Well, here it is. Irrefutable evidence that Amazon embodies corporate greed. First, let me say that the article posted on Gawker illustrates what virtually every bookseller, small business owner and sales tax payer in multiple states already knows – Amazon’s culture of corporate sleaze knows no bounds and it will not rest until it is the only retailer left standing.
Apparently they are now outsourcing their corporate espionage by paying their customers $5 to go to their local stores, scan products, report back to Amazon with the price, leave the store and buy from the big A.
Booksellers like me get pummeled by stories like this all the time. It seems like there is a never-ending supply of reasons why I shouldn’t open my email, look at my Facebook feed or read the news. It all seems so bleak these days. My local pharmacy got eaten by Walgreens, Paypal performs Dickension freeze on charity payments (but then backs down because everyone but them saw the stupidity in what they were doing). The list goes on.
In fact, I don’t even like watching TV because I know that one of those godforsaken Kindle commercials will come on and not so subtly mock me for liking to shop somewhere else. “Oh, haha, you bought two Kindle Fires?” the creepy, all-knowing man says to his (is it supposed to be charming?) slightly ditzy girlfriend who was stupid enough to read traditional books. “Who’s the other one for?” wink, wink, nod, nod. She giggles. She admits that it’s for her.
Yes, all the cool kids are reading e-books and shopping on Amazon. Good thing I’m not cool.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m competitive. I believe in healthy competition, and god knows I’ve lost sleep over times when my bookstore has fallen short. It’s just that corporate sleaze is, well, gross. Look at Jeff Bezos, up there standing in his “see, I’m casual, approachable – a sort of madcap, devil may care kind of multi-billionaire” blue jeans and blazer. Look closer. See the smirk? It’s us he’s laughing at – and I don’t just mean me and my brothers and sisters in bookselling or other retailers. He’s laughing at you.
In my store, rule number one is “Never make the customer work harder than you.”
Rule number two is “Never make the customer feel stupid.”
At one fell swoop, Amazon has put its customers to work for the cost of the sales tax they didn’t collect from them, and mocked them for having a different opinion. It has long cloaked its tax evasive maneuvers and its practice of selling the entire book industry as a loss-leader in a sales pitch to you and me – one I’ll admit I almost fell for.
The pitch? “Regular retail stores are bilking you out of your hard-earned cash by charging fair market value for their products.” Not only that, but you would be foolish for paying more than what they charge. That’s right – DEMAND better prices from your bookstore. Take control! Negotiate a better deal! Sounds so empowering, doesn’t it? Do you feel empowered?
Or do you feel bullied?
Amazon wants you to negotiate on their behalf because you’re cheap labor. The lower they can drive the prices, the harder it is for anyone besides Bezos to make a living. Nobody wants to work for slave wages, least of all the authors you love. Paying less for their books than it costs to make them is insulting on lots of levels and doesn’t make any economic sense.
But back to Amazon and their latest ploy to get their customers to act against their own self-interest. I’m sure they will defend this and mock those of us who say it’s gross and unethical at the very least. They’ll feed us all a line about how smart you’ll be to stick it to your local retailers by helping Amazon undercut their sales. The smug bully grin so prevalent in most of Amazon’s communications will make you think that theirs is the winning side. They’ll supply the arguments that support the notion that everyone who’s not on the Amazon train is a chump.
But the cracks are evident, here. Corporate bloat isn’t cool and it’s getting harder and harder to disguise greed and unregulated monopoly in a camouflage of populism.
Meanwhile, I can offer this – if you shop at my bookstore, I will not pay you five dollars to spy on my competitors. In fact, I’ll probably recommend them if we can’t get what you need. I won’t degrade your favorite author by giving away a lifetime of her work so that I can sell electronics. I will not make you feel bad for reading traditional books, nor will I mock you for choosing an e-reader, e-book or anything else I offer even if I don’t personally like it.
After all, customers are people, not pawns. We still like to shop with people who respect us.