Zig while amazon zags

or 5  ways to compete with Amazon

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One of the biggest challenges that face retailers at the moment is how to compete with the jugganaut that is amazon. Powered by the profit driver in AWS:amazon web services and more recently AAS: amazon advertising services the retail industry fears their arrival.

First understand them . the best way to get into amazon’s DNA is to read the letters to shareholders that Jeff Bezos has written every year since he started in 1997. Look out for a seperate blog on that subject coming soon .

The second defence is attack 

Strategy #1: Own the pre- and post-transaction experience
Amazon are very focused on making the transaction as easy as possible at low cost, but we still have to assemble solutions on our own. If an organisation offers a ready-made solution that saves us time and effort (at a price we can live with), we’re grateful.

  1. Meal delivery companies, for example, have leveraged this basic insight to create a new category. Cooking a meal is time consuming: go to the supermarket, fight through the crowds order to find a few ingredients, wait in a long line, lug your bags home, put everything away, measure and chop the ingredients, and assemble the meal.Meal delivery companies like Gousto, HelloFresh, and simply cook eliminate all of these chores but the last one by shipping pre-made meals that require very little prep. (Amazon launched their own meal kit delivery service in July in order to catch up after falling behind for five years.)
  2. Furniture  or Clothing : Virtual Reality is allowing you to select and choose furniture or clothing that fits your room or you.Once you’ve selected what you want to buy, sometimes extra effort is needed to actually assemble, install, learn how to use it, customize it, and then repair it once it breaks.
  3. Electrical retailers: DixonsCarphone Warehouse are competing vs amazon in electrical by offered get technical support pre and post purchase. Installing Fridge freezers, Kitchen ranges / recycling fridges.
  4. Garden Retailers offering Garden Services
  5. Mothercare offering to come and assemble the cot or bed for you rather than you have to put things all together.
  6. Laura Ashley assembling beds.

Strategy #2: Turn your services into a platform
The fastest-growing companies in history, such as Google, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Amazon, and Netflix, are all platforms. The platform business model captures the most profit, builds a moat that is hard for competitors to cross, and scales quickly once it reaches critical mass. While building up a global workforce of employees to offer support services may take massive amounts of time and capital, a platform can get there in a fraction of the time. And, if you don’t do it in your niche, it’s likely that Amazon will — if it hasn’t already.
Amazon Services uses a platform model to deliver hundreds of services at scale including services with and for the home, automotive, electronics, yard and outdoor, assembly, health and wellness, lessons and classes, and pet services. It even has an Uber-like service, Amazon Flex, which has drivers in 30 cities who deliver Amazon products.

You can build a platform by focusing on your niche , playing to your strengths, particularly your unique understanding of your customer, in order to more effectively recruit, vet, train, and manage a network of service professionals and help them solve the specific problems that customers in your niche face. The most successful platforms in the world aren’t ones that offer every service under the sun. They are ones that are the most focused.

  • Uber is a platform that has focused on logistics and transport
  • Netflix is not trying to meet all entertainment needs, but focused on emotional connection

Netflix founder Reed Hastings: “We’re not trying to meet all needs. So, Amazon’s business strategy is super broad. Meet all needs. I mean, the stuff that will be in Prime in five or ten years will be amazing, right? And so we can’t try to be that — we’ll never be as good as them at what they’re trying to be. What we can be is the emotional connection brand, like HBO. So, think of it as they’re trying to be Walmart, we’re trying to be Starbucks. So, super focused on one thing that people are very passionate about.”

Strategy #3: Reduce every point of friction in your customer’s journey until you hit a ‘wow tipping point’
To reduce the friction at every step of your customer’s user journey, leverage your own customer data to uncover friction points and relentlessly remove them. Start by removing glaring problems. Then keep going until you reach the ‘Wow!’ tipping point
A hallmark of many of today’s most successful companies, is that they don’t stop improving their product once it’s good enough. They identify every interaction their brand has with a customer and aim to make it a ‘Wow!’ experience. It’s not just tech firms; retailers are taking note as well.

Strategy #4: Create a must-have brand and then use it as leverage
One of the biggest threats to Amazon is the power of brand. A truly powerful, must-have brand like Apple or Disney doesn’t need Amazon to succeed. They have built a direct relationship with the consumer. As a result, Amazon has lost tens of billions of dollars in potential revenue because people buy Apple products on Apple.com or in the Apple STore. Furthermore, Amazon’s whole business model is antithetical to people’s innate desire to display their personality and status through what they purchase. There is always going to be a segment of people who value self expression over low prices and convenience. The luxury category is one of Amazon’s Achilles’ heels.
Amazon is confronting the ‘brand’ threat in two ways.

  1.  First, amazon has shown that it’s not afraid to build or acquire its own brands (19 in total). Amazon also leverages its data on which products sell best in each category to launch its own generic brand, Amazon Basics, which now has over 3,000 products. In each category these products appear in, they are featured.
  2. commodifying brands by forced discounting, using its direct relationship with customers and audio purchasing to push competing commodity brands. With Amazon Alexa, customers can say, “Buy toothpaste,” and Amazon will send its recommended toothpaste rather than the toothpaste with the best brand, for example.

Make no mistake, Amazon is trying to destroy the value of branding overall and learn from your customers in order to compete with your most profitable products. Bezos’ famous saying, “your margin is my opportunity,” is particularly relevant here. Branding creates a perception that facilitates charging a higher price. Bezos is attacking that pillar of higher prices.
By having a must-have or a luxury product, you give yourself choices on how to leverage your brand:

  1. using an embargo period Netflix keeps its original content exclusive to Netflix for a certain number of days and then sells it on iTunes and other platforms. The other platforms are not only sources of cash, they are also marketing.
  2. allowing just some products to be sold on Amazon (sell some brands on Amazon and others only on your own site),
  3. not selling on Amazon at all (Birkenstock, for example, prohibits its sellers from selling on Amazon. Sales tripled to $800 million last year),
  4. partnering exclusively with one brand. (Martha Stewart has a multi-year exclusive agreement with Macy’s).

Strategy #5: Defining the problem & Extreme Experimentation

Amazon really understands the problem that they are trying to solve. and works hard to clarity the brief for any new innovation, making it crystal clear what the customer problem is they are trying to solve and then how they will develop a proposition to solve that problem .

This, more than any other strategy, is why Amazon is so successful: Amazon is not a traditional business. If you think it is you have already lost. You are competing against an economy.

Part of what makes the Economy Pyramid Model so successful is the sheer quantity of experimentation. Amazon’s culture of listening to customers , defining the problem & experimentation is so deeply ingrained that Bezos has repeatedly gone on record saying that Amazon’s success is directly correlated with the number of experiments it performs.

Amazon isn’t just experimenting internally with new platforms like Alexa, Kindle, Flex, Marketplaces, and dozens of others. Each of those platforms then empowers an economy of producers to create millions of experiments. In so doing, Amazon passes the cost of experimentation on to producers, receives income for each experiment, and then doubles down on the blockbusters by creating their own competing brand. It’s a brutally effective strategy. Amazon aggregates producer experiment data to launch its own competing products.
In a world that is rapidly changing, the companies that succeed will be those who increase their rate of experimentation faster than the environment changes. And Amazon is a core part of that environment.

If you need help in defining the problem and creating experiments contact me.

Author: Andrew Mann

Managing Partner at NorthBailey. Having had senior marketing & insight roles at Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda, Coop and M&S, I'm now using my experience & network to solve strategic marketing problems for NorthBailey clients

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