Niels Koekoek

Feb 19, 2019

What Amazon Can't Do

eCommerce experts from leading UK brands gathered in London on February 13 for a breakfast session on the future of commerce hosted by Bloomreach and Wunderman Commerce. Inspired by the event theme 'What Amazon can't do' the attendees explored the opportunities for brands and retailers to differentiate themselves from the eCommerce giant that now owns 52% of the US and 35% of the UK's online sales1.

Amazon can't do everything

One of the key takeaways was that Amazon might have a big market share for everyday products but they don't do a very good job when it comes to creating a delightful shopping experience. Research by Wunderman Commerce surveryed over 3,500 online shoppers in the US and the UK and found that consumers actually prefer other vendors over Amazon in a lot of cases. Not only because they find cheaper pricing elsewhere but also because other vendors are offering more convenient delivery options, more attractive loyalty programs, more specialized product ranges or simply because they are looking for personalized service or in-store experiences.

This is especially the case when it comes to more 'niche' products where consumers have specific preferences regarding design, material, quality or brand. For this, shoppers tend not to buy on Amazon but go to a specialized vendor or a brand instead. To capitalize on that opportunity, brands and retailers need to be smart in leveraging modern technologies to be able to deliver an experience that really delights their customers.

Relevant search results

Take for instance the site search bar. If you go to Amazon and search for 'black laptop', they will present you with a rather random selection of laptops bags, laptop batteries and indeed some laptops. With a smart, self-learning search functionality, it's easy for brands and retailers to offer a better search experience that actually returns relevant search results and gives customers exactly what they are looking for. This becomes even more important as an increasing number of online shoppers are using mobile devices and it's known that mobile shoppers use site-search more often.

Personalized assortments

Another thing Amazon doesn't do well is curating the right content for the individual visitor, making  this is a great opportunity for others to differentiate. Even without a vistor logging in,  businesses can use browsing behavior, overall consumer trends and real time visitor data to personalize the experience in the moment. A visitor who is browsing the women's section and has been clicking on mostly blue items and then searches for "sweatshirt" will see blue women's sweatshirts bumped to the top of the results. Important to note is that this kind of smart personalization is dynamic, so let's say another family member is using the same computer to shop later on, the algorithm will soon discover a different browsing behavior and adapt the content accordingly.

Creating connected experiences

Where Amazon really falls short though is in offering contextual content. Sure, they offer an almost infinite product catalogue and a lot of user generated content in the form of reviews but when it comes to inspiring and educating their customers, they don't have much in store. How different is the shopping experience at a specialized retailer like REI that takes its visitors on a virtual journey to their next travel destination and inspires them to go places they haven't event thought of yet. Information about the products that would come in handy for such a trip almost feels like a side issue here because it's intertwined with rich content like videos and engaging blog posts. REI also connects their online experience to physical events like workshops and training sessions. It's these kind of engaging experiences that create loyal customers that will fall in love with your brand and come back for more.

Selecting the right technology

The big hurdle that the majority of brands and retailers have to overcome are their legacy systems, in particular  legacy eCommerce platforms. These platforms were built specifically for creating product grids and facilitating checkout, not for creating engaging experiences. That's why the main takeaway of the event was the realization that the future core of eCommerce won't be a commerce platform. Business that really want to invest in customer experience are moving away from legacy commerce platforms and are implementing a combination of headless commerce with an experience platform on top. With this setup, they are able to power all kinds of omnichannel experiences - not only through channels that customers are using now, but also the ones they might want to use in the future, like voice or augmented reality.

Coming back to the main topic of the event, we can summarize that Amazon can't deliver the engaging, connected experiences that delight customers and turn them into loyal fans. Brands and retailers that leverage modern technologies to do exactly this will be able to capitalize on Amazon's shortcomings and withstand the power of the beast.

1. The Future Shopper 2018 And Beyond. Wunderman Commerce. 2018.