Yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos opened Pandora’s box, and a smartphone emerged.
That’s right, I’m talking about the Amazon Fire and its app, Firefly.
Firefly allows users to take photos of products (like a book, DVD, or can of green beans) and access Amazon immediately. For retailers, that means people can walk into your store, take pictures of your commodities, and buy them from Amazon, while still standing in your store. Sounds cool, right?
Wrong. Firefly makes any store, Amazon’s store. Firefly can read barcodes, QR codes, artwork, Latin, Shakespeare, whatever. With Amazon Fire, you turn into a walking Amazon warehouse.
If you’re a mom and pop store, a retailer, or a small business, Amazon Fire may appear as a threat. But I don’t think it should be feared. And I got six reasons to think so.
6 Reasons Amazon Fire won’t raze Small Businesses
1. Firefly is not entirely new.
Redlaser, Shopsavvy, and FoodScanner all do what Amazon Fire does: scan barcodes and direct users to online stores with (presumably) cheaper prices. These apps have been around for more than four years, and small businesses have yet to raze.
Admittedly, Amazon Fire does more than scan barcodes. Users just take a picture of the product and Firefly directs them to Amazon. But if other scanners haven’t razed offline behavior, Firefly probably won’t, either.
2. Amazon Fire is only for AT&T
Even if Amazon Fire altered buyer’s behavior, it would only alter AT&T customer’s behavior, since that’s the phone’s service provider. As I’ve perused the comments on Forbes, The New York Times, and Insider, many people can’t buy Amazon Fire because of this service limitation.
To be fair, AT&T served about 107 million wireless customers in 2012. That’s quite a lot. When put in perspective, however, that number shrinks: Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have 204 million wireless customers combined, double AT&T.
If anything, at least retailers will have Verizon customers.
3. People are suspicious of Amazon Fire.
Anyone remember Amazon Dash? Since Amazon released Dash three months ago, you probably do. Or maybe you don’t. Dash hasn’t really kicked off. But basically, Dash is similar to Firefly: you scan a barcode and order the product off Amazon.
But here’s the difference. Dash is a lightsaber looking thing that scans objects in your house. So if you run out of milk, scan the barcode and Dash adds the item to your Amazon shopping cart.
Dash was a scary release. Dystopian fiction fans saw this as the last straw: we will all grow fat, turn into cave people, and watch reruns of the Office. So since then, grocers, and their customers, have been suspicious of Amazon’s intentions. Is Amazon trying to lock us inside our houses, trying to prevent us from shopping in brick and mortar stores?
More so, with Firefly and Dash, Amazon puts the shopping cart in the cloud and the cloud in the shopping cart: Amazon has a $600 million contract with the CIA for cloud computing services. Let me repeat that: with the CIA.
I’m not advocating conspiracy theories. But that’s just weird.
Suspicion, then, hovers over Amazon. Just look at these popular comments from The New York Times‘ article.
Oh good, a new gadget that encourages people to buy more gadgets. Every human being a conduit for retail. What a World, what a future.
Amazon just created a product—this Fire device—that literally aims to make you little more than a purchasing vessel. Everything about the device is an invitation to buy something.
So Amazon Fire may actually work for small businesses. People will feel a sense of pride for local stores, a sense of belonging, of unity, of compassion. Or they’ll get lazy and start ordering shit off Amazon. Which brings me to my next point….
4. In the history of smartphones, what’s new is not always cool.
The Facebook phone.
The Microsoft Kin.
The ESPN MVP phone.
In the history of smartphones, new ideas don’t always catch fire. As the titles mentioned above show, many die slowly, starting with a big splash and ending in a silent sink to oblivion. In his article, “4 Reasons the Amazon Fire Phone Will Fail,” writer Jean Baptiste says it like this:
Jokes aside, the Fire Phone could go down in history as Bezos’ biggest mistake as he faces an uphill climb to convince current Amazon customers – let alone everyone else – to give the Fire Phone a try, and avoid the same outcome as the Facebook Phone, the Microsoft Kin, or the ESPN MVP Cell Phone.
5. Millions must change before the flames turn to fire.
Truth be told, people won’t change their shopping habits for a $650 phone. I still remember when cleaning robots came out. I was still young, but I knew, I just know, this was the end. Cleaning robots were going to take over cleaning industries, steal jobs from hard-working blue collars, revolutionize households across nations.
It’s 2014. Twelve years after the first Roomba. And house cleaning is still big business.
6. Small businesses have local support.
Mom and pops survive off locals, and locals are what make the mom and pop memorable.
In the age of digital marketing and “showrooming,” businesses with a memorable story win. Amazon Fire cannot put a barcode on the chilled spring pea soup of your café, the free day-care service in your local grocery store, the fresh squash from your local farm. They cannot replace Mrs. Cindy’s smile, Linda’s special bar-b-que sauce, Skillet’s twenty years of Southern hospitality.
Though Amazon Fire makes commodity shopping easy, they cannot tap into the uniqueness of your franchise’s location, or your small business on the square. If you have a story, if you share that story with locals, if you are a part of your town’s history, life, or community, rest assured. Amazon Fire cannot raze you to the ground.
What will Amazon Fire do?
I’m not advocating hate, nor am I trying to be too pessimistic about the Amazon Fire. Having just been announced yesterday, and still a month away from its product release, the Amazon Fire may or may not rise from its own burning.
But my point remains: if mom and pops remain themselves, if they remain local, personal, and involved, they will stick around for the next decade.
I’m still figuring these things out for myself, so I’d love to hear what you guys think.