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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Amazon: more reliable than a letter to Santa

Spent some time last night creating my 4-year-old’s Amazon holiday wish list for the out-of-country grandparents. For a family of expats, the combination of wishlists, universality of ecommerce, and the emergence of inexpensive / free shipping has been a lifesaver for people who care about us but can’t be with us for every holiday.

It got me thinking, however, about what a lifesaver wishlists are in general.

The holiday gift-giving traditionalists will say that wishlists are almost the copout that gift cards are. (and they’re right, to some extent)

Shopping for someone else intensifies every aspect of the retail experience, particularly for a major holiday event or a birthday. In these cases, our expectations as customers are reflective of the expectations of the people we are shopping for. We want the experience to go flawlessly, not only because we want the object of our gifting to be satisfied, but because the result of the service is a reflection on us as well.

Holiday shopping isn’t the only place this happens. Think of taking an out-of-town friend to your favorite restaurant and how heightened you are to every aspect of the service. Satisfaction and loyalty payoff in these situations is more that 1:1, as you get to satisfy two parties, one where the service expectations are at their highest.

More experiences than we realize are subject to these sort of heightened service sensitivities, driven by the expectations and perceptions of another customer present or downstream.

Much of Amazon’s success owes to consideration of the full consumer experience in the online retail environment. With service-enabling technology, they've solved problems of customer understanding that few retailers can in a bricks & mortar setting. The wishlist goes a step further, considering parties beyond the active consumer experience, using their input to improve the success of other customers’ retail experiences at the very time they have heightened expectations.

So many other service businesses would be benefited by taking a likewise step beyond the customer in front of us, to understand downstream consumers and others depending on the product of the service transaction currently taking place.

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