Patterico's Pontifications

12/9/2011

U.S. Senator: Giving Consumers Information Is “Anti-Competitive”

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:31 pm

When I read the headline and saw a U.S. Senator was denouncing the concept of providing consumers with information, I thought: “I bet it’s a Democrat.” And I was (functionally) right:

An uproar over the Price Check shopping app, used on mobile devices, erupted after Amazon launched a promotion for Saturday that gives customers 5% off (up to $5) on up to three qualifying items on its site if they check the prices of those goods on the app while browsing at a physical store.

Retail trade groups denounced the offer, saying it unfairly encouraged shoppers to check products at stores and then buy them online. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) entered the fray, calling the promotion “anti-competitive” and “an attack on Main Street businesses that employ workers in our communities.” Amazon defended the device as pro-consumer and not anti-small business.

Information is good. Access to information is good. It cannot be anti-competitive for consumers to have better and more immediate access to information.

Sheesh.

Olympia Snowe, you functional Democrat, chew on this: if readers buy their Christmas products though the Amazon search box on the sidebar, it will benefit this site. I hope giving people this information isn’t offending you too much!

44 Responses to “U.S. Senator: Giving Consumers Information Is “Anti-Competitive””

  1. Definitely Snowe is a twit.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  2. economically illiterate lobsterpot twat

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  3. What we need is an anti-dog-eat-dog law. Ayn Rand call your office.

    Kevin M (563f77)

  4. Given consumers info on your products is against competition?

    This assclown needs to switch parties.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  5. And from the other side of the pond comes a story from The Telegraph about a Brit who runs some book stores for a Russian (just tons of capitalistic there in those two.

    Mr Daunt, who joined Waterstone’s in June, said: “They never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer’s interest. They’re a ruthless, money-making devil.”

    I just can not fathom the depths of stupidy required to to utter anything as idiotic at that.
    Next thing you know our President will be saying something like “However many jobs might be generated by a Keystone pipeline, they’re going to be a lot fewer than the jobs that are created by extending the payroll tax cut and extending unemployment insurance.”

    Saint George Gentile (59561c)

  6. It cannot be anti-competitive for consumers to have better and more immediate access to information.

    They keep using that word… I do not think it means what they think it means.

    Smock Puppet, Winner of the Jeane Dixon Award (aacc3d)

  7. This assclown needs to switch parties.

    LOTS of THAT going around…

    Smock Puppet, Winner of the Jeane Dixon Award (aacc3d)

  8. I just can not fathom the depths of stupidity required to utter anything as idiotic at that.

    Unfortunately, at least 30% of the population is that functionally incompetent. Most of those are liberals, most in fact if not name.

    Smock Puppet, Winner of the Jeane Dixon Award (aacc3d)

  9. Absurdity is a way of life …

    Nobel-Winning IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri Urges Obama to “Listen to Science” on Global Warming

    Pachauri continued, “Actually, to be honest, nobody over here [at COP 17] is paying any attention to science.”

    Michael Moore (d1c681)

  10. Next up, how offering consumers easy crediton buying a house is anti-competitive…

    [note: fished from spam filter. --Stashiu]

    Smock Puppet, Winner of the Jeane Dixon Award (aacc3d)

  11. Seems to me that Amazon actually took a big risk by inviting customers to comparison shop inside a physical store where, for the sake of convenience (not having to wait for delivery or pay shipping charges) they might choose to go ahead and pay the higher price and be done with it.

    Icy (9af951)

  12. I just loaded Price Check onto my mobile phone. Thank you, Rep Snowe, for making me aware of this great service/product! I will be sure to think of you every time I use it.

    Icy (9af951)

  13. Now don’t go thinking I agree with this. I am about to play devil’s advocate. but think I get what they are saying. It goes something like this.

    Alot of people are reluctant to buy things online because they haven’t physically seen it. Like I admit, I am not sure i will ever feel comfortable buying clothes that way. That is their edge selling point. So if a person goes to a store, looks it over there and then buys it online using this app, then basically Amazon has gotten the advantages of having a brick and mortar store, without the costs of creating a brick and mortar store. They’re free riding on those stores.

