Bezos' is out to control shopping, at whose expense?

Bezos’ is out to control shopping, at whose expense?








I have been pondering this quote from famed author James Patterson, which you may have seen:

“Amazon seems out to control shopping in this country. This ultimately will have an effect on every grocery and department store chain and every big box store and ultimately put thousands of mom and pop stores out of business. It sounds like a monopoly to me. Amazon also wants to control bookselling, the book business and book publishing. That’s a national tragedy. If this is the new American way, it has to be changed by law if necessary.”

While I understand the frustration that Patterson and his publisher must feel about their lack of leverage against Amazon in negotiating retail price, it would be a greater national tragedy for government to step in and legislate – any more than they already have – an unnatural competitive advantage for brick and mortar retail.

Yes, Amazon is out to control shopping in this country. The only way they can do it is by finding better and better ways to serve consumers.

Yes, “we” shouldn’t allow Amazon to control shopping in this country. But brick and mortar retailers have an advantage, and should not allow a lack of creativity or fear of failure to serve as an excuse to go whine to Mom & Dad (er’ the government) that someone isn’t playing fair. We should prevent Amazon’s dominance by… (revolutionary thought)… GETTING BETTER AT SERVING CONSUMERS!

Brick & Mortar retail has the advantage of proximity (75% of all retail spending occurs within one mile of the consumer’s home, not online), the advantage of “I want to see it before I buy it”, the advantage of “I want to take it home with me now”, and – theoretically at least – the advantage of human touch.

Amazon  (and Google Shopping Express and eBay Now and others) are investing aggressively and thinking creatively about how to erode the first three advantages – but what about the last one? How important is the human in retail?

It used to be very important, before the age of Big Box and Discount Retail. Before chain retail the shop owner and his family – they were the brand. They gave personal, knowledgeable service. They were the epitome of personalization and high touch.

This is what actually got me hooked on marketing technology – the possibility that technology held to make that epitome of the shop keeper/consumer relationship actually efficient. I wonder now, if we marketing technologists and our love of data and analytics have created  more distance than we’ve closed – especially when I read that 52% of consumers believe that shopping is too impersonal (mediapost).

So I took a stab at mapping out where some of today’s retail categories and leaders fell as it related to the intersection of personal touch and personalization. Here is my first draft…

How important is the human in retail?

How important is the human in retail?


The first thing I noticed was that en masse – there is A LOT more today’s retailers need to do to match Amazon in their use of consumer data to transform the shopping experience (using it to customize marketing is just table stakes now).  The second thing I thought about was how Specialty Retailers, like Trader Joe’s, are having success – with a differentiated inventory and highly engaged, enthusiastic humans – and I wondered if brick and mortar retailers, and mom & pops, are doing enough to embrace the fact that they have an advantage in their infrastructure  – and are they doing enough to leverage it in the battle for consumer loyalty?

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Susan O’Neal Gear has over 20 years of experience at the intersection of consumers, marketing and technology. Passionate about all aspects of a consumer’s relationship with brands and retailers, we’re spending the next year looking for new, groundbreaking thought leadership  – if not disruptive solutions – with the potential to redefine the parameters of consumer loyalty. If you also want to see some game changing happen -then follow Upstream Insight, contribute your voice, share this post…do something!