If you ask Patrick Gauthier, Amazon’s Vice President of External Payments, what customer centricity means for him and Amazon, he’ll tell you it’s all about one concept: being customer obsessed.
That, Gauthier says, should come as no big surprise. After all, that’s been Jeff Bezos’ mantra from Day 1.
But at the center of every conversation Gauthier has about how to be consumer-centric, and how to deliver that to a consumer who moves fast, there is one underlying characteristic that has emerged as critical, important and now, it seems, unwavering.
Trust — with capital T.
At least that’s what 2,100 consumers just said, when asked, as part of PYMNTS’ Innovation And The Digital Shopper study.
But if trust is so important to consumers, how important it is to the other “c” word on the minds of the retailer: conversion?
Here’s Gauthier’s view, and a bit of a debate over what that all means, for real, with MPD CEO Karen Webster.
How Trust Translates To Conversion
Gauthier – a payments veteran with roots in Visa, PayPal and several other emerging players over the years – says that trust isn’t just about product and selection and experience: it’s about how easy it is for consumers to actually close the loop and checkout. And, from Amazon’s perspective, making the payments “piece” of the process easy and integrated into the commerce process is a critical element of the consistent experience that consumers seek, and therefore use today to shortlist the places they chose to start their shopping journey.
“The check in is as important as the checkout part, because it’s the opportunity for the consumer to identify themselves, and to share by their own choice, information about who they are with the merchant. When [retailers] make it easy for a consumer to tell who they are to a merchant, [they] are being a trust broker,” Gauthier said.
And, in the case of Amazon, a conversion driver.
Amazon gets more than 176 million visits to its site each day, and stats are strewn across the Internet that tout the power of the Amazon brand in driving sales — and the Amazon Prime status in driving even more of them. Recent stats also point to the fact that retailers can experience a conversion rate that is 22 times higher if they put a Pay With Amazon button on their checkout page.
So what merchant wouldn’t want 22 times more sales?
And therein lies the big debate.
Lots of merchants do see the value of selling on Amazon – and Amazon marketplace now accounts for over 40 percent of the volume on Amazon. But not every merchant sees the benefit in selling on Amazon — since there are plenty of major retailers and luxury brands that don’t and say they won’t.
And, at least so far, not many have taken Amazon up on its offer to drive sales 22 times higher. Many merchants have an Amazon strategy, but not always one that includes working with Amazon to improve their bottom line.
It’s very true that merchants have an Amazon strategy, but not always one that includes working with Amazon to improve their sales bottom line.
Gauthier and Webster got into a little verbal sparring over how retailers should be thinking about how to improve the customer experience and even Amazon’s role in enabling that. It’s a debate with many facets to it.
Starting with how consumers — and merchants — define products.
In the product trust corner, Webster made the case about how trust – via product affinity – can sometimes trump the trust that consumers have in retailers. In the retailer trust corner, Gauthier made the case that product choice comes down to much more than just the item that a consumer wants to buy.
At the center of the debate: the purchase of running shoes.
“As the consumer, the product is something slightly more involved. [The product] involves the physical delivery of it, it involves the service around it. It involves not just the price, but the time that I have to invest in it to get it, to understand it, to use it. I think that if you are any company, not just a retailer, and you define yourself by the widgets you supply by opposition to what you do for your customers, you will get commoditized. And as you get commoditized, you are exposed to competitors of any kind. But if you focus on the job that you do for your customer …and the whole product — not just the gizmo itself, but the gizmo and what it needs to work and the sense of services that are put in place for the consumer to get it, when you look at the whole product then it is very easy for a provider that thinks in those ways to see what we can do to help them be more effective,” Gauthier said.
Which, put another way, suggests that not doing so puts the merchant at total risk of focusing too much on pushing products instead of the brand experience that comes with the consumer’s purchasing journey of buying that product.
“The fastest path to commoditization is inversely proportional to the fastest path to consumer satisfaction,” Gauthier said.
Yeah, but hold on, Webster says.
“I love my funky, cool running store in Boston and the attention they give me when I need to buy new running shoes,” she says. “They measure my feet, bring me six pairs to try on, watch me run in them, and advise me on which of the six to pick. Then I pick the one I love the most and feel the best.”