    And you can even say that is anti-competitive, because look Amazon has a pricing advantage over brick and mortar stores because they don’t have to pay as much in overhead. So there is no way the brick and mortar stores can compete on price because their costs are higher. And when amazon gets to free ride on the one thing brick and mortar stores have in their favor, i can see how you can call this anti-competitive, because it is arguably unfair competition.

    But if you believe in freedom, there’s not much you can really do about it.

    Which raises the fear of some leaden government “solution” to the problem. But i am more curious about what kind of private solutions there might be. For instance, could this lead stores to block cell phone signals? Could they offer free wi-fi, that then prevents apps like this from working?

    Or is there some way for the brick and mortar stores to determine when, if, and whether people are doing this and then go to the manufacturers and get paid. The dirty secret is that very often the manufacturers of goods pay for placement in the stores–they pay for the chance to move their product. So if Walmart can go to the manufacturers of Tide and say to them, “we have found that 25% of your amazon.com sales come from people who first saw the product in our stores” then they could justify charging Tide even more for the placements.

    And Icy is right, too. There is a serious Streisand effect with this story. I’ll be downloading the app, too.

    Aaron Worthing (73a7ea)

  14. Amazon should send a fruitbasket to Senator Snowe as thanks for publicizing this consumer-friendly product.

    Can basrely think of nay reason why any government entity would care about this. Statism today, statism tomorrow, statism forever. For Snowe and her ilk let Daddy Government run things-through your front yard and into the ground.

    To follow up SGG-how anyone could fail to understand that the pipeline would generate much more economic activity(as well as provide vital cheap energy) than a government check program is stunning. That such a ….man…is president is horrifying. That his main competition are 2 statists, if of the statist lite variety-shocking.

    Bugg (ea1809)

  15. And you can even say that is anti-competitive, because look Amazon has a pricing advantage over brick and mortar stores because they don’t have to pay as much in overhead. So there is no way the brick and mortar stores can compete on price because their costs are higher.

    I’m not sure that’s true. When I purchase on Amazon, I get a list of prices available for a particular products. Sometimes the lowest price available via Amazon is from a brick and mortar store somewhere in America.

    MayBee (081489)

  16. Our long-lost friend “alot” has returned! Good to see ye.

    Icy (2c5eb3)

  17. On a serious note, a few points:
    – The practice of “price matching” still exists, especially among big retailers such as WalMart.
    – I find it highly doubtful that brick & mortar retailers will look to blocking cell phone signals, or the low-tech alternative: posting “no cell phone use” signs and having security/employees enforce the policy. What’s the first inclinaton people have when they’re inside a building and can’t get a signal? Step outside . . . away from the merchandise.
    – I get what Aaron is saying about the “free riding” aspect of this, but there is simply no policy or strategy to be found that would ensure “fair competition” without ultimately hurting the consumer. IOW, lead, follow or get out of the way. This is all just a variation on the anti-big box store crusade. Somebody comes up with a better idea and all those that didn’t think of it first cry “foul”.

    Icy (2c5eb3)

  18. Olympia snowe was the last republican my mother voted for. She was so disgusted by her, that she became a democrat.

    That’s never made any sense to me either.

    Ghost (6f9de7)

  19. Aaron, while you may understand where they’re coming from, that doesn’t mean they’re using the right term. Unfair? Sure. But it’s also unfair that I can’t be an NBA star. This is the definition of conpetitive: using your attributes to your advantage.

    Even without the app, if they have a smart phone, they could search for it on pattericos amazon search link.

    Almost every retailer who has ever employed me had some sort of price matching garauntee. Most were 10%, and no one called that anti-competitive.

    Ghost (6f9de7)

  20. Some more thoughts:
    – This is a ONE DAY (today?) sale and people are throwing this big of a fit over it? Get over yourselves!
    – Patterico left out some of the best quotes from the Dog Trainer article: “Small businesses are fighting every day to compete with giant retailers, such as Amazon, and incentivizing consumers to spy on local shops is a bridge too far,” [Snowe] said in a statement. So, comparison shopping is now ‘spying’. That statement alone is reason enough for Snowe to be voted out of office, although her replacement in Maine would likely be just as bad if not worse.
    The Retail Industry Leaders Assn., which represents many big-box retail chains, said the app unfairly encourages shoppers to use bricks-and-mortar shops as “showrooms” to check out a product before buying online. Next on the agenda for this august body, the elimination of the term “window shopping” from the public discourse.

