How To Compete Against Amazon When You Can’t Win on Price or Speed (& More on eTail)

Is It Possible To Compete Against Amazon on Books?

Renee Racine-Kinnear, VP Customer Experience, Digital Channels, at Indigo aims to compete through better customer experience

Renee Racine-Kinnear, VP Customer Experience, Digital Channels, at Indigo aims to compete through better customer experience

[NOTE: To see my full notes from the eTail conference, scroll down to after the notes on my interview with Renee.]

At the recent eTail Canada conference I interviewed Renee Racine-Kinnear, VP of Customer Experience for Digital Channels, at Indigo.ca.   Some people find it amazing that chains like Indigo still survive. We’ve seen many, like Borders, die in the face of Amazonian pressure on profit margins. In today’s interview, we discuss how Indigo aims to compete through better customer experience, online and off.

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One key is to really understand one’s customers, and appeal to those who are seeking a different experience from that offered by Amazon.

As in their physical stores, Indigo tries to provide a calmer, more peaceful atmosphere in its web store than does Amazon. Here’s an example of how that translates:

First Page of Business Books

screenshot of 1st page in Business Books at Indigo.ca (as of May 18, 2015)

1st page in Business Books at Indigo.ca (as of May 18, 2015)

screencap of 1st page of Business Books at Amazon.ca (May 18, 2015)

1st page of Business Books at Amazon.ca (May 18, 2015)

There’s no question that the Indigo experience has more white space, and that will certainly appeal to many readers and site users. I remember writing a blog post years ago about how others should not copy the Amazon site design because it is too complex and confusing for new entrants. Amazon succeeds because so many Internet users have grown up with it. We are used to its structure, and put up with its frustrations because we value the massive amounts of content (and great prices). But it is not for everybody.

Is White Space Enough?

It may be. One thing we discuss in the interview is Indigo’s extensive use of customer panels and customer feedback to find out what’s really important to its customers. Through consumer research they learned that their customers were not after an action-packed, high-tech, atmosphere. They are looking for an oasis of calm.

On the other hand, Indigo can’t completely ignore the online pricing of the behemoth rival, and it poses severe omnichannel challenges. For instance, they realize that they have to compete on price in their online store, but try to recoup some of the difference in the physical stores. But, as Renee points out in the interview, how do you explain to a customer who’s in a store about to buy a book  why you won’t match your own, lower, online price?

We also discuss:

  • How to build and use a customer panel
  • What is an IdeaAgora, and how can it help you
  • The sneaky tactic that can win budget and backing from a CEO

More From Etail Canada 2015

I attended several other talks at the eTail Canada conference. Most of my notes were done via Twitter, so I’ve put together a Storify document for you with my notes as well as tweets from others. I’ve just included the content tweets; not the many talking about what a great conference it was. That said, kudos to the organizers for a job well done!

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