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The Amazon Effect: Putting the Customer First

Jeff Bezos is one of the most important - and successful - business people of this generation. His business, Amazon, essentially created an industry that did not exist, and reorganized the way consumers buy products. What is one of the ways he stands out? Putting the customer first.

Bezos writes a letter to his shareholders yearly, and for a small business owner, the advice and perspective he offers is priceless. Consider this: Amazon failed to yield a profit for the first six years of its existence and used to trade as just a few bucks a share. Now, you’re lucky if you can get stock in Amazon for less than $2k!

That alone is inspiring to a small business owner. But look closer, and what you’ll see is a core difference to the way Bezos chose to do business that, though slow to start, led him to great success and continues to lift Amazon. That core difference is stunningly simple: he put the customer first.

Were you sitting down before you read that or are you face down on the floor after being rocked with that revelation? No? That’s probably because putting the customer first seems like a “well, duh” type of advice.

Sure, but you’d be surprised how many businesses quickly abandon that concept and shift their focus elsewhere as soon as they get a whiff of success or positive momentum. Now, this is not a story about how small businesses owners get rich with a good idea and turn evil.

But, as businesses mature and reach higher levels of success, other new distractions take the place of the ground-level concern with serving the customer and their needs. You have shareholders to appease, competition that has moved into your lane offering what you do faster and cheaper.

Suddenly, the simple practice of delivering a good service to a population of people that need it is now muddied.

Now, look back and consider that fact that Amazon did not make money for most of its first decade of existence. Consider how very little Amazon stock traded for. That was true because Bezos believed in his products and the service he offered before shareholders and the general public did.

He served the customer first, looking to do what he does for his customers better, and to do more of it. Putting them first, even when it meant immediate losses, allowed him the opportunity to find and break new ground. Amazon was willing to go to places that other businesses were completely oblivious to.

Ask yourself this: as powerful as Sears was in 1995, the year after Amazon began to do business, do you think it’s possible that Sears didn’t have the opportunity to create what Bezos created?

They had enough money to dedicate an entire workforce to developing and implementing their own Amazon well before Bezos. But, they did not.

This is not to take away from the forethought it took for Bezos to come up with this business in the years before the dot com boom, but to credit him for sticking to his vision when it wasn’t feasible, and adapting it and molding it around consumer needs first.

As your small business gains success and earns itself distracting voices, be sure to remember Jeff Bezos and remember to address the needs of the consumer before anything else.

Shareholders are important, but without fulfilling a consumer need, your shareholders are gone.

In our series, “The Amazon Effect” we’ll delve further into Bezos’ yearly letters to shareholders and how they can help you and your small business. Keep checking back for more.

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