Amazon CEO offers shopper insights

When it comes to shopping, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon knows a thing or two about the subject, which is why it was fitting that he was the keynote speaker at Consumer Reports’ ShopSmart magazine summit on May 11. The founder of the leading online retailer offered insights on the consumer and the future of the industry.

Much has changed since Amazon’s founding and Bezos emphasized the importance of keeping up with evolving technology. He noted that 15 years ago at best a person had one desktop PC with a dial-up modem in their home, and now people are shopping on all kinds of devices. According to Bezos, the tablet will be especially big as more and more people overtime will shop from one of these devices. In that vain, Amazon has launched a window shopping app for tablets.

As technology evolves, Amazon is finding more ways to stay ahead of the competition. The company’s recently launched Myhabit.com is the next wave in apparel commerce, Bezos said. The innovative website enables shoppers to view video of live models wearing the clothing, enabling them to get a better idea of the look and fit of the garments.

Another growing area in retail is social commerce, which Bezos said for Amazon means revisiting early experiments that may not have worked 10 years ago but could be successful today.

While technology has offered more opportunity for innovation in retail, Bezos chooses to focus on the basic needs of the customer, which are low prices and fast delivery. 

“The Best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to call you, things just work. We want to raise the bar on customer experience,” said Bezos.

To that end, Amazon.com has created an experience that is about building trust with consumers. The website greets each customer by name and even lets him or her know when they attempt to buy an item if they have purchased that item from Amazon before. The retailer also allows negative comments, all in the name of building trust.

And trust is something all retailers will have to work to strengthen with their customers. More data breaches at top companies mean shoppers are increasingly concerned about their security. According to Bezos the responsibility for protecting personal information lies with the retailer and consumer. He noted that all companies should adhere to minimum credit card standards of security and customers should choose harder passwords and change them more frequently.

Amazon became a leading retailer by thinking ahead of the competition, but, said Bezos, the company doesn’t focus on competitors. Instead, Amazon is customer is obsessed, which Bezos believes is more effective in a fast-changing environment. 

That’s not to say that Amazon ignores the competition, they don’t. The company keeps an eye on competitors and even orders from them to make sure it is delivering faster than them, Bezos said.

Bezos did not let on to any future Amazon projects, but did offer insight on the company’s philosophy.

“Willingness to invent requires willingness to fail. Can’t change something and expect everyone to be instantly happy.”

While Bezos was the headliner of the summit, Consumer Reports offered attendees the opportunity to engage with other industry experts on the topics of community building and shopper safety.

Consumers are more engaged than ever, was the take-away from the panel on building an online community, and retailers need to embrace that.  

Matthew Weathers VP product for ShopSavvy, a mobile application that enables consumers to scan product barcodes with their phone, compare prices and even purchase the item directly from the app, noted that when the app first launched in 2008 it was met with resistance. Retailers were reluctant to have shoppers actively searching for better prices elsewhere. Now they are realizing they should participate and that these types of apps can be good for business. For example, Weathers said ShopSavvy can help retailers compare pricing for both in store and online, so that they can get the best deal. 

While consumers may be more empowered to make smart purchasing decisions, their are still many who fall prey to scams that are becoming more sophisticated with improving technology.

One person who is working to educate consumers on these shady tactics is Tracey Thomas, an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission.

Speaking on a panel on scams, Thomas said she take particular issue with ads that link to what appears to be real news websites backing the claims of a product thereby convincing consumers to buy it and sucking them into a deceptive program that is difficult to get out of.

Thomas added that she wishes consumers would make themselves more aware of the sams that were going on. "The information is out there," she said. "Consumers can educate themselves."