Amazon introduced the "aStore" this morning, in an email to associates. The service creates a dedicated retail environment that anyone can use to sell stuff in the Amazon catalog. I spent about 20 minutes setting up a store, which you can see here, and have a few thoughts. Here's what Amazon has to say about it:
Build your own professional online store featuring Amazon.com products in minutes with no programming skills required. Because aStore is a dedicated shopping area for your site, it is a great complimentary product for your existing Amazon product links. Visitors to your site get a professional shopping experience through your unique selection of products and categories and the features of Amazon.com you have chosen including Customer Reviews, Listmania, and more. The checkout process is completed through Amazon.com.
First, this is the right kind of idea. Everyone has something they want to recommend to others, Link my buying and selling experience, Amazon, and you may make a clerk in your virtual store out of me yet.and a lot of folks want to find ways to display their Amazon Wish List without looking too much like they are addicted to the idea of maintaining a permanent wedding registry—it's so unseemly to always be telling people what you want from them. The system was easy to understand and the product, a multi-page store with a front door consisting of feature products to which I was able to add my own descriptions, much more inviting than the typical list of Amazon links a blogger or Web site might display.
Here's what I really want, however: Connect my Amazon customer information to my Associates tools. After all, I have purchased hundreds of items, rated several thousand and indicated that I own much else that I never purchased from Amazon but shared in order to get interesting suggestions. LibraryThing, a kind of public bookshelf with social networking built in that was written up recently in The Wall Street Journal, should be the model for this effort. As Alex Barnett put it, what's cool about LibraryThing is that after you put your data in you can get it back out.
Amazon needs to connect me to all the work I have done as a customer so that I can apply it to the aStore I create. The aStore interface currently allows only a small amount of personalization of the store. The up-to-nine featured items listed on the home page are the only products I can specify and the only products whose descriptions I can modify. The rest is programmatic and doesn't lend to the personal retailing experience.
If Amazon wants to let a million retailers bloom, they should be focused on getting people to the real task: Retailing, the creation of a compelling sales experience based on personal suggestions. Any small shop lives or dies on its ability to pick inventory, display it and sell it with the personal touch. That's also what needs to happen in the aStore, where my buying habits and preferences should pre-populate the various categories and sub-categories of products in my store. My ratings, similar products and recommendations all need to be exposed when I start to build my own store, so that I can use all that information to make the sales I want.
Every product should have a personal statement associated with it and, if I run out of the patience to build all that, only then Amazon should offer to fill in the blanks. Presumably, the work someone puts into creating a store should pay off. Simply making ubiquitous pre-preprogrammed stores available may drive a few more sales, but I'd like to see real work at retailing rewarded with something special the associate can be proud of and that also drives much higher conversion rates.
Selling, if that's what the point of the aStore is (and, it is precisely the point), needs to spring from our purchases, what we care about as buyers. Link my buying experience to my selling experience, Amazon, and you may make a clerk in your great store in the ether out of me yet.