    Icy (2c5eb3)

  21. “Olympia snowe was the last republican my mother voted for. She was so disgusted by her, that she became a democrat.”

    Olympia or your mother?

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  22. sometimes at ghetto target on victory the toys you can tell have all been slobbered over by ghetto urchins so yeah you have to go order that stuff off the internet

    that’s just gross especially if you’re buying them for a wee little kid

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  23. Mr. Feets – I am just heartened in this secular season of glad tidings to witness one of your favorite lobster hoochies once again make an appearance on this blog.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  24. I like Amazon and retailers, and shop with both. I’d feel more sympathy for Amazon if it had to pay sales tax.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  25. she keeps turning up like a bad penny but like a really stupid crappy senator penny

    happyfeet (3c92a1)

  26. With the words “anti-competitive” in the thread title, although my link is a bit off the topic at hand I thought I’d post it here. National Labor Relations Board has officially dropped its egregious case against Boeing over opening a non-union plant in So. Carolina.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/breaking/chi-boeing-complaint-withdrawn-by-nlrb-20111209,0,5612946.story

    elissa (9d9d19)

  27. Well, I think it would be a bit insulting if you had a device, like an iPod, that required a wireless hot-spot and you were using free access from the store you’re in, and then bought something on Amazon. I don’t know if you can block sites through the wireless feed like you can block sites on an individual computer.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  28. MD, the answer is Yes, but would it not then be the brick & mortar stores engaging in “anti-competitive” practices? Isn’t this why we all hate Google for caving to censorship in China?

    As for the “insulting” part, for hundreds of years people have had the ability to walk into a store holding pencil & paper, write down whatever info they choose to write, and then walk out without making a purchase. We need to avoid the temptation, I think, to blame new technology for creating a problem that isn’t really a problem in the first place

    Icy (2c5eb3)

  29. Good point, Icy.

    DRJ (a83b8b)

  30. Icy, I don’t disagree with you, and I am not at all in favor of Snowe making a government issue of it.

    Going back to your analogy, yes, people could always write down info with pencil and paper to compare at another store; but then again, if a customer asked to borrow a pencil and paper from a store clerk to do it, it could be considered a little bit… something.

    Aside from the courtesy issue, I remember the issue has been made of people “stealing” internet access from libraries and businesses by tapping in from outside. With that as a precedent, I could see someone trying to make a legal argument- again, not that I think it is a good idea, but lots of lawyers have pressed some pretty obnoxious stuff at times (present company accepted, of course) (at least most of present company, anyway),

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  31. The market price model is based on perfect information being made available to the consumer. All Amazon is doing is moving us even closer to that model. It’s not anti-competitive – it’s the model of competition. I would be a nice thing if our politicians took a basic Economics course.

    Trey (3f30e8)

  32. Aaron, everything you wrote was true, and that is indeed the basis of the stores’ complaint against Amazon. And one might even agree with them and call what Amazon is doing “unfair”. One might even think it desirable for the government to prevent it; I don’t, but one might. But what one cannot call it is “anti-competitive”; at least not without massacring the English language. On the contrary, the objection they have to it is that it’s too much competition.

    The reason the “anti-competitive” complaint sounds superficially plausible, which is why you fell for it at least in a devils-advocate sense, is that a lot of people have internalised the idea that “competition” is a good thing, but not why. They imagine that the reason it’s good is that it allows a lot of people to do business; thus anything that may drive some people out of business and thus reduce the number of suppliers is “anti-competitive”. But the fallacy is that the point of competition is to benefit the consumer. Generally the consumer is better off when there are a lot of people competing for her dollar, so one crude measure of competition is how many suppliers there are. But anything that artificially raises that number by preventing the suppliers from actually competing with each other defeats the purpose! The consumer is not better off having lots of choices none of which are as good as they could be. She is better off with fewer suppliers who offer better prices and quality.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  33. Icy, you’re right that blocking the app would probably be considered by the law to be anti-competitive and an antitrust violation or some such nonsense. But I think it would be perfectly acceptable, and ought to be legal. Why should I help you use my store to shop at my competitor? If I can block my competitors’ apps from working in my store, you bet I will do so. And Amazon will work to defeat my block. The government should stay out of this; both sides are acting within their rights and should be left alone to fight their war.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  34. Milhouse, if you do as you suggest and block me from getting information, I as a consumer will choose not to purchase from you. Retailers are facing a very different market and those that learn to differentiate themselves will thrive. Those that don’t will fail. Blocking shows you have something to hide when you should instead be attempting to differentiate your entire customer experience by providing more information.

