No Loyalty

Who sold you your phone case?

I've been buying phone cases for the past 10 years. For each case I bought, I was extremely satisfied, yet after doing some digging I realized that I have never bought twice from the same vendor. "Why not?" You might ask. Because I bought them on Amazon.

If you want to buy something online, and get it shipped as quick as possible, then Amazon is a blessing. Most often then not, you are not buying the product directly from Amazon, but from an independent store or vendor with a presence on Amazon. The seller only has minor identifying characteristic. On the search result, the space designated to the seller is small and insignificant. The customer has few reminders that this product is offered by anyone but Amazon. (Although if you want to dispute a purchase, you are starkly reminded that the item is from a 3rd party vendor.)

Want to buy the same item again? Chances are you will use the search box, type the name, and end up choosing a different vendor the search algorithm deems worthy, you don't even remember who you bought it from in the first place.

Amazon Purchase

Google follows in the same principal when it answers your queries. Type a question and you are presented with an answer that doesn't encourage you to click further. The answer appears as a google product, rather than information scraped from a website. The more answer it gets right, the less likely you are to discover the underlying website that provided the answer in the first place.

AMP pages are the next step in this Google encapsulated web. Click on an AMP page and you are virtually still on, not on the website you thought you clicked on. This may increase the page views for the publisher, but on the user's perspective this piece of information is found on Google, and they turn into google customers. Next time, the user will not go on the publisher's website, instead she will be back on google search.

Most major app try to encapsulate the web into their app. By default, if you click on a link on most social media apps, you are presented with an embedded web browser that will not allow you to access the URL. Unlike with iframes, non-consenting publishers cannot get you out of the embedded page with iframe busters. The user will browse through the app thinking they are still on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or the flash light app.

When you are looking for hotels on Expedia, the price and amenities is more important then the name of the hotel. When you are on Airbnb, you are shopping for a place on Airbnb, not for that place by that owner.

The web is powered by the hundreds of millions of websites that make information available. But, that data is getting funneled more and more through the dominant gateways of the web, passing as their own product.

Work for peanuts

When you start a business, you have little to no choice but to put yourself at the mercy of those platforms. Anecdotally, I have many friends that will not go on a restaurant that does not have yelp reviews. If a restaurant is not on yelp it must be bad. If a product that is not on Amazon, it is suspicious. If a website is not on the first page of Google search, then it does not exist.

When you purchase a product you love from a vendor, you are a satisfied Amazon customer. When you find an answer on the web, you are a satisfied Google user. When you have a great vacation, you are a satisfied Airbnb customer. You had a fantastic driver? That's because Uber is amazing.

When the return goes wrong on Amazon, that's because it was a scammy vendor. When the driver is weird, you leave a one star review. When you don't find answers on Google, it's because the answer does not exist.

Loyalty is to the platform, Anger is to those who provide the service.


Martin :

Well thought article. Thanks.

All that you have described seems very real and it is disturbing. Makes me feel like opportunities are getting limited after the initial wild west stage of internet.

Also every exposure of businesses to customers is getting more and more costly, as more and more businesses are trying their luck on the internet (competion for ad space and for users attention drives marketing prices up).

Any ideas how to combat this non loyalty? :)

Ibrahim :

Thanks for reading Martin. To tell the truth I don't have an obvious answer to this problem. But I think it's a first step to recognize that it is a problem.

The answer that I have been thinking about lately, is to educate users on what happens behind the scenes on the web. Most people never ask themselves how any of these things work. I think creating a behind the scene series that shows who are the people behind amazon, google, facebook, instagram, anything to demistify the web will help.

Ilka :

You're absolutely right, Ibrahim. We should thinking about this problem. Recently I read an articles about Amazon's goals. They want to built a great imperium where the customers are able to get everything they need.

I have to admit that Amazon is my first choice when I am searching for anything, because its easy for me. I type a few words for a product, and later the machine suggest me more of them, a lot of varieties of them. That saves me a lot of time. Further the return works without any problems, because Amazon takes over all the costs. That's a helpful service that smaller companies cannot provide.

It seems to me as if the big ones eat the small ones bit by bit and we don't notice that, because we are so happy with the great service we get.

Ibrahim :

Hi @Ilka

It's true Amazon provides a great service, that's why they are popular incthe first place. The only problem is that in the long term they'll be the only option for selling a product online.

Let's hear your thoughts

For my eyes only