TECHNOLOGY

Attention Retailers: The Time is Right to Beat Amazon at its Own Game

BY David Hurwitz

My dentist saved my teeth – and inadvertently wound up making me understand how retailers can beat Amazon at its own e-commerce game.

Yes, it’s possible to “out-Amazon” Amazon. But it requires delivering an elevated shopping experience – unlike the one I had after my fateful dentist appointment.

“Floss!” my dentist demanded as he burrowed into my mouth with a sickle probe. “Floss or you’ll lose your teeth!”

And so I began flossing with religious zeal. And not with just any floss, either. I use GUM Butlerweave, the best dental floss in the world, and it comes with a rewindable, fail-proof dispenser. I found it on Amazon, and bought an entire case. Haven’t had any gum problems since.

But now, guess what happens every time I visit Amazon. Right there, in the center of my screen, are these words: “Are you ready to buy more dental floss?”

Dear Amazon: I love you. I’m a shareholder. I want you to do well. But no, I’m not ready to buy more floss. I just bought five miles of it. I’m not going to order again for years.

And, the truth is that I – evidently along with many others – only want to buy bargain commodity items like dental floss from you, or rebuy things I’m already familiar with.

Amazon’s recent earnings report bears that out. While the company beat expectations and e-commerce business remains its primary revenue engine, its direct sales business is growing slower than the overall e-commerce growth rate in the U.S. Indeed, Amazon seems to be far more focused on Amazon Web Services (AWS), subscription services and advertising.

The Amazon.com we’ve known for so long is no longer so easy to love. Its search capabilities are dim, the merchandising is not personalized and the content is cluttered, overwhelming and not very useful. And the experience, whether we’re conscious of it or not, is similar to shopping at a large bazaar teeming with bargain bins. In other words, it takes a lot of time and effort to shop for differentiated products.

Amazon’s shortcomings represent a significant opportunity to make inroads on the Amazon monolith for manufacturers, distributors, brands and retailers – so long as they offer the following:

● Foolproof search
● Personalized merchandising
● Relevant, personalized content

In other words, they need to deliver an elevated shopping experience.

An elevated shopping experience allows shoppers to quickly find what they’re looking for without having to wade through bizarre results. It delivers personalized and relevant content about that product – and others they may be interested in – based on what they’ve searched for and what the merchant learns about them as they shop.

It’s no secret that Amazon’s search function is flawed. For example, enter “black laptop” into the search bar and the results will number hundreds of items – only a handful of which are black laptops (along with laptop tote bags, external drives and toner cartridges). In fact, product pages themselves are overrun with useless information other than user reviews, and even those can be unreliable.

When shoppers use an e-commerce search form, they’re saying, “I want to buy something. Find it for me.” It’s unforgivable for a merchant to fail at that, because if their search engine can find that item, they’ll be able to sell it, often on the spot. And let’s say someone is shopping for elementary school supplies; the system should instantly intuit that they’re shopping for kids.

Then the retailer can start suggesting other children’s merchandise that may not have been top of mind but which triggers another sale. So, the merchant is not only providing a better, easier shopping experience, they’re automatically giving themselves an opportunity to sell related items that the shopper will likely be interested in. They’re delivering a connected experience. An elevated experience.

Shoppers want that. They also expect seamless checkout with rapid and flexible delivery options. But if the initial shopping experience is weak, then the shopper may never get to checkout and payment – and the quest for stickiness ends.

Retailers, brands, distributors, and even manufacturers should think about these ideas – right now – in order to be more competitive, especially against the suddenly vulnerable Amazon machine.

As my dentist might say, it’s something that can’t wait.

David Hurwitz is chief marketing officer of BloomReach.

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