Why Buyers Should Beware The New Apple-Amazon Deal
by: Vianney Vaute / CCO, Back Market
Apple and Amazon have announced what many might consider an innocuous partnership. On the surface, Apple appears to be just another in a long line of brands that will sell their products on the monstrous e-commerce site that has become the go-to shopping destination for many Americans. As the world’s most powerful brand faces a slow-but-steady decline in new device sales, this change in strategy makes sense. Unlike batterygate or the (yet inoperative) T2 chip kill switch on newer Macs, there’s nothing about the partnership that is immediately shocking to the conscience. The average buyer will either applaud or fail to notice this alliance.
And yet, hiding in plain sight is a major shift that spells big trouble for the Fair Repair movement and which — whether they know it or not — spells trouble for consumers as well.
Killing The Competition Means Less Choice
While no one but Apple knows what their end game really is, we can guess that by selling only through ‘Authorized Sellers’ on Amazon (a certification that allegedly only larger sellers with millions in sales can qualify for), they are not only trying to monopolize this very lucrative channel but also trying to discredit anyone who isn’t paying into their system — much like their Authorized Service Provider program, which gives repair shops ‘Authorized’ status for a fee and then takes away up to 75% of their actual repair business. Many observers, like tech blog TechDirt, see something a bit more ominous: “It’s a paywalled garden guarded by Apple and Amazon that will keep all but a select few resellers from participating. Being an Apple reseller/repairer is pay-to-play.”
Conspiracy theorists will point to the slowing of new device sales as a key factor in Apple’s decision to push refurbished products more aggressively.They have recently bolstered their own website with a more prominent used product section, and the deal with Amazon significantly expands their reach beyond that. Refurbished sales have been exploding worldwide and currently represent the fastest growing sector of the smartphone market overall.
Those that will feel the aftermath soonest are, of course, the small businesses and mom-and-pop repair shops that have relied on their Apple-product sales on Amazon. Hundreds of resellers got their walking papers from Amazon recently, informing them that they would no longer be allowed to peddle their Apple wares on the site in 2019 unless they achieve ‘authorized’ status from Apple. While Apple claims that the reseller removal process is a way of reducing the risk of hackers and forgers selling their products, most individual sellers are legit businesses selling reliable products. Many of these businesses, without the Amazon channel, will likely have to fold. Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, speaks for many resellers when discussing the Apple/Amazon tie-up with Motherboard:
“The idea that you have a retailer that if they can strike a deal with the most profitable company in the world and lock out independent resellers is concerning for the future of commerce. It’s kind of mind boggling to think that a brand would be able to restrict sale of used products. This is exactly the kind of control Apple wants to exert over the marketplace.”
But the limits of empathy being what they are, consumers need to be made to understand the trap they are willingly walking into by allowing this to happen and how this will be to their personal detriment in the long run. In the same Motherboard article, Aaron Perzanowski, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University and coauthor of The End of Ownership states that:
“This is a very troubling development. Given Amazon’s dominance as an online retail marketplace, its decision to disregard the first sale rights of resellers will significantly limit consumer choice. The fact that this move was demanded by Apple makes it even more problematic. What we see here are the world’s two most valuable companies engaging in a coordinated assault on the lawful resale of consumer devices.”
The argument that Apple is trying to make, that a monopoly on their part is necessary to keep quality and security standards high, implies that Apple and only Apple is capable of keeping high standards. This is simply not true. While news outlets claim that this alliance will be to the benefit of buyers, there is a lot at stake and the onus is on consumers to educate themselves and to be attentive to its long term repercussions.C/Net claims, for instance, that “With the new deal, customers should expect to see a greater selection of new Apple products and at standard prices” — but read between the lines and you’ll find a push for buying new, a way of limiting options for repairs, and a whole lot of control on pricing.
Suppressing the Right to Repair
The Right to Repair issue continues to dog the electronics industry and Apple has been an active, though often subtle, participant in keeping it suppressed. Indeed, evidence of the Cupertino giant’s role in lobbying efforts ostensibly led by industry groups like CTA and CTIA in at least a dozen US states that were considering Right to Repair legislation has surfaced. None of it more blatant than a visit from an Apple government affairs specialist to Nebraska legislator Lydia Brasch who was supporting a right to repair bill in that state. According to the interview, the Apple agent warned Brasch that such as law would make Nebraska a “mecca for bad actors.” The bill did not pass. (Ironically, Brasch was supporting the initiative mainly to address the similar concerns of farmers that wanted to be able to repair their John Deere tractors on their own terms. She was told by electronics industry lobbyists, “just take the phone part out of the bill and we’ll go away.”)
By putting many legitimate repair/refurbishing shops out of commission and casting doubt on the quality any other shop can offer, Apple is trying to corner the Apple repair market — which might sound fine to you until you see how much Apple wants to charge. You might as well buy a new phone. Interesting.
Gay Gordon-Brown, who heads the Repair Association, says plainly: “If you can’t repair stuff, you’re forced to participate in the throwaway market.” Besides the personal affront over what many consider the inalienable right to do what we want with our own stuff, not allowing freedom of choice in the repair of our electronics is just bad for the planet. With the e-waste problem continuing to grow, everyone has a lot to lose — sellers and buyers alike.