Imagine buying what you need or want online and helping save the world at the same time? That’s the premise behind Amazon Smile (smile.amazon.com), a service by the Internet retail behemoth Amazon.
For every $100 you spend, Amazon will donate 50 cents to the participating nonprofit organization of your choice. What’s more, it won’t cost you anything more for what you buy. All you have to do is log on to Amazon Smile rather than Amazon (amazon.com).
Along with the same prices, with Amazon Smile you can obtain the same selection, shipping, and customer service as you do with Amazon. You can use your existing Amazon account on Amazon Smile. Your shopping cart, wish list, wedding registry, baby registry, and other account settings are the same.
To designate a charitable organization to support when shopping on Amazon Smile, you simply select the organization on your first visit before you begin shopping. You’ll receive an email confirmation of your choice, and Amazon Smile will remember your selection. You can change your charity of choice at any time by going to “Change your Charity” in “Your Account.”
Most but not all products purchased at Amazon Smile elicit donations, though you can see which products do elicit donations before buying. They’re the ones designated “Eligible for Amazon Smile donation” on their product detail page.
Amazon Smile launched in October 2013, and currently you can support any of nearly one million 501(c)(3) public charitable organizations this way.
One example of a participating charity is the MOAA Scholarship Fund set up by the Military Officers Association of America (moaa.org) to provide educational assistance for the children of U.S. military families.
A second example is Best Friends (bestfriends.org), which tries to find homes for pets in animal shelters and prevent them from being euthanized.
A third example is World of Children Award (worldofchildren.org), which funds children’s programs around the world in the areas of health, education, safety, and human rights.
Nonprofit organizations not already registered with Amazon Smile can learn how to register at org.amazon.com.
Amazon Smile donates 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products, minus any rebates, and excluding shipping and handling as well as any gift-wrapping fees, taxes, or service charges. It periodically offers special promotions that increase the donation amount on some products.
Unlike with making a direct contribution to a charitable organization, however, you can’t take tax deductions for the money that Amazon Smile donates. The donations themselves are made by the Amazon Smile Foundation.
After you make a purchase on Amazon Smile, the service gives you the option of automatically sharing what you did, and the name of both Amazon Smile and the charity of your choice, through Facebook, Twitter, or email. This can help spread the word so others can do the same. Amazon Smile has a Facebook page at facebook.com/AmazonSmile.
As you might expect, even a seemingly benevolent service such as Amazon Smile isn’t without its controversy, in much the same way that Amazon itself isn’t without its controversy. An article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy (philanthropy.com/article/is-it-immoral-for-charities-to/152075) wonders if it’s “immoral” for charities to align themselves with Amazon. A Huffington Post blog (huffingtonpost.com/brady-josephson/why-amazon-is-smiling-and_b_4360405.html) wonders if people using Amazon Smile will donate less to charities.
Amazon is the U.S.’s largest online retailer. It started out as an online bookstore before diversifying into music CDs, movie DVDs, video games, software, electronics, clothes, furniture, toys, jewelry, and other merchandise.
The company has the most popular ebook reader on the market, Kindle. Several million books are currently available for download. With its Amazon Web Services, Amazon is also the dominant player in the corporate cloud computing services market, letting customers ramp computing and storage capacity up or down as needed. The company is also active with video-on-demand through its Amazon Instant Video service.
Amazon has received criticism regarding poor working conditions for employees. Employees have been tracked on a minute-by-minute basis and threatened with reprimands by supervisors if they talk among themselves about working conditions.
Some former Amazon shoppers have migrated to the online marketplace Etsy (etsy.com), which claims to value people over profit, community over greed. Among others trying to take on Amazon is Jet.com (jet.com), launched by a former Amazon manager.
Still, Amazon is known for its huge selection, good prices, speedy delivery, and excellent feedback system for determining the reliability of vendors. If you’re one of millions of loyal Amazon customers, all told, Amazon Smile can be a good way to bring a smile to others.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at email@example.com or reidgold.com.