For centuries, shopping was a social, in-person affair. Dating back to 800 B.C. in ancient Greece, the city center in Agora was buzzing with merchants selling their wares. People visited not only to shop but to mingle with one another, philosophize and talk politics. Fast forward to 2021, and shopping can be done online, in total isolation and with no conversation. Amazon didn’t singlehandedly spearhead this evolution in shopping (eBay was just as important an early pioneer in e-commerce) — but it is hastening the rise of online shopping and changing consumer behavior at a lightning-fast pace.
Read More: 23 Secret Ways To Save Money on Amazon
“Amazon is fueling the era of ‘empowered consumerism,” said Kimberley Ring, a professor at Suffolk University in Boston who specializes in consumer behavior and digital marketing at the graduate level. “They’ve taken powerful personalized shopping experiences to the next level. Not only do they predict our next purchase needs, they also give us the freedom to comparison shop without having to leave the app or site.”
The COVID-19 pandemic managed to take this sense of empowered consumerism up a notch as our shopping needs changed overnight (calling for the purchases of hand sanitizer and PPE), and, largely housebound, our online spending skyrocketed. Here’s a look at 11 more significant ways Amazon has shifted our approach to retail — for better and for worse.
Amazon Makes Us Consumers First (and Ethical Humans Second)
Along with what Ring said about Amazon predicting our next needs, it has also changed us.
“As consumers, we have (become) insatiable discount- and quick-gratification-seekers, often overlooking Amazon’s iniquitous practices to enjoy the benefit of the best price on a pair of sneakers or quick turnaround on delivering a gaming console,” said Divya Menon, founder and principal strategist at Bad Brain. “In return, we see merchants losing control of their supply chain, sacrificing customer and consumer data that makes it easier to optimize products and market them effectively, and forfeiting margins as a result of Amazon forcing pricing. All of these aspects have an effect on the economy and consumers, instead of creating a competitive marketplace from which we can choose, have effectively given Amazon a tremendous amount of merchant power that could have disastrous consequences.”
Looking Back: How 2020 Looked for Amazon
Amazon Enforces ‘On-Demand’ Convenience Culture
“Amazon, along with other tech disruptors including Netflix and Uber, has fostered a shift towards on-demand consumer culture,” said Aasit Thakkar, global director at Dress-Qode Strategies. “Brands must be able to accommodate ‘always-on’ consumer needs, 24/7 and with sheer convenience.”
Amazon Ramps Up Our Expectations for Shipping
“Amazon introduced consumers to free two-day shipping and slowly changed their expectations for how fast items will arrive,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com. “However, even Amazon has grown to the point where it can’t handle shipping all orders within two days now; while it still has that 2-day delivery guarantee for many items, it’s clear that the countdown doesn’t begin until the item actually ships — not when your purchase is made as it used to be. Still, that perk with Amazon has changed the way we as consumers expect items to be shipped out – shoppers are often impatient now and expect their items to arrive soon after purchasing. Additionally, it’s forced other competitors to step up — Target and Walmart both offer 2-day shipping on several items now as well.”
Read More: The Worst Things To Buy on Amazon
Amazon Makes It Easy — Even Normal — To Overspend
“Amazon has plenty of ways of making it easier for consumers to spend money,” Ramhold said. “From Subscribe & Save, where one could ostensibly forget about a shipment only to have it arrive as a surprise along with its charge. For those who aren’t Prime members, Amazon requires orders to meet a specific threshold before receiving free shipping; often shoppers would rather spend more to reach free shipping than to just pay for it outright. Prime members can also find themselves spending more, due to the large price of a Prime membership and wanting to make sure they make the most of it. This can equate to many small orders as well as opting to spend more and buy something on Amazon simply because they’re a Prime member rather than shopping for the best price.”
