Amazon is really quite an amazing company. Even if we don't all agree whether that's good or not, we can probably all agree it's true. It accounts for anywhere from a third to half of all online shopping, with the total pushing the upper end of that range with the recent surge due to the fact that almost all of us are stuck at home.
Amazon has always been the place to go for, well, everything. I mean, it's called "the everything store," after all. You could find anything from laptops, to diapers, to--of course--books. And Amazon did everything it could to encourage us to depend on it for our day-to-day shopping, constantly expanding the scope of what we could find in its store.
It also made a promise: buy it (whatever it is at that moment) here and we'll ship it to you for free, usually in one or two days. That promise convinced some 150 million Americans to pay $119 a year for the privilege of being a part of Amazon Prime.
That promise also revolutionized the way we shop. It eliminated the primary barrier to shopping online, which was that it took too long to get the stuff we wanted to satisfy our "give it to me now" levels of consumerism.
That was remarkably successful. Until it wasn't. You see, that simple promise turns out to be remarkably complex, as we've seen with the recent disruption. It takes an enormous network of distribution centers and shipping partners to make Amazon's deliveries happen.
That's not to say that Amazon hasn't given it's best to the effort. The company has hired an extraordinary number of workers to help it meet customer demand, but the reality is that it simply isn't enough. On some level, it's quite astonishing to think that you could hire 175,000 new workers, and still not have enough people to handle the increase in demand.
I also want to be sure to give Amazon credit for taking extraordinary steps to serve its customers in the face of unimaginable circumstances.
But there's still a problem. You actually can't buy anything from Amazon and have it on your door tomorrow or the next day. In fact, right now, there are very few things you can get delivered that quickly, and many of the items that are currently eligible aren't even in stock.
To be clear, we're not talking about some kind of software glitch. Amazon has had its share of those, but that's to be expected by an operation that accounts for an unfathomable number of transactions every day. In fact, short of a few high profile examples, Amazon actually has a pretty good track record on this front.
On the other hand, Amazon has taken dramatic steps to get people to buy less, removing many of its sales tricks designed to fill online shopping carts and upsell additional products with every transaction. Still, items that used to take a day or so can now take weeks. As an example, we ordered a set of trimmer guards last week so that we can cut our boys' hair, and we're not expected to see them for another week or so.
I get it, hair cuts are not exactly essential for survival, and that's fine. I'm not even mad about it. It does, however, illustrate the point.
If you make a promise to your customers, they depend on you to keep it. Most of the time, Amazon does a great job of this. Now, however, when many people don't have the option to go to the store to buy what they need for their family, they're depending on Amazon even more, except it turns out that Amazon can't keep that promise it made.
There's a lesson here, for every company. When you create expectations with your promises, people are going to have, well, expectations. That's not profound, but it is important because the hard work you did to convince people to depend on you can be undone the moment they can't.
Yes, this is an unprecedented time, and businesses and consumers are facing previously unseen challenges. That's exactly why it's even more important than ever to keep your promises to your customer--they're depending on you. And your business depends upon them.