Amazon Has Jumped the Shark – Advertising, Over Monetization and Company Politics Are Trashing Amazon’s “Customer Obsession”

Amazon built its empire by focusing on customers first. All Amazon employees are indoctrinated in Amazon’s core 14 Principles – Amazon takes this stuff very seriously, they demand that potential new hires regurgitate these principles when interviewing for positions at the company, and they robotically and religiously try and proselytize these principles in everything they do. It’s a culture they think they believe in, and follow.

The problem is, Amazon has gotten too big, too political, and too fractured to truly embrace their principles, and like any big bureaucratic organization, competing groups, with competing interests are controlling and slowly destroying the Amazon customer experience. All in the name of “doing what is right for the customer ”

I have seen this movie before – actually I lived this reality while working at Microsoft managing their largest consumer website MSN.com. MSN was destroyed by multiple different competing fiefdoms inside Microsoft all claiming that they were customer focused, and strategic imperatives for the future of the company. All wanted a premium placement on the MSN homepage, all could demonstrate their deep commitment to consumers, and all who had very specific business and revenue goals assigned to them that they did not want to miss.

This manifested in an insane competition from groups all over the company trying to secure the best real estate on the MSN homepage they possibly could. Unfortunately, the result was a Frankenstein like site that did little for any internal group, and was a horrible and busy mess for consumers.

You only need to look at Amazon’s mobile app homepage, or read their most recent earnings to see that the company is now heading down the dangerous path of balancing the power of their huge audience on their entry page while also trying to feed the mouths of their internal constituents. Amazon is focusing less and less on customers, and more and more on promoting the multiple tentacles of its Goliath.

To be sure, Amazon has sophisticated data intensive methods for testing and measuring the performance of every pixel of their entry points. They have studied, tweaked, and debated every dot on the page, yet from my experience at Microsoft, none of that matters. Why? Because the politics of strategic initiatives, the demands for ever more revenue, and increased click efficiency take over, and the needs of the customers slowly, although justified by data, take a back seat.

What was once a well organized site with easy navigation to product categories or departments has been obliterated by a hodgepodge of Amazon’s pet products, advertising, and strategic initiatives. On my page today it is another hard push on the Fire TV Stick – I already own three of these things, I like the product. But I don’t want or need any more of them. It’s ridiculous that Amazon is using 90% of the page pixels promoting the stick to me. Enough already! Amazon. Geesh.

The ONLY other thing “above the fold” is an advertisement for “Portal” from Facebook. Another product I have absolutely zero interest in. For me it is just another lame banner ad that makes Amazon less useful to me. Clearly Amazon is doing well selling advertising, Estimates show Amazon could rake in $10 Billion from advertising soon.

This IMO is a disaster for Amazon. Selling $10 Billion in advertising and being customer obsessed is an oxymoron. Advertisers don’t pay that kind of money to “help” customers. I am not advocating that advertising or advertisers are bad or inherently negative. But I do know from experience, advertisers are not in the business of helping end users efficiently get things done. Advertisers are desperately trying to buy consumers attention, they are trying to divert consumers away from whatever they were doing in order to get them to pay attention to their brand or product. Sure they want to do this in a relevant and efficient as possible way. But they are more than happy to divert your attention from whatever it was you were trying to get done and hijack your flow and attention over to their message. Snagging your attention and getting you distracted to click is what they do!

This runs counter to what made Amazon great. Amazon was a productivity booster, a massively efficient and effective way to get shopping done. Amazon until more recently was never about serendipity, or shopping just for fun, it was about getting what you needed at a great price with great selection. It did not bombard you with ads for products you didn’t care about, and it’s navigation was seamless and easy to find what you were looking for, without weeding through massive pixel space of things you never cared about.

This is all made worse by Amazon’s relentless push of their hardware products. Fires, Dash Buttons, Mystery Giveaways, and crazy stuff like “scents from your favorite actors”. You can’t make this stuff up. It’s insane, and it is NOT customer focused.

No, the customer had been pushed to the back burner at Amazon. The focus now is clearly on Amazon, and how they can sell every pixel of the site to the highest bidder, be it a 3rd party advertiser or an internal product group trying to score points with the latest “company strategic initiative”. Amazon is broken, and they don’t yet know it.

Yep, I have seen this movie before…