Amazon: How the Grinch Stole Christmas Sales

Last weekend, Julie Bosman at the NY Times addressed a nefarious shopping trend that’s plaguing bookstores: “showrooming.” The term means browsing in a brick-and-mortar store, finding a book you like, and then using your smartphone to buy it online, and “probably at a steep discount from the bookstores’ archrival, Amazon.com.”

Bosman isn’t just pointing fingers at the e-commerce giant; she’s got figures to back her up.

“According to [a] survey, conducted in October by the Codex Group, a book market research and consulting company, 24 percent of people who said they had bought books from an online retailer in the last month also said they had seen the book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore first.

Thirty-nine percent of people who bought books from Amazon in the same period said they had looked at the book in a bookstore before buying it from Amazon, the survey said.”

Now, with the holiday shopping season upon us, Amazon has announced they’re taking $5 off purchases that are scanned in brick-and-mortar stores via their Price Check app for smartphones. “While Amazon’s applications and its $5 incentive can be viewed as friendly to consumers, physical retailers will see it only one way — as an attack,” writes Tricia Duryee at AllThingsD.com.

Amazon is a business, and they’ll do what’s best for their bottom line. But consumers shouldn’t undermine independent businesses by helping larger companies snipe their sales. Showrooming isn’t bargain hunting, it’s taking advantage of the careful curation and expertise of booksellers and other small business.

It is difficult — if not impossible — for independent booksellers to compete with Amazon’s prices. And it’s difficult for shoppers — especially during the holiday season — to turn down a deal. But when we do our Christmas shopping, we should think of this not just as the season of giving, but as the season of giving a shit. Because when we buy from an independent bookseller, we’re supporting a community that actually cares about books and that’s the real bottom line.

For those looking for the convenience of online shopping, check out the website of your local indie bookseller (Manhattan’s McNally Jackson, for example, offers in-store pick-up, will hand deliver anywhere in lower manhattan for free, or fed-ex for anywhere else). You can also buy eBooks through many indie bookshops, like Word Brooklyn and Greenlight. Powell’s is also a great resource with a vast selection (we link to them in every book review we publish).

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— Benjamin Samuel is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. He spends too much time online and doesn’t need to do his shopping there.

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