By Doug Llewellyn, President & COO at Purch

When Amazon announced that it bought Whole Foods for nearly $14 billion back in June, the news sent shockwaves (if not ripples of fear) through the retail community. Is Amazon going to take over the grocery sector? Is the death of brick-and-mortar stores across all industries imminent? But as these and other nervous questions fly in the wake of the acquisition, retailers should be asking a different question: What can we learn from Amazon, and how can we follow its lead?

Amazon’s disruption of the retail world is nothing new. For decades, the e-commerce giant has reshaped the role that brick-and-mortars play in the customer journey, even spurring other retailers to follow suit. Take Warby Parker, for example. Founded in 2010, the company upended a $140 billion industry by moving the sale of eyeglasses online.

Of course, not every company can be the next Warby Parker, but every retailer can learn from the example set by Amazon. By studying the things that Amazon does right, companies can stop maligning this industry behemoth and focus on what really matters — building better businesses, both online and in stores.

Put customers in their place

Companies should start by remembering the old saying that “The customer is always right”. As the success of Amazon’s customer-centric model shows, that’s never been more true than it is today.

Luckily, retailers don’t have to be industry giants to provide top quality service or understand customers’ needs and expectations.  Brick-and-mortar retailers can easily engage in conversations with shoppers on-site or collect customers’ email addresses to follow up on transactions. Tools like Survey Monkey or Ask Your Target Market are also great and affordable options for smaller retailers to dig deeper into the customer mindset.

Make it personal

Putting the customer back at the center of the business model might sound like some kind of metaphor, but it isn’t. Amazon and its ilk use technology to understand consumer behaviors and target shoppers with products that appeal to them. In essence, every Amazon shopper exists at the center of his or her own retail universe.

Companies like Best Buy have clearly taken notice. Over the past 12 months, Best Buy has doubled down on improving its e-commerce platform — making transactions simpler for shoppers, enhancing its customized product recommendations and incentivizing online shoppers to buy more with competitive pricing. In Best Buy’s case, these efforts helped pave the way for a major win: Its domestic online sales grew by 31.2 percent year-over-year during the second quarter.

With enough thought and planning, even small retailers, whose businesses may not be as technologically advanced as Amazon or Best Buy, can create customer-centric shopping experiences.  E-commerce sellers can implement several different practices to personalize the shopping experience, including: seasonal deals, bespoke pricing and personalized discounts, suggested items to purchase and timely push notifications for mobile shoppers.

Be flexible

As Amazon’s recent foray into organic groceries shows, company business models can and should evolve according to new opportunities. Take, for example, Leesa, a mattress retailer that once sold its products exclusively online. In 2016, the company made a bold move when it opened its first brick-and-mortar location in one of New York City’s busiest shopping districts.

Recognizing when it’s time to try new things — whether that’s expanding e-commerce endeavors or creating a better real-world presence — is crucial to staying competitive. Be flexible, but focused. Channel experimentation around a goal, such as inciting buying behaviors. Then get creative. Offer discounts or daily deals. Diversify the products and services offered, and make sure that offerings are timely and seasonally relevant.

As retailers implement these ideas, they should also make sure to look beyond the now into the future.  As they do so, they should take a page from Amazon’s hugely successful membership program: Amazon Prime. Membership models and cash-back programs go a long way toward rewarding the loyalty of repeat customers and enticing new customers to get on board. And you don’t have to run an Amazon-sized business to offer big customer perks. There are many tech solutions for smaller businesses that seamlessly integrate loyalty programs into POS systems.

By taking Amazon’s lead and keeping customers at the center, gathering data to better understand their needs and implementing practices and tools to make the overall experience better, companies can improve their own businesses and achieve greater long-term success.  So instead of fearing companies like Amazon, perhaps we should all take a page from their playbook and follow suit instead.

Follow Purch COO Doug Llewellyn on Twitter for more industry insights! 

