Amazon buys Kiva Systems

The amazing Kiva Systems robots are now part of Kiva System’s robots already have a place at Amazon’s Zappos. Now Amazon looks to likely take this technology forward in the operations and logistics side of the house. Toys-R-us is a Kiva Systems customer. Maybe this can help the Amazon and Toys-R-Us relationship.

Here are some interesting and relevant Kiva Systems articles from 2009:
Amazon’s Acquisition of Zappos Is “A Good Thing for Kiva,” Says Robot Company’s CEO.

Also check Forbes, “Bot-In-Time Delivery” for more about Kiva.

Amazon’s press release: to Acquire Kiva Systems, Inc.

Disclosure: My wife is employed by Amazon by does not read my blog.

A tale of two customer experiences

In the past 24 hours, I have had two diametrically opposed customer experiences. One was delightful, the other made me cancel my account.

I used to bank with a large national bank. When the wife (Disclosure: the wife works for Amazon but does not read my blog) and I married, we consolidated accounts to another bank, but kept this account to have a local presence. This arrangement worked for the last 7 years. Yesterday, I received my statement which included in my opinion ridiculous fees. Now, I was never informed that these fees would be incurred. The statement was the only notification. I am sure that there was some fine print that I missed; however nearly $20 for a “free checking” account is just poor business. I went to the local branch to close the account and they did do their best to try to keep my business. Given how these fees were incurred, large unnamed bank did not want my business any longer, so I was happy to oblige.

This afternoon, I re-started working on a project to extend a WiFi antenna into my attic. This has long been on my to-do list. During the basement remodel when I wired the house with coax and Cat 5e, I even ran a 50 ohm coax cable into the basement to extend the antenna. I never finished the project. Recently, I purchased what I believed to be the correct TNC connectors. Well, I goofed. I bought the wrong ones. The return process from Amazon (Disclosure: the wife does not work for the retail side of Amazon) was dead simple. I was not even required to return the connectors. Amazon just gave me the refund! While I may be a great customer, the shipping and restocking costs were likely more than the cost of the connectors. Not only does it make good business sense, it is an incredible customer experience. Hey, I am even blogging about it.

So who are you, large unnamed bank or Amazon? Can you delight customers while still making sound business decisions? How will your customers rate their experiences? Keep these questions in mind and stay customer obsessed in 2012!

Game-Based Marketing

I do not consider myself a gamer. Then I realized I am an elite player in American’s AAdvantage program. I have never made a mileage run, but know plenty who have. Games are everywhere. One of the hottest areas of the online engagement economy is gamification, a strategy that meshes games and marketing. Games can be tailored to drive engagement, loyalty and virality. Zicherman and Linder’s Game-based marketing is a must-read on the topic.

The experiential nature of games allows users to sense, feel, think, relate and act. When combined with marketing, games drive a desired behavior. As Zicherman points out an engaging experience has to be authentic. It must align with the experience by it a conference, airline travel or McDonald’s. Games are fun and entertaining. They encourage engagement for users to participate and to contribute. Games are educational. They provide something to learn including levels, points and even virtual currency. Games provide an escape. Escapes are themes, stories or quests that take a user from point to point. Games should have an esthetic or loyalty component. A player must want to be there and willing to come back.

The experiential nature of gaming allows users to sense, feel, think, relate and act. If you are concerned with site loyalty, virality and engagement check out this book. It has ideas on campaign and continuous games that can be used to engage the community.

You can also read this book review on Disclosure, the wife works at but does not read my blog.

Why Focus Intent?

I have been revisiting the idea of customer intent and its implications. Social media has exploded given customers and prospects the ability to express intent. Buyers signal. Customers signal. Competitors signal. These signals are important data points for the Sales, Marketing and Service — the 3 big users of CRM systems.

A great recent example of this phenomenon is the Netflix price increase. Customers revolted and the company found itself in reactionary mode. Reid Hastings’ blog post will be remembered and studied for years. Is it a coincidence that Amazon’s (Disclosure: The wife works at Amazon, but does not read my blog) Kindle Fire announcement states the following?

There are two types of companies: those that work hard to charge customers more, and those that work hard to charge customers less.

The real interesting thing about these two companies is one forget their competitive advantage and the other did not. Kindle Fire and the new Kindles look like winners, Netflix is left spinning Qwikster, which is already being compared to New Coke. Amazon listened to customers, Netflix did not.

This example shows the implications for CRM. Signals are positive or negative. Sales, Marketing and Customer Support have to be able to filter and respond to the signals that matter to their mission. In the end, it is all about how you support the customer across the customer life cycle. The next evolution in CRM will be how to focus on the signals and understand customer intent.

