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Amazon sets bar for mobile convenience

Amazon has more going for it than just price differentiation. The company has uniquely crafted its apps and mobile Web site around search, merchandising and check-out to keep shoppers coming back regularly.

“There is no disputing – Amazon is a powerhouse,” said Eric Newman, vice president of products and marketing at Digby, Austin, TX. “According to Forrester Research, year-over-year ecommerce growth has held steady in the low digits for the past several years, but Amazon’s North American sales growth has outpaced those figures since 2007.”

“Amazon’s influence is so pervasive that of the 53 percent of consumers who have stopped an in-store purchase as a result of using their mobile phone, 30 percent have done so because they found a better price online, according to a 2012 study by the Interactive Bureau,” he said.

“Amazon’s strongest assets provide a huge draw for shoppers – their prices are low, their turn-around is quick and their customer service is strong. Further, the company is stretching itself to be even more competitive. Same day delivery is fast approaching, whether via the mail or through pick-up lockers, and Amazon is expected to open storefronts in major metropolitan areas. The firm is quickly expanding into new categories, and has discussed entering home improvement, automotive, insurance, travel, consumer credit and even photo developing.”

Search king
One of Amazon’s strongest assets in mobile is search.

A search bar is prominently promoted on the top of the company’s mobile site and app.

The search bar lets consumers quickly navigate through Amazon’s massive amount of inventory.

Specifically, Amazon’s in-app search bar lets users type in a keyword, scan a mobile bar code or snap a picture of an item for Amazon to match.

Price comparison is undoubtedly one of the primary reasons why consumers go to Amazon to shop, which is why including both a bar code scanner and image recognition are important features.

When consumers filter their search results, shipping options are the first criteria that users see. This is where Amazon differentiates itself from other retailers in the space with its focus on convenience first and foremost.

Alternatively, users can filter search results by department, which can further widdled down by popularity, price and rating, in that order.

Besides the search bar, search is also woven into other areas of Amazon’s mobile site and app to help users find products. For instance, users can browse inside a department by general filters — such as bestsellers — or by keywords in a specific area of a department.

Master of merchandising
Unlike many retailers, Amazon keeps its merchandising fairly simple.

Again, the focus is on convenience and making the shopping experience as seamless as possible.

For instance, Amazon’s homepage on both its mobile site and app is currently merchandised for Cyber Monday week sales.

However, instead of cluttering the page with offers, Amazon directs users to a curated page with holiday deals, some of which are time-specific.

The app also includes a section of holiday gift ideas.

Consumers coming to Amazon are already on a mission, whether it is for comparison shopping or convenience. Therefore, users probably are not as responsive to some of the harder deals that online retailers traditionally push during the holidays.

Merchandising plays a larger role for users with an account. When members log-in, the homepage shows recommended products for consumers based on their browsing and shopping history.

Since Amazon’s inventory spans across every product category, personalizing content is core to helping Amazon build a one-on-one relationship with consumers.

In Amazon’s case, personalization helps shoppers cut through the clutter quickly.

The lesson to be learned here for bricks-and-mortar retailers dealing with consumers showrooming in-store – many of which are likely searching for information on Amazon – is to ramp up their own branded initiatives, per Digby’s Mr. Newman.

“The trick to beating Amazon is not a strong defense but a strong offense,” Mr. Newman said.

“Ninety-five percent of sales still occur in the physical store, proving that retailers are already in the advantage,” he said. “But retailers must not get comfortable in their advantage. Retailers must push the shopping experience, furthering technological innovation and a more personalized shopping experience.”

“By harnessing mobile, the biggest asset in showrooming, brands can re-capture consumer attention via personalized offers that allow brands to attract, influence and own the customer relationship across all channels.”

Slick check-out
According to Sloane Kelley, interactive strategy director at BFG, Hilton Head, SC, a variety of factors will contribute to consumers beginning their holiday shopping on Amazon this year.

“Price is a big factor, but it’s not the only one,” Ms. Kelley said. “There’s also the variety of products, ease of returns, the possibility of free shipping and the ease of purchase via mobile or PC.

“If you’re a regular Amazon customer, your information is stored and follows you between the Web site and mobile app,” she said. “Having that information easily accessible is especially important on smaller screens.”

Amazon is one of the few retailers that has a true grasp on cross-screen marketing. accounts are linked across different devices, meaning that Amazon saves a user’s shopping behavior across desktop, mobile and tablet screens.

For example, users who add an item to their shopping cart on Amazon’s Web site will also see the item added to their shopping carts on Amazon’s mobile site and apps.

By tracking a user’s experience across multiple screens, Amazon is able to create a more personalized and convenient shopping experience for users.

The company is also notorious for its one-click check-out.

Consumers with an account can save all of their information to automatically check-out with one click once items are saved in their shopping carts.

“Amazon is in a different ballpark compared to most retailers due to the fact that they’ve built the software and the hardware for mobile commerce,” Ms. Kelley said.

“Unless you’re a brand like Google, those lessons won’t be relevant,” she said. “What will be relevant for all retailers is the best-in-class user experience Amazon has crafted.”

“Amazon and its sister brands like Myhabit and Zappos all have mobile-optimized Web sites, in addition to their apps. Creating a mobile-optimized site may sound basic, but this is where a majority of brands are missing the boat. With more consumers adopting tablets and smartphones, combined with the allure of couch shopping, this is an area retailers cannot afford to miss.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York