Amazon's Prime Day party is on. Now, retailers should focus on offering specialized, curated experiences the behemoth can't deliver.

Brian McGlynn

Brian McGlynn, general manager of ecommerce, Coveo

The sun could not have shined more brightly on Amazon.com Inc. Already popular, the pandemic made the site a mission-critical service in early 2020 as people around the world sheltered at home. And then the pandemic-driven date change for Amazon Prime Day fortuitously placed the shopping sales bonanza near the beginning of the adjusted holiday shopping season.

As it turns out, the holiday shopping season—if we can even still call it that—has already started. The Associated Press reports that big-box retailers and department stores are beginning holiday-themed sales weeks earlier than the Thanksgiving timeframe so that customers would not crowd stores. So, this Amazon Prime Day was set up to break records.

Other retailers are keeping their heads above water, but almost everyone looks longingly at Amazon’s good fortune. Instead, they should be borrowing from Amazon’s tactics and leveraging their own efficiencies to write their own playbooks.

Too many retailers think they can be Amazon. They invest in technology and repeat what Amazon does well—providing a vast catalog and a highly intelligent search and recommendation engine to remove customer buying friction. Others think they have an advantage by operating physical stores, yet Amazon is rapidly rolling out its own physical locations.

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The reality is, while many retailers imitate Amazon, none have duplicated it. Instead of replicating the behemoth’s massive investment in logistics and technology, transcend Amazon, leverage the technology that made it successful—and provide specialized, curated experiences, Amazon is too big to provide. As a bonus, retailers can stay true to themselves at the same time.

First, a retailer should think carefully about what it’s good at. A do-it-yourself hardware store is differentiated by how it enables people to take on projects successfully. If you sell clothing, think about why your customers seek out your experience. More likely than not, the answer is not the products you are providing—it’s the experience.

Consumers will reward with customer loyalty retailers that honestly consider the value they bring to their customers. Customers will spend more on products if the service they receive— and how they feel—is better than they expected. The International Council of Shopping Centers found last year that nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were likely to spend more if a retailer provided good service, according to a Smart Customer Service magazine story.

Second, retailers need to build engaging content that delivers their unique customer value. For example, conversion rates at a major sporting goods retailer are higher when customers watch a video that lets them imagine how the equipment will make them feel. Consider the written content, videos or interactive experiences that augment what you are trying to sell and make the attributes your customers value come to life.

Finally, and most importantly, use intelligent technology to make every customer experience relevant, every time and at every moment. If a customer looks for golf tees and golf shirts, chances are they will be interested in golf shoes and maybe even a video on how to perfect your swing. Think about the kinds of content that would be most helpful for a given purchase to make the sale an experience with which customers can engage.

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This kind of action requires artificial intelligence to personalize content for the moments that matter to the shopper. Using the same example, make sure that when a user browsing through golf gloves and golf shoes searches on “of balls,” that user sees golf ball products and reviews, how-to videos, and products related to golf—not tennis or basketball.

Fundamentally, what Amazon has shown is that the customer experience is what matters above all else. When customers find what they want quickly, they buy. When they find something related and useful, they buy more. And when made personal, it satisfies an even greater need: the need for a relevant shopping experience.

Coveo provides online personalization software embedded with artificial intelligence. 

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