A Couple Of Whiffs For Amazon?

There’s a quote floating around that basically says that sluggers who take big swings strike out more often than singles hitters. One of the heavy hitters in the digital ballpark, Amazon, has been having a bad game.

The New York Times’ David Streitfeld reports this morning that the Kindle Fire is being lambasted by some reviewers on its own website, as well as influential outside techies such as usability expert Jakob Nielsen.

Among the problems cited are: “No external volume control. The off switch is easy to hit by accident. Web pages take a long time to load. There is no privacy on the device…. The touch screen is frequently hesitant and sometimes downright balky.”

That might be enough to put most consumer products on the bench. “But as a range of retailers and tech firms could tell you,” Streitfeld writes, “it would be foolish to underestimate Amazon.”

The product does carry an average of four stars from more than 4,700 reviews, has nearly 9,000 “likes” and the online retailer claims on its home page this morning that it is the “#1 most-gifted product on Amazon.” (Do you “gift” in your family? Just curious.) Piper Jaffrey analyst Gene Munster points out that 13% of the naysayers give the product a mere one star but says the figure has held steady since the product’s launch and predicts that its attractive price compared to the iPad will make it a winner in the long run.

The company itself is promising a software update within two weeks that will address some of the complaints and a new device will probably hit the checkout cart this spring.  But, warns Nielsen, who complains that the device, among other shortcomings, is unfriendly to people with fat fingers: “If that’s a failure, then the Fire is doomed to the dust pile of history.”

Amazon is also being called to task for what a headline in Forbes calls a “Rare Strategic Blunder Using Brilliant Tactic.” Contributor Nigam Arora writes that a promotion announced last week that gave 5% off (up to $5) on up to three qualifying items to customers who used its new smartphone Price Check app at a retailer Saturday is tactically brilliant on two levels.

First, “Without spending a dime, Amazon gets price comparison data, turning customers into unpaid spies.” It is also “in keeping with the age-old technique of giving people an incentive to use a new product.”

As a strategy, however, it may turn out to be as boneheaded as Microsoft’s aggressive tactics back in the day, which drew the ire of anti-monopoly watchdogs and the scrutiny of government bodies. “Some claim that this is the root cause for Microsoft lagging behind in search to Google, in phones and tablets to Apple, and in virtualization to VMWare,” Arora says.

It may, in fact, be just the miscue that Ye Olde Beleaguered Independent Booksellers everywhere have been waiting for to rally sympathetic consumers (but I doubt it).

The CEO of American Bookseller Association, the trade organization for independent bookstores, describes the program in an open letter as "the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries," Huffington Post’s Madeleine Crum reports.

Unwittingly, Amazon seems to have tapped into rising populist sentiments, too.

“The momentum of the anti-Amazon sentiment appears to be growing today, WebProNews’ Drew Bowling wrote Friday. “People have begun to marshal behind the Occupy movement to profess their anger and demand for change to Amazon’s predatory business strategy. There is an Occupy Amazon page on Facebook imploring consumers to boycott Amazon tomorrow…. A steady stream of supporters are gathering on Twitter with the hashtag #occupyamazon.”

And the politicians, of course, are not far behind.

“Amazon’s promotion -- paying consumers to visit small businesses and leave empty-handed -- is an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities,” Sen. Olympia Snowe (D-Maine) said in a statement over the weekend. “Small businesses are fighting every day to compete with giant retailers, such as Amazon, and incentivizing consumers to spy on local shops is a bridge too far.”

No, no, no –- you misunderstand our intent, Amazon seems to be saying in an emailed statement cited byBloomberg Businessweek’s Danielle Kucera. The app is for customers who are comparing prices in “major” retail chain stores, Amazon says, and includes prices from third-party sellers.

“The goal of the Price Check app is to make it as easy as possible for customers to access product information, pricing information, and customer reviews, just as they would on the Web,” Amazon says.

That’s a tough benefit to rally against.

1 comment about "A Couple Of Whiffs For Amazon?".
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  1. Theresa m. Moore from Antellus, December 12, 2011 at 1:55 p.m.

    Amazon has consistently failed to see the point in all its dealings. It's like someone walking into a store and selling the merchandise to customers without paying the store, and robbing honest small businesses of a livelihood.

    As for me, my books and ebooks were not available for sale on Amazon this last weekend. In fact, Amazon is notoriously bad at selling books, no matter how many devices it sells, so its reputation as a great bookseller is flawed by the fact that there are thousands of books and ebooks which never get sold on Amazon. So I didn't lose much sleep over it. I am contemplating the notion that there is no advantage to placing any future books on Amazon, as my sales through other devices have been much better. It's a case of Amazon's rep coming back to bite it as it continues to paint itself into a corner.

    The Fire, like all Kindles, is a closed system and basically operates like a shopping device for Amazon. But just try using it as a computer or to store data. It does not work like that, and the tech savvy give it a low rating for that reason.

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