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Amazon Has Changed Online Shopping and Economic Development

This isn't about Amazon HQ2, I promise.

Jerry Talor
Jerry Talor
3 min read
Amazon Has Changed Online Shopping and Economic Development
Photo by Christian Wiediger / Unsplash

Industry experts estimate that there are 147 million Amazon Prime customers in the United States and millions more who regularly order from Amazon.

There are many reasons for this, but the main reason is that Amazon makes shopping so easy. Their selection is organized with detailed product descriptions and hundreds of customer ratings. If you want a second opinion, you'll find that too. Customers can submit reviews after purchasing the product and using it over time.

Amazon's cult following began with their free shipping, but over time they've expanded their service to offer:

  • Every product imaginable
  • Easy returns
  • Product reviews and recommendations
  • Proactive communication during shipping

While this may be interesting, what does this mean for you, especially if you're an economic development professional and don't sell a product?

People use Amazon as the benchmark for dealing with companies, whether they explicitly say it (e.g. "Amazon would have already refunded me") or not (e.g. "You are too slow"). This happens not only when they shop online and offline, but also when they interact with organizations like your EDO. Amazon's strategy is to outcompete other e-commerce retailers through better service has increased our expectations.

I know what you're thinking: "This is all very interesting, but I'm still not a retail business. I'm not even a business. I'm a government agency or a non-profit economic development organization. How's this relevant?"

During the pandemic, as people worldwide were confined to their homes, businesses and consumers adapted and widely adopted a digital first strategy. Every organization, whether they want to be or not, is a digital business first now. Your customers are going to begin their experience with your organization online.

Think you don't have any customers? Try again. A customer is someone your organization must satisfy. That could be your board or the businesses you are trying to attract. Dean Barber argues that an EDO's ultimate customers are the community itself. But we don't need to debate this. Just understand that your organization has customers, and their service expectations from you are higher than you can imagine.

Given all this, how can your EDO provide Amazon's exceptional level of service to your customers?

Start everything with a core commitment to the customer. What need does your customer have that they are want to have fulfilled by you?

  1. Pay attention, note requests and questions that you commonly receive, and have the answers ready.
  2. 2. Revisit these, and improve your solutions over time.
  3. Evaluate how your current process works and whether it is the ideal way to work for your customers.
  4. Then change your practices to support that ideal. This is also called continuous improvement: improving on a process while in operation.

Make it easy for people to talk to you. It used to be enough to badger EDOs into putting their telephone number and email address on every page of their website, but today's consumers are more likely to open a chat box or send a text message than they are to pick up the phone or send an email.

  1. Forget about only being responsive during business hours.
  2. Or sending every call to voicemail and returning calls later.
  3. Instant communication is the name of the game.

Give your customers the power to do things themselves. Not every one of your customers needs to talk to you to have their questions answered.

  1. Give your customers the option of getting access to the information and services they need without interacting with you.
  2. For example, EDOs can make  development recommendations available to online.
  3. They can provide maps, site databases, incentive policies, etc on a public website.

Make your customers' needs the driver of innovation. If you're already doing great in terms of connectivity and responsiveness, shift your attention to doing better in terms of deliverables and clarity.

  1. How can you make your customers' lives easier?
  2. What results does your customer want to achieve, and how can the EDO facilitate that?

Make doing business with you easy. There are hundreds of other economic development organizations and thousands of communities across the country.

  1. Why should your customers care about you?
  2. Are any of your processes difficult for the end-user?
  3. If so, make them simpler.

If you are an economic development organization, Amazon's success should be a lesson to you. They have been able to create and maintain their market share by constantly exceeding expectations in service online and offline. As the world becomes more digitalized, people expect organizations like yours to provide customers with exceptional service levels whether they interact with them digitally or not. Think about how your EDO can provide Amazon's level of customer experience for those who contact you.

Do you have any other examples of a great digital or analog experience that has stood out in your mind? If so, we'd love to hear it. Any thoughts welcomed 🙂

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Jerry Talor

Jerry is a staff writer for the Econ Dev Show.