Yesterday, Amazon announced a new initiative called Amazon Shopper Panel, which I think can have major ramifications for the company moving forward. Amazon Shopper Panel (ASP) is an opt-in and invite-only program in which participants can earn rewards by sending at least 10 eligible receipts a month to Amazon. To be eligible, receipts have to come from non-Amazon purchases, excluding even transactions at Whole Foods, Amazon Books or Amazon Go. There is no language on the minimum value that a receipt has to reach to be eligible. If a participant successfully sends 10 receipts to Amazon in a month, he or she can earn $10 in Amazon Balance or as a donation to a charity organization of their choosing. ASP’s participants can opt out at any time and delete previously posted receipts. In addition, participants can earn more rewards by completing surveys. There are few disclosures on what the surveys will be about and how much responders will earn for each survey. But my guess is that they will be aiding Amazon to complete a shopper’s profile with demographic information.
In my opinion, this is a consequential move for Amazon for the following reasons
Build an unmatched shopper database
As a retailer, one of the biggest challenges is to understand who your customers are and what they do outside of what transpires between you and them. If you are a Target shopper holding a Target-branded credit card, all they know about you is what takes place on Target’s website and between Target’s store walls. With some effort, Target may work with their credit card issuer to understand a bit about your spending behavior on your credit card. Unfortunately for Target, they have no idea on other parts of your consumer life and what you do. And you can bet that they want to know!
By compiling and analyzing receipts on a regular basis, Amazon can build a powerful and formidable database. Receipts carry a lot of information. Not only do they tell where you shop, when, how much you pay, how you pay and the frequency, but receipts also reveal what you buy down to an item level. Essentially, Amazon can theoretically know what vegetables, fruits or milk you buy every week. Normally, retailers can at best gather data down to a merchant level such as Walmart or Target. However, I don’t know of any retailer in the US that can basically gather intelligence down to that level of details.
Enable more sale on Amazon.com and Amazon’s private labels
The first application would obviously be to increase sale on Amazon.com, specifically the sale of Amazon’s higher-margin private labels. The intelligence Amazon gathers from ASP can help them decide which products can be produced as private labels, which can be marketed to whom and at what time. Information is worth as much, if not more, than money. Amazon operates at a scale that even a good idea or a degree of increased efficiency can mean millions of dollars.
Improve their ads business
Though small as a component of Amazon’s revenue, advertising is now a business with $20+ billion annual run rate and the latest YoY growth of 41% (as of Q2 FY2020). Advertisers like ads on Amazon because Amazon shoppers already have intention to buy, something that is lacking on Facebook and Google. When you search for something on Google or scroll down your Facebook Newsfeed, the intention to buy isn’t always there. However, if you go to Amazon, it’s likely that you will end up with an order and that’s what advertisers want. Though impressions are great, advertisers prefer much more hard cash coming from new purchases.
ASP gives the strongest and most reliable signal as to what shoppers are willing to pay for down to the item level, how much and when. Sophisticated and powerful as Facebook and Google are, they don’t have a system in place to know what shoppers buy in store. On the other hand, Amazon would be in a unique position to help advertisers place an ads to the right audience with the right message and at the right time. And to charge a little premium on that service as well. An expansion in advertising means an expansion for both revenue and gross margin for Amazon as this segment is surely more profitable than their online store.
The understanding of consumer behavior in physical stores carries a lot of value and offers potentially great applications. I am confident that somewhere some smart heads at Amazon already came up with more use cases than what I laid out above. Moreover, this kind of capability is pretty hard to emulate. To gain the intelligence that Amazon hopes to achieve, a company needs to have financial and technical resources that Amazon possesses. Having photos of receipts is one thing. Parsing out information and turning that into actionable intelligence is a completely different matter. while this move may raise red flags for privacy concerns, it’s a shrewd business move. In my opinion, there’s no better way to create a moat in retail than building up a deep understanding of consumers and leveraging your size, technical and financial advantages. I, for one, look forward to what this move will bring about.
Disclosure: I own Amazon stocks in my portfolio.