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How Amazon changed shopping forever (and what’s coming next)

From two-day shipping to check-out free stores, Amazon keeps resetting customer expectations–and changing the game for all retail.

How Amazon changed shopping forever (and what’s coming next)
[Illustration: Chris Van Rooyen]

“Amazon is not really a retailer. It’s a technology company with a relentless dissatisfaction with the status quo. That’s what enabled them to get where they are today,” says Natalie Berg, founder of NBK Retail consultancy and coauthor of Amazon: How the World’s Most Relentless Retailer Will Continue to Revolutionize Commerce. Here, she explains how Amazon continues to reset consumer expectations, and disrupt retail in the process.

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What are the most significant ways that Amazon has rewired consumer behavior since it launched 27 years ago?

If you think back to online shopping in the early 2000s, it was a pretty laborious process. We tend to forget this, because today it’s effortless. We have Amazon to thank for that. It pioneered personalized recommendations, and user-generated ratings and reviews, which seem so commonplace now. Same with one-click checkout. And we expect delivery to be fast, reliable, and free, though there is an environmental cost to all those cardboard boxes turning up.

How did Amazon change our expectations for delivery, specifically?

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Amazon led this race to the bottom. One of the things that Prime did was to remove the need to consolidate orders. You could just choose that random thing that you needed straightaway, and it would turn up the next day—and you’d feel no guilt about it. That’s starting to shift. There’s an opportunity now to retrain consumers to expect slower delivery.

And now Amazon is seeking to change physical retail. Amazon is very good at looking at the overall customer experience and saying, Where is the friction?

The obvious place in brick and mortar is the checkout. Amazon sees this as a problem they can solve and differentiate themselves from the competition—and license their technology to other retailers. (See “J is for Just Walk Out,” page 51.) The mere whisper that Amazon is going to do something like checkout-free stores has had a huge impact over the past three years. Retailers have been taking it seriously and experimenting with their own [checkout technologies].

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How can people expect to shop in the near future because of Amazon?

Amazon has embedded itself in our lives and in our homes, unlike any other retailer before; Alexa seamlessly funnels purchases through to Amazon’s platform. You don’t need a store or screen to go shopping, because you can be in your kitchen, asking Alexa to add things to your list. In the future, consumers will be able to completely opt out of the transaction. We’ll never have to think about buying bleach and toilet paper and toothpaste—all the non-emotive boring things that we need but don’t really want to think about buying.

That feels a little creepy.

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I agree. But, getting in a stranger’s car was creepy 10 years ago . . . and now it’s just normal.

Read more about how Amazon is upending business, from A to Z

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About the author

Erin Schulte is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Fast Company, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Harper's Bazaar, and Entrepreneur, among other publications. You can find her on Twitter @erin719nyc.

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