What Was The First Book You Ever Bought on Amazon?

By Tien Tzuo March 21, 2015

Here’s a fun question: What was the first book you ever bought on Amazon? It’s sitting right there, on the first page of your order history.

While I was browsing around last night the thought occurred to me – Amazon knows the name of the first item I ever bought from them (this was back when they were just an online book store), not to mention everything since. How many other retailers have the same kind of customer insight?

What does Amazon have in common with other successful commercial platforms like Apple and Google? Here’s a hint: if you’re reading this, you probably have an ID with at least two of them. They know what you’re interested in, they make smart recommendations, and they take care of the details. They’ve perfected what I like to call the Subscription Experience.

Ninety percent of all Americans live within 20 minutes of a Wal-Mart store. The have two million employees, and serve over 140 million shoppers a week. Most of their customers shop for groceries and basics — very simple, repeat purchases. But what does Wal-Mart know about you when you walk into one of its superstores? Nothing.

Now take a look at the new breed of “subscription box” retailers like Birchbox, Stitchfix and GoodMouth. They know what you like, and what you don’t, and as a result they can make interesting recommendations and put some discovery back into online shopping. They’re also starting influence the traditional retail experience. Birchbox, which sells monthly beauty product boxes, opened a retail in New York this year where its beauty products are arranged by category, not by brand name, just like on its website.

So how can other brick-and-mortar retailers capture this intuitive subscription experience? How about seeing their retail experience as an extension of their online experience, and not the other way around?

Sure, lots of retailers (including Wal-Mart) let you buy online then pick up in the store. But if they have your account and credit card available online, why not let you just punch in your username/password at the checkout counter (or use an app on your phone), and just charge the purchase to your online account?

Starbucks does this. I can actually log into Starbucks and look at all the coffees and lattes I’ve been drinking since I started using a Starbucks card and their mobile payment app. They’ve learned a lot about me, and you can bet they will soon start to use that info to deliver a more customized, personalized experience that is tailored to my individual preferences and needs, as soon as I walk in the door.

Which brings me back to Amazon. Here is my first order: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covely and “Inside the The Tornado: Marketing Strategies from Silicon Valley’s Cutting Edge” by Geoffrey Moore.

What was yours?