Bargain-hunting shoppers had a handy tool in their pockets this past holiday season: Amazon.com's "Price Check" smartphone app.
In a click, the app allowed shoppers to scan the barcode on goods for sale locally and see how the Amazon.com price compared. For some, the app meant a bargain. But for others, it meant an attack on small businesses and a detriment to American communities.
Jasmine Johnson of Brooklyn, NY, granddaughter of the founders of the nation’s oldest African American-owned bookstore—San Francisco and Oakland’s Marcus Books—launched a campaign on Change.org to "stop the 'Price Check' assault on small businesses." Bargain hunting is one thing, but Johnson spotted that Amazon.com was offering discounts to consumers who scanned locally and then bought the product on the Amazon website instead.
Call for public repudiation and apology
"Small, local retailers are having a tough enough time without being preyed upon by huge corporations," wrote Johnson in the petition. "I'm calling on Amazon to publicly repudiate and apologize for this race-to-the-bottom promotion."
Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eileen Banisch agrees that the Price Check app seems like unfair competition.
"We are jeopardizing the future of locally-owned businesses in this country," she said. "While I believe that competition is good for business, small town's brick-and-mortar establishments often can't compete against the enormous buying power of companies like Amazon. If this continues to escalate, Amazon could put so many stores out of business that consumers won't have anyone with whom they can compare Amazon's prices."
"It's like a cancer on the community"
Thomas "Tony" Sheridan, president and ceo of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern CT, agreed. When he found out about it several weeks ago, he says he alerted his local merchants and "raised a bit of hell about it." The chamber has had a "buy local" campaign for several years.
"This [Amazon.com app] is basically unfair and potentially damaging to the people who have open doors, who have bricks and mortar in our communities," he said. "It's like a cancer on the community. This is a state that relies heavily on property taxes. Those are taxes that pay for schools, and the fire departments and other services. If you disrupt that revenue stream, which Amazon seems intent on doing, it's very damaging."
He said it adds "insult to injury" that Amazon has cut ties with Connecticut websites rather than pay a new state tax, as reported recently in the New Haven Register.
Chamber president exploring possibility of a boycott of Amazon.com
"Rather than work with the state of Connecticut, they've moved out," he said.
Sheriden says he is looking forward to the next meeting a Connecticut chamber of commerce group, where he will talk with eight other chamber presidents about initiating a boycott of Amazon.com.
"I'm intent on bringing it up and asking them to ask members and the public to not shop Amazon, to boycott Amazon," he said. "I know it would be hard, but doing nothing is not the answer."
Petition has more than 11,500 signatures
The petition has already garnered more than 11,500 signatures.
A central argument in the debate about local businesses versus national online retailers is that companies like Amazon.com fail to "contribute to local economies in nearly the same way that small businesses do," Johnson emphasized.
Until recently, Amazon.com had been resistant to collecting out-of-state sales taxes, allowing the site to sell items more cheaply than brick-and-mortar businesses.
Did you use Amazon.com's "Price Check" app? Do you think the company should apologize to small businesses and refrain from such strategies in the future? Take the poll and share your thoughts in the comments.