I recently noticed something about my tablet usage that really intrigued me. Since using the iPad, it has become a constant companion to me and along with my iPhone and Droid, I carry it with me all of the time. Although my smartphones are quite important to me, I have always had a bit of a difficult time reading their small screens and as I get older, I have to admit that the size of the screens I use in my life are becoming an important part of my user profile. And while I would often buy apps on the smart phones for use on them, I very seldom used them for any real eCommerce purchases. For that I mostly deferred to my laptop.
But over the last six months, I began noticing that my preferred screen for buying things started shifting over to the iPad. This particular fact came into even sharper focus for me recently when I read a piece in Wired that pointed out that Amazon’s tablet might actually serve as a powerful vehicle for their overall large store.
In this same article, they recounted a Wired interview with Steve Jobs in 1997 where they asked him what opportunities he saw with the Web. Here is what he said:
Wired: What other opportunities are out there?
Steve Jobs: Who do you think will be the main beneficiary of the web? Who wins the most?
Wired: People who have something –
Jobs: To sell!
Wired: To share.
Jobs: To sell!
Wired: You mean publishing?
Jobs: It’s more than publishing. It’s commerce. People are going to stop going to a lot of stores. And they’re going to buy stuff over the Web!
As you can see, even back then, Jobs saw that there would be a major shift in user buying habits and that the Web would become a serious vehicle for eCommerce. And over the last 13 years that has happened in a big way. eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, iTunes, etc have all driven eCommerce into the mainstream and they are now just a normal part of the way most of us buy things, especially things that we cannot find at our local mall. Of course, the irony of this quote from Jobs is that while iTunes has driven his eCommerce vision, he also created stores that have become one of the most successful retail chains in the world.
Now, if you look closely at peoples shopping habits these days, much of how they search for a product through search engines and review sites like PC Mag’s product reviews, and then buy them over the Web, should give you an understand that the Web has literally become the most powerful medium for commerce next to the grocery store. Sure, people will always go to the mall, but the mall and local stores will always have a limited supply of goods. But through the Web, you can buy just about anything. Although people will still use desktops and laptops for eCommerce, if my experience with the iPad is any guide, then the tablet, with its bigger screen then a smart phone and its full access to all Web eCommerce in this highly mobile for factor, could actually drive even more eCommerce purchases in the future. Another way to look at this is that the tablet is Amazon’s Brick and Mortar and a tablet is to Amazon what a physical store is to Wal-Mart.
If you think about Amazon’s business, it started with selling books online and then quickly became a place where consumers can buy just about anything and shop competitively from one single location. It just so happens however that this location is not physical; it resides fully within your browser. Amazon’s location is virtual.
To contrast, a company like Wal-Mart is evolving into the digital age with a strategy that includes their brick and mortar stores. To some degree Barnes and Noble is doing something similar but only in the realm of books. Amazon however has no intentions of creating a physical location where you walk in to experience their service. I believe however that Amazon is very interested in giving you a virtual physical storefront and it started with the Kindle.
Any retailer will tell you how important the overall retail experience is to their success. Some companies do retail poorly and others do retail extremely well. The Kindle for Amazon started completely around discovering, purchasing and reading books. The Kindle is the retail storefront to Amazon’s digital book library.
I believe that the evolution of the Kindle will follow Amazon’s business evolution. It started with books then included everything else. Which is why this next device that will most likely be a fully featured tablet will also come with Amazon’s complete shopping experience built in. This includes not just digital storefronts like books, music and movies but physical items as well. Since Amazon is one of, if not the largest digital storefront, it benefits them to get devices on the market where they control the entire shopping experience.
This is one of the reasons Amazon re-jiggered their iOS app strategy to stay away from Apple’s transaction model and fees. I don’t believe this move was just about avoiding management fees but that Amazon wanted to control the user experience with their storefront instead of Apple.
Reflecting on that point briefly, it becomes clear that Apple’s app store commerce model works for those for whom billing and storefronts are a problem but it does not work for those companies who have spent millions of dollars perfecting their own e-commerce experience. This leads me to believe that if the entire eCommerce experience is baked into the tablet experience then Apple’s new big purchase might be an eCommerce “etailer” that offers a broad range of products that Apple can integrate into the complete user experience of the iPad.
Amazon also has an interesting strategy with their Prime service that could be strategically integrated as well within their tablet offering. Perhaps Amazon gives better deals or promotions to those who own the tablet and are Prime customers thus incentivizing more purchasing from their store directly on the tablet.
This is why I believe a tablet is actually strategic for Amazon. Of course they can and will make sure their services are available on every device imaginable. However if they bring a device to market that is a full blown tablet and also includes the most elegant and seamless experience to research, discover and purchase from, then that device becomes the retail storefront to everything Amazon sells – and more.