The man responsible for Amazon’s mobile shopping strategy talks about app design, shopping habits, and how to make it easier to act on your impulses.
Sam Hall doesn’t just eat his own dog food, as the Silicon Valley saying goes. He also orders it on his mobile phone.
As vice president of mobile shopping at the world’s largest online retailer, Hall is in charge of making sure it’s easy, and very fast, to shop on Amazon using its apps and mobile websites. His mantra is that people should go from “wanting to buying in 30 seconds,” and Hall is a compulsive tester of the process, using his phone to buy basketball hoops, dental floss, shampoo, and even a gorilla costume for Halloween.
Mobile shopping is still a sliver of overall retail, and of Amazon’s revenue. While the company doesn’t divulge details, analysts think that maybe 8 percent of the company’s $61 billion in annual sales come from phones and tablets. But Hall’s domain is growing as more people use smartphones and tablets. Amazon runs a slew of mobile apps, including the basic Amazon Mobile shopping app. There’s also Flow, which pulls up price information (and a chance to buy on Amazon instead) for any product you aim your smartphone’s camera at.
Amazon is tight-lipped about its operations and plans, and Hall is no exception. MIT Technology Review spoke with him about his work.
What’s the big thing on your mind these days?
I spend most of my time worrying about how we continue to invent, on behalf of our customers, newer, faster, better, easier ways that they can shop on their mobile phones and tablets.
You’ve said Amazon wants to shorten the time between wanting and buying an item to less than 30 seconds. How short can it get?
We believe that customers want the time from wanting to buying to be as close to instant as possible.
How do you do this, technologically?
We are very, very focused on making sure our experiences are fast. That every page loads quickly—from the time you press the icon on your phone to the time you see a search box, it’s very, very quick. For instance, we focus on input. We know one of the hardest things about shopping on a mobile device is just inputting what you want.
What is an example of how you design for that?
When you’re typing in something in the search box, we put up search suggestions very, very quickly. Earlier this week, I ran out of razor blades. I use Gillette Fusion razor blades. I was able to type “gil” and one of the first few suggestions that came up was Gillette Fusion razor blades. I only had to type the first three letters of what is probably a 26- or 27-letter title to quickly get to that item.
Some researchers are working on software that tries to actually anticipate what a person wants. Is Amazon involved in this type of research?
What I can say is, we have a search team that focuses specifically on the very fastest way we can get customers from typing in what they want to the detail page of what they actually want.
What are the most surprising things you’ve learned about people’s shopping behavior on mobile devices?
I think people tend to assume there are certain categories that do better on mobile than others, but the reality is, customers are buying everything on their mobile phones. We’ve sold, believe it or not, engagement rings, bicycles, razor blades, jeans, dresses. People buy the whole variety of what Amazon has.
Another recent observation that’s been interesting is that one of our busiest days happens to be on Christmas Day, for mobile phones and tablets in particular. My theory, at least, is you open up all your presents, you didn’t get what you want, and you’re able to quickly buy what you really wanted for Christmas.
COMMENTARY: On August 30 2013, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos claimed that Amazon held a 22% share of the tablet market. According to several mobile experts, Amazon sold between 5.5 and 6.0 million Kindle Fire tablets in Q4 2011, and according to BGR sold another 12 million units in the year 2012 (not confirmed by Amazon). Amazon's entry into the tablet industry, has given Apple, the market leader, a run for its money. In 2011, Steve Jobs called the Samsung Galaxy Tab, a 7" tablet, "dead on arrival." That prediction proved to be wrong, and on October 23, 2012, Apple responded to the threat by Amazon and other 7-inch tablet producers, by introducing the iPad Mini, it's own 7-inch tablet.
Amazon has always recognized the importance of making its website mobile-ready and providing online shoppers with the ability to shop via moble devices that make the Amazon shopping experience a pleasureable and user-friendly experience. The introduction of the Kindle Fire has not doubt left an inprint on Amazon's mobile ecommerce business, ranking it No 2 right behind Apple.
Online shopping has become increasingly popular over the past decade. In 2011 Amazon.com will hit $2 billion in sales through smartphones and tablets worldwide; that's up 100% from $1 billion in 2010, according to Internet Retailer's new industry guide, The Mobile Commerce Top 300. That puts Amazon at No. 1.
Citi Analyst Neil Doshi estimates that Amazon is generating $3 billion to $5 billion in annual sales from mobile devices. The company’s net sales totaled $61 billion in 2012, which means that mobile sales will equate to 5 percent to 8 percent of total dollars spent on Amazon.
In 2012, U.S. e-commerce sales amounted to 289 billion U.S. dollars, up from 256 billion U.S. dollars in 2011. More than one third of U.S. e-commerce revenue was generated by travel and flight booking websites in 2012. The largest share of online revenue was generated by retail shopping websites however, which earned $186.2 billion in 2012. A 2012 e-commerce market forecast projects online retail revenue in the United States reaching 361.9 billion U.S. dollars in 2016. Simultaneously, the number of U.S. digital shoppers is expected to grow from 137 million in 2010 to 175 million in 2016, according to eMarketer estimates.
On March 25, 2013, comScore officially unveiled a new measurement tool called Media Metrix Multi-Platform that combines and compares U.S. desktop, Android and iOS usage for the big properties in the country.
Among the top 10 companies on this list, both Apple and Amazon had the largest percentage of mobile-only (smartphone or tablet) users in comparison with their entire digital reach. Nearly 35 percent of U.S. visitors to Apple properties and 22 percent of Amazon traffic came strictly through mobile.
Compare that to Microsoft, who had just over 5 percent of its users accessing its content via mobile-only. Important to note that comScore’s mobile numbers reflect iOS and Android users only.
The average company in the Top 100 grew its reach by an average of 38 percent when adding mobile-only users statistics. The biggest movers were Groupon (up 223%), Zynga (111%) and Pandora (183%).
comScore will update the new rankings every month. Check out the full list here.
Courtesy of an article dated March 25, 2013 appearing in MIT Technology Review and an article dated March 25, 2013 appearing in GeekWire, an article date January 3, 2013 appearing in All Things Digital and an article appearing in Statista