Amazon knows this. My colleague Karen Weise has reported on the fierce debate inside Amazon about whether paid product commercials would erode customers’ trust. Jeff Bezos made the final call that showing ads might make things a little worse for Amazon shoppers but that the extra money would help the company invent amazing new things for customers.
Bezos’ assessment of short-term pain for long-term gain might be right. Or maybe he just got excited about the money.
Apple has argued that online advertising that tracks its users is an invasion of our privacy and declared a war with Facebook over ads. The company also wants to go bigger in selling advertising. (Apple says that its ads are less invasive than those of other companies.)
Let me propose an alternative for Amazon and Apple. Instead of grabbing for more cash with paid commercials, what if the companies improved their products and made more money that way?
It’s been a big problem for years that Apple’s app store is a sea of options and that makes it hard for people to discover something new that might interest them. Paid app promotions that don’t surface the best apps are not the right answer. At Amazon, it sometimes feels as if the company doesn’t know how to make a nice place for people to shop easily. Ads are not the answer. They may be making things worse.
I recently went looking for a pulse oximeter on Amazon and searched for a specific brand. I was overwhelmed and turned off by how many ads I saw for what seemed to be shady knockoffs. I gave up. Amazon lost a potential sale because its store can feel like an unruly mess, and its paid commercials are part of the problem.
Maybe there should be a Golden Rule for rich and powerful tech titans: Just because a company can make money doing something, doesn’t mean that it should.