We probably shouldn’t have been surprised by the findings of YouGov‘s 2013 Top Buzz ranking survey. Despite the negative news about labor struggles, the release of tell-all tome The Everything Store, the non-existent profit margins and the persistence of the “Massive, Faceless Retailer Shutters Mom and Pop Sellers” narrative, Amazon scored quite a few media wins this year. How could we forget:
- The 14-tweet press release
- The visit from President Obama during which he (dubiously) praised the company as a source of “middle class” jobs
- CEO Jeff Bezo’s decision to enter the media fray by purchasing The Washington Post
- The whole drone thing
In short, the survey is a micro-portrait of the retail world: Walmart is the old school and Amazon resembles the future, like it or not.
Last year Bezos and crew were right below champion Subway, and this year they won a tight race thanks to a last-minute surge as Ford fell into second place.
Now lets’s look at the why.
Amazon Prime and streaming video have been big hits that allow the brand to compete with e-commerce sites, brick-and-mortar chains and content providers like Netflix and iTunes. The company remains the world’s biggest seller of books due to both the success of the Kindle and the fact that we can use the site to buy an obscure short story collection for a penny. It’s also still seen as the place to go for reliable product reviews.
Then there’s the fact that, unlike Walmart or Barnes & Noble or any of its other major competitors, Amazon retains a certain edge due to its perceived status as a fancy-pants tech company.
Gareth Price, technical director of New York agency Ready Set Rocket, gave us his take:
Amazon is the best perceived brand of 2013 largely through it’s combination of mass-market reach and being included in the warm glow that tech brands have enjoyed in 2013. As a company whose retail strategy is centered on providing lowest price, highest convenience access to commodity goods, Amazon’s perception is heavily tied to the public’s perception of tech in general.
In 2013, tech has been an industry that has largely avoided the criticisms that other large industries that have benefitted from automation and deregulation (finance, real estate, etc) have been subjected to (namely, systemic inequality and the perception that these industries belong to a plutocratic class).
As Amazon grows they will face competition from smaller, nimbler competitors that provide a specialized service in niche areas (eg. Zappos in shoes). The lessons from the history of American retail suggest that trying to be everything to everyone at the lowest price is difficult to maintain in the long run (eg. Sears, small-town department stores) and forming an emotional connection that resonates and adapts with consumers will be the key to maintaining long-term brand perception.
The simplest story is usually the truest: Amazon stocks all kinds of stuff, sells it cheap and delivers it quickly with minimal disruption. No amount of concern about how the company’s model may reflect upon the future of the American economy/job market can overshadow that fact…at least for the moment.