This pivot to a physical store location represents a complete 180 from Jeff Bezo’s early dreams of opening an on-line book store to disrupt the established bricks and mortar brands, but it is yet another example of the constant innovation we have seen from Amazon since its inception in the mid 1990’s.
It will be interesting to see how this till-less offer develops and the reaction is elicits from other supermarket brands as Amazon starts to compete with their traditional retail offering. It also sparked a discussion that Alan Clark and I had on a recent Mind Your Business Podcast episode, that now every business, whatever their product, service or sector now competes with Amazon.
As most of you reading this will know, I run an accountancy business, so you might ask what right do I have competing with Amazon? I don’t sell products, I am not a distributer of goods, I certainly don’t package my advisory service up in a cardboard box with an A-to-Z swoosh on it and leave it in your greenhouse!
So let me explain what I mean by this statement.
The way I see it is that, today, if you want to buy literally anything, at some point you will go to Amazon. In that Amazon world you will have a huge choice and instant access to a range of products in your search stage. Let’s say you want to buy some Bluetooth headphones. You use the search function, which returns hundreds of options-the algorithms are very clever, they make sure you see what you want – or what Amazon and its thousands of Bluetooth headphone sellers’ want- and when you make your choice, you can proceed to the checkout, pay instantly and have them delivered literally later that day.
Amazon has built a business that delivers instant gratification. It has built a proposition that whatever you want, you will be able to find and buy it, or get the answer to a question you need resolved within the working day. This proposition is now integral to everyone’s life. So, even though my business is in the professional services sector and it can take months to deliver a product or service, we now have to treat our customer experience like we are Amazon.
For example, when we talk to a prospect client, they can get a proposal from us instantly. It can be digitally signed, while we are in the meeting with them discussing it. When they become a client, our on-boarding process is digital and seamless. And since the start of lockdown we have also made the conscious effort to always be available. Clients can contact us whenever or however they want. Whether their preferred channel is WhatsApp or Slack or email or a telephone call, we will be accessible.
For too long, particularly in the professional services sector, a potential client will choose a firm, they all agree terms in principle and then nothing happens for a week. The client chases, and in return receives a tatty email which says, ‘yes we can put together your shareholder’s agreement, it will be £1,500 plus VAT’. In the meantime the Amazon generation has spoken to a competitor, who didn’t keep them waiting, has got a price, signed a deal and moved on. Boom.
That is the new ground we are all competing on; instant gratification, or at least a much quicker acknowledgement and follow up process.
To compete with Amazon we have to turn things around in real time. It’s not necessarily because we are flashy, it’s because our client base are young entrepreneurs. Millennials or Gen Z are used to being able to sign on the dotted line and immediately start receiving the service they have asked for.
If it takes more than an hour from meeting a prospect to give them a proposal and sign them up as a customer, then someone in your industry will get there quicker and you will be haemorrhaging potential sales.
And I think this is now true for hundreds of businesses.
Amazon has conditioned us to expect to be able to pick apart a product and put it back together the way we want it, at a price point that suits us. So your operations and sales processes have to evolve to match this expectation. If you have a business model where customers can buy various different versions of the same product or service, meaning they can select from a basic budget model right the way up to platinum, with 100 different options in between, then from their experience of Amazon, your customer is going to want to instantly understand all of those options, the costs, where the differences are, and pick a solution that best suits them.
The concept of telling customers that they can have any colour they want, as long as it’s black and that the car will be ready ‘when it’s ready’ is obsolete. With its first foray into a book of the week spotlight, Amazon first brought us standardisation, then customisation and now personalisation. That is what we are competing with.
There’s also the consideration of how you deal with something if it goes wrong. We purchased a monitor from Amazon- that we had delivered not to the office but to the home of a new starter, because we were working remotely which had a fault with the power pack. We contacted Amazon and requested a new one. They said they couldn’t break up a monitor and power pack set so they would just send out a complete unit. Importantly, the whole process took less than two days and came with no stress and no quibble. A problem was fixed and we are still loyal customers.
Every small business I work with has a built-in guarantee like this. One of our clients specialises in beautiful handmade kitchens and joinery. They don’t talk about their guarantee at all and the reality is very few people experience it because they make sure they get it right first time. But if someone spent £40,000 on a new kitchen that wasn’t quite right, they fact is that Rowood wouldn’t hesitate to fix it and wouldn’t leave the site until it was put right. That’s their guarantee but they don’t shout about it. Amazon has ensured that its vast customer base expects that when something goes wrong it will be put right, no hassle, no arguments. If your customer service doesn’t match this level, someone else’s will.
Amazon is also a great entrepreneurial story. When he started, Jeff Bezos was absolutely not an expert in distribution chains but rather a guy in his garage trying to create an online book store. In another blog we talked about skyscrapers and how easy it is to only see the final product and ignore the years of hard work it took to get there. If you look at the first iterations of the Amazon home page and its book of the week section you will see how far the platform has come. Amazon probably sells more books than anyone else in the world but the lesson here for every business owner is that the business you have today will not be the business you have in five years. Allow yourself to grow and evolve.
Amazon is also binary; you either buy the product or you don’t. There’s no hard sell. A lot of business owners, certainly in the first few months of trading, fall into the trap of needing to sell to everybody, all the time. As the saying goes, everyone with a chequebook and a pulse is a potential customer. We have a restaurateur as a client; he runs a top-quality restaurant and is very clear on his menu, his price and who his customers are. A lot of people think it’s too expensive, but he’s ok with that because the price reflects the time it takes to prepare the dishes and the quality of ingredients he uses, it is a destination restaurant.
We talked in a previous pod about looking for clarity, not certainty in a business. This is an example of that clarity. This restaurateur has never had certainty that people would flock to eat at his restaurant, but by getting clarity on what he can control he has built a core fan base and has developed a thriving business. Like Amazon, he presents you with what he thinks you will like.
We started off with quite a bold statement about how every business now competes with Amazon. It’s not necessarily their products or service, but rather in the way their customers have been trained, by Amazon, to expect certain standards from every other supplier they deal with.
Whether you are a barber shop, an accountancy, a funeral directors, a restaurant, or a professional services business, your customers have been indoctrinated by Amazon to expect that they can pull apart your product and put it back together exactly how they want it. They can get instant gratification in terms of receiving whatever they order, and can enjoy a really well-rounded guarantee of customer service, if something ever goes wrong.
Whatever business you are in, you need to focus on your customer touch points. Whether it’s your initial engagement and proposal process, how you on-board a client or how you package your product or service, take a look at your operation and then Amazon it, because as customers that is now the model we expect.