The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

As Amazon Moves To Third Party Prime Shippers, Opportunity Knocks For Other Retailers

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Last week I wrote an article in Forbes about Amazon Prime third party shippers. While Amazon’s PR folks didn’t like the piece much, it was met with general agreement the various places I posted it. I think it’s important to go over the gist of the piece here, because of the opportunity I believe it gives retailers who up until now have struggled to keep up with the giant.

Admittedly, there is no hard data available on a) the number of 3rd party Prime shippers, b) the number of times these shippers miss delivery dates, deliver the wrong item or generally mess up a customer’s order. Still, there was enough anecdotal evidence that I felt an opinion piece was in order.

Until about three months ago, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “3rd party Prime shippers.” Apparently it was “quietly rolled out” in 2015, according to the Wall Street Journal. I learned this the hard way.

I ordered paper towels from Amazon Prime. In general, I prefer not to request shipments of paper products inside other paper products, but Prime Now didn’t have the brand I wanted and I thought I was in a hurry. In any case, I had to go out and buy some anyway, since my Prime order was “delayed” by a few days.

Then the case came… but it was a head-scratcher. No Amazon branding. In fact, the box was sealed with Target tape (yes, really!). When I opened it up, I realized it was the order I’d placed with Amazon. I posted this as a query on Facebook, where a fellow Forbes columnist said to me “Most of Amazon’s Prime troubles come from third party sellers.” That’s when I started to learn that this “quietly rolled out program” is quietly making a bit of a hash of Amazon’s vaunted customer service.

This is turning out to be the tip of a very large iceberg that has been echoed by various friends and associates. It has continued for me, as well.

When I reached out to Amazon and said, “I am happy to publish a rebuttal if you can give me some data that shows me I am wrong” what I got in response were emails growing somewhat more hostile as we went along. The writer asked for:

  • Specific order numbers associated with the problem(s)
  • Names of people with the issues
  • The name of my Forbes editor
  • And he asked why I hadn’t contacted customer service with my complaints

I gave him my personal information and editor’s name but refused to give him any other sources. And he gave me no aggregated data (I was not surprised). As for me contacting customer service over a $15 box of paper towels, or “gift wrapping” that looked more like a laundry bag than a box containing flowers… well, if you know me at all, you know I don’t have the patience for that. But like others, now that price parity has been achieved, I find myself looking for other sellers more often than I used to.

Loyalty is a very fleeting thing in today’s world. It’s profoundly easy to lose.

And so my message for you, my retailer friends, is that opportunity is knocking. If you can delight and surprise your customers, all those investments you have made to “compete with Amazon” and still remain profitable may really pay off.

Whether or not Amazon buys airplanes, uses drones or opens cashierless stores, you can and will succeed. Many years ago I started talking about a “Post-Walmart World.” I did not mean that Walmart was going away. Obviously, it’s not. I did mean that no market is infinite, and there was room for others to succeed by sticking to their knitting and differentiating from the company. It turns out, I was pretty much right. Just ask Publix or Wegman’s.

Now, it’s time to start talking about a post-Amazon world. It is under investor pressure to make profits, and so it is, indeed becoming more profitable. But we all know that profitability comes at a cost. As Amazon falls to earth, the industry will find itself in a better position to compete. It’s time to stop looking over your shoulder and look directly at two things: 1) your customers and 2) your operational efficiency. You can and should be able to do both at the same time. Just ask Chewy.com.

Let the next era begin!


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Articles & Opinions March 6, 2018
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