Published on: March 16, 2017
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Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
Today, I'm celebrating an anniversary of a kind. On March 16, 1997 - twenty years ago today - I placed my very first order on Amazon.
Not exactly an early adopter. But pretty close. (These were the days when Amazon would send customers little gifts as a thank you - I think I still have a coffee mug they sent me.)
That year, we placed a total of nine orders on Amazon. Most of those were for single items - kid's books about people ranging from Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig to Sally Ride. I also ordered a memoir from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the greatest of 20th century American statesmen, called "Miles To Go," and a memoir by John Hockenberry who has had a wonderful broadcasting career despite being wheelchair-bound. There also were a couple of cookbooks, plus one title that makes me laugh: "Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young/How to Survive Your Teenagers."
I guess I know what was on my mind in 1997.
The thing is, one can go on Amazon and check out every purchase one has made on the site. Ever. When I look at my purchase history, I can see that the number of purchases grew a little bit each year, but really seemed to jump in number the year that I spent most of the month before Christmas on the road, which was the same year that I joined Amazon Prime ... and I discovered the magic of making frequent purchases without worrying about shipping costs. In essence, it was the year I entered the Amazon Ecosystem.
Apparently, there is no escape. Or at least, I'm not looking for one - it appears, based on my order history, that in 2016 the people in my household placed a whopping 176 orders on Amazon. (I think that qualifies as "whopping." There are a lot of people who order less, but I'd be willing to bet that there are folks out there who order a lot more.)
It also is important to point out that this is not all expensive stuff. There are orders for $5, and orders for $50. What's also interesting to note in gazing at my order history is how the products being ordered have changed. That first year, it was just books. After not too long, it was also DVDs and CDs. But I don't think I ordered any CDs or DVDs last year, and I ordered more e-books than physical books. (Except for the books I ordered for my wife's third grade classroom.) Last year, there also were orders for food and household supplies and HBC items and tons of other stuff. There were a bunch of streaming videos, a lot of orders placed via Subscribe & Save, and the vast majority were placed via Amazon Prime.
But there is one important and, I think, irrefutable fact about my ordering history.
Everything I bought could have been bought at a bricks-and-mortar store.
I'm sure that some of the stores where I made those purchases in the past would blame Amazon for the loss of business.
In the beginning, I didn't go looking for an alternative to the physical shopping experience. But 20 years ago, as today, Amazon operated from a basic premise - that it wasn't going to sell me stuff, but rather just make it easier for me to buy stuff. I'd say they did a pretty good job.
I also think it is fair to say that for the most part, Amazon has lived up to another one of its key tenets - that "today is day one." As a consumer, I've never felt that Amazon was complacent about my business. Rather, the opposite - I think the customer service actually has gotten better. (It used to be impossible to find a customer service phone number on the site, but that's not the case anymore.) And as a reporter, I continue to be impressed by the degree to which Amazon continues to innovate, push the envelope, and see the impossible as a temporary condition.
I had no idea of any of this when I placed that first order 20 years ago. I certainly never would've imagined that I'd be involved in a relationship with a disembodied voice named Alexa, and could use an Amazon-developed voice-activated computer assistant to acquire both information and merchandise.
Here's the thing. Today, somebody will go onto Amazon for the first time, place a first order, and unknowingly begin the process of being seduced into its ecosystem. If you are competing with Amazon - and pretty much everybody is - you have to figure out how to compete with that. It is not just a matter of identifying Amazon's weaknesses, but your strengths ... because success is found in the places where you are both different and better, not where you are the same.
If a customer walks into your store today for the very first time, what are you doing to seduce him or her into your ecosystem, making sure they come back tomorrow and the next day, insuring that you never are complacent about their business?
If you are not embracing this opportunity and making sure that you are relentlessly fighting for the customer's business and loyalty, then it is possible you've already lost the battle. And you won't be able to blame it on Amazon.
That's what's on my mind this morning, and as always, I want to know what is on your mind.
- KC's View: