Amazon Will Give You 5% Off for Price Checking Saturday: But Is It Fair?

by Carrie Kirby on 9 December 2011 8 comments
Photo: Jamiriquai

Amazon is offering shoppers 5% off on purchases this Saturday — December 10 — if they use the retailer's Price Check app on the same product in a brick and mortar store. (See also: 16 Best Mobile Shopping Apps for Your Phone)

This effectively means that Amazon is trying to get customers who walk into a store intending to buy, say, a Barbie Cruise Ship, to leave the store and buy on Amazon instead. The program also encourages shoppers to inform Amazon of the prices that other retailers are charging for the items they look up. Shoppers can get a 5% discount on up to three items Saturday, with a maximum discount of $5 per item.

Some small business owners are outraged.

"The Amazon promotion encourages consumers to take the resources of their local businesses in order to save themselves money and allow Amazon to profit,” said Katherine O. McHenry, shopkeeper at Building Blocks Toy Store in Chicago.

As McHenry sees it, Amazon is encouraging customers to use local stores as a showroom only.

"I think consumers have a responsibility to 'buy it where they try it,'” McHenry said.

McHenry is not alone — retailer associations nationwide have decried Amazon's move.

Then there is the fact that Amazon asks — but doesn't require — customers to tell them what other stores are charging.

"With every in-store price you share, you help insure our prices remain competitive for our customers,” Amazon says.

Is it nice to ask your customers to spy on the competition? Then again, Amazon's prices are always right out there for everyone to see, so maybe they feel that turnabout is fair play.

What do you think of this promotion? It's surely a boon to shoppers to be able to get up to $15 off holiday shopping this weekend. And despite McHenry's understandable frustration, it's not as if comparison shopping is a new thing. Apps like Amazon's Price Check just make it a lot easier.

Do you feel any responsibility to the store where you physically checked out an item? What if the staff spends time demonstrating the item or helping you figure out what you need? Is it different if you visit the showroom of a national chain versus a local shop? Is there something inherently evil or crass about using a price check app? 

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Personally, I feel like it's tacky to go to a local store to see or play with a specific item, knowing that I intend to buy it elsewhere. I wouldn't waste the staff's time with questions if that was my intention. But my goodwill towards local business only goes so far — if I browse in a local shop and happen to see something I like, I'm not going to say I won't buy it online months later. And if I'm browsing at a national chain, all bets are off.

I have used price check apps in stores, but only large chain stores. I recently pulled out my Droid and used the ShopSavvy app at Kohl's to check the price of that Barbie Cruise Ship I mentioned. At the time, Kohl's sale price beat Amazon's — and I had a 20% off coupon besides, so using the app helped me buy in confidence.

But I don't know if I would use that same app in a local toy store. I would probably be embarrassed that the owner would see me.

Price-Checking Apps

If you aren't afraid to price compare at will, here are the smartphone apps that make it possible:

Amazon Price Check

For Android and iPhone, free. Scan a barcode, snap a photo, or say the item's name, and the app will tell you what Amazon charges for it.

ShopSavvy Bar Code Scanner

For Android and iPhone, free. Scan the barcode, and the app will attempt to tell you what the item sells for online and in nearby physical locations. I say "attempt," because I have not successfully had ShopSavvy find me an item in a nearby store. It found the item at the store I was in, but the price was wrong. 

Google Shopper

For Android and iPhone, free. Point your phone at a barcode, or the cover of a book or DVD, and Google will search for price comparisons from online merchants.

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Guest's picture
Craig

I don't see any moral difference between using a price check app at a local store vs. a national chain. Either you respect the personal attention and overhead they have put in to their store or you don't. I personally do appreciate the ability to try out or inspect a product before I buy, and also to ask questions to a helpful store employee.

Trying something out in the store and then running home to buy it online also negates one of the biggest benefits of buying online, not having to actually go to the store.

