When I announced in this space that we were leaving Amazon’s Vendor Central a few weeks ago, I had no idea it would trigger the response that it did. I knew we had to tell people we were leaving Amazon so they could know where to find us in future. And, sure, I kind of knew that it would surprise many people. Initially, some of my Princeton friends and neighbors even begged me to reconsider, thinking that my purist impulses were leading me to make a serious mistake that would derail the fortunes of my young company, and the bright hopes of our town along with it. When I explained the full story behind our reasons for leaving however — the total lack of communication, the unreasonable demands, the fines for not being able to jump through their inflexible hoops, and their refusal to allow us to raise the prices of our own products — they quickly changed their tune, and agreed that I was doing the right thing in giving Amazon the old heave-ho. All this confirmed that I needed to not only announce that we were quitting Amazon, but needed to explain exactly why. I wanted people to understand, and perhaps sharing our experience would help spare other small local manufacturers from making our mistake.
Bait and Switch
When Amazon first approached us with the idea of joining their Vendor Central (yep, they came to us), we were skeptical that it would be a good fit. We were also keenly aware of Amazon’s dominance in the industry, however, so we were open to trying to find a way to work with them if we could. The fact that the Amazon rep that approached us was passionate about our products, seemed to understand our mission, and repeatedly stated his desire to work with us was also reassuring.
Unfortunately, as soon as the ink was dry on that agreement, the Amazon rep that had won us over abruptly switched departments, and no other Amazon representative ever contacted us or saw fit to respond to our attempts to contact them. The fact is, it’s simply not possible to work with people who completely ignore all your attempts to communicate with them. We realized that if we continued with Amazon, we’d either have to compromise on quality to work within their inflexible structure or go broke. That’s when we knew our Amazon experiment wasn’t going to work.
We ran that blog post, Goodbye Amazon… And Good Riddance, on March 10th to announce that decision, and then went back to work. The next day, I logged in to discover that the internet had basically gone nuts; I had apparently touched a nerve. Tons of people responded, both positively and negatively. On the whole, it was pretty darn interesting, and it’s still going on as I write this.
Some comments were from small businesses like ours who related their own negative experiences with Amazon, and congratulated us on making the move. One poster perhaps said it best, “Amazon treats its customers like gold and treats its vendors like rust.” Some of those small business folks said that we had inspired them to do follow suit, and wanted to stay in contact with us. I cannot tell you how much we all appreciated those kind expressions of support. There are some that have seen my commitment to local businesses, locally sourced materials and traditional methods of handcrafting as the actions of a man in denial, as if I were some sort of Midwestern Don Quixote fruitlessly tilting against corporate windmills. To read so very many messages of support, and to know that others share your vision, well, it means a lot, to say the very least. So, thank you for that.
The thing about the internet is that there is never universal consensus. When I think of the web, I recall Abby Hoffman’s great line from the Chicago Seven Conspiracy Trial: “Conspiracy? Hell, we couldn’t even agree on lunch!” Yet that’s part of what makes the collective experience of the net so valuable; you simply do not learn as much if you only hear from people that agree with you. So, while we loved hearing from our supporters, we also owe a debt of thanks to those who disagreed with us, as a few of their comments have been instructive. Some negative responses were particularly valuable as they pointed up areas of confusion in the public mind about what we are doing and why, and helped me understand where I was falling down as a communicator.
Some commenters vehemently defended Amazon based on their own experiences as a consumer, not realizing that a manufacturer’s experience with the company might be entirely different. Again, some of that confusion has to be laid at my feet for not explaining myself as well as I might have. Others questioned the wisdom of a bespoke company like us ever getting involved with a retail behemoth like Amazon in the first place and, in hindsight, I agree. Still others quite reasonably asked how it was a win for consumers that we were now free to raise the prices of our products, to which we can only reply… that’s a good question.
Okay, That’s Embarrassing
Uh… yeah, I did, in fact, neglect to explain that. Sorry. In my defense, I will only say that when you’re so close to something, it’s easy to forget that what’s patently obvious to you might be bewildering to people outside your circle. At any rate, here goes: when we first introduced our Site:1 speakers, we kept our prices artificially low, matching the prices of our competition to help spur adoption. Since then, we’ve been continuously pushing the evolution of our products, and they are going to continue to improve, even the ones that we’ve already sold, as our products are system-capable, meaning compatibility with future major releases is already integrated into each product. See our recent post, "Livin' the Dream" for details, some great news about our new patent, and the revelation that we are perhaps not precisely the kind of audio company you may have thought we were.
That’s not all; we’re also expanding our customer service offerings to include lifetime support, and introduced a 10-year warranty, both almost unheard of in our industry. Finally, we’ve hired more expert staff, and are spending hundreds of hours further refining our products, and developing exciting new ones as well.
In short, we’re raising our prices because we’re raising our game.
The folks who have supported us as we struggled to establish ourselves as a company got an admittedly awesome deal on their Site:1 speakers but, in order to be able to sustain and grow our company, we are going to have to raise our prices as of May 15th, 2017.
Thank You Part Deux
Before those prices go up, however, I’m extending an offer to those of you who’d like to take advantage of those old prices now: Even better, if you buy a single Site1 speaker before prices go up, you will also permanently lock in that same lower price for when the day comes that you’d like to add a second Site1 speaker for the true stereo experience. No time limit! That means that if at any time in the future you decide you want to double your fun, you get to buy your second Site1 speaker for the same price as your first one. It’s my way of saying thank you to everyone who has supported us thus far.
Traffic to our website has gone up 2100% since March 1st. We’ve blown past our original sales projections for March and April, and we have a lot more fans out there than did only a couple of months ago. We owe it all to you, and I promise that we will be as loyal to you as you have been to us. At Princeton Audio, we pledge that our products will be true, that they will be beautiful, and that they will last. Thanks again.