For almost 10 years, Amazon Smile has allowed customers to make charitable donations while shopping at Amazon. The service benefited a wide range of organizations, but this week Amazon announced that Smile will be discontinued in February. The reasons for this are already being criticized online.
According to Amazon’s statement, “the program has not grown to create the impact that we had originally hoped.” Noting that Smile involved more than 1 million organizations, Amazon said that “our ability to have an impact was often spread too thin.”
When people shop through Smile, Amazon automatically donates 0.5% of the price to the customer’s charity of choice. However, Amazon said it isn’t happy with the results, and will now switch focus to its own corporate philanthropy projects, including disaster relief and affordable housing.
Once the service shuts down, Amazon will give Smile charities “a one-time donation equivalent to three months of what they earned in 2022.” Then the charities have to figure out how to pick up the slack, with Amazon suggesting that they set up Amazon wishlists instead. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t going down well with Amazon Smile users.
People are questioning the idea that Smile had a disappointing “impact,” because in material terms this just isn’t true. Over the past decade, the platform has reportedly processed more than $400 million in donations.
Like Amazon’s main retail service, Smile is popular due to its efficiency and ease of use. It isn’t entirely scandal-free—for instance, some anti-vax organizations allegedly raised money through Smile—but overall it’s a good system for an “every little helps” attitude to donation. It’s completely different from traditional corporate philanthropy, where companies create and/or partner with large-scale projects with no input from customers.
Judging by the criticism on Twitter today, people are particularly concerned about how Smile’s demise may harm smaller organizations like local schools and animal sanctuaries. There’s also a lot of pushback against the idea that Smile didn’t have an adequate impact, tying in with long-running critiques of corporate charity work.
Amazon obviously struggles with negative press and many big businesses use charity work to boost their public image. So it’s possible that Smile’s disappointing “impact” has less to do with how much it helped charities and more to do with how much it helped Amazon itself.
Incremental donations to small organizations are less headline-grabbing than, say, Amazon spearheading a $2 billion affordable housing initiative under its own public brand.