'Time is money': Amazon's arrival means slack Australian retailers finally have to treat customers like humans

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Karma – in the form of Amazon Australia — is about to catch up with Australian retailers that have long ignored customer wishes and convenience, according to a customer experience expert.

Amazon founder and world’s richest man Jeff Bezos once flagged “true customer obsession” as one of the four ways to stave off the dreaded “day 2” and always remain in the vibrant “day 1” phase.

“Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great,” Bezos wrote in a letter to shareholders this year.

“Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.”

Joel Norton, chief executive of Sydney customer experience firm Kalido, told Business Insider that this level of customer focus just did not exist in the local incumbents.

“Australian retailers have continued to invest in their retail stores – either through expanding their geographic footprint or updating their in-store environment,” he said.

“But they have largely ignored how they improve their online, and omni-channel experience. There has been no significant investment in customer data and technology required to deliver personalised 1-to-1 experiences at scale.”

ALSO READ: This experience reminded me why Amazon could crush Australian rivals like Kogan

Norton said that for too long Australian retailers have failed to recognise the simple fact that “customers want to buy what they want, when they want”.

“And online retailers like Amazon make it easy for consumers. They are able to get the right product, at the best price and have a great service or customer experience.”

Customers needed to be treated as individuals, Norton added, and it doesn’t help that most Australian companies don’t have a team solely responsible for handling consumer data.

“Businesses need to improve the visibility of customer data across product, sales and service silos to understand their customers as individuals. Reviewing this data will provide insights which will help inform how best to transition to a customer-centric organisation.”

Australian companies that wanted to survive in the post-Amazon era have to dip into their pockets and actually spend some money on technology and data analysis.

“It requires a shift from traditional product-led marketing of large volume, seasonal campaigns to sell products, to having multiple campaigns running simultaneously which are triggered based on a specific customer interaction or data point,” he said.

“In some businesses, these ‘customer journeys’ could number in the hundreds, or even thousands, and the content and experience is tailored to the individual customer.”

To achieve this, businesses need to invest in tech infrastructure that would allow “real-time personalised communications at scale”.

“And they need to be thinking about how they can increase the volume of sales through digital channels, rather than how do we increase current online conversions.”

On Monday, Amazon emailed Australian third-party merchants telling them to prepare for sales from Thursday afternoon when the general goods site would be opened to a limited number of customers.

As the 2pm mark passed, products began appearing online but were not yet available for sale. A general public launch is expected within the next few days.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Australian incumbents though. Norton said that it’s not too late for companies that genuinely wanted to change, but they had to act now rather than overly procrastinate on strategy.

“Amazon is here, and time is money. Literally,” he said.

“Businesses will get more learnings from execution of the strategy, than delaying another 12 or 24 months to refine the strategy or deliver the consolidated data… The brands that invest in the technology and the capability to become customer centric will have a distinct competitive advantage, and have some chance of combating the impact of Amazon.”

Customer engagement company Kalido is a part of the ASX-listed IVE Group, which has 1500 staff and raked in more than $600 million in annual revenue.

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