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Retaildive’s Daphne Howland’s “Is Amazon done disrupting retail? is an excellent overview of how online retail is evolving — and Amazon’s role in that transformation. Some key points:


    • Amazon still dominates online sales in the U.S., with some 40% share according to eMarketer, brick-and-mortar stores still drive 85% of all retail sales, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. E-commerce also remains an expensive way to sell products, including at Amazon, which last month warned that profits could vanish in the holiday quarter.
    • “Increasingly, retail is not something that resides on static, boring, search-driven websites (like Amazon.com). It now lives inside interesting, entertaining and engaging content and communities of interest. All things Amazon has never been very good at developing.”
    • The company has opened a couple of apparel stores this year, though The Guardian in July said the Los Angeles location “misses the point of shopping.” Watson sees them as potentially effective testing grounds and showcases for their technology, including AI-driven suggestions and smart dressing rooms, but “terrible” venues for selling clothes.

The drive to move retail online is fairly reasonable. It’s also been rushed along by a lot of societal changes and preferences. It is important to take these into consideration. What is missing in this data-driven model is the zeitgeist of modern retail.

We’ve been “online” now for 25+ years. The original “gee-whjz, look what I can do!” of buying books and re-discovering porn has evaporated. It has now been replaced with endless feeds and page-upon-page of the same damn thing. When everything is knowable and transactional, it becomes tedious.

I believe that the recent tech doldrums are based on the blind belief in metrics. Yes, they are important, I guess. What’s left out of those overly-complex algorithms though is the fact that I am not a calculator. Nor are you. In fact, no one is. Yes, we produce data, but we are not data. Our decisions change constantly for no apparent reason which makes formulaic retail highly unstable. Not what data scientists want to hear.

This is why Amazon (and others) suck at fashion. Try to quantify “style.” Or “taste” or deciding red instead of blue today. You can’t. There are no metrics for that first touch of a new fabric texture that makes you say “wow.” Similarly, food, travel, décor; all are desired and purchased due to a person’s wants, not their data.

I have a friend who is seriously wealthy. She regularly shops at Chanel and is an A-list design princess. She is a luxury marketer’s dream. But she also shops at the .99¢ store and Target. And I love that she throws a wrench into the whole data marketing machine. Go figure.

There are some bright spots. I have hope for retailers who understand their market. Curation is key here. It demonstrates to your intended consumer that you know your stuff and are willing to share, develop and move accordingly. Traditional retail really comes down to being generous and offering your best. Your best knowledge, service, value and consideration that an actual human being is considering buying something from you.

“Not only has the retail world closed the gap with Amazon, but the very nature of e-commerce has also fundamentally changed.”

Doug Stephens

Founder, Retail Prophet