Out There


Posted in Uncategorized by Pete on March 9, 2021

My family supports a number of charitable organizations with cash donations. And we buy a ton of stuff on Amazon. So my wife uses the smile.amazon.com url for her purchases. The thing is, the amount of the donation is SO small. And they intentionally make it easy for the purchase to not quality. For example, while Amazon Smile was rolled out in 2013, it was not added to their app until 2020. This means all purchases made using tablets and phones and other devices wasn’t generating diddlysquat for charity. We just discovered today that you have to go to the settings of the app and “turn on” Amazon Smile, as detailed here. My wife was dismayed that all of her purchases, since forever, on amazon using her phone apparently generated zero for Pomona Hope. And even better, you have to “renew” this again every 6 months or it will automatically turn back off again. And with browser purchases, if you forget to start at smile.amazon.com, then there is no donation.

All of which makes it clear that generosity is not the intent or the spirit behind the Amazon Smile program. Rather, it is free marketing for the company, as outlined in this piece that is apparently controversial but I completely agree with. If they simply wanted to make it easy for customers to give half of a percent of their purchase to a charity, why do they have to start at the special URL? It could be a simple one-time designation in their account settings. And why did they wait 7 years to integrate it with their app? And why have the setting “expire” on the app every 6 months? Occam’s razor suggests the reason is naked greed and a desire to suppress charitable giving. In the piece linked above (these are admittedly old figures), in 2015, out of total sales of $99.1 billion, Amazon Smile generated $12.9 million for charity, or .00012 or .012%. I believe this means that only about 1/42nd of all sales in 2015 were made under the Amazon Smile umbrella. That is some impressive charitable giving suppression, in what was the third year of the program. As the article points out, Amazon’s techy neighbor Microsoft donated about $500 million (about 40 times more) in that same year. I think a lot of folks who use Amazon Smile assume most other people do too, when apparently it is only like 2.5% of sales. So for Amazon, the math is something like sales * .025 * .005 = charitable giving. At least in 2015. And as others have argued, this is a bargain for them considering the goodwill they generate, and the free advertising they receive from charitable organizations, the vast majority of which make less than $100 per year from the program.

One more thing of note. For ten years or more I have used an “affiliate link” to get to the Amazon home page. I was told by a charity we support that this brought them 3-7% of sales, and they asked us specifically not to use Amazon Smile for this reason. Lately, I spoke with someone at the organization and they said Amazon pulled the plug on this because it is intended for blogs and other orgs that might push specific products, rather than for a charity that isn’t pushing any product in particular.

This commenter nailed it:

“bcole72 says:September 21, 2020 at 7:15 am

Many comments are missing the main point. Amazon is tricking people. The reason it is disingenuous is because it is a cheap marketing ploy, plain and simple. People are more likely to choose amazon for purchases – and to spend more – if they think they are making a difference. It’s the cheapest customer retention tactic they have, just pay 0.5% of sales to keep people loyal. My other point is that Amazon will easily establish an affiliate relationship with organizations that pay in the 6%+ range. 12x more. Organizations should invest their time in working those opportunities instead.”

So why are they willing to pay 12x more for referrals from some orgs, and not charities? Back in the day, I went to amazon through the referral link, and not bn.com or some other competitor, because I wanted to support one of our favorite charities. Any rationalization for the tiny payout for charities, and the much larger payout to “affiliates,” other than greed, I’m not buying.

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