Social Commerce & Marketing

Introduction

Amazon.com has numerous elements that allow customers to personalize and customize features and products. The question to ask is how effective are the various elements? Do they cause a customer to buy more products? Wal-Mart, too, has similar elements built into the eCommerce (EC) site. Is it effective and will it be a cause of concern for Amazon? Will Amazon continue to be the dominant force in etailing or will Wal-Mart, being the economic juggernaut that it is, prove to be a force to be reckoned with? Wal-Mart, after all, does have a history of displacing so-called leaders in the market when it opens a new store. This paper explores these questions to help better understand the dynamics at play here in eCommerce.

Personalization

Three personalization items to note are “Wishlists,” “Featured Recommendations” and “Recently Viewed.” Wish Lists allow the customer to create separate lists of items they might like to buy at some future time for themselves or someone else. An interesting thing about these lists is that if the customer waits long enough, they could see a significant drop in price. Amazon provides a way for me to schedule recurring orders for products that I use on a regular basis. The “Recommended for me” and “Recently Viewed” are Amazon’s way of suggestive advertising to see if the customer would consider buying more. It’s much like add-on products or like accessorizing; adding a matching pair of shoes to the dress you just bought (Amazon, 2016).

Where the real personalization takes place is with meeting the customers’ needs and one of the things that Amazon is known for is being a pioneer in personalization. Their use of data mining technology to make the consumer shopping experience much more memorable and exciting is being mimicked by all others, including Wal-Mart. Amazon uses the data gathered on its customer’s activities, besides to make the shopping experience more memorable to the shopper, it informs sellers what they should carry in inventory, how much they should carry in inventory, and what times of the year they should carry this suggested inventory (Rao, 2013).

Customization

Something to take note of is the types of customization in question here; one is for customizing products to meet consumer’s needs; much like what Dell Computers does for example.  Secondly is for customizing web experience such as in allowing consumers to choose what they would like to see on their “page” and what the website shows you based on your previous activity. A customizable product would be difficult for Amazon to do since they’re an eTailer and not a manufacturer like Dell Computers for instance; that doesn’t prevent Amazon from aligning with manufacturers, like Dell to provide the consumer the ability to buy customizable products through Amazon. Amazon would certainly have to ensure a good fit since Amazon is a destination and most people wouldn’t consider Amazon to be a destination for buying a car, for instance. But Amazon does, to somewhat the same extent as Dell, provide available customization on some products, for instance, golf clubs or purchasing dress shirts. But it’s limited to what the manufacturer is willing to offer, much the same as Dell does, for instance. As for customization of the interface of either Amazon or Wal-Mart’s websites, there is no evidence that either allows for such customization (Amazon, 2016).

Amazon versus Wal-Mart

Will Wal-Mart be able to beat out Amazon online? Likely it will be an interesting battle, especially since Amazon recently became bigger than Wal-Mart with a market cap of $246 billion versus $230 billion respectively. Even though Wal-Mart’s overall sales are still greater than Amazon’s, Amazon is smoking Wal-Mart in eCommerce (D’Onfro, 2015). Amazon’s EC shopping has been seeing bigger and bigger sales percentage increases than Wal-Mart’s EC and brick-and-mortar combined, with the share of EC percentage of total sales rising from a mere 0.6% to 7% from 1999 to 2015 showing quarterly increases almost triple that of brick and mortar.

But other numbers spell out a clearer picture of the differences between Amazon and Wal-Mart: Wal-Mart has far more employees: 2.2 million to Amazon’s 154,100. Net sales are clearly a victory for Wal-Mart coming in with $482.2 billion versus Amazon’s $88.988 billion. But the following is where the difference is: Amazon’s year over year growth versus Wal-Marts has been 20% to 1.9%. Amazon’s product offerings equal 250 million versus Wal-Marts mere 4.2 million. Amazon adds 75,000 new products per day while Wal-Mart opened 115 new supercenters last year, and Amazon reaches 244 million active users with 154,000 employees versus Wal-Mart’s 2.2 million employees.  The numbers tell the story (Peterson, 2015).

Avatars

In EC avatars have become quite common. They’re used extensively in eLearning and customer support. These are referred to as picons (personal icons), but that has long since stopped. Avatar as a word is derived from Hindu and is stands for the “descent” of a deity in a terrestrial out of body form (Avater-Wikipedia, 2015). Using an avatar can certainly be more efficient for the company since it doesn’t have actually to pay an actor or hire an actual human to interface with a customer; it seems that some people could be turned off from using one. It’s much like going through an automated answering system when you call your insurance company, very frustrating. Since the company using the avatar has to try to predict what the customer is going to ask commonly, it makes it difficult for that customer who asks a question that doesn’t quite fit the mold.

But in virtual world websites like in Second Life, the blend of virtual-world EC and the real world creates opportunities for creative marketers. Companies like MacDonald’s and Dell have created few instances of selling real-world products in virtual worlds to real-world customers and delivered them to their real-world addresses (Hemp, 2006)

Banner Advertising

A banner ad is an advertisement usually displayed across the top of a web page or along the side of the page and is commonly served up by an ad server. This advertising form is embedded into the web page. Its intention is to attract traffic to an advertiser’s website accessible because the ad hyperlinks to the advertiser’s website. Web banners function much like traditional advertisements in print media function: they serve to attract immediate attention to whatever the advertiser is selling in the hopes the viewer will be attracted and enticed enough to click on the ad. Interestingly, this data can be tracked from the ad: how many times the ad displayed; how many clicks; how far those who clicked went into the hyperlinked website from clicking in and out to actually purchasing the product (Web Banner-Wikipedia, 2015). What makes any ad popular? Banner ads are a quick and easy way to place your wares in front of millions of people all at once. Traditional full page newspaper ads don’t even get that kind of coverage. Tracking a web page banner ad is certainly far simpler than tracking an ad in the yellow pages. And you can advertise just about any product from automobiles to children’s toys to food. Banner ads are much like billboard advertising because people are likely only taking a quick glance; makes it so they’re more appropriate for brand reinforcement than for unique product advertising.

Conclusion

As you can see, Amazon doesn’t need to fear Wal-Mart running it over in the EC world anytime soon. In fact, Wal-Mart needs to pick up the pace a tad bit it would seem (Peterson, 2015). Judging from the numbers, it seems Wal-Mart’s cost per sale is higher than Amazon’s. After all, Amazon is doing much more overall with a lot less personnel than Wal-Mart.

Avatars and banner ads certainly have their place in the EC world. Baner ads placement or use is limited: banner ads are placed somewhere in whatever medium happens to be popular at the moment. It used to be newspapers and magazines; now it’s the internet.  Avatars are useful in areas like eLearning or introducing potential customers initially to a product or a service. The hope here, like banner ads, is that you click to exploring further into the connected website and possibly buy.

References:

Amazon.com: Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more. (2016, February 13). Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com

Avatar (computing) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2015, October 28). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_%28computing%29

D’Onfro, J. (2015, July 25). Wal-Mart is losing the war against Amazon. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/wal-mart-ecommerce-vs-amazon-2015-7

Hemp, P. (2006, June). Avatar-Based Marketing. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2006/06/avatar-based-marketing

Peterson, H. (2015, July 13). The key differences between Wal-Mart and Amazon in one chart. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-vs-wal-mart-in-one-chart-2015-7

Rao, L. (2013, August 31). How Amazon Is Tackling Personalization And Curation For Sellers On Its Marketplace | TechCrunch. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2013/08/31/how-amazon-is-tackling-personalization-and-curation-for-sellers-on-its-marketplace/

Web banner – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2015, December 30). Retrieved February 13, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_banner

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