Delivering personalized experiences without being creepy like Amazon
|Richard Harris in Marketing & Promotion Thursday, May 23, 2019|
We spoke with Dan McCormick, co-founder of Constructor.io and the original developer at Shutterstock, about the competition delivering personalized experiences without being creepy like Amazon, and mobile development for e-commerce platforms in the future.
Amazon has seeped its way into every inch of our lives, and it’s increasingly difficult to ignore Bezos’s touch as Amazon presence rapidly monopolizes books (Kindle, Audible and Goodreads), groceries (Whole Foods), clothes (Zappos), movies (IMDB), news (Washington Post), gadgets (Ring and Alexa), space travel (Blue Origin), medicine (PillPack) and more.
But is the e-commerce giant invading consumer privacy at too fast of a rate? Recently, Amazon announced its lockers will be available at Coachella and will start putting its lockers on buses. Amazon cannot be escaped even at a music festival in the desert or on your commute home.
Not too long ago, Amazon was an e-commerce site just selling books. Today, it touts close to 90 million Prime subscribers and has seeped its way into every inch of our lives.
There are some people like Dan McCormick, COO of Contstructor.io - a solution provider for advanced search services to websites, that think Amazon needs to pump the breaks if they don't want to run the risk of losing consumer trust. He discusses how retailers can deliver customized and personal experiences without being creepy and how app development will be key in the next phase of e-commerce.
ADM: Why can Amazon's dominance be seen as an invasion of consumer trust?
McCormick: By focusing its use of data on improving its own service, Amazon has escaped privacy fiascos encountered by companies like Facebook that depend on sharing their data with third parties. Nonetheless, the mere fact that Amazon has decades of data on millions of users should cause concern. Regulators are becoming alarmed at how Amazon can create and manipulate market conditions with its massive trove of information. Ultimately, consumers benefit from a plethora of providers, and so Amazon’s dominance should raise alarms.
ADM: Is Amazon moving too fast?
McCormick: It feels quaint to remember that Amazon started as an online bookstore. Today, its presence is felt from groceries to gadgets, clothes to space travel. Amazon’s breakneck expansion should send a signal to its competitors: focus on the fundamentals of e-commerce, while Amazon takes its eye off the ball.
ADM: And is too much growth a bad thing?
McCormick: Too much growth makes companies lose sight of their core competencies — or forces them to struggle to redefine what they are. As Amazon ventures more deeply into cloud computing, home appliances, and expanding its marketplace, other e-commerce providers should focus on providing an engaging, intuitive experience, offering compelling and valuable recommendations, and providing unmatched service and support.
3 rules to delivering personalized experiences without being creepy
McCormick: There are three simple rules companies can follow to deliver personalized experiences without being perceived as creepy:
- Never share personally identifiable information (PII) with third parties. The modest gains it may bring are far outweighed by the risk to users’ trust.
- Avoid using personally identifiable information wherever possible. Today’s advanced machine learning algorithms can provide remarkable results by observing and aggregating user behavior anonymously. Those systems can provide valuable recommendations, targeted search results, and personalized experiences without knowing the true identity of any specific user.
- Identify sensitive topics that may be off-putting to your customers — health, identity, religion, etc. — and continually audit your personalization systems to ensure they don’t stray into those delicate areas.
ADM: How can retailers whose names aren't Amazon compete with Amazon's resources?
McCormick: With its relentless focus on growth, Amazon has acquired many tech companies to create and enhance its online shopping experience. Retailers who don’t have Amazon’s resources need to find best-in-breed solutions for their own sites in order to compete with Amazon. Fortunately, in today’s marketplace of SaaS providers, there are great options for e-commerce platforms, search systems, recommendation services, and personalization providers. Most of these vendors are laser-focused on innovating on behalf of their customers, meaning that a retailer who combines the most effective services under one umbrella can end up with an e-commerce experience that surpasses Amazon’s. Personalization is a great example of where this is happening — Amazon’s personalization features are quite limited, and some SaaS providers offer far more engaging and rich experiences.
ADM: Where will we see innovation from non-Amazon retailers?
McCormick: As retailers strive to create compelling shopping experiences, I think innovation will come in three key areas: search, personalization, and AI-driven curation. Most retailers today have sub-par search experiences and are looking to leapfrog Amazon’s already-powerful search functionality with even better technology and more intuitive interfaces. Further, personalization technologies driven by machine learning models can provide huge value to both retailers and their customers, and Amazon has lagged behind leading SaaS vendors in this area. Finally, with so many products to sift through, customers value curated experiences more than ever. But with limited resources, retailers often don’t have the time to offer them. AI-driven curation is the solution: combining human expertise with algorithms to give customers a curated experience.
ADM: How will app development play a role in competing with Amazon?
McCormick: The next e-commerce revolution will be mobile. With more sales already generated on mobile than desktop, and the gap growing, mobile is clearly the frontier for e-commerce innovation. Because of the greater location-awareness of mobile apps and the faster adoption of new features like voice search, we can expect mobile to play a leading role in competing with Amazon. In creating a mobile strategy, retailers should try to marry the uniqueness of their product catalog with compelling mobile technologies. Sephora’s Virtual Artist, Amazon and Sephora's newly released mobile voice search functionalities, and Ikea’s Place apps are great examples of retailers harnessing the power of mobile features to enhance their product offering.
Dan McCormick is COO and co-founder of Constructor.io, an online search as a service site. Dan was an original developer at Shutterstock and served as CTO growing the company's architecture from startup to the leading stock photo site.