Monday, December 19, 2011

Intents and Purposes

I like bargains and brake for thirty-percent-off sales, but the Amazon mobile price-comparison app bugs me. (It bugs a lot of people, and Amazon triggered outrage when it offered a one-day-only bounty of five-percent off the price of an item scanned at a brick-and-mortar store but bought through Amazon: Check out this. Then, for the sake of fairness, read this, too.)

At first, I couldn't figure out what I disliked about the app's concept. After all, I shop online and regularly compare prices at a handful of sites before clicking "purchase now." I check grocery-store circulars before I head to my neighborhood HEB or Kroger's and frequently visit both in the same week. (Neither is far, so I'm not racking up miles in the car to save a dime.) I believe in comparison shopping.

What's more, I've cooed about my Amazon Prime membership in this space and love my Kindle.

So, what the heck irks me about Amazon's price-comparison app?

I suspect consumers who go into brick-and-mortar stores, pick up items, and scan them into the app have no intention of buying from the stores they entered. Their visits are made simply to trigger lower prices from Amazon. Yet, those same consumers eyeball, try out, even fondle the items in question. Employee of the stores may answer questions and demonstrate features.

Granted it's the employees' job to answer questions and demonstrate features. When Hubs and I went shopping for a new refrigerator, we visited at least three brick-and-mortar stores before we bought at a fourth. At each, we questioned salespeople, opened and closed fridge doors, checked butter compartments, and examined finishes. In retrospect, did we waste salespeople's time at three out of four stores? Yes, but our intention at each was to buy there if we found the right fridge at the right price. Intention matters.

Amazon's price-comparison app caters to consumers who do little or no prior research and price-checking, and it sends them into brick-and-mortar stores they have little or no intention of patronizing,

Give me Prime membership and the Kindle, Amazon. Keep your app. I'm a bargain-hunter, not a jerk.


Lark Howard said...

I totally agree with you, Pat! The cost of maintaining a physical store is much higher than an e-store, and customers who need the touch factor (me!!!) should buy where they get that experience. Shopping in a store and buying from Amazon for a 5% savings has the same emotional impact for me as a diner who stiffs a good waiter in a restaurant. Some things just aren't right or fair and this app is one of them!

Karen McFarland said...

Wow Pat.

I almost sounds like Amazon has people working for them for free. Think about it. People go out to the store for free and price check for them. Hmmm. Maybe that's pretty smart of Amazon. Sneaky, but smart.

Sheila Seabrook said...

Wow, this is the first I've heard of this practice. Now I can't help but wonder how soon before B&N and the other online shops pick this up and modify it for their own use. Sheesh.

Kecia Adams said...

Amazon has a vast team of people re-inventing retail shopping. If their aim is to put brick & mortar out of business, then they are succeeding in some respects. I completely agree about intention--something I am trying hard to instill in my teenage daughters!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
"Showrooming" is the word for shopping in a physical store and buying online. By the time a practice inspires a word of its own, you know that practice is entrenched. You're right: stiffing a "showroom" store is like stiffing a waiter. As my dad used to say: "If you can't afford to tip the waiter, you can't afford to eat out."

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Karen, you described the situation perfectly. Anyone with the app becomes a mystery shopper willing to supply Amazon with data about competitors' prices. One writer referred to app users as "Spies with droids." It's smart of Amazon in terms of data gathering, but is it smart in terms of how the retail giant is perceived?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Sheila,
This must be one of those "stay tuned" moments for retailers.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Kecia, the lessons we try to teach teenagers might not be absorbed this year or even this decade. Eventually, they'll take hold.

As you can tell, I couldn't shake off yesterday's Industry News post.

Louise Behiel said...

last I checked we couldn't use it in Canada, but I haven't looked for awhile. I couldn't be bothered to run around comparing prices. I'd be doing that on home and online. Not by running around to stores.

I've never heard the term Showrooming' before. interesting. sheesh

LynNerdKelley said...

You make an excellent point, Pat. Also, when people handle books at the brick & mortar stores, they get a bit damaged unless the handlers are extra careful. If the books don't sell within a specified time (I believe it's 3 months usually), they're sent back to the publisher. If the book doesn't look brand new, looks like it's been messed with, the publisher can't turn around and sell it, except maybe to a discount store? So your comment about not being a jerk rings true.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Sheesh is my reaction, too, Louise.

Your new phone will keep you busy and out of trouble. No apps needed.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lynn,
Books for children, like your McChiller books, must be especially vulnerable to handling. I can imagine kids grabbing them and accidentally ripping page corners. Why did I never realize that before?

aroseisarose said...

Oh, capitalism!

I think this is worth a read:

And a question: would everyone be so up in arms about this if it was a small company's app rather than Amazon's?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, A rose,
Thanks for the link to Cinda Baxter's blog post. I read it and mostly agreed with it.

I don't think Jeff Bezos is evil.(Genius? Yes. Evil? No.) I also don't think the app and the December 10 bounty-for-scanning discount qualify as "one of the smartest marketing moves ever" because it has the potential to backfire big-time on Amazon. Already, Olympia Snowe and other legislators are calling for Amazon to collect sales tax on purchases made in their states. That demand would have been made eventually, but the December 10 promotion revved things up. Why? Too many people viewed that promotion as unsporting.

Since reading Cinda's article. I realize, sigh, I'm guilty of keeping Amazon's name out there. And, since I linked to the app in my post, Cinda would say I'm guilty of helping Bezos turn this blog's readers into an army of Amazon secret shoppers. Gah! I hate being a tool, but writers are taught to "show, not tell," and that's why I showed the app.

Size matters. People would NOT be up in arms about the price-comparison app if behemoth Amazon weren't promoting it--and if Amazon hadn't offered a discount to consumers who went into brick and mortar stores, scanned items, and relayed the info. to Amazon. If I'm going to spy, I'll do it for the CIA. Which do you think is bigger: Amazon or the CIA?

Thank you, A rose, for reading and commenting on my post. You are my favorite Older Daughter, and I look forward to discussing the-giant-online-retailer-who-can-not- be-named at the holiday table. Mom