Amazon is known for pouring the revenue it generates back into its business. Now, it’s ready to give a chunk away.
The Seattle-based retailer today announced a corporate philanthropy program called AmazonSmile, which allows Amazon shoppers to direct 0.5 percent of their purchase totals at the e-commerce giant toward a charitable organization of their choice. Amazon will then donate the money on behalf of its customers.
At launch, “basically every physical product is eligible” for the program, according to AmazonSmile general manager Ian McAllister.
But there are exceptions. Digital-media products such as Kindle e-books won’t be eligible for the program, although that could change, McAllister said. Purchases made through Amazon’s subscribe-and-save subscription program are also ineligible.
There will be no cap on donation amount.
The program will only be available to shoppers who visit Amazon via a special Web address – smile.amazon.com – instead of the normal Amazon.com homepage.
When customers enter through the new gateway, they will be prompted to select from one of a handful of featured charitable organizations, or to search a database of nearly a million 501(c)(3) organizations if they are looking to support a cause that isn’t featured. That breadth of choice pretty much matches up with the Amazon brand.
The shopping experience the customers encounter on the AmazonSmile landing page will otherwise be identical to the regular Amazon.com site – same selection, same prices – with the exception that eligible products will be marked as such on product detail pages, the company said.
An Amazon spokesperson said the company will market the program on Amazon.com, via email, and on its social network accounts.
A rep for Charity:Water, one of the organizations Amazon touts in its press release, said it will not do paid advertising of its own to promote AmazonSmile, but will publicize it to its social network followers.
Corporate charitable giving is nothing new, of course, and can take on varied forms. Google’s charitable initiatives include grants, free product handouts and an overall pledge of one percent of its profits toward its charitable organizations.
Last year, Walmart said it gave $1 billion in cash and in-kind contributions to U.S. organizations.
And Salesforce is known for donations and discounts to nonprofits of its customer-relationship-management software.
But the sheer size of Amazon’s customer base, the ease with which donations are made once someone becomes aware of the program and the charity choice given to shoppers make for a unique program. For those who end up making a routine out of shopping through smile.amazon.com, there will likely be the feeling that you’re doing good while shopping, which has the potential to be another powerful differentiator to set Amazon apart.
“At their scale, there’s potential to truly test whether ‘cause’ affects buying decisions,” said Jeff Smith, chief innovation officer at Matter Unlimited, a boutique creative agency focused on social-responsibility campaigns. “It would be fascinating to really connect the dots.”
A side benefit of corporate-giving initiatives like this one are the tax deductions – and Amazon’s case is no different. The company, not Amazon shoppers, will receive the tax benefits for the donations. Donations will be made through an entity called AmazonSmile Foundation and will come out of Amazon’s pockets, not from any of its marketplace sellers.
McAllister, AmazonSmile’s GM, said tax benefits did not guide the decision to launch AmazonSmile. Nor did focus groups or customer surveys.
“We thought our customers would love it,” he said of the reason for the initiative.
When I asked a spokesperson whether Amazon cares about what Wall Street and its shareholders will think about a company that doesn’t frequently turn a profit creating such a charitable initiative, the response was similar.
“We think our customers will love it,” he said.