Amazon's 'Evil' Price-Check App Spurs Backlash

Amazon's 'Evil' Price-Check App Spurs Backlash

Amazon may be the internet's biggest retailer, but it is learning that it needs to be careful about how it throws its weight around.

Last year, the internet retailer released a "Price Check" smartphone app, which seems innocent enough.

But this year, the company launched a campaign urging consumers to find products at local stores, search for them on the app (by bar code, photo or name) in order order to display how much (cheaper) the item was on Amazon ... and receive a discount of up to $15 on as many as three items.

You might say it kindled a backlash.

Amazon Is Under Fire

Entities of all sizes are coming out against Amazon's "evil," "bare-knuckles" tactics, from Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine to high-profile writers such as Stephen King. The prevailing argument is that Amazon is waging war on small businesses that anchor their towns and provide a shopping experience beyond a series of mouse clicks. Bookstore owner Lacy Simons, as quoted in Richard Russo's New York Times op-ed, puts her perspective particularly well:

"Amazon asks you to take advantage of my knowledge and my education (which I’m still paying for) and treat the space I rent, the heat and light I pay for, the insurance policies I need to be here, the sales tax I gather for the state, the gathering place I offer, the books and book culture I believe in so much that I’ve wagered everything on it” as if it were “a showroom for goods you can just get more cheaply through them.”

There's certainly a sense of Little Red Riding Book vs. the Big Bad Wolf about the whole thing, and it's a reality check to realize that the sheep we've been supporting is actually a wolf.

But is Amazon really the wolf? One could argue that while not supporting small businesses, they're operating in favor of the consumer. Aren't lower prices what we want?

Maybe. But the cheapest option isn't always the best option for our money. Is it more valuable to spend time browsing the shelves of a brick-and-mortar store, likely complete with store cat, or to have your book of choice arrive at a rock-bottom price on your doorstep?

The jury is still out on that one.

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