Digital technology advances ever more rapidly, whether we’re looking at smartphones, social media, advertising platforms, 360 and live streaming video and many other areas. The area that’s arguably advancing the fastest right now, thanks mainly to Amazon, is ecommerce.
What’s notable about ecommerce is that it has a huge effect on the entire economy and on the everyday lives of so many people. It wasn’t that long ago when many people weren’t comfortable ordering physical products online. That’s still true for some holdouts, of course. But ecommerce has rapidly become an accepted way to find the best deals. In the last few years, Amazon has dramatically raised the bar for ecommerce in a number of ways.
User experience (UX) is now a popular term among web designers and it’s especially relevant in the world of ecommerce, where anything that slows down shopping or confuses the customer can mean a lost sale. UX includes many details, large and small, including quality images, fast-loading pages, easy-to-navigate menus, and attractive page layout. When it comes to e-commerce, however, speed and efficiency are especially crucial. This is another area where Amazon has long been a leader, starting with the introduction of one-click shopping back in 1997.
If you ask the average Amazon customer what they like best about the company, you’ll likely receive a variety of answers, including “good prices,” “huge selection,” and “great customer service.” Yet one of the ways that Amazon has come to dominate online retail is by offering a customer-friendly user experience. The now-common phrase “one click shopping” was a major breakthrough. It’s now so common that many customers don’t give it a second thought.
The ability to shop without having to re-enter your information each time saves lots of time. Beyond this, Amazon (and many other leading edge companies, large and small) has improved UX by creating simple shopping carts. Websites that are less user-friendly, with confusing or slow checkout process, now stand out as clunky and inefficient and people are likely to abandon them.
Delivery and Logistics
When the average consumer orders a pair of shoes, speakers, pet food or cosmetics online, he or she doesn’t think much about all of the essential actions that go into fulfilling the order. It is, however, a rather complex and often problematic series of steps. Retail sellers need a place to store products, a system for packing and handling them and an efficient way to transport them.
This was true long before the age of the internet. When people ordered products from a mail order catalog 30 years ago, companies needed a reliable logistics system just as they do now. The huge difference is that today’s consumers have considerably higher expectations and far less patience than those of the pre-digital era. Whereas in the past, people didn’t think twice about waiting as long as month to receive a package, today they want it within days, if not the same day! This is where Amazon is really shining and getting consumers to take amazingly fast service for granted. How do they accomplish this?
- Lots of distribution centers. With more than 70 distribution centers in the U.S. and more than 90,000 employees, Amazon is able to reduce the amount of time it takes to process and ship items.
- Making more items available. Another aspect of the Amazon revolution is that consumers have quickly gotten accustomed to getting practically everything delivered online. Not that long ago, they took a plunge by expanding from books to hundreds of other areas, including electronics, clothing, furniture and sporting goods. Now they are focusing on a new challenge: getting people comfortable ordering groceries online. In fact, Amazon has a whole program devoted to this area, called Amazon Fresh. As this spreads, other companies will surely compete, making it even more normal for people to order anything they want online.
- Control every aspect of the process. While most retailers simply sell products and use third-party services (distribution centers, shippers, etc.) to fulfill orders, Amazon is making a bold attempt to control every aspect of the supply chain. They’re even planning a complete logistics network called Consume the City project, which would replace FedEx and UPS.
- New delivery methods. Amazon is already famous for ushering in the age of drone-delivered products. Amazon has an ambitious plan for creating delivery drone “beehives” in major cities. Also in the planning stage are self-driving trucks to make deliveries even more efficient.
Merging of Online and Offline
Another emerging ecommerce trend that Amazon is largely responsible for creating is the increased merging of physical goods and online services. With Amazon, this is largely handled through Amazon Prime. While the best-known feature of Prime is free two-day shipping, it also provides members with a host of other benefits, including streaming video and music.
Kindle is another realm where online and offline frequently intersect. For one thing, you need an actual Kindle (or comparable device) to read the e-books sold on Amazon. Customers also can choose to bundle e-books and print copies. Increasingly, the worlds of ecommerce and digital services are part of a single experience. This is another trend that all businesses need to be aware of. Those who cling to the traditional idea of a solely online or offline business risk falling behind.