Amazon Strikes A Deal With Apple, But Cuts Out Independent Sellers

Dec 23, 2018
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

For years, if you wanted to save money on an Apple laptop, you could buy a used one on Amazon from one of many independent sellers. On January 4, those days will be over. Amazon is kicking small businesses who resell Apple products off its site. NPR's James Doubek reports.

JAMES DOUBEK, BYLINE: Paul Budde's (ph) basement shelves are filled with laptops, iPads, screens, cables and packing material. He makes a living selling used computers and accessories from his home in St. Louis. But he buys old Apple computers, sometimes as many as 50 at a time, and fixes them up. He even upgrades some. For most people, buying a new Apple computer is expensive. Most models run at least $1,300 or more. That's why, Budde says, people often look into buying something used online.

PAUL BUDDE: They can, you know, look on Amazon and find something that's been refurbished that's an older one that still works good. And they can get into trying out a MacBook Pro for, like, $500.

DOUBEK: Resellers like Budde say Amazon is a huge part of how they sell their stuff. For him, it's 90 percent of sales. But starting January 4, he's poised to lose all of that. Last month, buddy got an email saying that, because of a new deal between the two companies, his Apple products would be removed from Amazon's store. He says he felt...

BUDDE: ...Very frustrated, upset. Just - wow, you know? What am I going to do now, basically?

DOUBEK: Dozens of independent Apple resellers lit up Amazon seller message boards. Dear Amazon, I would like to thank you for running me out of business with a single email, one person wrote. It's not clear how many hundreds of businesses are affected. We reached out to Amazon, and a spokesperson wouldn't say.

JOHN BUMSTEAD: It's kind of something that Amazon sellers like me have always feared.

DOUBEK: That's John Bumstead of Minneapolis. Bumstead says he sells about a third of his refurbished Apple computers on Amazon. And he's not sure how he's going to make up for it. Apple resellers say they're going to have to sell more of their stuff on eBay, Craigslist and other sites.

But those are small potatoes compared to Amazon, which reigns supreme in online shopping. In an NPR Marist Poll this year, 92 percent of online shoppers said they've bought something on Amazon. But now Apple has pushed small sellers off of Amazon's marketplace. It's a change that worries Bumstead, who says Apple could force other companies to drop independent sellers like him.

BUMSTEAD: What if Apple forces this kind of agreement that it made with Amazon? What if it pushes this agreement onto the other marketplace players? What if the rest of it becomes off limits as well? That's the really scary thought in my mind.

DOUBEK: From now on, companies that want to sell used Apple products through Amazon have to show they sell millions of dollars' worth each year. Apple says it wants to prevent counterfeit products from being sold on Amazon, which this will do. But Paul Budde says all his sales are authentic Apple and points to his near 100-percent feedback rating. So he's not sure what he's going to do when the new policy goes into effect next month.

BUDDE: Me and my wife had a talk. What else could I do for my business, you know? We came up with different ideas and stuff, obviously. So I have plans of other things I could try. But this has been a good business for me, so I'd hate to see it go.

DOUBEK: For now, he says he's just busy trying to keep up with the rush of sales before Christmas. He needs to clear out as many Apple laptops and phones as possible because, after January 4, he won't be able to do it on Amazon. James Doubek, NPR News.

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