Sunday, February 9, 2014

Even Amazonians Get the Blues

Cheer up, marketing folks.  Even Amazon gets it wrong sometimes.

If you've worked in digital marketing, you've heard a client ask why you can't do something that Amazon does.  Maybe they asked for an email campaign triggered by browsing behavior.  Maybe they asked for a model to guess what a customer might want to purchase next.

Amazon is to digital marketers what Nike or Apple is to brand marketers: the go-to paragon of excellence.  In some ways, all these brands succeed in their respective fields because of the same reason: heavy investment.  We know "Just Do It" and Apple's various advertising platforms because they invest heavily in media weight.  Similarly, Amazon invests heavily in technology to enable their wizardry.

Amazon has another advantage as well: time.  Or, rather, lack thereof.  Because Amazon's systems only date to the start of the Internet age, they have no old, cranky technology to limit growth.
Still, even they mess up from time to time.  Perhaps more to the point, they also know how to make good when they do.

Last Saturday (1st February). I put in an order for several books, a Chromebook and a cheap envelope-style case for the Chromebook.  I selected free shipping because I'm a tightwad.

Amazon informed me that I would receive most of the items by the 10th, which suited us fine since we intended to give the books to our kids for Valentine's Day.  However, one book was on back-order and would be shipped separately.  No problem.

As is my wont, I began checking up on my order status every few hours from the moment I placed the order.  After a few days, I became concerned that the order hadn't shipped.  I chatted with Amazon's customer service and they assured me that the order would still arrive by the 10th.

The following Saturday, the 8th, the order had still not shipped.  So back to Amazon's chat I went.  Eventually, the customer service representative explained that the cheap computer case was holding up the order.  They didn't have it in stock.

Let me put it another way: Amazon told me they didn't have one item I ordered in stock but not another item.  Even more perplexing, the computer case was an Amazon-branded item sold by Amazon itself rather than a partner.  Dish out a big bowl of WTF.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending.  The rep helped me find another case that was in stock and then (after I mentioned that I had hoped to give the books to my kids for Valentine's Day) upgraded me to two-day shipping at no charge.  Amazon kept a loyal customer and I get my purchases in time.

What should marketers take away from my (admittedly prosaic) experience?  Not even the best technology can account for every eventuality.  Even Amazon drops a stitch now and again.  However, people can succeed where technology fails.

So, marketing pals and gals, think about your own technology challenges and what you can't do when a client or stakeholder asks you to do something "just like Amazon." Then think about what your people can do to fill the gap.