    Trey (3f30e8)

  35. then again, if a customer asked to borrow a pencil and paper from a store clerk to do it, it could be considered a little bit… something
    – I’m guessing that most of the people using their smart phones inside a store are getting access via their service provider, and not from the store’s Wi-Fi.

    Aside from the courtesy issue, I remember the issue has been made of people “stealing” internet access from libraries and businesses by tapping in from outside.
    – Honest question: can you “steal” Internet access from a public library? IDK. Businesses are free to limit access to their Wi-Fi with passwords, either paid or unpaid.

    With that as a precedent, I could see someone trying to make a legal argument- again, not that I think it is a good idea, but lots of lawyers have pressed some pretty obnoxious stuff at times
    – What’s the argument? That brick & mortar stores have the right to block Internet access? Well, as far as censoring their Wi-Fi content, absolutely. They do. As for installing a device that deliberately interferes with cell phone signals . . . Lucy, you have some ‘splaining to do to the FCC!

    Icy (8e81e4)

  36. :roll: Olympia Snowe is a moron.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  37. Milhouse, in reference to what Trey said, if a retail store blocks my access to this app, or even if they simply post a sign that reads “no cell phone use” I’m leaving and they’ve lost my business forever. As I wrote to MD, I think a store has every right in the world to censor what you can access through their Wi-Fi.

    I do, however, question the legality of a store implementing a device to block/scramble cell phone signals. All it takes is ONE failed 911 call from inside a store, and the subsequent multi-million dollar lawsuit for blocking access to emergency services, for things to go really bad.

    Icy (8e81e4)

  38. Blocking cell phone signals is certainly illegal in the USA. Whether it should be is another question.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  39. Trey and Icy, you say you would boycott any business that didn’t let you use a rival’s app. Maybe you’re right, and maybe you’re typical of my customers, in which case I would be making a mistake. But it’s my mistake to make, and I may think you’re mistaken about being typical. I may think most or nearly all my customers will stay with me and put up with it, and if I’m right then the extra money I make from them will more than make up for whatever few pennies I might have made from you. None of this should be the government’s business. But right now the government sticks its nose in, not only with FCC regulations but also with “anti-trust” and similar attempts to tilt the free market to help some favoured participants.

    Milhouse (ea66e3)

  40. The FCC has long-standing regulations concerning the blocking of cell-phone signals – not that a lot of restaurants and theatres wouldn’t avail themselves of the technology is it wasn’t illegal to do so (in this country).

    AD-RtR/OS! (5fba54)

  41. Icy,

    I agree with you that people using their smart phones are going through their own internet service provider, but no one in our household has a smart phone. My daughter has an iPod which is dependent on being near a wi-fi hot spot. Hence, my reference.

    Somebody was arrested once for using the wifi of a library after hours, in fact i heard about it right here at PP. Apparently the “charge” was dropped:
    http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6423269.html

    I was simply trying to say that if people were arrested for using the wifi of a library, who knows what twisted logic could be used. I was not suggesting a good argument could and should be made, I was saying who knows what idiocy can be dreamed up.

    As I said originally, I am not in favor of any governmental action. I was simply trying to say that if a Starbucks can get bent out of shape for using their wireless while standing on the sidewalk in front of the store, I’m sure some would find an unhappy irony of people in their store using their wifi to give business to someone else. It was meant to be an off-the cuff comment, not an amicus brief (I think that is what I mean) for Sen. Snowe.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  42. I must have the wrong network. I often have bad cell phone service in large buildings, whether by someone’s design or not.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  43. A lot of that is the design of the building, or the sensitivity of your phone, or a combination of both.

    AD-RtR/OS! (5fba54)


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