Does a new product donation program for marketplace sellers make Amazon the good guy?

Discussion
Source: Amazon
Aug 16, 2019
George Anderson

Amazon.com has been alternately portrayed as the villain and hero over the years with regard to its business practices. The e-tail and technology giant took heat from Bernie Sanders and other advocates for American workers, but Amazon raised its minimum hourly wage for warehouse workers to $15. More recently, Amazon came under criticism for destroying unsold goods that could have been used to help improve the lives of those in need.

As in the wage debate case, Amazon has taken steps to answer its critics and improve its brand image at the same time. Yesterday, the company announced the creation of Fulfillment by Amazon Donations, whereby eligible returned products and overstock sold by third-party marketplace vendors will be given to charitable organizations in the U.S. and UK.

The new program, which will launch Sept. 1, follows media reports that looked at the environmental and societal impact of tossing out millions of products that could be put to use. One such news account claimed that Amazon dumped around three million unwanted products in France alone last year. 

Amazon, which claims to donate millions of products to charities each year, said the new program simply extends its business practice to its marketplace vendors.

“We know getting products into the hands of those who need them transforms lives and strengthens local communities,” Alice Shobe, director, Amazon in the Community, said in a statement. “We are delighted to extend this program to sellers who use our fulfillment services.”

Amazon faces growing criticism and scrutiny as it continues to grab market share across business categories. The company, which has continually promoted itself as a supporter of small business, faces some skepticism in this regard. A recent CNBC/Survey Monkey Small Business Survey of roughly 10,000 Americans found that 59 percent believe Amazon is bad for small business, significantly more than the 22 percent who thought it was good. The findings sharply depart from the same study conducted two years ago, which found that 37 percent thought Amazon was bad for small businesses and 33 percent thought it was good.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think Amazon, generally speaking, is winning or losing the public relations battle with critics of its business practices? What, if anything, can other retailers and brands learn from how Amazon.com deals with negative press and social media attention?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I’m not sure at the size and scale Amazon’s at now, they can 'win' the public relations battle. "
"Marketers learned long ago that the only vote that really matters is the one consumers make with their wallet."
"The adage “if it bleeds it leads” means negative publicity ganders more attention than doing something positive."

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9 Comments on "Does a new product donation program for marketplace sellers make Amazon the good guy?"


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Rob Gallo
BrainTrust

The bigger and more successful you are, the more scrutiny you will attract. There was a time when folks were rooting for Amazon as it was perceived to be the David to Walmart’s Goliath. I’m not sure at the size and scale Amazon’s at now, they can “win” the public relations battle. The positive moves tend to get much less coverage than the negative moves. And people are always looking more aggressively for the negative stuff. It’s something to be mindful of as other retailers and brands make it bigger.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Faced with daily social media scrutiny, Amazon seems to be at a PR disadvantage – yet the retail giant shows a willingness to continuously improve.

Amazon avoids reacting to critics in the moment, listens for valid complaints and, in time, adapts accordingly. For instance:

  • Employee earnings: Public scrutiny of the retailer’s working conditions led to a competitive wage increase that Walmart couldn’t match.
  • Jobs: Concerns of Amazon decimating jobs with efficient technology have been countered by Amazon’s creation of thousands of new jobs across North America alone.
  • Sustainability: Worries of environmental harm could be lessened by generous product donations to those in need to avoid unnecessary waste.

In addition, the $2 billion Bezos Day One Fund invests in lower-income families and preschool care in a grand gesture of corporate social responsibility that offers PR benefits.

Even if Amazon’s approach isn’t bulletproof, it shows how listening to constructive criticism can make companies even stronger and more competitive.

Ben Ball
BrainTrust

If there had been a RetailWire in 1999, we would have been having the same discussion about Walmart. I can almost hear the echo of the hue and cry of now…

“We love your prices! We love your service!”
“We want you to be successful! We want you to be successful”
“Oh, wait a minute. You have become very successful — in fact, you have become TOO successful! We want you to share the wealth!”

And pundits and politicians feed on the need to stigmatize “greed.”

Marketers learned long ago that the only vote that really matters is the one consumers make with their wallet. The public loves the experience Amazon provides. We also love to vilify extreme success. Should Amazon be a responsible corporate citizen, avoiding waste and showing compassion for the community and their employees wherever possible? Of course they should! Will that regain the public’s public love? Of course not. Just ask Walmart.

Steve Montgomery
BrainTrust

The adage “if it bleeds it leads” means negative publicity ganders more attention than doing something positive. This approach to news is also magnified by the scale of the doer. The larger a company is the more likely the negative moves they make will be rewarded with negative publicity. The converse also appears to be true. Bottom line, anything Amazon does that can be regarded as negative will always get more attention than when they do something positive.

LAURA RAMIREZ
Guest

The magnitude by which these massive companies “fail” is important to note as it has a more profound negative consequence than if a “little guy” doesn’t pay a livable wage, treats his/her three employees like crap, and dumps a few boxes of product. As such, it deserves more attention. Certainly, the digital/global connectivity of today has increased the spotlight in areas we would not have previously been as focused. However, one could argue that irrespective of the default, the scrutiny is warranted.

We should embrace that these companies are being held accountable and demand they both rectify the issue and introduce something positive (not one or the other).

gordon arnold
Guest

Like everyone else Amazon is looking to grow the company and profits. Thousands of opinion data megabytes are out there to show how Amazon struggles with its partnerships. This same amount of data exists for their direct and indirect competition. We spend insignificant amounts of time looking at how vendors and partners of any size could improve their results simply by working to make all parties in the relationship more synchronized. Success in any business must be easy and good for all, including the customer.

Liz Adamson
BrainTrust

Amazon seems to continually playing catch up when it comes to PR. Rather than anticipating the scrutiny and bad press and proactively working on its public image, it seems to be constantly reacting to whatever the latest uproar is about. To win the public relations battle it needs to get ahead of the curve and implement positive change before the media drags them through the mud.

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

Amazon is succeeded to become the inevitable villain and it will never be the “good guy” again. There is always room for improvement and there are always critics. All you can do is give credit where it is due and point out legitimate shortcomings and push for improvement.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

Measures like this are certainly a welcome move on Amazon’s part. I think though that critics would say that there are fundamental things that the company continues to do that make it the villain (tax practices and employee conditions for example). The question is whether this is really an act of goodwill on Amazon’s part or an act of deflection of some of the criticism that comes its way. I think like it or not Amazon’s dominance in many sectors means it’s more likely to be considered the bad guy than the good. However, the needless destruction or dumping of goods is an issue across the retail industry that needs to be addressed, so this is certainly positive action on that front.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I’m not sure at the size and scale Amazon’s at now, they can 'win' the public relations battle. "
"Marketers learned long ago that the only vote that really matters is the one consumers make with their wallet."
"The adage “if it bleeds it leads” means negative publicity ganders more attention than doing something positive."

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