Amazon.com Price Check App Is 'Devious,' 'Unfair' Business Leader Says [With Poll]

Chamber Of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut president speaks against Amazon.com cell phone application that allows customers to compare prices.


An iPhone and Android application by Amazon.com is “a devious way” for the company to steal customers from local stores, and is derived from an “attitude based on pure greed,” President Tony Sheridan said this week.

“It’s a new low, from my point of view,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face to all the small business owners, and frankly even all the large business owners in the area.”

Sheridan asked residents not to use the new application, and pushed the federal government to do something about it. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, largely agreed.

"Amazon's promotion - paying consumers to visit small businesses and leave empty-handed - is an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities,” Snowe said in a statement on Dec. 8. “I urge Amazon to cancel its planned promotion, and look for ways to partner with Main Street, not promote anti-competitive behavior that could shutter the doors of America's small businesses." 

The Application

The controversy started over a recent promotion to highlight Amazon's iPhone and Andriod application called Price Check. Price Check allows users to scan an item in a store with their phone, and then compare the price of the product to Amazon’s site, according to the company website.

On Dec. 10, Amazon held a one-day sale in which it gave users a 5 percent discount if they used Price Check, according to a company press release. In the release, Amazon encouraged users to use the Price Check before buying anything in a brick-and-mortar store to ensure they get “the lowest prices year-round.”

“We are enabling customers to use the Price Check app to share in-store prices while they search for the best deals,” said Sam Hall, director of Amazon Mobile, in a press release. “This is a powerful opportunity for customers to get involved and ensures Amazon customers get the best possible prices.”

The one-day sale and the emphasis on going to local stores for the sole reason of comparing prices to Amazon annoyed Sheridan. Hurting local businesses means fewer local jobs, he said.

“These stores pay our local property taxes, which supports our schools and our police and fire,” Sheridan said. “But it is a mistake to just focus on the property taxes. It's also all the jobs that go along with it.”

Sheridan encouraged consumers to have the item delivered to the store if buying online, because that still helps the local merchants. Amazon, meanwhile, has pulled out of Connecticut because it didn’t want to pay “its share” of taxes, and enjoys a “completely unfair advantage” because it doesn’t have to pay sales taxes, Sheridan said.

“The people need to think carefully before going online,” he said. “We really need to have a serious discussion about this in all the state capitals.”

A voicemail left on Amazon’s media line was not returned.

Pem McNerney (Editor) December 16, 2011 at 12:26 PM
In a community like Madison, where we are lucky enough to still have a thriving main street retail district, we should be particularly concerned about a large corporate entity that would turn our local businesses into a showcase for items it want to sell, at the expense of our local businesses. I don't mind shopping Amazon for items I can't obtain locally, but I won't be using the app.
Grizz December 16, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Madison would be the last place I would shop, Even their Stop And Shop is noted for inflated prices compared to others in the area Hair cuts to a night out for dinner,, hit the neighboring towns for a better deal.
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 16, 2011 at 06:52 PM
True about Stop and Shop. We did a column on that, noting that prices at the Stop and Shop in the next town over are lower. And there are hair salons on town that do charge a lot. Restaurants range from pricey to quite affordable. You can't beat the prices at the Madison Coffee Shop. Many of the merchants on Boston Post Road, have great prices, particularly during sales, that will beat some of what you'll see at area malls or even Amazon. There is also a fairness issue here, of Amazon encouraging people to browse at local stores (the ones paying for the bricks and mortar and taxes and employees) then they want to scoop up the sales. We're lucky to have a vibrant downtown. Guilford does as well. So do some other area towns. I'm hoping it stays that way.
Andrew Kaplan December 16, 2011 at 10:30 PM
A major expense for most businesses is "rent", a cost that is passed on to the consumer. Therefore higher rents translates to higher sticker prices. Years ago downtown Madison had a bike store, a pet store and a toy store. They are are gone, in no small part to cheaper prices offered by online merchants. I just bought a pair of running shoes from Sound Runner, happy to pay the extra $20 for a pair of shoes that fit well and match my running style. Many would purchase their second pair online. I won't as I value local merchants and happy to pay a reasonable price to instantly enjoy my purchase, support my local merchants, provide a job for local residents and send a few dollars to our local and state coffers. I for one don't want a downtown Madison to be a mere collection of real estate offices and coffee shops.
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 16, 2011 at 10:58 PM
Andrew, first off, thanks for bringing this Amazon app to our attention the other day in your column. And, good point about Sound Runner. I could get my shoes cheaper online or at a local outlet. But I go there and I get a shoe that fits correctly and takes the way I run in to account. I also can find out about local running groups, and I always enjoy talking with the owners or the people who work there. They know what they're selling. In that sense, it's a good deal.
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 16, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Also, Sound Runner is a primary sponsor of the annual Turkey Trot, and other races, that bring people from all over the state (and sometimes, country) to Madison. That not only helps them, it helps other local merchants as well. Didn't see Amazon.com on the sponsorship lists of any local events this year.
Andrew Kaplan December 16, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Excellent point.
Krams December 16, 2011 at 11:43 PM
OK. Who among this crowd does not or has not bought from Amazon? ever?
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 16, 2011 at 11:50 PM
I have. I even go to the mall sometimes. And the outlets too. But I always ask myself, can I get it in downtown Madison? If I can, I usually do. Not always, but I make an effort. And I flat out am not going to stroll in to R J Julia, say hello to the friendly staff, settle in to one of their comfortable chairs, peruse some books, then go home and buy them from Amazon. I'm not going to use the app anywhere. It's an insult to local businesses. That's the point here.


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