Business

Amazon’s advantage in holiday gift giving

Image Credit: Rafal Olkis/Shutterstock

There’s been a lot of talk about showrooming this year. Showrooming is when you visit a retail store to see a product and then use your mobile apps to check prices online and place an order.

I was at a bookstore on Saturday and found a book that I thought my nine-year-old niece would like. I scanned the book, found it on Amazon, and it should arrive at her home in Virginia today.

As it turns out, I paid substantially less on Amazon than I would have in store. But I would have been willing to pay the same price just for the convenience.

Best Buy’s new CEO Hubert Joly doesn’t consider showrooming a threat. “I believe showrooming is one of the greatest falsehoods about our company,” Joly told the Minneapolis Star Tribune shortly after taking the job. “If there was a lot of showrooming, I don’t think we would have $50 billion in revenue. We must have at least a few people buying in our stores.” (Disclosure: I’m short Best Buy.)

Retailers like Best Buy and Target have responded to the Amazon threat this year by offering price matching. If you find an item and see a lower price at Amazon (or other select retailers), they will match the price. But that may not be enough to match the convenience.

For those with friends and family in faraway places, gift giving has had its challenges. Once you find the gift, you have to wrap it. If you’re visiting friends and family for the holidays, you have to haul your stuff with you. Most airlines now charge fees for checking luggage. The TSA insists that it can open anything, so it’s best not to wrap anything until you get to your destination.

If you’re shipping gifts, it involves finding the right packing materials, putting everything together, and then waiting in line at the post office. Then you have to pay for shipping. (Individual rates for shipping aren’t cheap; Amazon gets much better prices from companies like UPS and FedEx.)

Contrast that with my showrooming experience at the bookstore: I scanned the item, selected Sasha’s name as the destination, and I was done. With my Amazon Prime membership, shipping is free and fast.

Because Amazon has made this so easy, I now have most of my frequent gift recipients stored in my account. Scan, click, send. That book will be waiting when I arrive for Thanksgiving, and I won’t have to cram another thing in my suitcase.

As easy as Amazon has made it, there are still opportunities for improvement:

  • The user interface flow isn’t optimized. I have a lot of addresses stored in my account, and it takes too much scrolling to get to the right one. Addresses I haven’t used in ages should fall lower in the list. Ideally, Amazon’s magic algorithms would figure out based on the item I’m ordering whom to put at the top of the list.
  • Amazon should store preferences based on recipient. Right now, it’s done on a per order basis. Each time I want to send a gift, I have to select whether I want it wrapped and if I want the price on the packing slip. I should be able to say anytime I send something to Sasha, follow these rules.
  • Amazon should let me send gifts to people I don’t have physical addresses for. I should be able to enter an email address. When that order is processed, the recipient gets an email saying “Rocky wants to send you a gift” and she can enter a shipping address. Existing Amazon customers can just 1-click to approve the delivery.
  • I want the ability to delay deliveries closer to the reason for the gift. If I’m sending a Diwali gift, I would prefer that Amazon deliver it closer to Diwali than to send it right away. This could save Amazon money in shipping costs.

In 2012, I’ve placed 90 orders with Amazon. (Excluding digital orders.) That’s about two orders a week. I should meet or beat that pace for the rest of the year.

[Top image credit: Rafal Olkis/Shutterstock]


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