Amazon + Netflix Rumors (again)

If there is one e-commerce rumor that never seems to die, it is Amazon buying Netflix. I just do not see it happening, yet shares jumped again on the persistent rumors.

From my July 2009 post:

First, a deal with Netflix has been speculated for many years. The overlaps are obvious. I am sure the smart people at Amazon have investigated Netflix and determined if the addition would be a fit. To be sure, there were some synergies a few years ago. Netflix had a solid customer base and fulfillment. The advent of digital video and applications like Amazon Unbox and iTunes have shown that the digital video is for real. Netflix is nice, but likely not a growth segment. Today, Amazon would have interest in the fulfillment but knows the Netflix customer base is likely to get smaller not bigger. Plus the fulfillment model is great for envelopes not for packages.

In the nearly last 12 months, Netflix has done very well in the market by more than doubling in share price. I still hold the opinion that window of opportunities for synergies is past. Amazon won’t do this deal.

Business Insider: Netflix Downgraded To SELL: Amazon Deal Won’t Happen, Says UBS

Disclosure: The wife is employed by Amazon and does not read my blog. These opinions are mine alone.

iPad, the Kindle Killer?

Lots of chatter about iPad as the Kindle killer. The chatter is bunk. Kindle has a specific target audience, a niche. That niche loves the Kindle. Niche is the new critical mass.

Look at some of the advantages Kindle has:

  1. Battery Life. Kindle can last up to 7 days without a charge. Seriously.
  2. Content delivery. Kindle has it included. No extra charges or higher price tag.
  3. Readability. Do you want to read a backlit screen all day?
  4. Opening an App Store that people will care about.

The iPad is a very slick device, but it will not be the only one to change the tablet game. Apple App Store developers will start to run into some of the issues that cross-platform mobile developers are dealing with. Namely screen size and incompatible devices. Apple has been very smart with their device hardware and software release cycles. This will become more difficult as different devices begin to proliferate. The iPad will face way more competition than the iPod. Repeating success is, in fact, harder than initial success. Other players and other platforms (HP, Asus, Dell, Everyone on Microsoft or Android) are ready this time. My take is that the biggest losers will be the publishers. Their pricing models will now be more fully exposed to the buying public. That new knowledge will suppress their margins.

On of the better reads on the “Kindle killer” iPad at TechFlash: 5 reasons why the iPad is not a Kindle killer

Disclosure: The wife is employed by Amazon, does not work on Kindle, and does not read my blog.

Spot Instances

Amazon AWS announced Spot Instances of EC2 a few weeks back. I have been very interested in this concept. Auction pricing should be natural for the cloud computing utility model. They will be selling spare capacity from moment to moment. The cloud is attractive since servers often site idle. Sharing that resource makes sense. “Spots” are an extension of the concept to keep AWS at full utilization. Win for AWS and customers. I look forward to seeing how this play out during 2010!

Great read on the Spot Market by Jonathan Boutelle, cofounder of Slideshare @ Gaming the Amazon Spot Market

More information on the AWS Blog: Amazon Web Services Blog

WSJ: Amazon Is Selling Designs of Its Own

Another read on Amazon’s private brands. I would love to think that the WSJ got inspiration from my earlier post Amazon’s private brands. Plus I re-learned that Pinzon is the name of the Spanish explorer who discovered the Amazon River. In reality, the new products and accounting for “general merchandise” are getting mainstream attention.

WSJ: Amazon Is Selling Designs of Its Own

Disclosure: The wife is employed by Amazon, but she steadfastly refuses to read my blog.

Is the enterprise finally ready for AWS?

Just got an invite to a webinar co-hosted by Cast Iron Systems and Amazon AWS. I have been intrigued by Cast Iron’s integration offering for the enterprise for sometime. Their initial concept of an integration appliance has played well in the market and they now offer full cloud based services as well. Most enterprises are finding the real challenge of “going cloud” to be the integration points inside their firewall. The Cast Iron appliance does a real nice job of bridging that gap. Their solution is rock solid. The next logical step is to bridge that gap to partner and leading utility cloud player Amazon AWS. The webinar should be interesting and worth checking out.

You can register for the webinar here.

Disclosure: The wife is employed by Amazon, but she steadfastly refuses to read my blog.

Amazon Widgets

Mitch Joel’s Six Pixels of Separation blog is a must read for marketing, branding and social media. Check his What’s In Your Bag? post for some an interesting take on Amazon Widgets.

I took a turn creating my own widget about some of the coffee related products I have blogged about and a few that are essential. This is a very cool way to talk about the things you love and generate word of mouth.

Disclosure: The wife is employed by Amazon, but she does not read my blog or drink coffee.