How being customer-centric could make you into a billion-dollar company like Amazon


The famous words of Harry Selfridge (yep, you’ve guessed it, the founder of Selfridges), “the customer is always right” still ring true to this day. In the modern days of the internet, however, we don’t wander up to our customers in person and quiz them on their product choices. Instead, we use endless amounts of data to determine what the best way to target our customers is and what exactly it is that they need or want. 

As businesses, we try to analyse the data we have from cookies, email marketing, surveys, search terms, Google rankings, and a whole host of other metrics to mould our products into exactly what it is that will sell. Unfortunately, most businesses tend to base this on their interpretation of this data, meaning they end up proposing a product or changes to a product that they believe a customer wants, as opposed to actually asking a customer themselves what they want.

The problem with this is, company owners’ and product managers’ perspectives will always be skewed, mainly because their minds are whizzing with budget numbers, MMR targets, production resources, and previous product failings. Therefore they end up making a decision based on this biased information instead of clearing the deck and just saying to a customer – “What do you need?”. 

How Amazon uses the customer-centric approach

We all know that Amazon is a very customer-centric company attributing much of its successes to their engagement with customers. But their new venture takes customer participation and how we use customer feedback to a whole new level, further than any company has before – welcome Amazon Build It. 

What is Amazon Build It?

In 2021, Amazon launched Amazon Build It: Day 1. Unlike any of its approaches before, Amazon Build It is designed purely for customers to choose products that they want to put to market using a vote and pre-order system. So for example, instead of Amazon thinking a new high-tech recyclable paper shredder is exactly what their customers are looking for, they will instead produce the winning product from customer sales from their Build It platform. 

So how does it work, you ask? 

Well, interestingly, Amazon will put a small variety of product ideas that they have thought of using customers feedback onto their Build It platform. The winning product that will be put to market will be chosen by pre-order sales in a limited time frame of 30 days. Amazon will set a pre-order sales target and once a product reaches that target, it will get put into production. The price is also a discounted introductory price that is there to help Amazon gauge what the customers are willing to pay for the item. If the item is successful then Amazon will alert the customer that payment will be taken and when they can expect delivery. 

If a product does not reach the minimum order required, however, then Amazon will scrap its production and it will not charge the customers for the pre-order. This is a great way for them to get a feel for the types of products customers want whilst also guaranteeing themselves sales for new products. 

The importance of customer feedback on shaping your products

We all rely on customers’ product feedback as both customers and business owners, especially with all the review sites we now have access to. From TripAdvisor to Feefo, we can see firsthand exactly what customers thought of the products and services they experienced. Pair these with the likes of Twitter and Facebook where you can have a direct insight into any issues and complaints, and you’ll see just how transparent customers’ needs have become. 

Amazon spotted the importance of customer feedback early on and that’s why they were the first internet company to use actual customer feedback on their products, even displaying this for others to see, regardless of if it was good or bad. 

Companies now do this all the time as customers find reviews and feedback from others helpful for purchasing decisions and business owners find them  useful to help make their products better. When Amazon decided to do this in the late 1990’s, however, this move was seen as worrisome. The retail industry back then was not very fond of customer feedback on products, especially since they could be bad and therefore lose them sales. Some presumed back then that websites that allowed for customer feedback paved the way for customers to openly complain. Amazon bit the bullet and introduced it anyway, giving customers first the chance to review books. What they saw was both complaints and genuine feedback on their buyer journey from the purchasing process to the delivery format, helping Amazon to shape a better buyer journey in the years to come. 

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO of Amazon

How Amazon have used this approach before

There are a few examples of Amazon making good use of customer feedback and behaviour throughout the years. Take Amazon Prime as an example, a super saver delivery service provided by Amazon that was originally considered “not good enough” by customers. 

The new and improved Amazon Prime idea came as a better solution to this current problem. It was obvious from feedback that their customers wanted better delivery options and cheaper pricing but at the time there was no such option to offer them. Customers had complained that the free shipping service was taking too long to deliver products and the faster delivery options were too expensive. Amazon, therefore, came up with an alternative option and introduced a monthly subscription whereby customers can get unlimited free delivery on the items that Prime covered. It proved to be a genius idea as regular customers could get free delivery and it would entice new customers to sign up. 

The biggest advantage to Amazon Prime is that there is no minimum spend on the purchase order, something they took from their customer feedback, so their customers feel they are getting a lot more for the low annual payment. Amazon showcased how they had used their customers’ criticisms to make Amazon Prime a better service, showing them their annual fee compared to the previous super saver plan. 

Customer feedback and AmazonBasics

Another way Amazon has been designing and selling products on its platform is by studying its own customers behaviour and independent merchant feedback. Amazon has its own private label for items that it sells on its own platform under AmazonBasics

They analyse customer feedback and behaviours with certain items and try to produce a product that will fill a gap in the market. These range from electronic cables to office accessories, to kitchen utensils and bathroom necessities, and many more. The benefit of having access to such a large amount of feedback from their customers has helped Amazon target the price and quality of the items for the mass populous and has helped them make a profit on products that they know will be successful. Better yet, these products also benefit from the fact that they are offered on Amazon Prime to entice customers further as they will save money on the delivery cost; a perfect example of interselling. 

So will Amazon Build It be as successful as Prime? 

Time will tell how popular Build It will be but if the recent pre-orders are anything to go by, it’s going to be another huge success for Amazon. The first products to feature include: a calorie-counting food scale, an Alexa powered cuckoo clock and a sticky note printer. Can you guess which one hit its pre-order target in just 3 days? 

Maybe surprising to some but it was the sticky note printer, with an introductory price of $89.99. So it’s now in production, and ready to be rolled out to the wider market. Other products have “progress metres” to show potential customers how close they are to reaching their pre-order goals. 

How can you vote on Amazon Build It? 

If you want to get involved in this Kickstarter-style campaign of Amazon’s then all you need to do is jump on their Build It website and vote for your favourite products. If you have a genuine interest in purchasing the product, fill out a pre-order form and you’ll only be charged if the product reaches its pre-order goal. 

What can companies learn from Amazon Build It? 

The companies that can really use Amazon’s customer-centric approach to their benefit are the SaaS companies amongst us. Most services need constant improvement, mainly because customers’ needs and behaviours are forever changing and evolving. So why not do what Amazon did and focus on your customer feedback to shape and improve your product? 

For example, if you’re looking to create an additional feature or plug in to your current product, don’t base your decisions purely on the most popular search terms in Google. Actively engage with your current customers and physically ask them what they need to help them work more efficiently. Nine times out of ten you’ll get a recurring theme that you can then use to base your product improvement on. 

Start-up business owners are good at this, mainly because they have the “get it out there and constantly improve on it” way of thinking as time is of the very essence for smaller and growing businesses. But if all companies took this approach and actively used customer feedback and understood their needs, how many products would we have out there that genuinely met our needs? Long gone would be the endless wasted products that we really don’t want and unfortunately, companies that have sunk due to this. 

Here at StatusCake, we thoroughly believe in customer feedback, the good, the bad and the ugly. Mainly because we can learn more from the critical feedback than from the “I love it!” feedback (although it’s always nice to hear). We want to develop products that make our customers’ working lives better and that can only be done by them telling us what else they need. Need more uptime monitoring tests to make sure your website is performing to the best of its ability? We’ve found a solution to make sure customers get this, because we were inundated with customers asking. So what have we learnt?

Lets base our product decisions on our customers; giving them what they want, not what we think they want. And if you need a reason to do this, just look at Jeff Bezos. I know, right, reason enough. 

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