Amazon Endears Us to the Subscription Model
“We’re more accepting of the membership model,” Ramhold said. “Prime memberships may have started it all and have increased in price over the years, but also in the number of perks members receive. When it began, members were basically receiving free 2-day shipping – now that’s expanded to a host of other benefits, including access to Amazon’s video and ebook libraries, discounts at Whole Foods, and more. Consumers’ acceptance of memberships such as this have paved the way for things like Walmart+, as well as memberships from companies like Shipt and Instacart.”
Amazon Deters Us From Shopping Elsewhere for a Possible Better Price
“Amazon has made it so easy to jump online and buy whatever that consumers often aren’t shopping around for the best price anymore,” Ramhold said. “It’s also more complicated now, as shoppers have to weigh where items are available, whether they can be picked up in person for less or have to be ordered online, what delivery will cost, as well as how long it will take to arrive. Most things on Amazon, especially if you’re shopping Prime eligible items or those sold by Amazon itself, can arrive in two days after they’re shipped and don’t require any other legwork. Some consumers will use extensions like CamelCamelCamel to see what the historic price of something has been on Amazon, but odds are they won’t look to other retailers to see if a better price is offered. Part of that is also due to the fact that often retailers will unofficially price match now – if you find something for one price at Amazon, there’s a good chance Target and Walmart will be selling it for the same, depending on what it is, of course.”
Find Out: How Much Is Jeff Bezos Worth?
Amazon Empowers the Role of Customer Reviews
“Consumer reviews are huge on Amazon,” said Nishank Khanna, CFO of Clarify Capital. “They build trust and provide a level of transparency with purchasing. Shoppers want the ability to sift through different reviews and use that information to make a buying decision.”
The power of Amazon reviews were weirdly strengthened during the pandemic, giving Amazon a clear advantage over retailers that don’t have as strong a review section.
“Reviews allow consumers to fully read up on a product and make fewer mistakes. This is a luxury that retail stores can’t easily offer,” said Mark Hayes, head of marketing at Kintell. “You can’t always ask the shopper beside you what they think about a product – especially during a pandemic.”
Amazon Opens Our Eyes to New, Smaller Brands
“I know that Amazon has the reputation for crushing small businesses, but Amazon does allow consumers to discover small businesses alongside the big guys,” said Trae Bodge, a smart shopping expert at TrueTrae.com. “This holiday season, small businesses did particularly well on Amazon, which I was happy to see.”
Amazon Raises the Expectations of One-Stop Shopping
“Big box superstores, like Walmart and Target, showed us how convenient it can be to purchase so much of what we need in one place,” Bodge said. “Amazon takes it several steps further, by offering a dizzying number of categories and products all in one place. Being able to buy so much in one place is a time-saver, but there is a downside: consumers become accustomed to this and other retailers pale in comparison, and consumers may forget what it’s like to stroll around a specialty store that is packed with items that answer one need, i.e. a home décor store, or a furniture store, or even a grocery store.”
Amazon Makes Numb to the Impact of Spending With ‘One-Click Checkout’
“Although the average consumer may not realize it, the one-click checkout button introduced by Amazon a while back does a great deal psychologically to get consumers to spend more on the platform,” said Adem Selita, CEO, The Debt Relief Company. “When we purchase goods on Amazon, it doesn’t even feel like we are spending money. Spending has become effortless in this regard. Compare this to using cash: when you break a $100 bill, you will feel it and your pocket will notice the change much more psychologically than a “one-click checkout on the Amazon app.”
Looking Back: The Top 10 Most-Loved Brands of 2020
Amazon Makes Us More Online-Oriented — So Did the Pandemic
“Retail stores have failed to keep up with the ease and accessibility offered by Amazon during the pandemic, partly because they’ve endured mass closures, social distancing, and restricted entries,” Hayes said. “Plainly put, online shopping is safer, often more affordable, and comparatively much more simple. Shoppers notice this, and this trend will continue to proliferate throughout 2021. Amazon will continue to grow and change shape exponentially, as will the buyer behavior of both retail and online shoppers.
More From GOBankingRates