What We Learned At Amazon's Inaugural Ad Conference

We were fortunate enough to recently be invited to Amazon’s inaugural ad conference that was held in Seattle for roughly 400 of Amazon’s top brands and sellers. The event provided participants with case studies, technology previews, detailed workshops and a preview of what’s to come on Amazon’s rapidly evolving advertising platform.

A couple of themes emerged that provide a lens as to where Amazon wants to take the platform as well as how we can further leverage the platform:

  1. The entire marketing funnel matters - Amazon has historically focused their advertising on the bottom of the “funnel” on the low hanging fruit where the final click leads to a sale. Every presentation and workshop focused on Amazon’s ability to create awareness and eventual sales at the top of the funnel. Amazon stressed their ability to serve branding via Kindle, Fire TV and even packaging. Amazon now provides a “new to brand” metric that highlights new customers shopping the brand.

  2. The internet is a big place - Amazon hasn’t made buying advertising “off-Amazon” very easy for brands and sellers. Any interested brand was forced to go through an agency. Amazon is changing that with a system wide release of Demand-Side Platform (DSP) for all brands and sellers. This allows any interested brand the ability to purchase advertising on other sites outside of Amazon using retargeting or specific audiences.

  3. Attribution is king - Historically Amazon has only sought to prove sales driven by marketing clicks on their own site. Now Amazon is looking to become a full blown attribution tool to better understand where sales are driven across non-Amazon channels.

  4. The focus is on brands - Amazon is increasingly focused on building their equivalent of Alibaba’s Tmall stores. Amazon believes more and more brand experiences on their platform should include store within store concepts and even social posts.

So what does all this mean? Amazon isn’t slowing in the Advertising space as spread their wings to other ecommerce channels and build an offering that encompasses not only conversions to sales but also brand awareness. As the offerings expand, so to have the metrics to make this a platform no brand can avoid whether selling on Amazon or not.

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads #309 - Is Amazon Unstoppable and Five Below Goes Gaming

Featured Tweet or Podcast


  • Online retailers need stores. Link

  • Adidas created a Snapchat game to for shoe drop. Link

  • Five Below opening gaming centers in stores. Link

  • Is Amazon unstoppable? Link

  • Amazon now delivering $1 CPG items for free, next day. Link

  • The Style-Quantifying Astrophysicists of Silicon Valley. Link

  • Toys ‘R’ Us relaunches site using Target. Link

  • Google avoids serving repeat ads with machine learning. Link

  • As Denmark turns away from cash, a payment app has more likes than Facebook. Link

  • Handbag sales reveal a major shift in consumer shopping. Link

  • Smart fitness company Mirror launches in-home 1:1 personal training. Link

  • WeWork could hand over control to SoftBank with latest rescue package. Link

  • Uber gets serious about grocery delivery game. Link

Off Topic

  • My Family Story of Love, the Mob, and Government Surveillance. Link

  • Billion dollar scam to build an Arctic cable. Link

  • The reflection in a pop star’s eyes told a selfie stalker exactly how to find her. Link

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads #308 - Zulily Pricing Transparency, Stitch Fix Says Goodbye to Humans, Rosy Holiday Projections

Featured Tweet or Podcast


  • Imitation Is The Finest Form of Flattery? Link

  • Amazon looks to sell tech via retail-as-a-service to cinemas and airports. Link

  • Zulily takes bold move to show competitor pricing on-site. Link

  • Barneys finds a buyer. Link

  • In an apparent strategy shift, Walmart selling Modcloth (Link) and also looking for outside investors for JetBlack. Going to be difficult with only 600 active members. Yes. 600. Link

  • Google getting serious about Shopping with 5 new features. Link

  • Stitch Fix minimizing the human touch. Link

  • UPS cleared for drone deliveries. Link

  • Forever 21 bankruptcy signals a shift in consumer tastes….or just a shift to ecommerce and too much real estate? Link

  • Burberry is excited about those selling their used product online. Link

  • Postmates, Door Dash looking to sign deals with grocers and other convenience stores. Link

  • NRF projecting a rosy holiday season (Link):

Off Topic

Joaquin Phoenix profile including his role on Joker. Link

Imitation Is The Finest Form of Flattery?

You may have seen a recent tweet that started a chain reaction of media articles, blog posts, news clips and tweet threads about Amazon “ripping off” the popular wool shoe brand Allbirds. Initially I chuckled. But then as the tweet gained more and more traction, I thought I should say something and actually became a bit frustrated. So I came back with the following:

Candidly, my firm does a lot of business on Amazon via their marketplace along with others like Walmart, Wayfair, Costco, Macy’s, Kohls, etc. But let’s be real. Amazon is a easy target. They own >50% of ecommerce growth. They have numerous lines of business with significant traction. And currently, Amazon doesn’t seem stoppable.

