Capitalism in the Amazon

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I should start by saying I agree with Capitalism. I feel it adheres to the competitive nature of human beings. But, I also believe that within competition there exists a need for sportsmanship. It keeps people being a thing I came to know in my youth as a “good sport.” This ideal kept us playing by the rules and taught us modesty in defeat. In loss we learned to not blame others on our team, or to whine about being out-matched. We were taught that if we wanted to win, we had to be better. We had to outperform and we had to do so cleanly, and within the rules. It wasn’t cool to play dirty.

The world of business is no different. Except in business there is no such thing as being “good enough,” because there is always a bigger, more recognizable fish around to eat you. It is not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose - or at least survive long enough to keep playing. Corporations, however, always have the Home Field Advantage.

This isn’t to say that in fair-minded areas brick & mortar shops don’t thrive. Plenty of independent coffee shops, restaurants and book stores do very well. Many within walking distance of my front door. Their business models share a common thread: offering an intimate and personal experience to the customer. But, can this ideal thrive in an area where the underlying attitude is to ignore something that doesn’t have a recognizable brand? Is the world so saturated with brands that there is no more room for a new one? Brick & mortar companies definitely seem to do better in areas of higher social consciousness. I can’t remember the last time I looked at a branded item that didn’t come from a company I’ve known for fifteen or more years. Even at a place like City O City I can still order a Coke. [Update - 12.14.11 - Apparently, you cannot order a Coke at City O City. They offer only organic sodas. I stand corrected.]

Recently, Amazon.com offered discounts to people to go into brick & mortar stores and scan items using a smartphone app. The act itself seems harmless; Amazon has collected information in this way for years. It keeps Amazon apprised of pricing trends and allows them to offer lower prices. However, now they are offering discounts to people to NOT PURCHASE these scanned items – to instead use their discount to buy the same item from Amazon.

Remember how I said it’s not cool to play dirty? It is one thing to defeat the little guy by simply being bigger (re: The New York Yankees vs Any Other Ball Club), it is another thing to disregard the right to have a brick & mortar business in the first place. It comes down to the difference between studying the competition and sabotaging them. Plus, there is something incredibly rude and narcissistic about paying your customers to do so. If you take money from a corporation to sabotage a smaller, independent store, you stop being a consumer and start being a corporate mercenary. We might not be far from a day when a company offers us free ice cream to go out and commit arson - and sadly, we can't really blame Amazon for any of it.

While I don’t condone the treachery, Amazon knew people would take them up on the offer. They knew that it is in the hearts and minds of the people to go along with crushing the little guy to save a few bucks. People not only like to win, they like to be a part of winning – even when they have no specific loyalty to the team they’re playing for. Such is Capitalism, because such is Human Nature. But, it is also within Human Nature to recognize unfairness, and to stand up against tyrannical ideas. Before you scan an item for Amazon.com, remind yourself that a human being owns the store you’re standing in. Then ask yourself if five bucks is enough to crush their dreams.

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