San Francisco Chronicle – February 23, 2017
By Thomas Lee
Growing up in rural Indiana, Lowell Goss recalls with some sadness how the arrival of Walmart supercenters signaled the end of Main Street small businesses.
He sees the same thing happening today, only this time the culprit is Amazon. The online giant recently opened an automated physical store in Seattle, called Amazon Go, in which shoppers can pick out their groceries and leave without having to stop at a checkout station.
Amazon’s critics, already vocal, will be ready to blast the company once it does open stores, the same way they blasted Walmart for killing small retailers, suppressing wages and undermining the social fabric.
A November report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance argued that Amazon’s dominance over suppliers allows it to sell goods at lower prices, but ultimately eliminates jobs, because smaller businesses can’t compete.
“Amazon’s increasing dominance comes with high costs,” the report said. “It’s eroding opportunity and fueling inequality, and it’s concentrating power in ways that endanger competition, community life and democracy.”
That sounds remarkably similar to the words critics hurled at Walmart when it aggressively expanded in the 1990s and early 2000s — rhetoric that has diminished only because Walmart’s growth has slowed.
But in Amazon’s case, the report said, the concentration of power and its consequences “have gone largely unnoticed, thanks to Amazon’s remarkable invisibility and the way its tentacles have quietly extended their reach.”
After all, you can’t picket a superstore that does not physically exist.