Amazon Shutters AmazonSmile For Charities & Users Are Not Smiling
A reddit comment purportedly from an ex-Amazon employee sheds some interesting light on the history of the Amazon Smile program.
Here’s the most messed up part. I used to work at Amazon corporate, let me tell you how the entire program Amazon Smile got created.
So basically, when a customer wants to buy a product, they usually go straight to Amazon.com and enter what they’re looking for. But there’s also a large segment of customers who begin their search on google, and ends up at Amazon. Well guess what. When that type of search to purchase experience happens, Amazon has to pay google. Internally, Amazon thought that if they could force users to go straight to Amazon, offer a small but obviously less amount of money to charity from each customer than would have been paid to google, it would help kill customers going to google, save Amazon more money than paying google, and be good overall for the brand value of Amazon.
That’s why for the program to work, the user has to start shopping at smile.amazon.com. Until recently, the option to use amazon smile wasn't even available in the app, and even then the user still had to 'renew' being a part of Smile multiple times a year. There is no way for a customer to go through the traditional shopping experience, and then during checkout decide they want to give a portion of their purchase to charity, because giving to charity isn't the point of the overall program. Amazon Smile was developed by the Traffic Optimization team, whose entire purpose is increasing efficiency and lowering costs of getting customers to Amazon. A team of Amazon employees whose sole purpose is doing good in the world doesn't exist, despite employees repeatedly asking for such a team to be built in pretty much every single all-hands meeting.
Literally everything the company does is about profits, and extended customer lifetime value. Everything. Even the charity programs are just designed to save Amazon money.
Another user responded to corroborate the account:
I also used to work at Amazon, and was a founding member of the AmazonSmile program, part of the Charity Support team working with the nonprofits to help them actually receive the funds. This was 2013. Left in 2016 after fully fleshing out the program, developed the metrics reporting system for tracking charity issues, and even a blurb document to respond to the most common questions nonprofits had.
You are completely correct. The intent of the program was to be cost neutral - the amount Amazon donated to charities was about equal to the costs it saved by not having to pay Google for advertising clicks. Tax writeoff was a negligible side benefit, goodwill was just marketing fodder.
Left because there was no opportunity for promotion or upward mobility. Got my Masters degree and used what I learned about nonprofits and charities to join a nonprofit as a grant writer and eventually help manage a network of nonprofits who help people find employment.
You're absolutely correct.
Amazon announced it will be closing the AmazonSmile charity program, saying it had not grown to create the impact the company had hoped.
In 2013, we launched AmazonSmile to make it easier for customers to support their favorite charities. However, after almost a decade, the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped. With so many eligible organizations—more than 1 million globally—our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin.
We are writing to let you know that we plan to wind down AmazonSmile by February 20, 2023. We will continue to pursue and invest in other areas where we’ve seen we can make meaningful change—from building affordable housing to providing access to computer science education for students in underserved communities to using our logistics infrastructure and technology to assist broad communities impacted by natural disasters.
To help charities that have been a part of the AmazonSmile program with this transition, we will be providing them with a one-time donation equivalent to three months of what they earned in 2022 through the program, and they will also be able to accrue additional donations until the program officially closes in February. Once AmazonSmile closes, charities will still be able to seek support from Amazon customers by creating their own wish lists.>
As a company, we will continue supporting a wide range of other programs that help thousands of charities and communities across the U.S. For instance:
- Housing Equity Fund: We’re investing $2 billion to build and preserve affordable housing in our hometown communities. In just two years, we’ve provided funding to create more than 14,000 affordable homes—and we expect to build at least 6,000 more in the coming months. These units will host more than 18,000 moderate- to low-income families, many of them with children. In one year alone, our investments have been able to increase the affordable housing stock in communities like Bellevue, Washington and Arlington, Virginia by at least 20%.
- Amazon Future Engineer: We’ve funded computer science curriculum for more than 600,000 students across over 5,000 schools—all in underserved communities. We have plans to reach an additional 1 million students this year. We’ve also provided immediate assistance to 55,000 students in our hometown communities by giving them warm clothes for the winter, food, and school supplies.
- Community Delivery Program: We’ve partnered with food banks in 35 U.S. cities to deliver more than 23 million meals, using our logistics infrastructure to help families in need access healthy food—and we plan to deliver 12 million more meals this year alone. In addition to our delivery services, we’ve also donated 30 million meals in communities across the country.
- Amazon Disaster Relief: We’re using our logistics capabilities, inventory, and cloud technology to provide fast aid to communities affected by natural disasters. For example, we’ve created a Disaster Relief Hub in Atlanta with more than 1 million relief items ready for deployment, our Disaster Relief team has responded to more than 95 natural disasters, and we’ve donated more than 20 million relief products to nonprofits assisting communities on the ground.
- Community giving: We support hundreds of local nonprofits doing meaningful work in cities where our employees and their families live. For example, each year we donate hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations working to build stronger communities, from youth sport leagues, to local community colleges, to shelters for families experiencing homelessness.
We’ll continue working to make a difference in many ways, and our long-term commitment to our communities remains the same—we’re determined to do every day better for our customers, our employees, and the world at large.
However, users disagree and accuse Amazon of putting profits over people or gatekeeping by limiting their future philanthropy to corporate aligns/approved orgs.
One non-profit director had some excellent advice - if you've used AmazonSmile to support charities in the past, make sure to reach out to them directly now to find out how you can continue to support them.
What do you think of Amazon shutting down AmazonSmile? Let us know in the comments below!