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Amazon vs. The rest of the retail world


I recently attended a roundtable on mobile commerce with a focus on the fashion retail world. The outcome was liberating: a unanimous agreement that we need to switch from a technology-led to a consumer-led approach. Consumer trends should inform tech trends and not the other way around.

In this diverse crowd of innovative start-ups, established retailers, savvy investors and a bank thrown in for good measure, we all came to the same question: consumers are increasingly omni-channel, so how do we learn about and offer the ideal customer journey across these channels?

A recent MIT report states that 80 per cent of consumers check pricing online and increasingly whilst in store. Smart devices are giving Smart information to consumers, wherever we happen to be, but can the back-end businesses we’re interacting with get smart as well?

You buy a red shirt in my store – that’s about as much as my business knows about that transaction after you’ve walked out. Being Smart is not just for the consumers – we need to get better at tracking how someone came to visit that store on that day and buy that shirt. Were you just passing by? Did you see it online? Did you see an advert? Did you check online before buying it to see if what was cheaper? What were the interactions you’ve had with my brand that led to you visiting the store and buying that shirt? And, crucially, what can that tells me about what might lead to your next purchase? I’m sure you are counting on analytics for attribution / conversion data but that alone is not enough. Multi-channel attribution?


None of us had a good answer. The question became: how can a single large brand identify and display what a unique consumer wants to be shown?

We banged our heads against the table until the light bulb turned on. Amazon. We see it every day – unless if you don’t get distracted as often as I do – “Related to items you’ve viewed,” “Get yourself a little something,” “More top picks for you.”

However mysterious and inscrutable I like to think I am (very), Amazon knows me. They know what I’ve bought, what I’ve looked at, what I’ve liked and disliked if I’ve written reviews, and so they have a good idea about what I might like. Amazon is a smart business.

You don’t need me to tell you how great Amazon is. They’re reporting US$75 billion in revenue for 2013 and predict a big bump up from that in 2014. But what they’re really excelling at is using their technology to learn about their customers and help them find what they need. Amazon’s tech set-up is all about giving the customer what they want and when they want it – their sci-fi foray into drone delivery is just one more example of this.

I’m a strong believer in web for acquisition and native apps for loyal customers, but in a crowded market it’s not realistic to think that I’m going to have a brand specific app for each of my favourite places.

Aggregators like Shopstyle offer “brands you like at the stores you shop”. They’re somewhat smart, but they lose the trail of their customers as soon as they’re re-directed to a brand that doesn’t even necessarily have a mobile optimised site. This is the point – to be truly smart, businesses need to establish an end-to-end overview of how their consumers are interacting with their brands so that they can offer the best possible experience to a particular consumer.

Just because Amazon is smart doesn’t mean the rest of us have to be dumb. Major high street brands have a massive advantage through their store presence, which can be greatly enhanced by utilising customer-driven tech. iBeacon is an example of the type of customer focused technological development that will start enabling companies to bridge the gap between offline and online activities.

This type of technology is still in its very early stages. Forrester Research suggest that a growing number of stores will start to adopt digital marketing strategies around location- and interaction-based data points, but as long as this relies on the customer doing something other than what they want – like downloading and accessing additional apps – then the impact of this kind of approach will be limited.

We all agreed that we’re nowhere near the answer, but we now know which way the question is pointing: The next generation of business and technology development must increasingly take its cue from consumer habits. Consumers want relevant products and offers to bring them through to checkout. In this competitive space there’s no room for mistakes – bombard me with messages and your app is getting uninstalled, and your emails doomed to go straight to spam. We need to get better at learning about our customers and then using that information in a smart way…like Amazon.

Published on Wednesday 28 May by Editorial Assistant

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