Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods has triggered a lot of discussion about the motives behind the purchase. But many of these explanations can be rationalized by looking at Amazon’s primary mission, which says, “At Amazon, we are committed to being the most customer-centric company on earth.” That is not only a rather audacious statement; indeed, it is a tall order. And while some people may in the past have perceived the mission statement as purely aspirational, over time, with moves such as this acquisition, it is increasingly clear that Amazon is trying to make what seemed aspiration into a reality.
One way in which marketers often approach customer analysis is by studying what has been referred to as the customer’s “journey,” or the “consumption chain.” Essentially, studying this journey includes mapping the steps that a customer goes through when fulfilling a specific need, then trying to make sure that your company’s product can fulfill that need.
For example, let’s say a customer needs to wash clothes. With the consumption chain in mind, one can trace a number of innovations that detergent manufacturers have incorporated into their products over time. One step in the customer’s journey is knowing when it is time to buy more detergent. Accordingly, manufacturers introduced transparent “windows” in containers of liquid detergent so consumers could gauge when they were running low. Another step is the act of pouring the detergent. To help customers avoid making a mess on the side of the container or dripping detergent on the floor, manufacturers added spouts designed to ease pouring, as well as channels to allow excess detergent to drip back into the bottle. (Manufacturers are more reluctant to add clearer markings than they currently do on the insides of caps that would help customers measure detergent according to the size of their loads, since they would rather customers use more detergent than required.)
Amazon has taken the idea of mapping the customer’s journey beyond merely fulfilling a specific need to trying to address all the needs a customer might have over the course of a day. In many instances, this goal involves providing services that complete the need-fulfillment journey for specific categories. In the detergent example, after a customer recognizes that he needs to buy detergent, he still needs to go to the store, pick the product from the shelf, pay for it, come home, and use it. Amazon is able to help a customer complete nearly all of these steps through Amazon Prime Now, a single service that delivers products within two hours of an order.