Marketer of the Year 2009

Amazon Is What Customer-Focused E-Commerce Looks Like

Marketer of the Year Runner-Up: E-Tailer Continues Growth While Barely Spending on Ads

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Though it's far from giving the store away, Amazon has responded to the recession by keeping prices low and keeping up its good deals on shipping. Revenue soared 16% for the first half of the year, and the company shredded third-quarter expectations with earnings surging by 69%.

LESSONS LEARNED:
7%
of respondents picked e-tailer Amazon for its focus on marking shoppers happy.
1. CUSTOMER SERVICE IS MARKETING.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said on numerous occasions he wants to run "the most customer-centric company in the world." Note that he did not say biggest online retailer or immensely profitable company. Those just happen to be the benefits of putting your customers at the forefront of everything you do. And that's not just about having a sharp call center. As Mr. Bezos told BusinessWeek when the magazine made Amazon's center tops on its list of best customer-service companies, "Customer experience includes having the lowest price, having the fastest delivery, having it reliable enough so that you don't need to contact [anyone]. Then you save customer service for those truly unusual situations. You know, I got my book, and it's missing pages 47 through 58."

2. YOU DON'T NEED A BIG AD BUDGET TO BUILD A BRAND.
When's the last time you saw an Amazon ad? Exactly. Despite its universal awareness among consumers, Amazon has a minuscule ad budget. Rather than try to buy love, it earns through the aforementioned customer-centric approach and the word-of-mouth it engenders. The brand is also helped along by smart initiatives such as its Frustration-Free Packaging, designed as an alternative to those awful plastic clam shells. While it does seem that, at some point, Amazon will have to find a way to market the Kindle somewhere other than its website, the e-reader, now the company's top-selling product, is doing just fine without much media weight behind it.

3. BE A SOCIAL COMPANY, NOT A SOCIAL-MEDIA MARKETER.
Amazon doesn't need heavy-handed tactics like building Twitter feeds and Facebook pages to show it gets social media. All it takes is a quick look at its website to see how customers' voices are central to what makes Amazon. Those reviews and rankings we all take for granted now are crucial to the shopping experience. This, of course, isn't to say that Amazon hasn't had its share of missteps. In April, gay-themed books were accidentally dropped from sales rankings. Amazon took the blame, but took way too long to make an apology -- and drew fire from the gay and lesbian community.

4. DON'T FEAR THE ALGORITHM.
Amazon boasts an amazing recommendation engine, pumping out regular enticements of books, movies and other products you might want to buy. That helps them avoid the plight of other e-tailers who seem to think CRM is spelled S-P-A-M. Amazon sends a carefully curated suggestion based on an enormous amount of purchasing data. While it's far from perfect, the algorithm is usually on to something, to the detriment of many wallets.

5. DO DEALS THAT MAKE SENSE CULTURALLY.
When Amazon bought Zappos for more than $800 million, it didn't just buy a shoe e-tailer with $1 billion-plus in sales. Something more valuable changed hands, namely a culture that's remarkably similar to Amazon's own ethos of customer-centricity. Zappos, besides subscribing to a corporate philosophy of transparency, takes much of its marketing budget and invests it in free shipping for customers, instead of bludgeoning them with ads. Sound familiar?

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