More Money, More Problems For Amazon | KERA News

More Money, More Problems For Amazon

Jul 28, 2017
Originally published on August 9, 2017 6:29 pm

This week Amazon became the fourth company in the U.S. worth half a trillion dollars. The online retail giant is in the exclusive club with Apple, Microsoft and Google's parent company, Alphabet. Americans clearly love Amazon: one of every two dollars spent online goes to the e-retailing giant. But customers and lawmakers are also spending more time picking on Amazon these days. As the online shopping company branches out, it's rubbing some people the wrong way.

Julie Veltman, of Portland, Oregon, used to be a loyal Amazon customer. In fact, she bought pretty much everything there. "Every tube of toothpaste I needed to buy, videos, books for my kindle, resources for my classroom, every gift I sent through Amazon...you name it, I bought it at Amazon," she says.

But Veltman decided to break up with Amazon and other retailers that carried Trump products after the election. It's part of a larger "Grab Your Wallet" boycott that Shannon Coulter kicked off in opposition to President Trump. So far, Coulter says more than two dozen companies — like Nordstrom — have ended financial ties to the Trump family. But, she says, Amazon hasn't changed a thing. "A few months ago, Grab Your Wallet participants voted Amazon one of the most boycottable companies on the list," Coulter says.

Not just by a minority of progressives. Check out the #BoycottAmazon on Twitter and you'll see a strange mix of Amazon haters. Among them, President Trump. He's sparred with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a number of times. Bezos, one of the richest men on the planet, has donated mostly to Democrats and owns the Washington Post.

And we should note here that Amazon is an NPR sponsor.

Trump accuses Bezos of using the newspaper as a tool to curry favor for Amazon. Speaking on Fox News in 2016, he said the following:

"He's using the Washington Post, which is peanuts, he's using that for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrust," Trump said.

Antitrust laws are intended to stop big companies from dominating their competitors or fixing prices. It's a term that's popped up since Bezos put in a bid to buy Whole Foods for $14 billion dollars in June.

Democratic Lawmakers such as Sen. Cory Booker have called for scrutiny of Amazon's deal with Whole Foods. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into allegations that Amazon mislead customers about pricing discounts.

Conservative author Michael Walsh has a different bone to pick with Amazon. He says it's killing mom and pop shops and speeding up the "couch-potatoing" of America. "I've gotten a lot of heat on the Right with my stance on this," Walsh says. "I'm called a luddite, a buggy whip guy (...) Well, I've got a moral issue with putting my neighbors out of business."

Walsh says in small towns across the country, like his in rural Northwest Connecticut, e-retailing has wiped out local businesses. "Do we really want to live in the world where we wait for the postman every single day?" Walsh asks.

A majority of people seem to. Amazon is one of the five most valuable companies in the world. And among the 100 most visible companies in the US Amazon again earned the best reputation. Stacy Mitchell is co-director for a group that promotes strong local economies. It's called the Institute for Local Self Reliance. She says it would be wrong to think of Amazon as just a retailer.

"They want to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy," says Mitchell. "They control about ⅓ of the world's cloud computing capacity. So they own the infrastructure that companies of all kinds, from Netflix to the CIA rely on in order to do business, and they're rapidly moving into shipping and package delivery."

So much growth is bound to come with scrutiny. Amazon wouldn't comment on what effect, if any, boycotters might have on the company's reputation.

Author Michael Walsh knows he's part of a small undercurrent of Amazon critics — but he likes it that the stream cuts across party lines.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So when it comes to shopping online, Americans have a clear favorite. It is Amazon. One of every two dollars spent online is spent there. Thursday, the company announced a phenomenal quarter. But as the online shopping giant branches out it, is rubbing some people the wrong way. Here's Lauren Silverman from member station KERA.

LAUREN SILVERMAN, BYLINE: Julie Veltman's life was incredibly intertwined with Amazon.

JULIE VELTMAN: So every tube of toothpaste I needed to buy, if I needed to get a gift for someone, videos, books for my Kindle, resources for my classroom - you name it, I bought it at Amazon.

SILVERMAN: Veltman, who lives in Portland, Ore., decided to break up with Amazon and other retailers that carried Trump products after the election. It's part of a larger #GrabYourWallet boycott that Shannon Coulter kicked off in opposition to President Trump. So far, Coulter says more than two dozen companies, like Nordstrom, have ended financial ties to the Trump family. But, she says, Amazon hasn't changed a thing.

SHANNON COULTER: A few months ago, #GrabYourWallet participants voted Amazon one of the most boycott-able (ph) companies on the list.

SILVERMAN: Not just by a minority of progressives. Check out the #BoycottAmazon hashtag on Twitter, and you'll see a strange mix of Amazon haters, among them, President Trump. He's sparred with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a number of times. Bezos, one of the world's richest men, has donated mostly to Democrats and owns The Washington Post. And we should note here that Amazon is an NPR sponsor. Trump accuses Bezos of using the newspaper as a tool to curry favor for Amazon. Here Trump is on Fox News in 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me...

SEAN HANNITY: Yeah.

TRUMP: He's using The Washington Post, which is peanuts. He's using that for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrusts.

SILVERMAN: Antitrust laws are intended to stop big companies from dominating their competitors or fixing prices. It's a term that's popped up since Bezos put in a bid to buy Whole Foods for $14 billion in June. Here's conservative author Michael Walsh.

MICHAEL WALSH: Once they bought the lefties' favorite market, Whole Foods, you knew there was going to be some kind of backlash on the left.

SILVERMAN: Democratic lawmakers, such as Senator Cory Booker, have called for scrutiny of Amazon's deal with Whole Foods. Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into allegations that Amazon misled customers about pricing discounts. Walsh has a different bone to pick with Amazon. He says it's killing mom and pop shops and speeding up the, quote, "couch-potatoing of America."

WALSH: I've gotten a lot of heat on the right for my stance on this. Well, I've got a moral issue with putting my neighbors out of business. Go into any small town. I live in rural northwest Connecticut. Drive around here, and you'll see so many empty stores and so many little malls that are now effectively dead. And e-retailing has killed them and doesn't replace them with anything of value other than your own convenience. So do we really want to live in a world where we all wait for the postman every single day?

SILVERMAN: A majority of people seem to. Among the 100 most visible companies in the U.S., Amazon again earned the best reputation. Stacy Mitchell is co-director for a group that promotes strong local economies. It's called the Institute for Self-Reliance (ph). She says it's wrong to think of the company as just a retailer.

STACY MITCHELL: They want to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy. They control about one third of the world's cloud-computing capacity, so they own the infrastructure that companies of all kinds, from, you know, Netflix to the CIA, rely on in order to do business. And they're rapidly moving into shipping and package delivery.

SILVERMAN: So much growth is bound to come with scrutiny. Amazon wouldn't comment on what effect, if any, boycotters might have on the company's reputation. Author Michael Walsh knows he's part of a small undercurrent of Amazon critics. But he likes it that the stream cuts across party lines.

Lauren Silverman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEVERKIN'S "CALENDER PROJECT: JUNE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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