Amazon has faced its share of criticism. That happens when your company is the world's largest online retailer and increasingly touches more and more aspects of your customers' lives. You become a pretty easy target of customers, workers, and even politicians.
You could argue that much of Amazon's criticism is deserved. The fact that the company charges customers for a membership that promises free two-day delivery, but has a hard time getting anything in that amount of time. Or, the fact that it pays little in taxes compared to other retailers. Then there's the way the company treats third-party sellers, for example, by using their sales data to compete against them. Finally, and most importantly, there's the way the company treats its workers, especially in a time of a global health crisis.
Lately, however, the company has faced criticism over its support of protesters seeking justice over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month. The company added a banner at the top of its site stating "Black lives matter," linking to a blog post detailing contributions Amazon is making to "organizations supporting justice and equity."
Apparently some customers aren't happy about that, and have decided to let the company's CEO, Jeff Bezos hear about it. Bezos, in turn, has shared a few of those messages on his Instagram account, along with his responses.
Over the weekend, Bezos, posted a particularly racist email he received from a customer named Dave. I've included part of that message from the Instagram post, though I've omitted the most offensive parts.
In response, Bezos said:
There have been a number of sickening but not surprising responses in my inbox since my last post. This sort of hate shouldn't be allowed to hide in the shadows. It's important to make it visible. This is just one example of the problem.
And, Dave, you're the kind of customer I'm happy to lose.
Here's why this matters:
Forget for a moment that Amazon doesn't need Dave's business. It doesn't. The company is worth a trillion dollars, and its founder/CEO is worth over $130 billion. Whether it will actually hurt Amazon or not (it won't), it's actually a reminder that when a customer violates your values, it's time to fire that customer.
There's a valid point to make here that Amazon's record on race isn't perfect. In March, the company fired Chris Smalls, a black employee who led a walkout over how the company was handling worker safety at a Staten Island distribution warehouse. Not only that, Amazon seemed to go out of its way to criticize the former employee through its public statements. It would be easy to assume that this public statement of solidarity by Bezos is an attempt at a redo, or to save face in the current environment.
But the CEO's willingness to call out a customer still offers a lesson in how entrepreneurs should be responsive to what's happening in the world and embody their evolving values. Amazon's record on whether it has always lived what it says it values is mixed, at best. What is clear, however, is that the company is drawing a line--and it's willing to say goodbye to customers who disagree.
The Customer Isn't Always Right
Not everyone will agree with you. Most of the time, that's fine, and as a business owner or entrepreneur, your job is simply to serve your customers even if it means swallowing your pride. You can still provide a product or service well, even to people you don't agree with.
Sometimes, however, they'll disagree with your values. They might even do it in a way that expects you to compromise those values. When that happens, the decision should be clear. The cost of compromising your values is far greater than the loss of one customer.
When that's the case, be respectful, but fire the customer.