To Amazon, or not to Amazon?

Millennial making purchase on smartphone

Lots of reports seem to agree that Amazon is the online destination of choice for Millennials. I am a Millennial, regularly make purchases on Amazon, and (guiltily) it is my go-to for those last-minute purchases – thank goodness for Prime.

Speaking of last-minute, I recently used Amazon to purchase a Molton Brown gift set, grateful for the next-day delivery saving the embarrassment of a belated birthday gift. I searched via reviews, selected the one that seemed most promising, added to basket, one click later it’s purchased, and within 24 hours it’s on my doorstep.

A few weeks before that, I purchased a Charlotte Tilbury blusher directly from the brand website. Again, I browsed reviews, but this time I also watched a video tutorial for some inspiration before adding to my basket. I qualified for some free samples, so selected those, filled out my details, purchased the product, and 3-4 days later it arrived.

The two different shopping experiences reminded me of a webinar I attended as part of September’s British Beauty Week – ‘Selling on Amazon – How does it impact your beauty brand?’. Hosted by Renee Parker, the former Head of Luxury Beauty for Amazon UK, the webinar discussed the pros and cons of selling on Amazon, and how the platform impacts your overall brand positioning and digital strategy.

Her argument (very much in favour of beauty brands selling on Amazon) was convincing. She challenged that if beauty brands are choosing not to address Amazon, that in itself is a decision. As a free marketplace, third-party sellers can sell literally anything, from any brand – and they are! Searching Charlotte Tilbury, for example, comes up with 222 results on Amazon UK, despite the brand not officially selling their products on the platform. So, why wouldn’t brands want to take control of how their products are appearing on the platform, given that chances are they’re already on there?

Oscar de la Renta’s CEO Alex Bolen agrees: “I would guess that somewhere near 100 per cent of our existing customers are on Amazon and a huge percentage of those are Prime members. So, they’re already in that environment.” He believes that brands need to be relevant to what their customers are doing today, and the reality is, even though they’re shopping luxury, they’re shopping on Amazon too. And I agree with this sentiment – it’s so important that brands start and end with people and their needs.

But back to Amazon, it got me thinking… I dropped a quick message in a friends’ group chat. 5 out of 6 of them had bought something from Amazon that week, and if they weren’t buying, they were browsing. Or watching something on Prime… Case in point.

I reflected on my two recent beauty shopping experiences – Amazon vs. Charlotte Tilbury. I had an expectation of the experience I wanted from each, and both delivered.

With Amazon I got convenience. My details were already saved, I got free delivery, and I was able to search and read reviews from other people like me. I was also confident it would arrive when it said it would.

Charlotte Tilbury, on the other hand, felt more premium. I got my free samples and some extra video inspo. I did feel less guilty buying directly from the brand, but ultimately, would my experience of using the blusher have been any different had I purchased it from Amazon? Probably not. And for a minute I couldn’t help but agree with Renee – why aren’t all beauty brands on Amazon?! It definitely would make it easier for me as a customer.

On the reverse side, I also asked myself, why should brands be on Amazon? It has a high cost to serve, and developing an Amazon strategy is a huge undertaking for any brand. And of course, there is the idea that buying a premium brand on a convenient, self-serve platform loses the ‘luxury’ element that customers buying prestige can crave.

So perhaps it’s not a straightforward question after all. But helping brands understand consumer needs and create truly customer-centric experiences is exactly what I do in my day-to-day job. And this goes beyond whether to sell on Amazon or not… Have you thought about what kind of education is most effective, or what needs your customers have after they’ve made their purchase?

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