A hand went up. It was Julian Grubbs, from Express Office Products. “City customers used to buy from my website, and then we transitioned to the city website. Are we transitioning to Amazon and it’s going to replace the city website?”
The question cut through the fog of Lee’s pitch. With Amazon now approved as a channel for city government purchasing, would city employees simply be buying straight from the site? Left unmentioned was the clear subtext: if they were doing so, what was to keep them from buying from the countless other suppliers on the site, not just El Paso businesses?
Bruce Collins jumped up to dismiss Grubbs’s insinuation. Yes, he said, buyers could now go through Amazon directly. But, “as part of the synergy with the city, it’ll be coded” that an El Paso supplier is local, and thus preferable to use.
Daniel Lee offered more consolation. Amazon Business gave sellers a window where they could describe themselves, where El Paso businesses could tout their roots. “You can tell your story,” he said.
But Grubbs wasn’t satisfied. A few moments later, he raised his hand again and cut even closer to the main point. “What’s the tradeoff when they order from me directly and [from] me from Amazon?” he asked.
Lee acted as if he did not understand what Grubbs was getting at. “Tradeoff for you, sir?” he said.
“Tradeoff for me and the customers,” said Grubbs.
Marin jumped in and started talking again about Amazon guiding El Paso buyers to El Paso sellers. Grubbs wasn’t having it, and pushed even harder for candor. “My question is, I’m on the city’s website for a ream of paper for ten dollars. They go through the city website to purchase from me. When they go through Amazon, they’ve added another tradeoff, whether price, service, or convenience. What is the tradeoff?” He was practically begging now.
But the avoidance continued, from each of the three men.
“Global distribution,” said Bruce Collins. “When you go to Amazon Marketplace, you’re now a global supplier.”
“We’re not trying to replace your current business,” said Daniel Lee. “It’s not El Paso. It’s the Stanfords and GEs of the world that you get to sell to, in a pretty turnkey solution.”
“We take on the responsibility of negotiations” when it comes to overdue payments and other hassles, said Mario Marin. “It’s a phenomenal channel to think about.”
This was the Amazon vision in its essence, of commerce at its freest and most frictionless, a small business on the Mexican border able to sell its goods to any buyer in the world, without even having to worry about packing and shipping: What was not to like about that?
Grubbs couldn’t take it anymore. He had tried not to be too blunt. How could one be so crass as to inquire about price if the seller was acting as if there wasn’t even a pitch going on, that this was all about helping El Paso businesses grow? They had left him no choice.
“That’s great and sounds great to me,” Grubbs said. “I haven’t seen what it’s going to cost me for this convenience.”
And finally, with that, nearly forty minutes into the pitch, Lee told his audience that for the privilege of selling on Amazon, they would pay a $39.99 monthly fee. “And,” he continued, “there’s a referral fee that spans from six to fifteen percent depending on product category.”
It was vague, and Grubbs called him on it. “Those categories go from six to fifteen percent. How do I, as a businessperson, identify my product category?”
“That’s something we’ll walk through with you,” said Lee.
“That’s something we’ll come to terms with before we come to terms?”
“Kinda sorta,” said Lee.
With the real terms of the deal finally on the table, there was little left to be said. A while later, Mario Marin wrapped things up, neatly as he could. “You heard two stories,” he said. “One is, there’s a play on suppliers on the sell side, onboarding, recruiting, helping you sell on this marketplace. And then you heard my story, on how we’re teaching, showing, demonstrating how you can use this site, you can buy and mirror your procurement processes in such a way that you can help fulfill your socioeconomic goals.”
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s our story.”