Marketplaces: Embrace or Maneuver Around. Ignore? Peril.

This article, authored by co-CEO, Chris Paradysz, was originally published in Advertising Age, here. 

Sextants: Rarely seen nor part of everyday life. But there is no instrument more pure or more technically perfect. Not requiring a physical connection to anything, the sextant is complete and never imprecise. Its ability to see and reveal raw truth, data if you will, is its power. Over hundreds of years, its navigational abilities have created freedom, provided safety, inspired unrelenting discovery as well as crushing failures and led to unimaginable wealth.

Such is the land of marketplaces too. Not created by Amazon, Alibaba or other emerging players, but by the Persian culture. A marketplace or a bazaar’s purpose has always been to connect needs and desires with those who can fulfill them. To thrive as a merchant requires a vigilant balance and knowledge of one’s customers and the products sold. This has not changed, tax nexus, GDPR and privacy be damned.

Like the purity of information from a sextant, customer insights and needs—from both the customers you already have as well as the ones you want—should be the primary constant driving a brand’s decision about its marketplace investments. Customers are the ones we serve and need to understand. Harsh as it might be to revenues and profits in the short term, this is what will sustain growth. With research, media analysis and tracking technologies, we can know a good deal.

Consumers Desire Relevancy: Leverage Data to Help Shape Experience


People (rather, consumers), despite their brand wanderlust and increasing demand for privacy, want us to follow and evolve with their interests.

According to a Survata study, 49 percent of consumers turn to Amazon first when shopping for products online. A similar eMarketer studyshows that price, convenience and Prime benefits are the top reasons why. And interestingly, consumers are more than 2.5 times more likely to find out about the brand of a recent purchase from Amazon versus any other search, says Forrester. Shifting search behavior shows that voice search will play a significant role in reaching buyers and ultimately influencing sales. All eyes are on Alexa, at least within marketplaces.

Amid the changes, it’s this singular obsession for the customer that drives all of the decisions that marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy make.

What customers are telling Amazon they want and need is its sole mission. Unrelenting, it then acts with fierce determination.

To marketers, Amazon’s actions feel calculating and harsh. And they are. But it’s not out of its desire to wreak havoc on businesses. This and disruption might be the result, but what customers are telling Amazon they want and need is what drives its sole mission. Unrelenting, it then acts with fierce determination.

See Jeff Bezos’s 2017 shareholder report letter to Amazon shareholders that says in part:

“People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s “ordinary.” It may be because customers have such easy access to more information than ever before—in only a few seconds and with a couple taps on their phones, customers can read reviews, compare prices from multiple retailers, see whether something’s in stock, find out how fast it will ship or be available for pick-up, and more. I sense that the same customer empowerment phenomenon is happening broadly across everything we do. You cannot rest on your laurels in this world. Customers won’t have it.”

He said it in 1997 too.

“We will continue to focus relentlessly on our customers,” he told shareholders. In introducing that year’s operational performance, he restated it:

“Obsess over customers.”

We are only at the very beginning of this revolution. And Amazon is only the most dominant today. Alibaba could claim the same in China. Both known for speed and obsession, they sound more like 20-year-old startups. Walmart is charging hard too.

Establishing and answering the critical questions about a brand’s needs should come through the constant influx and measurement of descriptive and behavioral inputs, consumer’s needs and wishes. Without this, brands will struggle with their own goals. Indecision will inevitably affect strategy and performance.

And this is exactly the formula that decimates good businesses.

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