Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Musings About Amazon!

I just got back from the Amazon Seller Conference and thought I would jot down some observations, they may be a little scattered so bare with me.
  • Being at the conference this week and spending time at Amazon headquarters took me back to the good old days at eBay -- I was blown away by how similar it felt. I was also struck with the realization that I now know more Amazon employees than I do eBay employees -- Most of my eBay contacts have moved on to other ventures.
  • On eBay there is a lack of trust in management and the marketplace, but I don't get any of that from Amazon. The marketplace has no trust issues, management tells it like it is and it is clear this is their show.
  • This is the impression I got about management: We have a plan; we are implementing it to the best of our ability; we are open to your suggestions, but we are going to run this business according to our plan. This approach works because they are providing value to sellers. As we've seen with eBay, it doesn't work when there is little value provided.
  • Amazon executives tend to be pretty straightforward. Not a whole lot of time is spent saying "we hear you", but that isn't to say they don't listen.
  • The hierarchy of needs at Amazon is clear: #1 Amazon Customers, #2 3P Sellers and #3 investors. Though 3P sellers are considered customers of Amazon, they are also held to some very high performance standards because they are there to serve Amazon's #1 priority; the Amazon customer.
  • Amazon provides great customer service for their #1 priority (the customer) but they need work on serving the #2 priority (the seller). They realize they need some improvement in that area and were open to suggestions, but were honest about some of the challenges they face in scaling that kind of customer service.
  • Amazon has lots of things that are not quite working on all cylinders, but it is clear they have a plan and will eventually get there. eBay says they have a plan but I have little faith they will get there.
  • There are some very large sellers on Amazon. I thought I was big at Glacier Bay DVD but I would have been dwarfed by many of the sellers that sell on Amazon.
  • Amazon will eventually sell everything available, but it may take years before they can roll out every category. eBay sellers who are anxiously awaiting the day when Amazon opens their category may be waiting for awhile. I realize this does not provide much comfort for those hanging on by the skin of their teeth but rolling out new categories can't be accomplished quickly on a huge platform like Amazon.

I'm looking forward to the future of ecommerce with Amazon as the leader, but make no mistake this is their game and they are in it to win. As long as they continue to provide value for buyers and sellers they will continue to grow and take more share of ecommerce.

Just my 12%

10 comments:

roo said...

Randy,

Thanks for the summary. It really helps those of us who could not be there get a feel for how it went.

If you have any more details you can share about how sellers should interact with Amazon, please elaborate. I had a good talk with someone from

Technical Support today, and we agreed that part of the issue is us being "trained" by eBay. We are so used to being ignored for days, weeks, months, and even years by eBay that we are cynical and distrustful of sending a message into a perceived black hole. In fact, many of us have given up on eBay simply because years of trying to get even the simplest message through yields nothing but frustration - particularly when the response are the ill-conceived "changes" of 2008. Some of us jokingly say that we should use reverse psychology on eBay because they always seem to do the opposite of what we expect.

I think the system Amazon has for a case log is something worth writing about more deeply. It is logical, keeps the seller who reports things abreast of what is happening, allows writing longer submissions that eBay's character-limited forms, and allows sending attachments (particularly for screen shots) so that a picture is allowed to save you a thousand words.

eBay's email based system, refusal to respond in any way on many issues, changing the subject line (so that issues cannot be threaded in email programs like gmail), and their generalized excuses about why they can't do something have trained eBay sellers to be suspicious of Amazon's system.

We should all drop our suspicions, and your post confirms this.

Amazon has some real problems, but the confidence that not only will they get over the goal line, but be communicative, responsive, and semi-transparent (as much as they can be) about the roadmap is encouraging. The fact that thousands of eBay refugees are more than willing to contribute and learn the lessons eBay refused to acknowledge that they needed to learn only adds to the positive outlook for Amazon.

I think something else you should go into more depth is the role of the category managers at Amazon. While eBay has the same titles, it seems to me that because we are not dealing with a level playing field, each category manager has more influence/control over their domain, and more incentive to deal with the shenanigans (aka gaming the system) that can be a distraction to the goal of providing a great buyer experience.

You are providing a great service to our industry with your blog. Please keep it up.

roo

Randy Smythe said...

roo,

You are spot on with your comment and I will consider your suggestion about more in-depth posts on communicating with Amazon.

During the executive panel Q&A this subject came up and Alaa had a great response regarding the click to call feature.

If Amazon sellers have technical issues or questions they can use the click-to-call feature in Seller Central and get a real human being on the phone.

As for category managers, that is a different issue. Amazon doesn't have TSAM's and they are not likely to create that kind of support group. They are all about scale and that is tough to scale.

They do have category managers as a point of contact, but they aren't really account reps.

I'll look into this more and post about it at some point in the future.

Cliff said...

Excellent post, Randy, I like that you took the time to point out all is not perfect (yet) for the Amazon 3P sellers, but even better I like that you feel they will take proper steps to make it so.

Oh well, there's always "Everything Else," though I'd love to hear something about the specific performance of that category since it probably is the most important one to non-media sellers.

Glacier Bay was pretty big, maybe a few DVD guys, but my guess is you're referring to the big-time booksellers, those guys have tons of stock!

My seller's fantasy remains not one where Amazon overtakes eBay or Amazon vs. eBay, but a marketplace where I have Amazon and eBay, two outlets serving different customers. Only having recently tapped into Amazon I'm getting the feeling that that's what I have right now, I just need to amp it up some.

Thanks, Cliff

Randy Smythe said...

Cliff,

I want Amazon and eBay as well and I'm hoping eBay will not let this slip away.

Every platform has its issues, its how they fix them that counts.

Randy

ms.pat said...

Randy - I don't suppose they even mentioned anything about arts. Ebay sits on the largest art community in the world and treats it like hardware widgets. I'd welcome a playing field that is non-auction and charges all artists fees according to price only. That would be heaven instead of the tangled mess Ebay has made of it so it can grab all those feature plus fees :-(

Randy Smythe said...

Pat, they do have Art for sale on Amazon it is just listed in the Everything Else category right now.

Based on what I heard they want to be selling in every category imaginable but it won't happen overnight.

ms.pat said...

Randy - they're hidden and contain only 528 entries - many of which are not pieces of artwork :-( Ebay has over 200,000 artwork listings - not as big as most categories but still nothing to sneeze at. Can you suggest who the artists can write to over at Amazon?

Henrietta said...

I can't think of a single rational and sane seller who would object to their venue or business partner saying "we are going to run this business according to our plan"; because that assumes there is a plan which is not a safe assumption with eBay (and even if there is an eBay plan it is a proprietary secret which can't be shared with sellers).

Similarly I have no problem whatsoever with being held to very high standards of customer service, that is part of my business plan anyway. However, it helps me achieve my goals if my venue or business partner has the same ethical standards and is not actively denigrating me by association (the bad sellers, meaningful track record, neutral is not positive, noise) and throwing experimental, poorly implemented roadblocks in my path.

I think Amazon will end up supreme, as a customer I now go there first an I know I am not unique.

ms.pat said...

Henrietta - you're right. There is a vast difference between holding sellers to a high standard and throwing them under the wheels of a bus! ebay is doing the latter and blatantly so simply because they can't possibly take any responsibility for the frauds and scammers on their site. I think all honest sellers would be comfortable with being held to high standards so they can excel - but under the convoluted rules and regulations Ebay spews out on an almost daily basis...its almost impossible. We're all in a crap shoot and can lose our reputations at the drop of a hat. Also, a lot of us have lost so much of our business that it no longer matters what Ebay spews out - like...who cares?

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