“And, then, I order them forever on Amazon. I trust the brand, I like that brand, and unless they stop making them, I will buy them forever. It’s not that I don’t love my running store nor appreciate the experience that I get when I am in there – that is where I went to discover something as personal as the shoes I am going to run a million miles in. But once I have made my selection, my trust is in the brand of the shoe I am buying and my choice of Amazon is driven by my trust in Amazon that you’ll get them to me in two days – with free shipping. No schlepping to the store. Convenience is the experience I crave.”
“Until the shoe manufacturer stops making them – then I’ll wash, rinse and repeat the experience – starting with another visit to my cool running store,” Webster said.
Experience and trust are two sides of a complicated coin.
Where Curation Comes Into The Conversation
A coin that often starts with deciding what to buy.
“[Trust is] a challenge that has a lot of subtitles to it. It’s not about curation. At Amazon, it’s about choice – and lots of choice. And, it’s definitely first about using a lot of data about how consumers navigate the path to selection and then how they react once they’ve made that selection.” Gauthier remarked.
Yes, but hold on again, Webster says.
Isn’t there such a thing as too much choice? The paradox of choice thing is real. Consumers often like — even crave — curation because it gives them points of reference during their shopping journey. Fashion sites are now flooded with stylists who want to tell consumers just what shoes are hot this season and are happy to show them which tan suede fringe handbag has been carried by Amal Clooney – so that they can buy it, too. Curation eliminates the risk associated with making decisions for some things – it creates an important frame of reference that says to a consumer – if it’s good enough for our stylist to put on our list of “what to buy” then you should feel great about buying it, too!
Ah, but hold on, says Gauthier.
“Curation is the human intervention that ‘someone’ decided mattered,” he said. “Amazon focuses on creating the tools that will empower the consumer to make the choice that they feel is the best for them.”
And, that all ladders back up to trust. As Gauthier explains, plenty of companies are built on curation, but consumers will only believe in curated suggestions from a site, or merchant, they trust. Dissecting trust provides subtle distinctions, he said, but it’s an invaluable metric to master.
But trust is also fluid, and, like the retail ecosystem, can change rapidly.
“[Trust] is a collection of things that is about your past experiences, it’s about if I’m protected. It’s about the promise and how the company keeps its promise. It’s about reputation. It’s about awareness. It’s about a variety of things. Fundamentally, [trust] is just a very core emotion. What makes it up can shift over time,” Gauthier said.
With trust as a central tenant of why consumers make a decision about where they make their shopping journey — driving every decision consumers make, then the question now points to how marketplaces and merchants need to manage their own strategies to match how consumers choose where, when and why to shop.
“So, as a marketplace, as an intermediary of trust to the consumer — creating the tools and the methods so that we sort this out, so that we don’t limit consumers’ access to the products they want to buy – and discover,” Gauthier said.
Curation and choice are also two sides of a very complicated coin.
How The Marketplace Shift Has Caused Retailers To Adapt
During a time when retailers have no choice but to adapt their business strategy to changing consumer behavior, rapid changes in consumer spending habits, integrating new technology and engagement strategies, it’s sometimes hard for retailers to admit that to be customer-centric, they have to channel their inner-Amazon, or at least pay careful attention to how they have created an environment of trust between themselves the customers they serve.
“Change is in the very nature of growth. Yes, retailers are under deep transformation — and some of that transformation has nothing to do with Amazon, it has everything to do with the fact that information and access to products was deeply transformed by the advance of digital technologies,” Gauthier said.
All true – but, Webster says, that doesn’t make the friction surrounding the debate about what’s good for the consumer versus what’s good for the merchant any easier to solve.
An equation, as Webster points out, that has gotten much more complicated – and, if anything, has prompted retailers to consider lots of alternatives to making it good for the consumer, and good (and maybe less threatening?) for them.
“Any provider who believes there is a tension between what’s good for them and what’s good for their customer loses in the long run,” Gauthier said. “That is what Amazon has proven. By always putting what is good for the customer at the top of list, any company is in the long run a better company.”
And that is one thing that everyone, no matter what side of the debate they are on, would agree is absolutely and positively 1,000 percent true.