Honoring the Enemy? Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Give Top Award to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos

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Awkward! The National Retail Federation, which is dominated by traditional brick-and-mortar-based stores, just gave its top award to the guy who has been undermining their businesses for years.

By the holiday shopping season of 2011, it was clear that Amazon.com could not remotely still be considered a plucky upstart in the retail world. The introduction of an “evil” PriceCheck app promotion—in which Amazon openly attempted to steal business away from competitors—demonstrated that the world’s largest online retailer was not just a player, but arguably the industry’s leading aggressor.

Since then, traditional retailers have found it necessary to fight back against Amazon, by refusing to sell the Amazon Kindle, for instance, and by matching Amazon’s prices on identical merchandise. Here’s some insight as to how Amazon is perceived (hated?) within the world of retail, courtesy of the Seattle Times:

“There’s always an industry bad guy, and right now it’s Amazon,” said Mary Ann Odegaard, a marketing professor who directs the retail management program at the University of Washington’s Bothell campus. “They’re taking sales other companies want, and they’re competing on a different basis.”

(MORE: Amazon’s Low Prices Get Targeted: Target’s Online Price-Matching Policy Becomes Permanent)

Amazon’s low prices have cut into the profits of brick-and-mortar competitors. It is almost singlehandedly responsible for the rise of “showrooming,” in which shoppers scope out goods in physical stores before ultimately purchasing them online for less. As the Seattle Times story put it, “no company has done more in the past decade to disrupt the traditional retail establishment than Amazon.”

And yet, the traditional retail establishment just handed Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos its highest award. In December, the National Retail Federation announced Bezos would be given the Gold Medal Award, essentially naming Amazon as the top retailer of 2012. “The Gold Medal is the most coveted award in retail, given to an individual who has served the industry with distinction and achieved a national reputation for excellence,” the NRF explained. “The recipient has also displayed creative genius and inspirational leadership and has won the respect of fellow merchants for devotion to the retail craft.”

The ceremony honoring Bezos took place earlier this week in New York City, where the Amazon CEO recalled personally delivering orders to the post office 18 years ago in his Chevy Blazer. “I did not expect to happen what actually happened,” Bezos told the crowd, while attributing Amazon’s successes at least partially to luck, good timing, and “incredible planetary alignment.”

(MORE: Online Shopping: More Popular (Yet Less Satisfying) Than Ever)

The brick-and-mortar establishment had nothing but good—or at least cordial—things to say about Amazon at the NRF event. “Amazon makes us a better competitor,” Macy’s CEO (and outgoing NRF chairman) Terry Lundgren commented, according to Internet Retailer. “Amazon is a great competitor, but we’re all great competitors,” chimed in Walmart CEO Bill Simon.

What the comments—and the NRF award itself—make plain is that even as Amazon is arguably the most disruptive force being faced by Walmart, Macy’s, Target, and the rest of the retail establishment, Amazon is now undeniably a part of the establishment. All of these retailers are peers. They are all competitors. They are all enemies. Amazon is one of them, as if we didn’t already know.

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