Guest's picture

Just because Amazon is offering 5% off with this app doesn't mean you would get the best price on Amazon. If I price check at a major retailer (Kohls, JCPenney, etc), I would also be able to use the current coupon being offered at that store (save 15 or 20%). The scanned price wouldn't reflect the coupon, so the Amazon price would still be more.

Since Amazon never gives percent off coupon codes and they don't participate with cash-back shopper rebate sites, this is their way of competing. For the savvy shopper, sometimes Amazon has the lower price and sometimes a brick and mortar store has the lowest price. As the consumer, it is up to me to decide where the best place is for me to purchase an individual item. I check out every angle before I make any purchase - this is just one more promotional tool. It is NOT the end of fair competition.

Every retailer has their own strengths, and I end up shopping at them all to get the best deal on the individual item I am looking for. This deal would NOT cause me to make all of my purchases at Amazon this weekend. In fact, I purchased a Kindle on Black Friday at Staples because of a special promotion, and I plan to purchase another one at Target this weekend (they have a coupon for a $10 gift card with a $50 purchase). Kindles don't go on sale, but the savvy shopper can find some type of a deal if they look hard enough. Kindle is an Amazon product, but this 5% off still doesn't make Amazon the best place to purchase it!

Guest's picture
Megan

I did this same thing the "old fashioned" way. I went on Amazon.com before I left the house, and went to check the big box store to see if the price was better online or off. I didn't know about the price comparison app, but I'm not surprised that there is one (or rather, several).

I wouldn't have any qualms using a price comparison app in a big chain store, but I would have a problem doing the same thing in a local shop. I don't know if that's "right" or "wrong," but I know that it's true for me.

Guest's picture
cherie

Despite angry interviews on the radio from mom and pop owners, there is actually nothing either unfair or immoral about comparison shopping. Small local stores can cry that it is unfair that big business can undercut them but they are free to provide added value in some way that works for them, otherwise going out of business is just the free market at work.

The real issue that I keep hearing from the media is that it's unfair somehow that Amazon is somehow using shoppers to 'spy' and compare prices. There's really nothing unfair about that either. It's like the grocery store shoppers who have occasionally reported harassment by a store that sees them writing down prices in a price book.

What *I* think is wrong is a store being hostile to a customer who is considering price their ultimate deciding factor. Stepping into a store doesn't obligate me to buy EVERYTHING I might want to buy there. It only obligates me to behave civilly and not steal anything.

I also agree that it is foolish to differentiate between using a price comparison app at a big store or a local small one - they may not have useful barcodes, but if they do there's no reason not to behave the same way. You can STILL choose to make a more expensive purchase at the small shop for your own reasons. Maybe you appreciate the service. Maybe you want to support them so they'll be there when you need a last minute gift RIGHT NOW. Maybe you want to avoid the ecological impact of shipping and boxing your gift. Whatever. YOUR choice.

Guest's picture
Gilded Thrones

It's so refreshing to see a voice of reason on the internet. Thank you. I also agree with you, it isn't like physical stores can't get online and check Amazon's (or any other retailers) prices.

Don't Quit Your Day Job's picture

It's actually funny in a "this won't end well" sort of way. Some of the heavy hitters - Walmart and Best Buy, for example, already complain that Amazon gets the purchases from in-store product tests (on top of not having to charge sales tax at the point of sale). Since those stores collect the money up front, they have the political clout Amazon lacks in the states. It'll be interesting to watch Amazon's ground game, but expect hugely increased lobbying costs in the next few years...

Guest's picture
Guest

Car dealers have been dealing with this for years.

Go for a test drive, then find the best price by (in the old days) calling around.

Why was that OK, but this isn't?

Guest's picture
Mary

I don't have a problem with running into a store, looking at an item on a shelf, and reporting that number to Amazon.

I won't waste a clerk's time though when I know I intend to buy elsewhere.

If you're shopping for things where a showroom is important, you need to think twice about leaving just to buy online. Those showrooms won't be around (and many have already left - just try buying fine china and silver tableware at a brick and mortar store) if we won't support them.