All those narratives about Amazon? They’re not exactly accurate.

abI doubt I know a single person under the age of 75 who hasn’t purchased at least one item of merchandise from Amazon over the years. And I know quite a few people whose only shopping experience for the holidays is a date with the Amazon website.

Still, some of the breathless stories and statistics that are put forward about Amazon and its business model seem almost too impressive to be true.

I’m not just talking about news reports of drone deliveries (a whole lot of “hat” and far less “cattle” there) or the idea that fully-robotic warehouses are just around the corner – although these stories do make for attention-grabbing headlines.  (Despite the continued need for human involvement, the way that robots are being used inside Amazon warehouses is still quite impressive.)

Moreover, a study published recently by BloomReach based on a survey of ~2,200 U.S. online consumers finds that Amazon is involved in most online shopping excursions, with nine out of ten online shoppers reporting that they check Amazon’s site even if they end up finding the product they want via another e-commerce resource.

More than half of the BloomReach survey respondents reports that they check on the Amazon site first — which is a new high for the company.

But are all of the reports about Amazon as credible?

Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett

Recently Doug Garnett, CEO of advertising agency Atomic Direct, penned a piece that was published in the December 2016 edition of Response Magazine. In it, he threw a dose of cold-water reality on some of the narratives surrounding Amazon and its business accomplishments.

Here are several of them that seem to contradict some of the commonly held perceptions:

“Amazon is a $100 billion retailer.”

Garnett notes that once subtracting Amazon’s non-retail revenue for 2015 (the last year for which financial data is available), the worldwide figure is more like half of that.

In the United States, Amazon’s retail sales are closer to $25 billion, which means it makes up approximately 6% of total retail sales.

That’s still very significant, but it isn’t the dominating presence as it might seem from all of the press hype.

“Amazon is profitable now.”

Yes, it is – and that’s after many years when the company wasn’t. However, approximately three-fourths of Amazon’s profits are due to selling cloud-based services, and the vast majority of the remaining profit dollars come from content delivery such as e-books plus music and video downloads.  So traditional retail hard-goods still aren’t generating profits for Amazon.

It turns out, just as retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and K-Mart have discovered, that replicating a retail store online is almost always a money-losing proposition.

To underscore this point, Garnett references this example of a merchandising campaign in 2016 as typical:

“When one unit was sold on Amazon, eight were sold at the retailer’s website and 80 were sold in the brick-and-mortar stores. The profit is in the store. 

For mass-market products, brick-and-mortar still dominates. Amazon is a nice incremental revenue stream, [but] not a valid alternative when you’re playing in the big game.”

It also means that companies that are looking to Amazon as a way to push their products into the marketplace should probably think twice.

At the very least, they should keep their expectations realistically modest.

Getting Bunky with Retail Marketing

digital circularsAre the days of the lowly printed sales circular numbered?

Judging from the flurry of newfangled activity by key retail marketers, it would seem so.

This past week, CVS Pharmacy announced a complete makeover of its weekly circular.  The new digital version, dubbed myWeekly Ad, incorporates customized promotions focused on the products that are deemed of greatest interest to individual consumers.

The personalized sale items are determined from scanning the trove of customer buying behavior information housed in CVS’s ExtraCare Rewards database, which now numbers more than 70 million active users.

The myWeekly Ad circular determines which items to feature based on the products that each targeted consumer buys most frequently, along with showcasing deals on other products in related categories that may also be of interest based on the purchase history of each customer.

CVS’s digital circular provides other user-friendly options as well:

  • Consumers can scan the savings and rewards currently available to them, and print coupons or digitally send special offers to their card before visiting a CVS store. 
  • Shopping lists can be created, shared and sent to mobile devices. 
  • Shoppers can view their own purchase history showing all products bought at CVS previously going back 18 months.

And CVS is hardly alone in digitizing its MarComm materials.  Thanks to the continuing evolution of rewards cards and the voluminous customer data they can collect, new personalized circular announcements are coming with regularity now.

Here are some of the latest new developments:

  • Shoplocal is a Gannett-owned print and digital circular publisher.  It has gotten together with personalized video firm Eyeview to create a new digital ad promo piece known as V-circular.  This vehicle allows retailers and major brands to target customers on a local level based on geographic, demographic and behavioral data – along with factoring in “real-time” conditions like the weather.
  • National coupon clearinghouse Valpak has introduced a novel “augmented reality” feature for its digital circulars.  Simply pointing a smartphone toward the horizon will enable shoppers to see which nearby businesses are offering coupons.
  • Direct mail media and marketing services firm Valassis has unveiled Geo-Commerce Retail Zone, a new ad-targeting capability that applies transaction and behavior data from consumers to local store trading areas, enabling targeted advertising to be delivered cross-platform.

