LOS ANGELES — Amazon.com and the nation's bricks-and-mortar retailers are in combat again, this time over the online giant's price-comparison tool that enables shoppers to quickly check out prices at rival merchants.
An uproar over the Price Check shopping application, used on mobile devices, erupted after Amazon launched a promotion that gives customers 5 percent 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 store. Retail trade groups denounced the offer, saying it unfairly encourages 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.
The skirmish is the latest dispute between Amazon and traditional retailers, which have complained for years that tax laws often give online retailers an unfair advantage in states where they are not required to collect sales tax.
Amazon's Price Check, promoted in recent months, has users identify a product by scanning its bar code, taking its picture or saying or typing in its name. The app then pulls up prices offered through Amazon.
Snowe urged Amazon to stop the promotion. "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," she said in a statement.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association, 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.
"This is an underhanded way to send shoppers online," said Jason Brewer, the association's spokesman. "This app allows Amazon to exploit a loophole that allows them to sell the exact same product as brick-and-mortar stores and not charge sales tax."
In its defense, Amazon said the app is mostly intended for shoppers who want to compare prices at major retail chains. The app also features prices from third-party sellers — including more than 2 million businesses of all sizes — that sell through its website.