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By Rylan Barnes & Phil Barrett

Voice interfaces are getting a lot of buzz right now, and for good reason. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 30 percent of our interactions with technology will be through conversations with smart machines. That’s why tech giants from Google to Microsoft to Apple are investing in voice — but this shouldn’t just be the business of the Goliaths. Savvy business owners and entrepreneurs, especially those in retail and ecommerce, must find a way to adopt these platforms to remain competitive as voice takes a front seat in commerce enablement.

This doesn’t mean creating your own Alexa or Siri. But it does mean taking advantage of the voice platforms already in place and the built-in audiences that are using them to increase customer loyalty and attract new business. For retailers or ecommerce sites, this means tapping into voice platforms so customers can ask if a certain store or site has the jeans they’re looking for in their size. For product review or comparison sites, this means asking where they can find the best camera for under $250 and asking for a detailed review, all while driving or cooking dinner.

In the best scenario, these voice platforms can offer guidance on all aspects of the buying process, removing any friction for the consumer and alleviating some of their decision-making responsibilities. But not all voice platforms have equal potential. Consumers are quickly realizing that most voice interfaces can’t do everything they claim (think Siri).

Why Alexa above others

So why isn’t the same happening to Alexa? Alexa does two important things to sidestep consumer disappointment. First, Alexa doesn’t try to do as much. It doesn’t have a screen to fall back on, and it forces users to stick to the script. In a way, Alexa is copying the original Google search model but in a more concise way. While Google can return several results, Alexa gives just the best answer, and it needs to be short and to the point. When people search Google and don’t find what they want, they just assume it doesn’t exist or that they put in the wrong search terms or Boolean logic. They don’t blame Google for not finding it. And it’s similar for Alexa. It’s a nuanced user response, but it could make all the difference in determining which AI platform(s) make it and which ones don’t.

Read the full article here: http://venturebeat.com/2016/11/01/why-amazon-alexa-is-so-dominant-right-now/

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By John Divine

Amazon.com, Inc. (ticker: AMZN) does pretty much everything retail.

What started as an online bookseller quickly expanded into other product verticals like electronics, clothing and toys, and eventually morphed into an all-encompassing web store with virtually every legal product you can imagine. AMZN even helped put a few billion-dollar businesses – RadioShack, Borders and Circuit City being three of the most prominent – out of business along the way.

There’s arguably no other American company ever that’s been so successful in so many areas.

That’s not to say there haven’t been flops. Amazon Local, the Fire Phone and Amazon Destinations each failed; the Fire Phone arguably registered as one of the biggest tech flops of the last decade. Still, Amazon’s track record of success far exceeds its failures, and with a hard-charging billionaire intent on taking humans to Mars at its helm, Amazon investors and competitors alike should be prepping for its next ambitious business expansion.

Search. “When people are looking for products and they want to buy something, they’re already starting on Amazon.com, not Google (GOOGGOOGL),” says Phil Barrett, senior vice president and general manager of Purch.

Barrett believes that Amazon Alexa, the company’s AI-powered, voice-activated personal assistant, could become the Google Search of what he calls the “post-app” world.

Alexa products like the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot have been surprise hits for Amazon, and that, combined with Alexa’s ease of use and impressive functionality, makes Alexa a serious contender to be the search engine of the future, Barrett says.

Alexa is also an open platform for developers to add skills, enabling the assistant to become even smarter. In contrast, Siri had been closed to developers until very recently, and Google Assistant is only now commercially available in the Pixel phone.

“In the future it’s not gonna be Android vs iOS, it’s gonna be Alexa vs. Siri or Alexa vs. Google Assistant,” Barrett says. And that makes Amazon’s sizable head start in virtual assistants all the more valuable.

“That for me is potentially very scary for Google,” Barrett says.

Read the full article here: http://money.usnews.com/investing/articles/2016-10-21/amazon-com-inc-amzn-stock-next-industry

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