Articles From John Rossman View Profile

Share this Article
  • Sure, Amazon's Changed Shopping, But Retailers Can Still Compete

    John Rossman, Sure, Amazon's Changed Shopping, But Retailers Can Still Compete

    In his 1997 letter to the first Amazon shareholders, CEO Jeff Bezos laid out the three-word business philosophy that could soon make the online giant the first $1 trillion company in history: "obsess over customers."

    That simple, customer-centric credo has driven a string of innovations unmatched in American retail:

    • Amazon posted some of the first customer reviews next to its products (1995)1-Click (1997) eliminated the need for Amazon customers to re-enter billing information with every purchase
    • Amazon Prime (2005), a free-shipping loyalty program, has ballooned to become Amazon's all-encompassing shopping and entertainment ecosystem
    • Amazon Kindle (2007) basically created the downloadable ebook device market and continues to dominate it
    • Amazon Echo (2015), a smart home gadget dismissed as a gimmick, became the top-selling item on for Black Friday 2017

    And then there are all the innovations that Amazon's customers don't see, but that allow Amazon to make good on promises like same-day delivery. Scot Wingo, executive chairman and founder of ChannelAdvisor, an ecommerce strategy consultancy, says that Amazon's 116 nationwide fulfillment centers and the "billions of dollars in investment to make that happen" all stem from that original shareholder letter.

    "Bezos said in 1997 that customers won't get tired of low prices, selection and great shipping," says Wingo. "Here we are 20 years later and those are the things that have really differentiated Amazon from everyone."

    Online shopping in the third quarter of 2017 accounted for 9.1 percent of total retail sales in America. That's an increase of 15 percent over 2016, which itself was 15 percent better than the same quarter in 2015, and it's expected to grow at that same rate for the foreseeable future. (Although you might be forgiven for expecting internet shopping to be a higher percent of retail sales by now, few people buy groceries and cars online, two of the biggest retail sectors.)

    In that small but growing online retail pond, Amazon is by far the biggest fish. Check out some of the latest stats:

    • Amazon accounted for 43 percent of all online sales in 2016
    • Amazon recorded 45 percent of online sales on Thanksgiving and nearly 55 percent on Black Friday in 2017
    • 1 in 4 US adults (63 million) are Amazon Prime members
    • 71 percent of US adults make an Amazon purchase at least once a month

    Amazon's online dominance is a thorn in the side of just about every retailer in America. Consumers accustomed to the low prices and absurdly broad selection of Amazon are often disappointed when they walk into traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. This has led to the growing practice of "showrooming," in which shoppers visit physical retail stores to try on clothes and size up gadgets, then go home and buy them online, often through Amazon.

    But just when retailers started thinking that brick-and-mortar was a death sentence, Amazon flipped the script. The online-native company recently opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstores, a market it originally helped kill (R.I.P. Borders, Waldenbooks and B. Dalton). Then Amazon bought Whole Foods with its 450 US locations, which may one day have no checkout lines or cash registers, just like the Amazon Go pilot grocery store in Seattle.

    Does that mean that the Amazon way is the only way to win in retail? Not necessarily, says John Rossman, a former Amazon executive and managing director at the Seattle consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal, who not coincidentally wrote a book called "The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World's Most Disruptive Company."

    "For every company, it's about knowing who your customer is and figuring out different high-value ways to serve them in unique ways that others would have a tough time copying," says Rossman. "Amazon has its own approach to it, but I wouldn't recommend that everyone follows Amazon's playbook."

    The Walmart Way

    Walmart's an excellent example. The big-box chain has definitely ripped a few pages from Amazon's playbook by investing heavily in its online user experience and offering free 2-day shipping on millions of items. As a result, Walmart's online sales have for third quarter 2017 jumped 50 percent over the same quarter in 2016. But Walmart has something that Amazon doesn't have -- physical stores in nearly every community in America.

    "You have to start saying, 'Those 4,000 stores that I have, I've got to stop treating them as a handicap and start thinking about how they can be an asset to me,'" says Neil Stern with the retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle. Stern says Walmart has the opportunity to create a robust "click-and-collect" network that's seamless between online ordering and in-store inventory.

    "It's a staggering amount of money that Amazon is spending to subsidize shipping to the home," says Stern (he's right Amazon lost $7.2 billion on shipping in 2016). "Walmart can calculate, 'This item will cost you $22 to ship to your home, but you'll save $5 if you come to the store.' That's one big area where Walmart can do something that Amazon can't do today."

