Not a week goes by without a conversation with a client trying to figure out how to play in the Amazon sandbox without cannibalizing their own revenue streams. It’s a reality. Today, to be where their prospects and customers are already shopping, most brands (both B2C and B2B) need to sell their products through traditional retailers or distributors, online only marketplaces and often their own branded stores (both on- and offline).

On one front, the pessimist in me, sees the rise of Amazon Echo as a blow to long-term consumer choice and inspiration (one L2 experiment in the batteries category suggest that Alexa tends to defer to Amazon’s house brands, limiting discovery of other products).  On the other hand, my inner optimist, recognizes that as societies become more affluent, people crave experiences over stuff.  The result could be a decline in consumerism. But it could also mean that for anything besides the most basic items – say toilet paper and paper clips – there is a chance for brands to take advantage of the many innovations and trends in digital commerce to create experiences that provide opportunity for differentiation.

shopping center caption Wanted: Compelling Experiences

What makes a compelling customer experience?

Back when I still shopped at the mall, the difference between a functional store and a great store included a few things: beautiful displays that inspired desire or bred familiarity, selection that included my size, personalized service that shared expert advice, spurred discovery and built trusted confidence, fair pricing and return policies and finally, packaging that made me feel like I was walking out with a lovely gift to myself.  Online shopping has made me willing to drop many of these criteria in favor of convenience.  But, as convenience becomes table stakes, there is an opportunity to bring back many of these elements in a digital fashion.

Let’s face it, Amazon’s greatest advantages are concentrated in certain parts of the experience: selection, price and convenience.  There is nothing on Amazon that inspires me – they just don’t have great content merchandised in a compelling way.  Their product information pages are useful – in a utilitarian way. Ratings and reviews provide some context, but my trust that anyone commenting there is an expert (or even a real customer) is low, so I tend to discount the advice. Related products are helpful but they don’t allow me to build an outfit or decorate a whole living room. And rarely, if ever, after I’ve bought something on Amazon and gotten the box do I feel that sense of delight that I get when I’ve treated myself to a special purchase.  It sort of feels like stocking the pantry.

Don’t get me wrong, I will keep buying many things on Amazon because it’s functional, convenient and a good value, but there is a certain flatness to the experience that doesn’t lure me.  What Amazon offers in core functionality, it lacks in sophistication of experience: because the catalog is so vast, standardization is required to power it’s merchandising and product personalization algorithms, making it hard to deliver on truly unique experiences.

Where does that leave other brands?  With an opportunity to innovate in the areas Amazon (and Walmart, Alibaba, eBay, etc) can’t.

Use digital commerce innovations to power your unique, compelling customer experience

This week our highlighted research explores how you can master the table stakes while taking advantage of the trends that are hot in digital commerce (subscription required). Things like customer journey analytics (Use Customer Journey Analytics to Align Marketing and Digital Commerce, subscribers only), augmented and virtual reality, personalization and even .  Every industry can think about how these capabilities might enable them to provide something different – something to attract, engage and convert a customer online.

  • Fashion: how can you provide inspiration, education and fit tailoring that would give a shopper the confidence and excitement to buy not just that t-shirt they need, but the whole outfit that will make them feel stellar? (journey analytics will help you personalize appropriately (clients check out: Crawl, Walk, Run: Define Your Vision and Roadmap for Personalization), AR or VR might help you with fit and inspiration and great content of all sorts can educate)
  • Home Furnishings: what are the tools you can use to create desire, support visualization and share expert advice to someone who is redecorating their living room for the first time in ten years? (hint, it’s not all that different from your friends in fashion, but the application is totally unique because you are dealing with one-time considered purchase items that most buyers have limited experience with)
  • Manufacturing Tools and Supplies: how can you help a B2B buyer who is a specialist in HVAC or woodworking be the best in the trade? (unique knowledge of your category for personalization, education about new tools/supplies and even subscription sales of consumables yield a superior experience than any marketplace)

As you think about what’s hot in ecommerce for your sector – move beyond table stakes like convenient free shipping and returns – and think about what problem you can solve for your customers that is uniquely possible on a branded site and hard for a marketplace to scale.  If you have both digital and physical retail channels, leverage your footprint to create great omnichannel engagement – at least until Amazon’s investment in stores catches up. Recognize that you’ll likely sell in multiple places (your site, your store and myriad marketplaces), but that to maintain your brand equity and customer relationships, you’ll need to deliver compelling and unique experiences that go above and beyond product excellence.

3 Comments
  1. August 23, 2017 at 10:14 am
    Robert says:

    Really well thought out piece Kirsten. I think a lot of businesses continue to forget about customer experience, so much so to offer a good CX could almost be a USP. I really like how you frame it as a tool to compete with a monster brand like Amazon.

    • August 24, 2017 at 6:03 pm
      Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      Thanks Robert – totally agree. My colleague Jake has said that ‘Customer experience is the new battlefield’ > the more products are commoditized, the more true that rings!

      • August 29, 2017 at 11:30 am
        Robert says:

        ‘Customer experience is the new battlefield’ I love that line! It really is true.

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