No one questions the fact that more and more information on individual consumers is being collected, archived and applied on an individualized basis.  Anonymity is fast becoming a quaint notion of the past.

Of course, this couldn’t happen without the cooperation and willing engagement of consumers. 

Considering the benefits – special discounts and even freebies on goods and services – is it any wonder that these programs have been able to grow in size and comprehensiveness over time?

What are your thoughts about the tradeoffs?  Feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion.

Retailing Comes Full Circle … Courtesy of Amazon

Amazon’s been busy revolutionizing the world of retailing for well over a decade now. So what’s its latest trick? Bricks-and mortar stores.

Yes, you read that right. Amazon’s going into the physical retail game.

What’s behind this seemingly bizarre turn away from 21st century online retailing back to something that seems almost quaint? It’s pretty fundamental, actually. There are many products that consumers find easier to purchase after being able to interact with them physically and personally.

From apparel to electronics to sporting goods, sometimes there’s no substitute for the visceral, sensory experience. Online images, videos, product ratings and customer reviews all have their place, and Amazon doesn’t see those aspects becoming any less important over time.

Indeed, the Amazon store concept builds on all that, attempting to create a multi-channel retailing structure that truly serves the needs to consumers whenever and however they wish.

If what Amazon is developing is “just another” retail shop, it’ll be much ado about nothing. But it’s more likely that Amazon will try to create a retail experience in the manner of an Apple store – creating an environment that has its own special personality and attracts shoppers because of it.

Amazon may generate a good deal of buzz about its newest venture and the novelty of it all. Good for them. But the Amazon initiative also speaks to a more fundamental truth: reminding us that the marketplace is made up of human beings, not machines. People are social … and sometimes we hunger for more than just looking at an image on a computer screen.

If Amazon can successfully integrate its new physical stores concept with its phenomenally successful online retail business, it’ll be another step forward in the creation of truly integrated, multi-channel retailing.

It’s good to see that people are at the center of the model – literally and figuratively.

Consumers and coupons: The latest stats are in.

Consumers are redeeming coupons more than ever in 2011Coupons are big business in the USA. According to the latest Coupon Facts Report published by NCH/Valassis, a whopping $470 billion worth of coupons were offered by consumer package goods marketers in 2011.

Of this, an estimated $4.6 billion in coupons were redeemed. That represents more than 3.5 billion individual coupons at an average value of ~$1.30 per coupon.

It’s not surprising to learn that the offering of coupons by manufacturers spiked during the recessionary period that began in late 2008, when shoppers were more value-conscious than ever.

But by 2011, manufacturer behavior changed. In fact,this past year saw the first decrease in coupon offerings since 2008 (the drop was 8%) … although the volume hasn’t declined anywhere close to the volume of coupons consumer goods manufacturers offered back before the recession started:

 2007: $373 billion in coupon value distributed
 2008: $379 billion
 2009: $445 billion
 2010: $511 billion
 2011: $470 billion

Not every consumer category behaved similarly in 2011. Grocery product marketers reduced the total quantity of coupons they made available during the year, while marketers of health and beauty products showed no such decline.

With the increased popularity of digital couponing, one would expect that the growth rate in this segment would significantly outpace that of traditional coupons.

That turns out to be correct: NCH estimates that ~11% more print-at-home and paperless coupon offers were distributed in 2011 compared to the previous year.

But digital couponing still represents only a very small fraction of the total coupon landscape, which continues to be dominated by the free-standing inserts that are found in nearly every Sunday newspaper published in America. Here’s how FSIs dominate:

 Free-standing inserts: ~89% of U.S. coupon distribution in 2011
 In-store handouts: ~4%
 Direct mail: ~2%
 Magazines: ~2%
 Coupons inside or on product packaging: ~1%
 Digital couponing (paperless or print-at-home): ~1%

One other interesting study finding is that even though manufacturers reduced the volume of their coupon offerings during 2011 … consumers themselves showed no inclination to reduce their participation.

In fact, coupon redemption was up more than 9% in 2011 versus 2010. Clearly, many people are still thinking in “recession mode” when it comes to squeezing every ounce of productivity from their shopping dollar.