In the time it takes you to read this modestly-sized article, Amazon will probably make enough money to buy an immodestly-sized mansion. Today, it’s a retail juggernaut, ploughing through all opposition with effortless ease and swallowing budding enterprises before they can bloom. But it didn’t emerge fully-formed from the coffers of a bored billionaire — Amazon reached its position through an unshakable commitment to innovation and experimentation.
If you’re at the helm of a small or medium business and you aspire to achieve even a fraction of Amazon’s astounding success, then an important component is going to be your approach to technology: we’re in the digital era, and progress waits for no one. And while you can’t bring a budget the size of a small country’s GDP, you can learn from Amazon’s approach to tech.
To that end, let’s take a look at some specific tech-related points you can take from the Western world’s default online seller:
When in doubt, you should try it out
Many companies, big or small, are frequently crippled by fear of trying radically-new things. They worry about what customers will think, how investors will perceive them, and when they’ll see any meaningful returns from such speculative endeavours. The history of Amazon, though, is one of trying new things and learning from them, no matter the short-term result.
The big data industry now dominates the business world, particularly when it comes to fintech and ecommerce. Machine learning continues to produce algorithms that butt heads relentlessly, struggling for automated supremacy, and retailers use sophisticated personalisation to carefully cater their offers to their customers. And who pioneered that kind of personalisation? Yes, you guessed it: Amazon.
Back when Amazon was still just an online bookstore (it’s easy to forget where it came from), it was investing in customer recommendations through a comparison system that gathered information from purchase histories to the tune of 500mb every day. To put that into context, this was pre-millennium. That was a huge amount of data. It was no doubt expensive, and didn’t work anywhere near as well as comparable systems today, but the Amazon team understood that it was only going to get more important, so it was worth being ahead of the pack.
Skip to the present day, and look ahead again. There’s Amazon Go on the offline retail horizon, Amazon Prime Air still in the works, and no doubt many other projects in the pipeline. Would you bet against Amazon being the first to invest in the next big technological innovation? I wouldn’t. So if you’re unsure about the value of some new technology, just give it a try. It’s worth it.
Technology grants new opportunities
Remember how Amazon started as a bookstore? How many people at the time would have anticipated it becoming the all-encompassing giant it is today? The Amazon brand now spans the entirely of the ecommerce industry (in some ways, it is the industry), digital media, online services, and even consumer electronics. The company would never have achieved that kind of broad presence if it had adhered to that initial concept of an online bookstore, or if maturing technology hadn’t made it all possible.
Keep this in mind when you look to the future of technology. You might consider a topic such as chatbots and struggle to see a way in which it could benefit your current business, but you’re not forever stuck to that business model. You can pivot, expand, do something different. You can rebrand your entire business, or you can diversify your brand with new business, all supported through technology.
The pace of the online world is such that it can be hard to get perspective, but if you stop for a moment and think clearly, you can start to see all the things that technology equips you to do:
Right away, there are three things you do to improve and expand your business, all without having to leave the room. What reason do you have to feel bound by the tactics you’ve used before when technology grants you this level of freedom?
Failure is unavoidable — and valuable
Do you remember the Amazon Fire phone? Having apparently been in development since as far back as 2010, it was launched in Summer 2014 and… wasn’t exactly a hit. In fact, an $170m write-down was announced later that year, adding to a remarkable net loss of $437m for the third quarter, and production completely ceased a little over a year later. But that kind of financial hit wasn’t new to Amazon.
For quite some time, Amazon was derided by some for its apparent inability to turn a profit. What use was it to have such high revenue when it couldn’t retain any of it? But it never wavered from its strategy of reinvesting all the money it brought in, and eventually it became clear that it had been the best thing to do. Instead of resting on its laurels and banking what it had made, it had fed everything back into the system to keep things moving and push even harder for the future while its rivals proceeded more carefully.
Even though we’re a long way from AI being as smart as the dumbest human, companies are throwing money at the technology, probably having learned from Amazon’s pioneering approach. The same can be said of all the retailers investing in drone fleets, despite the many issues remaining with that idea. And they won’t all succeed, but their chances will be much better than those companies that settle for safe tactics.
The lesson here, then, is not to fear failing with your use of technology. The possibilities are so extensive that anyone can fail to get the combination and execution exactly right, and if you hold back for fear of making a mistake, you’ll never get anywhere. Instead, go into your tech experimentations being completely prepared for them to fail, and fail catastrophically — then try again, and endure failure until you reach the success that makes it all worth it.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert for Ecommerce Tips. He thinks everyone can take inspiration from Amazon’s unrelenting ambition. Visit the blog, and check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.