What every retailer can learn from Amazon’s sudden interest in emotional data

Just think of the sales potential from knowing someone just had a really bad day at work, then offering them a discount on a bottle of their favourite whiskey, which can be delivered to their home within an hour.

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How are you feeling?

It’s a serious question. Right now, it’s more serious than ever.

We’re coming to the end of a year like no other year in recent memory. Almost 1.5 million lives have been cut short. Countless businesses have been driven into the ground. Anxiety is at an all-time high. Even if you haven’t been personally affected by the pandemic you are bound to have felt its impact in one way or another.

Here, in the year of Covid, the way you feel matters more than ever.

A good listener

Back in August, Amazon unveiled a health and wellbeing product called Halo. It would like to know how you feel, too. Halo is worn on the user’s wrist and thanks to tiny little microphones, it is always listening. Everything you say is captured by its tone-of-voice analysis tool, which is constantly measuring, guess what… that’s right, how you feel.

Halo “uses machine learning to analyze energy and positivity in a customer’s voice so they can better understand how they may sound to others, helping improve their communication and relationships,” according to the Amazon website. That’s right, it tells you if you sounded bored when talking to your boss, or impatient when answering questions from a customer.

It will even help you understand that a “difficult work call leads to less positivity in communication with (your) family,” apparently.

Writing about her own experiences with the Amazon Halo, the New York Times’ journalist Kara Swisher, wrote that the device told her: “For 1.2 seconds at 7:18:30 pm, I was ‘afraid, panicked or overwhelmed.’ Yipes. Was I? Maybe so and Amazon knew it, which definitely scared me.”

Dining out on your data

Amazon has always been a data company. All the way back to the 1990s, Jeff Bezos was using book sales as a way to get to know his customers’ tastes. It’s a simple objective – understand what people want and sell it to them in the easiest way possible. Now it seems like Amazon might be adding a whole new layer of customer data into the mix: emotional data.

Just think of the sales potential from knowing someone just had a really bad day at work, then offering them a discount on a bottle of their favourite whiskey, which can be delivered to their home within an hour. Or it might be flowers, or chocolate, or whatever else it is that you routinely buy to lift your mood.

By tracking everything you buy, search for, look at, say and now feel, Amazon can probably predict what you want to eat for dinner before you even feel hungry. Some people find this level of insight intrusive. Maybe so. But it’s certainly impressive.

It also offers other businesses in the retail value chain something to think about.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Unless you are Alibaba, or Coupang or Jingdong, you can’t really compete head-on with Amazon. But you can learn from what Amazon is doing. You can see into the future (well, maybe) by watching what Amazon is looking at.

Forget about the big stuff for a minute. All those stories of fleets of cargo planes to rival FedEx and UPS, or those other stories about giant flying warehouses dropping parcels via drone from the heavens… just forget about them for now.

Instead, do what Amazon really does – sweat the small stuff. Learn from each and every interaction with customers and partners across your entire supply chain. Scrutinise every flop, every failure, every unforced error and make gradual, sustainable improvements. Discover what it is about you that keeps people coming back for more and put it at the heart of everything you do.

Most important of all though, develop a healthy obsession with your customers. Because that’s what has given Amazon the edge, and what keeps it there. Every business has data but not every business can claim to be data-driven. Look at what you know about your customers and how you are using that information. The things you know could be shaping the decisions you make. There’s a time and a place for intuition in business, but I doubt it has a seat at the table in Jeff Bezos’s office.

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