The Online Shopping War

James Baughn on Thursday, August 3, 2000

from the what-about-mail-order-catalogs? dept.

NILES, ILLINOIS -- This Chicago suburb is spending $35,000 to run advertisements on cable TV that attack online shopping and promote local discount malls. These commercials sling mud at e-commerce, warning about fraud, ordering mistakes, and high shipping costs -- all in a campaign to keep sales tax revenue flowing in.

Of course, online retailers weren't about to let this opening salvo go unchallenged. The Online Shopping War has begun.

Amazon.com was the first to counter-fire. In a press release, the online retailer stammered, "Why the heck would anybody want to shop in the dump that is Niles, IL? The only thing they've got going for them is a replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We here at Amazon.com recommend that you shop online -- that way your sales tax dollars don't go towards stupid advertising campaigns that amount to nothing more than economic protectionism."

The mayor of Niles immediately issued a rebuttal on the village's website which said, "From what I've heard, Amazon is losing money at such a rate that they could go bankrupt within years or months. Why would any sane person want to do business with a company that could fold at anytime?"

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, responded by making a personal appearance outside of Niles' Golf Mill Shopping Center to hand out $50 gift certificates to any city resident. "Fight city hall!" he bellowed. "Don't support the Good Ole Boy Network! Buy online today -- where you'll never have to search for a parking spot, push your way through crowds, or fight with a sales clerk having a bad day."

The mayor quickly showed up, bringing along a soap box to stand on. From his perch he roared to the crowd of gawkers, "Every dollar you spend online is a dollar that goes to a bunch of freakish Left Coast dotcom yuppies! Every credit card number you supply is a number that evil hackers might intercept! Boycott the Internet."

As the crowd contined to grow larger, Bezos struck back, "Every dollar you spend in a discount mall is a dollar that goes to evil corporations that drive smaller Mom & Pop operations out of business. Every credit card number you supply at a store is a number that a disgruntled clerk might intercept and later use for fraud! Boycott the mall."

"And how many smaller bookstores has Amazon put out of business?" the mayor asked.

"And how many smaller stores have your malls put out of business? None of them could use taxpayer funds to run commercials that lambasted their competition," Bezos shouted.

"So? How many billions of dollars of sales tax revenue have you deprived from town and state governments? Your business is exempt from most taxing authorities -- that's not fair!" the mayor yelled.

"Hah! How many millions of dollars of sales tax revenue have your village's businesses deprived from Chicago and other neighbors? The businesses you represent can suck away customers and money from other communities -- that's not fair!" growled Mr. Bezos.

The pissing contest continued for several more minutes, until the crowd got bored and started to disband. Said one bystander, "These people are crazy. I'm gonna boycott both Niles and Amazon and go shop at the nearest Wal-Mart in another town."

Another observer commented, "The mayor is nuts and power-mad. I'm moving to Joliet to escape from this nonsense."

As soon as the crowd dispersed, Jeff Bezos quickly jumped in his rented limo and headed towards O'Hare Airport. Which was probably a good thing, because the mayor was just about to arrest him under City Ordinance 463A(2), "Making a fool of the mayor in public."