Enough is enough. That was the reaction among bookstores when Amazon offered a discount to customers willing to use its Price Check app to browse at a brick-and-mortar store but buy the goods from its website.
Jasmine Johnson, whose grandparents founded Marcus Books in San Francisco's Fillmore district more than half a century ago, has started an online petition determined to put a stop to the app and Amazon's tactics.
"Amazon's Price Checker app goes beyond simple competition in a free marketplace," she wrote in the petition. "It represents an ugly race to the bottom that might provide short-term benefit for bargain hunters, but will lead to long-term pain for communities in the form of lost jobs and tax revenues."
She hit a nerve among supporters who logged complaints about Amazon on Change.org, which is hosting the petition.
It was quite a reaction considering that the Dec. 10 Price Check promotion lasted one day and did not actually apply to Marcus Books or any other bookstores, a few of which have tried to adjust by using Amazon.com to sell their inventory online. Marcus workers have not seen anyone using the app. Few nonbook retailers seemed to notice the promotion.
But after years of pressure from Amazon and e-readers, Price Check may be the proverbial straw that breaks the bookstore's back, especially coming on top of a recession that makes shoppers
Johnson, for one, decided to up the ante by launching the "Amazon, huh?" Google Chrome browser pop-up. It tries to persuade book shoppers who click on Amazon.com to switch to Marcus instead.
Meanwhile, Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, wrote an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, complaining about his spending on lobbyists and efforts to skirt sales tax. The letter appears on an Occupy Amazon Facebook page.
The Amazon app went too far by using brick-and-mortar stores as a showroom then offering people a discount to buy on its website, said Cherysse Calhoun, who also is related to the Marcus Books founders.
"We're having a hard enough time without Amazon snatching our customers from inside our stores," she said Monday afternoon at the Oakland store on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
"If that continues to happen, we'll no longer exist."
That said, comparison-shopping is nothing new. Smartphones just make it easier and faster than ever before through bar code scanning and voice recognition technology. But shoppers can choose whether or not to use Price Check.
"I come here because it's local," said Amy Ichnowski, who was browsing the shelves of Books Inc. in Alameda. The California chain has 13 locations, mostly in the Bay Area.
Books Inc. does cost more than Amazon, she said. But it's worth it to support the store and Alameda's economy. "If I'm here, I am here to spend locally," she said.
Even a national book chain like Borders, which declared bankruptcy in 2010, suffered from Amazon's discounts and sales tax exemptions.
"Amazon has been doing shifty things to us for a while," said Jon Stich, a manager at Diesel bookstore. Workers at the small store on College Avenue in Oakland joined the backlash campaign by donning buttons that read "Occupy Amazon" and offered them to shoppers.
Price Check was "just another cog in their arsenal," Stich said.
Amazon makes money even when shoppers browse its site looking for everything from toasters to ballet slippers and the latest bestseller for its e-reader Kindle.
Bookstores have no such advantage, said Judy Wheeler, the owner of Towne Center Books in Pleasanton. Amazon has not affected her business, said Wheele, who compared Price Check to walking into a restaurant and asking for a bite of dishes offered on the menu then going somewhere else. "It's rude," she said.