Should Christians use Amazon’s Price Check app?

I hate having to be mad at Amazon. I hated having to boycott them for a bit last year. And I hate having to tsk-tsk them now. Because I love Amazon. For so many reasons.

Amazon has been nothing if not a true friend to writers and readers alike. For writers, they offer seemingly endless shelf space and open up distribution channels that were unheard of just a few years ago. For readers, they’ve offered hard-to-find titles at hard-to-beat prices. They’ve even created products so we can buy their books faster and cheaper. Imagine that!

But like most fine American companies, every now and again, they overstep it a bit, moving from ingenious capitalistic competitors to rub-your-nose-in-it schoolyard bullies. Which is what happened a few weeks ago when Amazon launched a new Price Check app.

The bully part isn’t the app itself (after all, it’s easy enough to price check using our phones and it’s usually a good guess that Amazon will have it cheaper). The bully part was the promotion of the app. On one Saturday Amazon encouraged customers to go to stores, use the price check on that store's products, which would then earn the customer credit if they bought the product from Amazon.

While retailers have a long history of sending out “secret shoppers” to check out the prices and products of the competition, Amazon has taken this a bit further. Understand what Amazon was asking: they wanted their customers - not employees - to head out, in the crowds, in the cold, use the Price Check app to gather data for Amazon (a stated purpose of the app) and then buy the product from Amazon to get a 5% credit.

Not only did Amazon want its own customers to go to work for them, but they wanted to make others - shopkeepers or sales people available to answer questions, point to products - to work for them.

Using loyal customers, teasing the competition. All for kicks and profits. Not nice.

In her book, "The Christian Consumer" (conveniently link to Amazon!), Laura Hartman writes, “Consumers should not use the showrooms, free advice and customer service of a brick-and-mortar store, only to go home and order the same items for less money on the Internet.” Hartman cites Martin Luther’s “neighbor love” criteria for ethical shopping because this “shows little compassion for the seller.”

And I think this is right on here. While certainly Christians should be mindful of good stewardship and not “overpaying” when we don’t have to - and while certainly shopping around and price checking are good things - we should also be mindful of how we love our neighbors as we live out good stewardship.

Amazon’s little “promotion” - turning its loyal customers into worker bees, making a game out of proving Amazon has the cheapest prices - doesn’t seem like neighbor love to me. Not if shopkeepers get excited by an influx of customers, not if sales people spend time assisting folks who use them to earn credit.

Of course, Amazon isn’t the only one guilty of this. I’ve done it - the sort of “shop tease” Hartman writes about. And I’ve done it in the name of “good stewardship.” But just like Amazon, this is taking it too far. After all, Jesus didn’t say that saving money was the most important command. Love was. Love is.

Maybe I’m being naive here, but just as I think there’s room in this world for the brick-and-mortar booksellers and the Amazons, I also believe there’s a way we can be good, mindful stewards who show love. By appreciating that value isn’t reflected only in the price of a product, but also in the cost of an experience.

 

Comments (12)

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I just don't get it. I generally, go in the other direction for big purchases. I do a bunch of on-line research. Sometimes I read what Amazon says about a product. Are you saying that I don't "love" Amazon if I go over to Best Buy after Amazon took the time to write a description "helping me" in my decision?

When I buy a car I usually pick a year and model first and then shop for price. Are you really saying that I'm obligated to the first dealer I go for a test drive with?

When I go to Mexico and shop for a hat is it un-Christian to point at another vendor and say "Can you beat his price?"

I believe we all need to be much more charitable but I don't think that means we should should abandon our wit.
Using Price Check? I guess it's okay, though I'm among those who thinks that it's a lousy promotion. I'm not legalistic enough to call it sin, but it's classless, at least.

I agree completely about the abuse of shop owners, though. Employees put a lot of work into helping customers, and I can tell you how frustrating it is when the person takes all of your advice and information then leaves to go order online. Five years in retail burned this into my heart.

While Amazon serves a purpose, I much prefer my local stores which keep most of the money I spend local. Yes, I pay more than if I went to even the big boxes, but I've never seen Amazon sponsor a local Little League team, run a food and toy drive, or put up a Make-A-Wish donation bucket to help the community.
We are in a rapidly changing economy. I don't believe it is our Christian duty to salvage the jobs of store owners and workers. Head's up brick-and-mortar owners - better get a price match policy together.
My major issue with Amazon is that they have an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar stores which isn't even reflected in the Price Check app, but which every consumer is bound to know about regardless; when most of us are at brick-and-mortar stores, we know we need to mentally add 6-10% to the price of any product to account for sales tax.

Did your city or county have to cut public school budgets this year? Did it lay off teachers, firefighters, or police officers? Did it turn off streetlights at night in order to save money, or cut back on maintenance of parks? Are the lines at the DMV longer because there are fewer people working? Is your child in a classroom of 40 kids, or at a school without a nurse or a librarian?

In part, people buying from Amazon—and other online retailers—are to blame for that, since the Supreme Court has ruled that those retailers aren't required to charge you the sales tax you'd be charged at a brick-and-mortar store unless they have a physical presence in your state.

Technically, in most states, you still owe the tax—which is generally called a "use tax" instead of a "sales tax"—but you have to tally up and declare it on your state income tax form yourself, something the vast majority of people don't do and that we don't generally talk about.

It's a guilty little secret of ours—a secret guarded well by online retailers like Amazon, who strongly resist online sales taxes—that we're dodging our responsibility to our states and localities by buying online and not paying taxes to fund things we all need.

Until online retailers are required to collect local sales taxes for the buyer's jurisdiction, I'm not going to be installing the Price Check app on my phone.
Classless indeed. Amazon's app reminds me of the time I chaperoned a group of young people to Europe: in one town Rottenburg-on-der-Taueber, famous for its Christmas shops, one of the kids took photographs of displays/ornaments "so I won't have to buy anything."  He couldn't understand why the shopkeeper was angry at him.
Focus on the environmental impact of shopping from home vs a brick and mortar store. Focus on the impact of self-employed individuals or small businesses who are utilizing Amazon to make a living. Focus on the large retailers that are squeezing profits out of vendors, paying employees minimum wage & offering anything BUT a "local experience. 

Whichever focus you take here, you'll come with a different opinion on the Amazon App promotion. 

You can argue that the promotion doesn't promote "neighbor love." But this post assumes one set of neighbors without loving another.
I'm a Best Buy employee and when you see exactly how much money stores make on certain products you would understand why we don't price match online.  The stores would and do lose money with price matches because of online stores.

I make less money than most people on welfare.  But you're right, why help me continue to be a valuable part of society and help me make money so I can pay my bills? 

But really, thanks for your comment...
*Rothenburg*
Interesting. I need to think about these issues more.
You know the App could backfire and allow the sales guys in the B&M stores to price match or throw add ons not with the Amazon price. It is what I would do. Yeah they might lose a bit in the overhead at first. But I like knowing I can bring a product back to a bricks and mortar store with flesh and blood people who live in my town even if the products weren't made here. I like Amazon for hard to find books but that's about it for me.

 

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