by Erin Mitchell
I want to be crystal clear right up front: I believe that local, independent businesses are the lifeblood of communities around the world.
Amazon has generated quite a lot of noise this week. If you missed it, they have been vilified by many for a campaign that gives people a discount of 5% if you use their “price check” mobile app on December 10. To get the discount, consumers need to go into a store, scan an item in a qualifying category, place said item into their Amazon shopping cart, and buy it within 24 hours. The maximum discount per item is $5 and it can be used on a maximum of three items, so there’s a grand total of $15 per person on the table.
Book folks heard about this promotion and many immediately flew into a furor. “Amazon is out to kill local independent bookstores!” they cried. Funny thing is, the promo does not apply to books. The “qualifying categories” are Electronics, Toys, Sports, Music, and DVDs.
My initial reaction to this promotion was that it is, quite simply, a brilliant marketing tactic. And let’s be clear: it is only a marketing tactic. Washington State is famous for serial killers and I have no doubt that if anyone ever digs up the Amazon HQ parking lot, they’ll find the bodies of those Amazon has buried there, but this is not a calculated move on the part of Amazon to kill independent bookstores.
All the noise that book folks have created around this promotion only serves to help Amazon’s cause. Thousands—if not millions—of people who might have been otherwise blissfully unaware of the promo now know about it because of those who have bemoaned it. Interestingly, some of the most vitriolic responses I’ve seen to the promotion have come from those who love their Nooks to pieces; in case you hadn’t noticed, Barnes & Noble is also a huge national conglomerate/chain.
I’ve seen varying numbers, but the reality is that when you spend money with a local retailer, far more of it stays in the local community. According to the 3/50 Project, $68 of every $100 spent in local retailers stays in the local community, versus just $43 of every $100 spent at national chains. According to the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center, “$44 [of every $100] spent locally stays in the local economy, while only $20 of every $100 spent in nonlocal businesses does.” The numbers from the New Rules Project are even more dramatic, with $44 of every $100 spent locally staying local with only $14 spent in franchises or chains staying local.
But here’s the rub:
Amazon is not the devil. They’re just another huge company, like Wal-Mart, McDonalds and Target, none of whom care about helping local communities thrive. They don’t give a crap about anything except getting as much of consumers’ cash as possible. In case you hadn’t noticed, times are tough, and the reality is that most people need to make each dollar, euro or pound stretch as far as possible. Amazon is also a reality. They’re not going away. If you really don’t want to support them, then for heaven’s sake, don’t give them your share of voice.
Yesterday I ate lunch at Lonni’s, a fantastic local sandwich shop that’s as far from a chain or franchise as you can get. As I type this, I’m wearing jeans that were purchased in a (now defunct) local shop. And I’m using a computer that I bought on Amazon. Like most people, I’m a hybrid consumer. And books? I buy those from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and local independent bookstores. As a reader, I see that Amazon serves an important purpose for people who live in more remote areas, many of whom don’t have access to an independent bookstore.
So…what’s the Big Marketing Lesson in all this? Here you go:
Doing something that people talk about is smart marketing, even when it’s controversial. With this promotion, Amazon has highlighted their most important key brand attribute (they’re cheap) with something that has generated deafening noise and likely won’t cost them more than a couple grand (because there’s more than enough fine print to keep redemption rates super low).