• Brooke Collier

Only Amazon Smiles

Why Amazon is Smiling at you.


Let’s talk about Amazon’s persuasive and allegedly philanthropic Smile program.


AmazonSmile claims that a percentage of your Amazon purchase can go to a charity of your choice. A program that nonprofits can utilize and in turn ask their supporters to “shop through Amazon” to have half of one percent of the things they purchase go to the designated charity. Admirable right?


Their sentiment is exemplary; providing exposure to nonprofits and donating portions of sales through the popular shopping site to worthy causes. However, the Smile platform is genius marketing, dressed up as altruism. AmazonSmile relies on the work of nonprofits already strapped for time and resources, to further increase their customer retention, with no one smiling but them.




First, to access AmazonSmile you must go to a separate website, instead of their default storefront at amazon.com. AmazonSmile was created by Amazon in 2013; offering the same products, prices, and shopping features as Amazon, AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. If you spend $20, that's 10 cents, $2,000 and that's $10 going to charity. However that is only if you remember to navigate and purchase items on https://smile.amazon.com. This too is only possible if notifications are turned on, and your desired charity choice is renewed 2x a year. Predictably, most shoppers don’t make it this far.


This charitable act requires shoppers to be rigorous in their purchasing patterns, disrupting a pre-automated system instilled in most Amazon shoppers. The entire process to eventually give a charity half of a penny is tiresome and a deliberate effort by Amazon to depress, rather than increase, the act of giving.


Amazon.com’s software designers do not allow shoppers to make a one-time request to donate, or have these contributions directly linked to the shoppers account. The only automated actions are the notifications and advertisements sent out to charity supporters to shop Amazon. Amazon now has small nonprofits and organizations encouraging their members to use Amazon, knowing that most will forget to go to the AmazonSmile link.


Further evidence of Amazon.com’s intentions come from the fact that despite years of requests, there are no cell phone or tablet apps for AmazonSmile. AmazonSmile’s description states, ”AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you.”


Without a cost there is no actual exchange with the select charity, yet the charitable reward exists. If you’ve already received a reward, at no cost to you, are you more or less likely to give to a charity when the time comes?


This action heavily distorts the consumer’s subconscious decision making process at charity’s expense. This is called the social exchange theory. A theory which proposes that in any transaction there is an exchange between two parties, and parties will only enter that transaction or exchange if the reward outweighs the cost. In the charity world this comes into play with what charities can offer back to the donor in exchange for their gift. This is often in the form of a tax receipt or a good feeling.


Amazon’s Smile program is disingenuous and abuses the marketing ploy. People are more likely to choose Amazon for purchases, and spend more, if they think they are making a difference. It’s the cheapest customer retention tactic to pay 0.5% of sales to keep people loyal. AmazonSmile only benefits nonprofits with a large supporter base, however usually provides a negative overall ROI for organizations that participate.


0.5% is $5 of every $1000 in purchases, meaning AmazonSmile supporters would have to purchase $1,069,000 in eligible products from smile.amazon.com in a given year in order to reach that mean donation of $5,348.


What do we provide to Amazon in exchange for this monetary support? Marketing.

Constant reminders for people to go to smile.amazon.com instead of simply amazon.com, points our audience in that direction and asks them to select Amazon before anyone else. Every mention of their name, every logo attached to a post, every donor that we tell to go to Smile.Amazon.com, all contributes to the pseudo-monopoly of Amazon’s online retailing. They have built a system where we are incentivized to help make them even bigger.



Since its early days, AmazonSmile has nudged shoppers to give to what it calls ‘spotlight charities’. These are the recommended charities provided by Amazon to help customers narrow down a long list of a million. Unless you are sizable enough to make the rotating list of ‘spotlight charities’, most of those contributions won’t head your way.


AmazonSmile has done nothing to increase the quantity nor quality of charitable giving. In fact, AmazonSmile has little relationship with charity, donating, or philanthropy. To increase AmazonSmile’s philanthropic legitimacy we want to encourage AmazonSmile to raise their order-based donations from 0.5% to 1.0%. This would improve and help smaller nonprofits who’s selection rate is not as high as the nonprofits that AmazonSmile has personally selected. the donation option and contributions were directly linked to the shoppers account, more people would remember and proceed to donating to non-profits. Making the change to add AmazonSmile onto Amazon's main account would be more philanthropic. 


If you are interested in donating to a nonprofit, or become involved in philanthropic acts, the best way to do so is directly through the charity. Donations big or small make the world of difference and can be done without any involvement with other companies or platforms.