Jul 13, 2010

Learning From Amazon's Success

After seeing him open the Montreal Jazz Festival, I wanted to get a book of guitar tabs from Brian Setzer (of the Stray Cats) for a little fun... and masochism. I checked out my usual music store to see if they had the book or not. They were out of stock and it would take two weeks to get it. I could have waited but...

I've been meaning to get "On Writing" by Stephen King, for a couple of reasons. First, I have been told that it's a great book on writing, if a bit unconventional (it is written by King, after all). Second, I need a bit of inspiration because my writing has severely declined in the past few months, as much in quantity as in quality. So I needed a little boost.

Need more than a book? That's a job for Amazon. I hit the site, selected "On Writing" and read the foreword. I liked what I read, so I added the book to my cart. Then I searched for the Brian Setzer book. There were a couple but I knew which one I wanted so I added it to my cart. 

Then, Amazon told me that I would probably like a book call "Guitar Aerobics." Really? I'm not sure. "Well then," replied the site, "Look Inside." So I did. And I read the critics, and I bought the book. Which raised my total over $39, so I got free shipping and handling.

When I wanted to check out, they told me that the Stephen King book would take 9-12 days before it was ready. Did I want two shipments or just one? I chose one shipment and was told that I would get the books around July 26. I'm writing this on July 13 and I've been enjoying my three books for the past four days.

Why does Amazon succeed, and what does it take to succeed in any business? Here are three reasons:

  • Options: I can choose whatever I want from Amazon, and I am given options at all times. Different shipping methods, multiple accounts in various countries, I can ship to any address, I can use multiple credit cards, and so on. Choice is good, although you need to limit the number of options you offer, as not to overwhelm the client. The fewer options you offer, the less flexibility you have, the tougher it is to succeed.
  • Underpromise/Overdeliver: they said it would take almost three weeks to get my goods, yet they delivered in fewer than five days. Could this be a ploy? Possibly, if you like conspiracy theories. I don't. And I've had other experiences with Amazon where they had told me it would take 10 days to receive my order, and a few days later I received another message saying "We can't hold our promise, do you wish to cancel your order?" So I think they are honest and just managed to get the order to me sooner.
  • Master the upsell: this is where many fail, yes, including me. Upselling is the art of offering clients what they need instead of only what they want. I wanted the Stephen King book and the Brian Setzer book. Turns out I needed the Aerobics book also. Who knew? Yet many people are afraid to offer more to the client, because they feel it is greedy. It isn't and one of the things I have learned about selling is that if you have something that is beneficial to a client an you don't offer it to them, it is a disservice on your part. It is your duty to offer it to the client, and it is their choice to accept it or not.
In this particular case, Amazon's upsell ended up costing little more than my original purchase, with shipping and handling. Except that now I don't feel like I've spent money, but rather that I've invested in my guitar playing. Not bad for $5.

Now that I've been able to enjoy my books for a few days, what do I think? It's going to take a long time to go through the aerobics book (if I ever complete it), I'll never be as good a guitarist as Setzer, nor as good a writer as King.

But Amazon will get my business again.

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