However, most of what Amazon is doing in retail has been done to some degree before. I often point out that Sears was the first to have the “endless scroll” with their massive catalogs, next day delivery via rail and even private label homes that were sold under the brand name Sears. Endless options, quick delivery and private labels are nothing new. When was the last time you visited a Macy’s and didn’t see the Macy’s brand right next to the Polo Ralph Lauren branded product?

So why the frustration? Copying or shall I say using inspiration from other brands is commonplace is fashion. Fashion companies have been copying each other since the dawn of time. Every brand we work with from small to large will “shop the market” every few months to understand trends in colors, silhouettes, cuts, fabrics, fabrications and manufacturing methods. Some brands entire business model is founded upon being “inspired” by the designs of other brands and plowing that design savings into marketing. Just look at Nike suing Skechers just this morning. Or how about this blatant copy of Supreme branding on a New York City sweatshirt I am staring at in JFK airport this morning?



Fashion is founded upon trends. Fashion thrives on the copycats. Fashion is a virus of design from other brands. Is this right? It’s grey. But it sure isn’t isolated to Amazon and definitely isn’t new. 

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads #307 - Instagram Factories, Beyond Meat & Climate Change, Forever 21 Bankruptcy

Featured Tweet or Podcast


  • Subtle Lyft and Uber Strategy Change. Link

  • Instagram content factories. Link

  • Sneakers to outsell “fashion footwear” for first time in US. Link

  • Facebook and Google advertising is run by machines - and that’s a good thing. Link

  • Twitch has the gamers but seeks to become more like YouTube. Link

  • EBay lets go of CEO and new CEO inherits a puzzle amidst negative growth. Link

  • SoftBank bet big on disruptive companies. Many have not paid off. Link

  • Snapchat is becoming an outlet for video ad budgets. Link

  • How productivity apps like Slack are making us less productive. Link

  • Forever 21 officially filing for Bankruptcy. Link

  • Meat from a vending machine. Link

  • Amazon teams with Puma for fashion brand. Link

  • Rent the Runway stops taking new customers temporarily. Link

  • How TikTok holds our attention. Link

Off Topic

Can a burger help solve climate change? Link

Subtle Lyft and Uber Strategy Change

Last week we saw both Lyft and Uber updating their apps to become comprehensive transportation and delivery apps. This isn’t the first time we have seen Uber pull in Uber Eats as an offering in the core Uber app. In fact, that is how Uber Eats initially started.

What I did find interesting is how both announced similar plans in the same week. Lyft’s announcement jumpstarted the similar move by Uber which was announced at an Apple like event. Reading into the Lyft announcement, the communication shifts the app to more of an information source buoyed by transportation rides:

Starting today, when you open your Lyft app, you’ll see all your ride options front and center on your home screen: scooters, bikes, public transit, car rentals, Shared rides, regular rides, big rides, and even more. It’s the first in a series of changes that make it easier for you to choose the right ride for every occasion (and every mood). 

Over the past year, we’ve added shared bikes and scooters to the Lyft app in cities across the country. Early user testing shows that the new design has more people scooting, biking, and taking public transit — our greenest ride options, and the ones most likely to help alleviate traffic. This summer, one in eight Lyft rides was a bike or scooter ride in the cities where they’re available. 

Uber’s CEO interview with the Verge went even further to note how Uber has never been closer to Amazon and Google in transportation:

Khosrowshahi tweaked it to becoming the “Amazon of transportation,” and now he’s polished it up again: Uber wants to be an “operating system for your everyday life in a city,” he tells me during a recent interview at The Verge’s office.

“And the way that I would describe it is it’s Amazon product search versus, let’s say, Google product search. Because we’re so focused on city transportation, which is where the majority of our business is, and because we’re so focused on the complete experience, it’s not just information. Ultimately, we want to integrate information that allows you to take action and purchase this transit option.”

The writing is now on the wall. Both Lyft and Uber will subtly shift their model to become information hubs supported by transportation. With an information hub comes higher engagement but other revenue sources as well. Might we start to see ads within Lyft or Uber? Might we see either app provide navigational services to go head to head with Google Maps and Waze? Might we see travel bookings via either app? Both companies realize that transporting consumers point to point is going to be a war leading to difficult profitability. The sooner they can evolve their offering into higher margin businesses complementary to their information hub, the sooner they show profitability.

