Open Wounds

Lemonade and the Predatory Lemmings of Pricing (part 1)

Okay. This is a long entry but stay with me. I want to hear what you think.

So I checked out the fuss about Amazon and their predatory price app.

Let me see if I get this straight.

You go into a store and scan the bar code of a product using your cell-phone and get a comparison price from Amazon. And, you get an additional 5% (about $15 off a $300 dollar order) discount on your order. And you send the location of the store to Amazon.

Do I like the way it sounds? Not really. Is there anything anybody can do about this? Not really. Is it legally predatory pricing and therefore able to be stopped by a court of law? For example is Amazon purposely going to sell their products at below cost in order to steal customers? No. Not, as far as all I have read.

So what is going on around here? Is this capitalism at its best? Am I a socialist? Do I want the best product to win at the lowest price?

I’ve been trying to figure out what this could mean to independent booksellers. You know, how pissed off should they be over this for it seems many are pretty pissed off.

Let me take apart the two sentences above.

You go into a store and scan the bar code of a product using your cell-phone and get a comparison price from Amazon. And, you get an additional 5% (about $15 off a $300 dollar order). And you send the location of the store to Amazon. 

1. Amazon is telling people to go into stores to compare prices. Now that doesn’t sound too bad to me. Go into a bookstore and scan a book price in to get a comparison price. Go walk or drive or take mass transit, journey to a book store – a bricks and mortar store, in person – walk in the front door and search for a book you want to buy, passing impulse purchases along the way, maybe talking to a bookseller on your way to finding the book, maybe having a latte if there’s a café attached to the bookstore, look at the price, scan it and comparison shop. I don’t know about you but so far I’m good with this operation. Anything that gets a customer into a bookstore is a good thing. Come in out of the rain. Rest tired feet while paging through a current bestseller by a window seat. Comparison shop. If they’re in the store they can buy from you. If they’re sitting at home on their sofa surfing the internet they can’t. So chalk one up for Amazon for pushing people into stores where they can breathe in the aroma of books and be confronted by your your flotilla of warm, friendly, and knowledgable booksellers.

2. If you want the lower priced product then order it from Amazon and they’ll send it to you in a few days, maybe longer depending on delivery method. Okay. So again. I’m not sure Amazon has a winner here. It’s a week before christmas and I’m in a store with a product I want to buy as a gift in my hands and I can either take that product home with me right now – have instant gratification – and cross off another gift on my list of gifts to get for the holidays or I can order it from Amazon for a reduced price, maybe a few dollars, but it may not make it here by christmas and I won’t know for sure until it’s in my hands delivered to me by UPS or the postal service. I can’t help but think most people will pay the few extra bucks and leave the store with the product. I’ve probably spent the extra bucks anyway on either gas or mass transit getting to the store in the first place. If I’m an independent bookstore I’m still liking this deal.

3. So let’s say that you go the Amazon way and buy the book online from them at a reduced price. Forget about the gas you spent money on to get there, or the transit fare, or the travel time. You want your discount so you get it. You still have to get out of the store, the wonderfully friendly, beautifully designed, warm with coffee smell permeating the air independent bookstore, with staff who know book lists backwards and forwards and who can recommend and sell the book socks off your feet. Go ahead. Try to leave the store without picking up a stocking stuffer. A game maybe? A bookmark? Reading glasses? Book light? Mr. Potato Head?

Go ahead. Make my independent booksellers’ day.

Am I looking at this the wrong way or what?

5 responses

  1. Joe, good points, I hope you’re right that Amazon’s ploy will end up inadvertently promoting independent shops.

    December 19, 2011 at 9:57 am

    • I feel like Amazon is playing right into independent bookseller’s hands, right to their strength. People already know they can get it cheaper at Amazon. So I don’t think that’s the issue. But to get people who have never been in an indi bookstore before to price check – how can that be bad? Bookstores are the coolest places in the world (outside of rugby pitches and fencing salles) and some folks are definitely going to find that out upon a visit. I think, trust the strengths of the bookstores.

      December 19, 2011 at 11:08 am

  2. Hmm. I’m not sure it will end up working out that way, but then again, I can’t really conceive of the kind of person who would be in a bookstore, and scanning shit with their phone, in the name of saving a few bucks. Discounts are not really free. Shipping, even free shipping, is not really free. As you say, you’re already there, why not buy the book?

    December 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    • Perhaps I have too much faith in human beings. Or lots of faith in the beauty and attraction of a bookstore. Amazon’s biggest advantage is price and the ability to shop from your sofa while eating grapes. Bricks and Mortar stores biggest advantages are live flesh and blood booksellers, the physical texture of books, and the attraction of the social experience of shopping in a bookstore (ie: the ability to develop relationships with people as opposed to a computer which is not very good at relationship building – even social networks need people!). Once someone is off the sofa and in the store the advantage shifts to the bookstore.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      • Oh I don’t know, I think you’re right to keep that faith. It’s better than the alternative. And there certainly are people whose consciousness is elevated to that level, they’re the ones worth knowing. Maybe I’m just jaded because of where I live, I don’t know. It may also be a product of my not spending as much time in cool, independent bookstores as I have in record shops. I would never buy my records on the internet.

        December 19, 2011 at 8:01 pm

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