    The counterargument, says ChannelAdvisor's Wingo, is that "your average Walmart has 100,000 unique SKUs in it and each Amazon fulfillment center has 1 million."

    Emphasizing Brick-and-Mortar Strengths

    Other retailers need emphasize unique shopping experiences that online-only retailers can't match, says Stern, like the "treasure hunt" pleasure of an off-price clothing store like T.J. Maxx or the immersive brand experience of Lululemon or an Apple store.

    One of Rossman's favorite case studies is Nordstrom, a traditional retailer that could have faded away as a dinosaur of the mall era. But Nordstrom paid attention to its customer's social media habits and nimbly incorporated in-store shoe displays of top pinned items on Pinterest and the ability to buy items straight from its Instagram feed.

    Nordstrom also doubled down on its reputation for excellent customer service with a pilot store called Nordstrom Local that sells no products, just services like stylist appointments, manicures and online shopping pick-up. This is part of a new trend of retailers trying to turn the "showrooming" threat on its head. Bonobos Guide Shops are a great example. No clothes are actually sold in the store, but they combine the best of brick-and-mortar -- personalized customer service, immersive brand experience, and discovery -- with the convenience of online ordering and free home shipping.
More Articles From John Rossman » Don’t Get Lost in the IoT Data Jungle
» CIO Leadership: HMG Strategy's 2018 CIO Summit of America in New York
» Pioneers in Procurement Consulting to Host Exclusive Supply Chain Leadership Event during ISM Annual Conference
» The CIO Leadership Qualities Needed to Navigate the Business Into the Future Will Capture the Conversation at HMG Strategy's Upcoming CIO Leadership Event in Dallas
» Supply Clinic Names John Rossman, Former Director of Marketplace Business, to Advisory Board
» Leading Procurement Consultancy Announces Sponsorship of ISM2018
» Daunting, Dangerous, and Delicious: Our Best Stories You Might Have Missed This Week
» The Amazon Way: What Solution Providers Can Learn From The World's Cloud Computing Leader
» Registration Now Open for the World's Largest Supply Management Conference Focused on "Global Insights, Peak Performance"
» Grocery and the Need for Speed
» Forbes: Think Like Amazon: The Principles Of Success
» ICMI Contact Center Demo 2017 Announces Notable Keynotes, Local Tours, Dynamic Workshops and Full Conference Program
» IoT Evolution: Author of The Amazon Way to Deliver Keynote at IoT Evolution Expo
» 'The Amazon Way on IoT' author is featured speaker at business technology conference
» Tulsa World: Former Amazon executive highlights principles that drive the company
» Former Amazon executive explains keys to success, leadership in OSU speech
» CIO: 10 principles of a successful IoT strategy
» The Toughest Challenges of IoT Are Not the Technology
» Geek Wire: New book explores how the Internet of Things is reshaping business, using lessons from Amazon
» IoT Business News: How leading companies are reinventing the customer experience with IoT
» (Podcast) The Importance of Building Customer Trust
Share this Article



  • Thanks to you, Jo and the rest of your team.  You are the BEST.  Knowing you are behind a speaker allows us the luxury of concentrating on o...
    Ohio Hospital Association
  • "I shared with Kaplan [Mobray] that I had never had this type of experience with ANY vendor I have worked with in the past. Your responsiveness to urg...
    Gates Corp.
  • "We loved our speakers. Thanks to you and your team for your outstanding service and thank you for your patience!"

