I just read that the e-commerce market in the US is expected to reach $226 billion this year. Amazon’s US sales are expected to be about $30 billion. My quick math tells me that means about 13¢ of every dollar spent online in the US is going to Amazon. Clearly, Jeff Bezos and company are doing some things very right. And it behooves all of us who are trying to make our businesses better to pay attention.
Since at least that many pennies of every dollar I spend online goes to Amazon, I’ve had a good deal of experience with Amazon as a customer. Here’s what I’ve observed Amazon doing very well – and these are things any business can (and should) emulate:
Help me clarify what I want. A couple of weeks ago I went on Amazon to buy a tent. That’s pretty much all I knew. Once I got to ‘tents’, a few minutes of looking at the options available and reading reviews made it clear to me that I wanted a 2-person, easy to set up, sturdy, lightweight tent. And I had also gotten a fairly good idea of what a reasonable price point would be. I settled on one that had gotten excellent reviews and that, in addition to all the other criteria I’d just established, looked nice. The Amazon site is beautifully designed to support this kind of quick pinpointing.
Any business can benefit from this approach. How many times have you gone into a retail store and asked someone a simple question about the stock (Do you know if this comes in blue? I’d love something just like this but smaller – do you have that?) and gotten nothing more than a blank look? Or asked an insurance agent what kind of coverage you might need and gotten a flurry of impenetrable insurance-speak in response? Training customer-focused employees to listen well, ask great questions, and be able to speak simply and knowledgeably about the products or services they offer can help ensure your customers have an Amazon-like experience.
Offer to expand my horizons. When I go on Amazon, I actually enjoy the ‘recommendations,’ especially for books. First, their algorithms are good, so the suggestions are generally pretty spot-on. Second – and more important – there’s no hard sell. It’s just, “If you liked/bought this, you might like this.” I appreciate this kind of heads-up when it’s simply a suggested possibility. Most businesses make some effort to ‘upsell’ – but most do it badly in one of these two ways: either the recommendations aren’t based on the customer’s expressed preferences, or there’s real pressure to buy. Instituting the no-pressure approach, and basing your recommendations on what the customer has actually bought or shown an interest in – I can only think that would make anybody’s customers more satisfied and loyal.
Keep making it easier and easier to deal with them. I’ve always been impressed with how glitch-free Amazon’s interface is. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a technical problem when dealing with their site. And then I loved it even more, a few years ago, when they came up with the ‘one-click’ option: even easier. Far too many companies make it difficult to do business with them. Anyone who’s ever gotten caught in an endless loop of phone extensions can attest to that (airlines and phone companies seem particularly bad in this regard). Company executives need to look at all their customer-facing processes from the point of view of the customer, and design or re-design them for ease and clarity…and they need to do this not just once, but ongoing. And often, front-line customer service people can offer great insight into what’s working and not working, if executives would only ask. When all interactions with a company are fast, simple, and correct – again: a satisfied and loyal customer.