I got your note in the mail, and I have to say, I'm hurt. Was it something I said? Something I did? Whatever it was, I'm so sorry. Please come back!
Once upon a time, Amazon.com (AMZN) loved moms. And moms loved Amazon.com right back. The company that built a devoted fan base off of its $79-a-year, all-you-can-eat free shipping "Amazon Prime" service held a special place in its heart for moms.
For that matter, Amazon was pretty close to dads, grandparents, sisters, cousins, and even remote acquaintances -- anyone, really, who could spot a loophole big as the Holland Tunnel, and signed up for its corollary "Amazon Mom" service. Offering the same free two-day shipping as Amazon Prime, Amazon Mom loaded on heaps of extra benefits for anyone who thought to ask for them:
No fee at all for the first 90 days of membership
Extra "free" months added on when you placed an order worth $25 or more
And perhaps best of all, purchases of diapers and other baby-related consumables received discounts of as much as 30% off Amazon's regular prices.
But all that's at an end.
Last week, Amazon revealed that the high cost of supporting programs like Amazon Mom had helped to cut the company's profits in half. Turned out, keeping "Mom" in the standard of living she had grown accustomed to carried a high price tag. And so Amazon threw Mom from the train.
Just a couple weeks ago, Amazon began sending out emails to its millions of Moms, announcing significant cuts to the program's benefits. The ability to earn extra months of free shipping, for example, appears to be under review. Kindle rental is no longer mentioned in the terms of service. And the cruelest cut of all is that the discounts on diaper purchases have been slashed by a third. Instead of 30%-off, the most Amazon Moms can hope to score today is 20%.
A Virtual Million Mom March
Emboldened by the success of recent online protests, though, Amazon Moms are taking to the streets (or perhaps, to the Information Superhighway) in revolt. After seeing corporate bigwigs cave and rollback everything from the new "pay to pay" fee that Verizon Wireless tried to foist upon its subscribers, to Bank of America's infamous $5 monthly debit card fee, they've started a petition on Change.org to demand that Amazon reinstate the original terms of Amazon Mom.
Now I have to admit -- at first glance I wasn't particularly impressed by this move. I mean, when Verizon (VZ) tried to charge its customers for the privilege of paying their own bills ... that was just wrong. And B of A's (BAC) attempt to recoup revenues lost to it when Congress capped the fee it could collect from merchants for debit card use was a bit sketchy.
But Amazon Mom? This is a free service. It cost nothing to join, so really, what did consumers have to complain about when Amazon reduced the level of benefits it was giving away gratis?
Not Everyone Can Be a Mom
Turns out, though, there is a bit of dirty pool going on here. In switching from the old system of Mom benefits to the new, Amazon took a couple questionable actions. For example, some Amazon shoppers have reported that after announcing a date for the switchover in benefits, Amazon forbade Mom-members from ordering extra shipments of diapers (for example) ahead of time, in an effort to beat the price hike. The company has also apparently frozen membership in the program entirely. The webpage for Amazon Mom sign-up now bears a notice reading:
"Looking to join Amazon Mom? You're in the right place. But at this time, we're not accepting new members to our program. If you'd like to be notified when Amazon Mom memberships reopen, please join our waitlist."
Conspiracy theorists are wondering if membership was frozen to prevent a mad rush to join Amazon Mom and buy diapers in bulk before the new benefits plan came into effect. And even if they're right, from a business perspective, I suppose Amazon's actions make some sense. If the company's bleeding money, and earning half as much as it used to largely because of Mom, of course they'd want to avoid exacerbating the problem.
Cutting the free benefits from Amazon Mom also makes Amazon's paid service, Amazon Prime, relatively more attractive (and could therefore boost the company's bottom line.) But from a PR perspective, there's no question Amazon's making a lot of Moms unhappy lately -- and like the saying goes: When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company mentioned above -- but yes, he is a proud Amazon Mom. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com and Bank of America. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Amazon.com.
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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Amazon Mom also offered a free monthly Kindle book rental. It also inaccurately stated that Amazon's ordinary subscribe-and-save program offers a 15% discount. The correct number is 5%.