Fourteen years ago Amazon.com was relatively small, compared to its current monolithic presence. In 2005, it was only 11 years old, and company revenue was $8.5bn. This July, Amazon celebrated its 25th birthday and has forecast 2019 earnings of $275bn+.
Since I joined Amazon in 2005, I’ve spent £9,446 via their website and app. I’ve burned through £1,720 of that total this year alone.
These amounts don’t include the subscription fees I’ve paid to use Audible or Amazon Music, which would take the grand total past £10,000.
What does my own data tell me?
£10,000 is a lot of money to spend with a single online retailer – even if this is spread over a 14-year period. My eBay, iTunes and Wish shopping frivolities from the same period pale into insignificance.
What’s alarming is a closer look at my own spend trends for the past six years:
- In the last five years I’ve ordered 438 items and spent £7,404, compared to my first 10 years of membership, when I ordered 86 items and spent a total of £2,042.
- Whilst my average order value isn’t creeping up, my total orders, spend, and average orders per week are growing exponentially, each year.
- As of July this year, my average orders per week sit at 3.93.
- I’m set to spend around £1,700 more than the average Amazon member, of the same status, this year (2019 Prime member spend is around £1,116 per year).
If you take my fiancée’s account and orders into consideration too, there’s now rarely a day goes by (evenings and weekends included) without an Amazon parcel arriving at our door.
Why am I spending more and more, with Amazon?
There are some obvious, rational and valid reasons for this behaviour – and some not-so-obvious, far more insidious motivations.
I’m an Amazon Prime member, and have been since 2016. This could partly explain my five-year spending spike. Perhaps I’m trying to get the best bang for my buck – capitalising on the ‘free’ delivery – and purchasing items I’d normally buy at the shops? All because I can now get them delivered to my door, the very next day, with nothing more than a few clicks.
As a family, we also welcomed our baby girl, Lola, into the world in the last year. We’re a little more time-poor than before, meaning a service like Amazon can help us out with nappies, wipes and baby must-haves, again, at the click of a button.
Stepping back for a moment and peering into my own psyche, I fear there’s probably more at play. Prime membership and new baby explains some of it, but throw in a sprinkling of Amazon’s innovative personalisation and ruthless conversion algorithms, and you’ve got a lethal concoction. It causes Amazon Fever – and it’s something I can’t seem to sweat out.
Of the 524 items I’ve received in 14 years, how many did I really need?
“All of them”, I tell myself!
Realistically, the answer is, “very few of them”.
Aside from the odd gift for someone else, most of the crap I buy on Amazon doesn’t enrich my life. The motion-activated toilet seat light that I bought neither assisted me when peeing in the dark, nor made my bathroom experiences more satisfying. If anything, it just ended up covered in wee and kept falling into the toilet water.
This is where I believe the real power of Amazon lies; it tunes into what I consider are personal, marginal gains – and convinces me it can solve some of my everyday gripes with a raft of affordable solutions.
When I have a light bulb moment about a particular way I can fractionally enhance my life with an Amazon purchase, I click a few buttons – and my ‘solution’ arrives the very next day.
At some point, being able to pee in the dark against the warming hue of an LED light was a problem that needed attention.
What flicks my light bulb switch in the first place?
This is where it gets quite dark (I should have kept the LED light…)
These problems are things I’m not aware of 99% of the time, until I come across them on my highly personalised Amazon homepage.
Another partner in crime then pairs up with my ‘there’s a fix for that’ mantra to improving domestic life: Amazon’s up-sell model.
In the end of the day, Amazon doesn’t just survive because it sells things. It facilitates, learns and develops, using our own data and online habits to sell us more – and it’s a master at doing so.
At the core of the empire, Amazon’s product review system is one of its biggest allures and sales drivers. Real people (mostly), saying real things (mostly), about real products. Link this with algorithms that figure out what each customer is most likely to buy, then puts that item in front of said customer at the right time/on the right channel, with personal twist (“Greg, more items to consider…”) and you’ve got something very powerful indeed.
It’s emotional manipulation, no matter how you look at it.
I read something on LinkedIn very recently that said, “Marketing is about connecting with the customer to truly enhance their purchase experience”. That’s certainly one way to consider things – and the marketer in me doesn’t disagree.
Cutting to the chase though, it’s also about catching people, unaware, at the right moment, in the right mindset and manipulating their conscious to create an opportunity for behaviour change that impacts conversion and ultimately commercial gain. If that’s not at the heart of any marketing strategy, then it’s not worth the napkin it’s written on the back of.
To venture deeper, there has been a throng of studies carried out on the psychology of the 21st century shopper. One thing we’ve learned is the allure of shopping and the experience it offers can be compared with that of addiction to food, alcohol and drugs. Rational thought creeps out the window, the endorphin rush kicks in, and we click the ‘buy now’ button and get the buzz.
Quite often it’s the thrill of the hunt that floats our boats – and once the high dies, and the item is in our possession, we’re already looking for the next hit. Or in my case, the next problem to solve.
In an online world, with fingertip convenience, it has become harder and harder to fight this chemical-induced urge.
What is Amazon’s position in all of this?
I came across an interesting find within Amazon’s own cultural handbook. CEO, Jeff Bezos, has built the company around a number of ‘secret sauce Leadership Principles’ – his words, not mine. These internal values help guide employees to make good business decisions (generate profit).
One of the Principles is, “Obsessive compulsive focus on the customer as opposed to obsession over the competitor…” to quote Mr. Bezos himself (Washington, September 2018). Whilst this sounds very noble in what has been dubbed The Age of the Customer, I’d challenge that it’s all fairly superficial.
Bubbling just below the surface of a customer-first, giving back and Corporate Social Responsibility enriched culture, I believe the Principle most likely translates into: “Focus on [manipulate] the customer’s obsessive compulsiveness”.
I admire Mr. Bezos for everything he has crafted and built – being at the helm from the dawn of Amazon’s humble online bookstore existence, to it’s colossal presence today.
However, with the growth of every tech giant, you’ve only got to peak behind the curtain to expose the darker side of global fulfilment domination. Whether it’s Facebook’s unscrupulous approach to data management, or Amazon’s mistreatment of its warehouse staff on a global scale, there’s a knock-on effect from me getting my fix.
Should the convenience monoliths take a little more responsibility and operate more transparency of intent when it comes to easy-to-fleece idiots like me?
Finishing this piece, by comparing Amazon’s growth and grip to that of the illegal drug trade would be clichéd… right? I have my health, my family, my friends, my job – and a house full of crap. But I’m also funding a habit and keeping my fever at bay.
I guess the question is, “Will I be able to sweat it out, or should I just admit that I’m a functioning addict under the spell of Amazon’s siren-like call?”
Oh, if anyone’s interested, I’ve got these cheeseburgers, man…