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The Amazon juggernaut.

June 19, 2017

Is Amazon indulging in anti-competitive practices?

An article in Fortune magazine would suggest that there is at least the intent to do so.

The June 17 article bylined by David Z. Morris describes a patent taken out by the mega retailer that will block customers shopping in Amazon-owned brick-and-mortar stores from comparison  shopping online while in the store.

The patent’s long title is “Physical Store Online Shopping Control”, and the U.S. Patent Office lists it as Patent No. 9,665,881.

The patent abstract reads as follows: (emphasis added)

Systems and methods for controlling online shopping within a physical store or retailer location are provided. A wireless network connection may be provided to a consumer device at a retailer location on behalf of a retailer, and content requested by the consumer device via the wireless network connection may be identified. Based upon an evaluation of the identified content, a determination may be made that the consumer device is attempting to access information associated with a competitor of the retailer or an item offered for sale by the retailer. At least one control action may then be directed based upon the determination.

Interesting. Not only does Amazon block the signal, but it identifies the content requested and then acts to block it or redirect it to other Amazon products.

Um-m-m, pardon me for asking, but aren’t we having a national paroxysm over similar covert information collection and misuse by Russia right now?

The article does point out that the technology described would only apply to shoppers using the in-store wi-fi network to connect to the internet.  Customers using their own cellular network would not be blocked.

Yet.

The technology exists to block and/or redirect any cellular reception. It’s use is supposed to be subject to certain rules governing law enforcement or clandestine government agencies, but of course, that’s just a genie in the bottle.

The last decade has produced a swarm of mega-mergers, from airlines to banks to now, retail shopping.

From that we have gotten more expensive air travel,  along with a flying experience that bears a remarkable similarity to cattle cars and banks that demand sales at the expense of either legality or morality.

It is often hard to see where that has produced a better product for consumers.

Technically the economies of scale should produce savings for the parent company, and sales psychology  would dictate that the savings should trickle down to consumers.

Some would say that has happened.

However, if you have to pay a parking fee to the venue owners to get into the free dance, is it still free? That’s sort of where many consumers are with having to pay a membership fee for the privilege of getting lower prices.

If you don’t have that pass to the magical money-saving kingdom, Amazon’s prices are often as high or higher than those available elsewhere on the internet.

Right now, Amazon taking over an over-priced trend-following organic food store isn’t a big deal.

But what happens when they buy up their next two largest competitors? Is it really a good idea to have a food, clothing and hard goods retailer with not just a slice of the market, but 7/8’s of the pie?

Do we really need a retail Google in our pantries and closets?

People in favor of government control of everything will be OK with that, because they believe in central control of everything.

For myself, if I want fresh food, I’ll grow it in the greenhouse and harvest the chickens that have quit laying when I want really fresh fried chicken, and I still own a sewing machine.

How about you?  Where will you go when Amazon is the only game in town?

From → op-ed

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