Smile! How Amazon is Giving Whilst You Shop

Over the previous months the Parliamentary Inquiry on Growing Giving has been investigating new and exciting ways of giving to good causes, which could increase more people to support charities. Whilst it is important that charities adapt to new methods of giving, there is undoubtedly a role for businesses to demonstrate their social commitment by working to improve giving, and anecdotal evidence suggests that people are increasingly interested in the social responsibility programmes of the companies that they interact with.

Earlier this week our Growing Giving website featured an article from a BT employee explaining that the organisation gives employees the opportunity to take a few days out of the office to volunteer, and as the ‘Giving at Work’ evidence session heard earlier in the year, this can encourage employees to view their employer in a positive light.

Businesses can of course encourage people to give to charities in other ways, and the online retail giant Amazon is launching a new version of their website which will mean that a proportion of each transaction processed is matched with a donation to a charity of their choice.

The new site – www.smile.amazon.com – will see the company donate 0.5 per cent of the purchase price of a transaction to a charity, and USA Today reports that customers will be able to choose to target ‘their’ donation at one of almost one million charities.

Whilst the site will not yet include digital goods, there is no cap on the amount that Amazon will donate, and millions of items will be eligible to increase giving in this way. The USA Today report highlights a piece of art listed for sale for $4.85 million on Amazon, and calculates that under the Amazon Smile terms and conditions this could result in a donation of $24,250 to charity.

Of course, there are obvious benefits to the business too. It is likely that customers will shop more frequently with Amazon if they are able to match their shopping with a donation to a cause close to their heart, and by launching the programme shortly before winter Amazon will be hoping to capture the custom of the many people who give passionately to good causes over the Christmas period. It also demonstrates Amazon’s charitable activity quite clearly to customers, which as we know from research carried out by the Directory of Social Change isn’t always the case.

What is particularly encouraging about Amazon Smile is that, by allowing customers to choose where the donation triggered by their transaction is targeted, it empowers users and gives them a real opportunity to influence and support the charities that they want to help. Creating the personal link to the donation will help encourage people to return and use the service again, and whilst that it is undoubtedly positive for Amazon, it also benefits charities and for that they should be applauded.

A recent survey carried out in the United States found that 70 per cent of people prefer to shop with their favourite retailer online, and the use of online shopping is likely to grow, with e-commerce in the US growing seven times faster than total retail spending, and surpassing 10 per cent of all discretionary spending for the first time ever in Q4 2012. A similar switch is happening in the charity world, with people turning to new forms of digital giving that make it easier for them to give, and that is a switch that must be embraced with the introduction of new and improvement of old giving platforms.

It will be interesting to how much success Amazon Smile has in attracting people to use their new site. Critics would perhaps argue that Amazon would be better demonstrating their commitment to charities by rolling out the donation function on their existing site, but equally it is understandable that Amazon do not want to risk putting off existing customers by presenting them with an unexpected webpage creating a donation about which they might not be informed. Meanwhile we’ll be watching with interest to see if other online stores follow Amazon’s lead, and reward people buying goods from them with a donation to a good cause.
Steve Clapperton

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