    National Association of the Blind
  • I’ve used the services of a number of speakers bureaus in the past. However, my current experience working with the Executive Speakers Bureau ha...
  • "This year’s speaker line-up at our Summer Meeting was the best yet. We knocked it out of the park. Thanks for all your help securing such excel...
    North Carolina Hospital Association
  • Everything went really well and we really enjoyed having Jack Uldrich as our speaker!  He was entertaining and funny and provided great examples....
    Novo Nordisk
  • "I appreciate your recommendations.  In addition, you are always a pleasure to work with and understand the pains of an over worked meeting plann...
  • The Nebraska Hospital Association along with numerous other state hospital associations have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Executive Speak...
    The Nebraska Hospital Association
  • Thanks to Richard and Jo for all the coordination. Another homerun from Executive Speakers Bureau!  
    Wisconsin Hospital Association
  • As always, you deliver excellent service. Thanks!
    Camden National Bank
  • "OMG Richard! As always you make me look like a rock star. Every single speaker we selected hit it out of the park. Thank you again. Can't even say wh...
    Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Assn.
  • You ladies really are the BEST!  After this event I am going to be on the hunt for keynote speakers in May.  I really want to work with you ...
  • "Thank you so much for all your help in putting this together on such short notice. I will definitely use your services again in the future."
    Applied Materials
  • “Thank you guys it was a pleasure working with you.... You made the whole process easy. Thanks again”
  • "Let me tell you that the ESB team and Christine's responsiveness, follow up, proactivity, industry knowledge, and overall customer service was phenom...
    Clear Link
  • "I will be sure that all involved know what a wonderful resource you have been. The universe smiled on me when I discovered Executive Speakers and you...
    Ocala Eye
  • We truly appreciate the excellent support and attention to detail we have received from Executive Speakers Bureau.  They have provided us with so...
  • "Richard, Your ability to put me in front of just the right group again and again, is nothing short of amazing. You work your tail off, you sweat the ...
    Alan Hobson
  • "Thanks to you and Jo for all your efforts.  Connie Podesta and Roger Dow were great!"   
    National Apartment Association
  • "My mind was very much at ease knowing that Jack Uldrich was so well prepped.  I will definitely use your agency again."  
  • "We not only went 3 for 3 but I'd say they were all home runs! Thanks for your help on the speakers. It was a key and very positive component of our c...
  • "It was a great pleasure to work with you in making this event a success. Your professionalism, attention to detail and response to all my questions a...
    Fellowship of Christian Athletes
  • "The group that I work with to obtain all of my keynote speakers is Executive Speakers Bureau and I can tell you that I don’t like working with ...
    Indiana Youth Institute
  • "I wanted to share with you feedback of my experience in working with Executive Speakers Bureau.. Very responsive and detail oriented.  When I wa...
  • "You made my job so much easier! You are the only bureau I will use."     
    Sigma Systems
  • "WOW, is all I have to say and thank you!  Our event was a huge success and you never steer me wrong, both David Cottrell and Ryan Estis were exc...
  • "Your tenacity and persistence in staying in touch with us is a model example of good salesmanship and partnering.  I will be using you as an exa...
    Schneider Electric
  • "I LOVE this list that you sent me! I emailed several different places on Tuesday an...
  • "I want to thank you for helping with our Principals Day event. Marshall Goldsmith was excellent. Not only is Marshall the consummate professional, be...
    Burns & McDonnell
  • "As I mentioned before, your engagement model was incredibly easy to work with, and I know we came to you on short notice!  I would highly recomm...
    Capitol One
  • The event was EASY Cake! and it went over very very well.  Thank you so much for the help and organization, it made my life very easy. 
    Boys & Girls Club
  • I want to thank you for all of your assistance you and Jenny were wonderful. If it had not been for you sending me suggestions I would not have found ...
    West Virginia Tourism
  • "My entire team has enjoyed the experience of working with you and ESB more than words can express. Everything was handled in a professional and timel...
    Cregger Company
  • We could not have done it without you.  Thank you for the outstanding suggestions.  The speakers were by far the best we have ever had.
  • Our bank has held an annual business and economic conference for the past 9 years.  We have worked with Executive Speakers every year and I have ...
    First Midwest Bank
  • Thank you to both of you for everything surrounding Mr. Will as our special guest. I suspect, soon, I will be in touch regarding our next event. 
    Oxford Financial
  • "Let me just say again, what a pleasure it is to work with you and ESB. You really make it harder for others to reach the bar."
  • Bridgeworks was awesome!!! Great feedback from all!! Thanks for all of your collaboration and positive we'll use you in the future.  
    Johnson & Johnson
  • "Everyone loved Bob and he was so nice on site. Thank you for all you did. The process was so easy and we will definitely work with you again next yea...
Need Suggestions? Have Questions?

Need Suggestions? Have Questions?

Call us to discuss how we can help find the right speaker for your organization.

Get Ideas in 2 Hours or Less

Please fill in information below

Executive Speakers Bureau consistently receives praises about our speed and efficiency. From the beginning of your event planning, our extensive online speaker database and resourceful staff allow us to quickly equip you with the best speaker for your event.

Need a last minute speaker? No worries. Our speed and efficiency help us give you ideas for speakers in two hours or less.

Privacy by SafeSubscribeSM