessness as Michael Corleone eliminating the competing families in “The Godfather.”
This might be the path of the future but I guess I wonder what’s the rush? Amazon reminds me of the loathsome heir to a family fortune standing over his mother on her death bed, silently willing her to croak sooner rather than later. With its price-check app, Amazon now goes as far as to smother smaller retailers with a pillow.