Amazon warehouses have more square footage than 700 Madison Square Gardens put together. The company does so many sales that in 2012, when its homepage went offline for 49 minutes, it lost approximately $5.7 million. Today that number would be higher: roughly $8.2 million for missing less than an hour of sales as a 24/7 e-commerce store.
There’s a lot of great things about Amazon but the best and most disruptive innovation Amazon brought to the market was free shipping. It’s been said ad nauseam that Amazon ruined shipping for other e-commerce sites that simply can’t afford to offer free shipping on everything as it seems Amazon is able to do. And it’s true. Free shipping has become “the norm” in e-commerce. Charging for shipping these days makes customers feel they’re being cheated.
Free shipping is indeed magical. It gives us a sense of royalty. With a snap of the fingers and a click of the mouse, unseen servants rush to find our order and put it on the next caravan out to be delivered right to our door. Deliveries, packaged like industrial-themed Christmas presents, are so much more suspenseful and exciting than the anticlimactic trip to the mall to get our goods. To make opening packages even more enjoyable, Amazon’s new easy-to-tear packing tape means I no longer need a bone cleaver to open my gifts to myself.
There are three things that make Amazon shipping the best in the business:
- It’s free (most of the time)
- It’s fast
- It’s trackable
But Amazon shipping is no longer what it’s become known for over the years, and that should present an opportunity for other online retailers to take a bite out of Amazon’s marketshare.
Track a shipment
Part of the appeal of online shopping is the slow drip of anticipation. We click the buy button, get an email confirmation of our order, and then wait for a shipment notification. Once notified our item has been shipped, we jump over to the courier’s website (UPS, FedEx, etc.) and punch in our tracking number. Then the fun starts, we get to see where our package is originating from, where it stops along the way, and are kept up to date with exact timestamps each time it’s scanned at some shipping hub en route to our door.
In the past, part of the gamble and fun of choosing Amazon’s free shipping is that you couldn’t be too sure how fast your item would arrive—it depended where it was located. If you got lucky and found a product sitting in the next state over, it might arrive in a couple of days. If it was on the other side of the country, you might wait a week or more—but at least you’d get to watch it meander it’s way to your house with your tracking number.
Victims of its own shipping success
Today, Amazon can get virtually any item shipped to you within a couple of days. There are massive Amazon fulfillment centers strategically located throughout the U.S. so that virtually no one is more than a state or two away.
The problem is, why would anyone pay for expedited shipping if they have an Amazon warehouse right in their backyard? Living in Phoenix with Amazon’s massive PHX3 fulfillment center just down the road, I’ve grown accustomed over the past few years to choosing free shipping and still getting most of my Amazon purchases delivered within two or three days. That’s expedited speed at no extra cost—an obvious problem for a company that hopes you’ll pay a little more for faster delivery.
Amazon’s solution seems to be this: Go ahead and select free shipping, but we’re in no hurry to get your purchase on a truck for delivery.
The result is an economy shipping speed of 7-10 days, but without the excitement of methodically stalking your delivery across the Great Plains. By the time you receive your tracking number four or five days after ordering, the truck carrying your package is practically rounding the corner of your cul-de-sac. Where’s the fun in that?
Inevitably, disgruntled customers call to ask why their order placed three days ago has yet to be shipped. The fact that it should still arrive “within the allotted shipment time” is of little consolation. I’d be willing to bet my Prime membership that customer service calls have spiked of late with people demanding their packages get put in the mail already, damn it—I’ve made a few.
Amazon’s shipping mastery has become too awesome for its own good. That may present an opportunity for smaller online retailers to attract customers who no longer view Amazon’s free shipping as the great advantage it once was. Maybe delivery drones will one day soon replace the lost excitement of of Amazon shipping, but until then, it’s just not the same.
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