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads #306 - Slack vs Teams, Zara Ecommerce, Madewell IPO

Featured Tweet or Podcast

WeWork craziness. Link


  • Bob Iger has been sharing all kinds of interesting stories to preview his new memoir. Why he didn’t acquire Twitter, the idea that if Steve Jobs was still around Apple and Disney would have potentially merged. Link

  • Stage Stores goes where the growth has been. Off-price. Link

  • Denim far from dead, just ask Madewell. Link

  • To remain alive, Forever 21 looking at providing landlords a stake. Link

  • First look at Walmart’s free standing health format. Link

  • Streaming old reruns is a big, expensive gamble with no idea on payoff. Link

  • Roku remains incredibly bullish on cord cutting. Link

  • Late to ecommerce, Zara is now blanketing the world with it. Link

  • Stripe, the payment processor for .coms recently increased its valuation considerably. Seems that money still flows into tech startups. Link

  • Amazon has been tinkering with its’ search results. Link

  • It isn’t easy being a small retailer. Link

  • The Fleece Phenom. Link

  • Casper dreams of being bigger than mattresses. Link

  • US Retail bankruptcies (Link):

  • In the battle for the instant messenger of 2020, Slack seems to be winning with startups and Microsoft winning with big businesses (Link):

Off Topic

Dark crystals and the booming wellness craze. Link

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads #305 - Square Cash, Iger Quits, Alexa Crowdsourcing

Featured Tweet or Podcast

Marc Lore of Walmart at Recode. Link


  • Square Cash app will allow free stock trades ala Robinhood. Link

  • Pepsi loyalty program to place rewards in your Venmo account. Link

  • Alexa now open for crowdsourcing. Link

  • Ford is giving up on subscription service. Link

  • Iger quits Apple’s board. Maybe because of the aggressive $4.99 pricing? Or was always bound to happen as Disney and Apple become closer rivals? Link

  • Moviepass is officially done. Link

  • And the truth as to why FedEx ditched Amazon comes out. UPS and FedEx have selected their horse in the ecommerce race. UPS chose Amazon (courier service and returns to stores) and FedEx chose Walmart. Link

  • Walmart formally launches their $98 subscription plan for shipping and will be in 50% of markets by year end. Link

  • Largest Direct to Consumer (D2C) advertisers (see image below). I would assume you see Wayfair remain #1 and Jet drop out of the top 10 in 2019.

  • Camera sales continue to fall off a cliff. Link

Off Topic

The Grandmaster Diet. Link

Etsy: Artisans vs Big Brands

Etsy sellers worldwide are upset with Etsy “demanding” free shipping for orders which has become table stakes to compete in the ecommerce world. Although there truly is no free shipping and the cost is likely built into the price of the item, the overwhelming majority of Etsy sellers are businesses of one.

Seventy-seven percent of Etsy’s sellers are businesses of one, and 28 percent live in rural areas, isolated from the urban centers where makers can organize to sell together and where many of the customers for higher-priced handmade goods live. For some, it’s not even solely about money but about validation of their art: knowing that someone out there doesn’t think what they do is worthless.

Not only does Etsy need free shipping to compete against the larger marketplaces of Amazon, Walmart and eBay but Etsy also has to make shareholders happy. How does the stock price continue to rise? More and more sales volume or Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV) needs to flow through the marketplace. Therein lies the problem. If Etsy brings on larger brands, further alienation of the 77% Etsy sellers of one is bound to happen. Other initiative such as advertising and postage sales will help but largely won’t move the GMV which for marketplaces is the top metric of growth.

So where does Etsy go from here? I can’t see how Etsy doesn’t continue to recruit and drive larger sellers as ultimately the shareholder demands will win out. Etsy’s ability to focus on smaller artisans ended the day Etsy went public and took on a new stakeholder group to appease investors.

Source: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/9/4/208...

Tech Infused Retail Midweek Reads: Stripe, Primark, Shopify, Restoration Hardware

A few articles in the world of retail I found interesting this week:

  • Payments giant Stripe enters the credit card and lending game. Link

  • Walmart is done with acquisitions for small brands and shifted to in-house incubation. Listen to the full interview, sounds as though Marc isn’t happy there and the entire strategy is somewhat up in the air. Link

  • Here come multi-story warehouses. Link

  • Primark doubling down on brick & mortar, plans addition of 1 million square feet of selling space next year. Link

  • Shopify acquiring warehouse automation firm as they push into fulfillment service. Link

  • Amazon trialing returns to their Amazon Go stores. Link

  • FTC investigating Amazon Marketplace. Link

  • Restoration Hardware is one of the few retailers defying the odds right now. Others are Costco, Lululemon. Link

  • Gamestop is the Sears of specialty retail. Link

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads - September 9, 2019

Here is what I found interesting in today’s world of retail:

