Does Amazon possess the key to your downfall?

Tacking Stock #4: Does Amazon possess the key to your downfall?

I wonder what Jeff Bezos was like as a child. In particular, I wonder what he might have been like at school. I imagine he was one of the brightest kids who always scored highly on tests and exams. But I bet there was more to him than just that.

I bet he was also the sort of kid who would suggest crazy ideas and put forward bizarre theories during class discussions. Or maybe he was someone who would try to distract the other smart kids and derail their train of thought whenever he could – sometimes to make sure he would out-perform them, and sometimes just for kicks.

I have absolutely no proof of any of this – it’s just idle conjecture, of course. I base it all on the way Amazon behaves and the announcements it makes. One recent example is the Amazon Key announcement – the so-called smart lock that lets couriers into your home to drop off deliveries. It’s due to launch in early November.

While everyone else in the last mile continues to sweat blood trying to reduce the rate of failed first deliveries, Amazon has decided it shouldn’t matter if there’s anyone at home or not. It’s a stroke of genius. It’s also a masterclass in how to do public relations; reframe the argument and turn it into something that suits you.

Three years ago the media was full of stories about drones flying through the air to deliver parcels. It hasn’t happened yet, and it’s still not very likely as a mass-market operation. Then there was the revelation that Amazon has drawn up plans to create giant flying warehouses that will hover over towns and cities, while drones fly in and out collecting parcels to drop off. Surely, the stuff of science fiction.

You can call me an old cynic if you want to, but I don’t believe any of these things will happen. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

There is no denying the influence Amazon has had on the global retail industry. First, it redefined the way we buy books. Then it redefined the book itself. And although it hasn’t always been the first to market with new ideas and initiatives, such as same-day and same-hour delivery, it is almost always the first to make these ideas available to large numbers of people, and the first to really draw attention to them in the media.

One of the consequences of the way Amazon acts is that it is now regarded as the 21st Century retail industry equivalent of the Pythia. Who? The High Priestesses of the Temple of Apollo. Who…? The Oracle at Delphi, that’s who. For centuries, the Oracle at Delphi was regarded as the person who could most accurately predict the future. If you read the mainstream business press you will see Amazon being regarded in a similar way; anything and everything Amazon does is perceived as the future of retail.

It’s not just the media reacting in that slavish manner. Other retailers become preoccupied with what Amazon is doing – or said to be doing – and begin to twist and contort themselves into new shapes, so they can look a bit more Amazon-like.

It’s not just the retailers, either. Carriers and couriers – the whole fulfilment industry – feels the heat from being put under the spotlight and compared with Amazon, too.

All of this is because of the biggest transformation Amazon has been responsible for. I’m referring to the change in customer expectations … if Amazon can do it, why can’t everyone else?

Does that mean you should stop whatever it is you’re doing and figure out how to get inside people’s homes when they are out?

Probably not.

Like a poor man’s version of the Oracle at Delphi, I’m going to make a prediction. I predict that the market for smart door locks, like Amazon Key, will be very small. First, I think very few people will be comfortable with the idea of a courier gaining access to their home to drop off a delivery (what if the cat/dog gets out?). Second, I don’t think many people will want to spend $250+ on a lock for their door, just to avoid a few missed deliveries. Third, I think a lot of people’s household insurance policies will be rendered invalid by the installation of such a device. Fourth, do you have a security system installed in your home? Well, Amazon Key won’t integrate with it. So you’ll have to leave it switched off if you’re expecting a delivery.

Who knows, maybe – unlike the Pythia – I’m so wrong that I’ll become a laughing stock. It has to be possible. But even if I’m wrong I would still advocate people in the retail ecosystem spend less time worrying about what Amazon is doing, and more time thinking about how to improve the things they can control.

What if you could make a change to the way your retail or delivery business operates that would mean customers won’t suffer missed deliveries? What if you could do it in a way that doesn’t cost those customers $250 or more? Wouldn’t that be something worth thinking about?

You don’t have to be the smartest kid in the class to be smart enough to succeed. Sometimes you just need to stay focused.

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