  • Over half of Americans prefer all at once TV show releases vs staggered. Link

  • Alibaba used AI for New York Fashion Week looks. Link

  • Millennials are taking over fashion too. Link

  • Alibaba acquires largest rival. Link

  • Amazon and Roku battle for your TV. Link

  • Streaming music makes up 80% of the music industry revenue. Link

  • The world’s most expensive retail playground is struggling. Link

  • Everyone loves the lending game, Stripe Capital is the latest to enter the game. Link

  • Influencers are seeing less engagement with the disappearance of likes. Link

  • Facebook dating now challenging the IAC dating monopoly. Link

  • 43% of survey respondents interested in Disney + streaming. Link

  • Amazon now testing the “New” badge. Link

  • Amazon pushes faster shipping at all costs. Link

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads - September 2, 2019

Here is what I found interesting in today’s world of retail:

  • Ulta struggling because of your boring beauty routine and influencers overdoing it. Link

  • Hotels have piled on brands, this could be a problem. Link

  • High school sports participation is down for first time in 30 years. Link

  • Peloton is a phenomenon, can it last? Link

  • Puma opens new flagship. Link

  • Here come more tariffs. Link

  • Target’s Drive Up service now available across the US. Link

  • Don’t discount Costco’s chances in China. Link

  • House cleaning at Hudson’s Bay continues. First it was Lord & Taylor, now it is European operations. Link

  • A look at the community still keeping the NCAA Football video game up to date. Link

Tech Infused Retail Midweek Reads: Snapchat, Peloton, Costco China

A few articles in the world of retail I found interesting this week:

  • Taylor Swift stopped selling out her concerts to make more money. Link

  • What drives our addiction to social media. Link

  • How companies like McDonalds are using podcasts. Link

  • Peloton files for IPO, fast revenue growth and high losses. Link

  • Snapchat disappears from Venice Beach. Link

  • Instagram is going after Snapchat again. Link

  • Costco is taking it slow in China, first store opening brought crowds. Link

  • Adidas signs first pro gamer deal with Ninja. Link

  • Ride sharing continues to crush airports. Link

Tech Infused Retail Monday Morning Reads

Here is what I found interesting in today’s world of retail:

  • Facebook has forced Instagram to double ads in the past year. Link

  • Amazon using 3rd party sellers grow its’ business. Link

  • Amazon makes it harder to gauge consumers health. Link

  • As Shopify grows, developers are forced to adapt. Link

  • Amazon testing “Top Brand” label for some apparel brands. Link

  • Boxed to offer apparel via Century 21 partnership. Link

  • Banana Republic joins the rest of the industry in providing a rental service. Link

  • Google Assistant continues to be top voice assistant. Link

  • 70% of consumers said they trust influencers as much or more than their real life friends. Link

Amazon Earnings Disappoint, Yet No Worries Here

Amazon disappointed many with their earnings but the headlines failed to report the good news with the bad. In the shadow of AWS growing <40% for the first time, the top line business returned to a 20% growth rate. Services remain strong as the business continues to shift with <49% of the business now being accounted for by the online store.

DoorDash > Grubhub

Further to the Food Delivery Wars post from last week, Quartz is reporting based on Second Measure data that DoorDash is the #1 US delivery company. Notice that Square’s Caviar has been relegated to the “Other” category and Uber Eats hasn’t grown market share in over a year. Might this turn up the heat in the Grubhub kitchens and force a DoorDash acquisition by either Grubhub or Uber?


Connected TV Ad Impressions Rival Desktop & Mobile Combined

Connected TVs now own the top spot for digital video ad impressions. The total share in Q4 2018 matched the combined share of desktop/laptop and mobile. Ad based offerings from Roku, Hulu and YouTube are growing rapidly with no end in sight. Companies like The Trade Desk are calling connected TV growth the fastest growing market they have seen and we will ever see in marketing. This market is predominatly programmatic and highly efficient and begging for every marketer to pay attention.

May Sales & Tariffs

Census Bureau released the May retail sales figures on Friday. The report was particularly strong considering all the chatter of tariffs potentially slowing retail sales as price increases trickle down to consumers. April was revised upward from the initial report which drove the GDP estimates higher for many analysts.

The overall number for May was +3.2% from 2018 with winners being nonstore (online) posting the routine >10% increase, food services/restaurants, health and auto retailers. Those in the negative year over year were sporting goods, clothing, electronics/appliances and department stores.

Interestingly, the April number for electronics/appliances figure was positive in April but negative in May. Bespoke highlighted how the share of imports of steel and aluminum has already shifting away from China to Mexico and Vietnam to avoid the tariffs (see below). It may be too early to see the true impact of higher prices passed onto the consumer but this and jobs report were suprisingly strong.