Amazon…the Original Disruptive Technology?

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Technology Disruption

Disruption. Until recently that word meant something negative. It was a nuisance…a disturbance…an interruption…it meant trouble. In fact, if you look at synonyms for disruption, every one of them paints it negatively. But lately when you hear the word “disruption,” it generally means change—and even positive change. Disruptive technologies are in essence solutions that are changing the future of work. They are challenging the status quo.

I was recently reading an article about Amazon potentially purchasing Slack. (Ironically one of my colleagues sent it over in a “Slack” which we use for internal communications at SIG.) As my colleagues and I reminisced about our first use of Amazon, it made me realize what a pioneer they were in disruptive technologies. The term may not have been widely known, but they certainly paved the way for it to be put into ubiquitous use.

I can’t really remember when or how Amazon disrupted my life…but it did. Somewhere along the way I went from being skeptical about purchasing things online to almost exclusively shopping with Amazon—and Prime no less because I want the immediacy of it. Don’t get me wrong—there are certain items I will never purchase on the Internet, but if I am going to shop online, I ALWAYS check Amazon first.

So what can we learn from all this?

Traditional competitors are probably not the ones you need to worry about. When it comes to disruption, it’s not your standard competitors you should be looking over your shoulder for—it’s everyone else. Amazon started out as an online platform for buying books. Jeff Bezos started it out of his garage with initial funding coming from his parents and within 30 days was doing $20,000 per week in sales. You can bet that Barnes & Noble didn’t see that one coming. Nor did any retailer realize that soon Amazon would offer more than books. None of us really did. At that point no one was really sure what the Internet was…much less the power—and disruption—it would provide. Now a retailer, grocer, bookstore, thrift shop, cloud computing service, book publisher and MORE, Amazon has challenged industries from standard to obscure…and they are not done. Amazon was recently granted patents for a flying warehouse, underwater warehouse, multi-level “beehive-like” warehouse and undoubtedly more!

Time and time again we’ve seen industries disrupted. Uber who challenged the taxi and even the food delivery industry…AirBnB who put the hotel industry on notice…Expedia and Travelocity who made travel agents ubiquitous. There are examples in every industry, so beware…you never know from whence it may come.

A positive experience instills confidence. Amazon is as successful as it is because they put the customer first. On a pedestal. Really. In his book, The Amazon Way: 14 Leadership Principles Behind the World’s Most Disruptive Company, author John Rossman shares the philosophy Amazon has about customers. In short—they are obsessed with them. CEO Jeff Bezos has been quoted as saying, “We’re not competitor obsessed. We’re customer obsessed. We start with what the customer needs and we work backwards.” At SIG, we think of it as making it a hassle-free experience. When you think from that perspective, you will naturally be focused on creating a positive outcome…which instills in people the confidence companies need to create champions for their brand. Companies that create a hassle-free experience for customers win.

Convenience wins too. When I think about why I let Amazon disrupt my life, it all goes back to convenience. Why get in a car and drive to five stores looking for that perfect “something” when you can go to one site and check out all the options…and quite possibly find them at the lowest price? Likewise with Uber or Lyft…I can easily order a car using my phone and I don’t need my wallet with me to pay. The cars may all look a little different, but you can expect them to have at least some level of quality. (Note: the recent news around Uber’s culture is troubling, to say the least, and without a doubt the culture of an organization does impact consumer attitudes towards them.)

Convenience is a trump card to be sure. But unless you have the confidence that it’s worth it, it’s a card that may not ever be played. Using the Amazon analogy, it wasn’t until I had multiple good customer experiences that I had the confidence to start using Amazon regularly. (It didn’t hurt that I once ordered an item at 10:00 pm expecting to get it within 24 hours, only to have a knock on my door at 8:00 am the next morning with the package in hand.)

Complacency isn’t an option. Even Amazon can’t afford to rest on its laurels…although it doesn’t look like “resting” is something the company does well. According to John Rossman, Jeff Bezos once answered the question of whether Amazon would someday be the victim of disruption with a response that “it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.” He is just hoping that it’s not in his lifetime. And given some of the more recent news of Amazon acquiring Whole Foods—inarguably challenging grocery stores everywhere, much less the food delivery industry—he seems safe.

The bottom line is that disruption can come from anywhere…at any time. The supply chain industry is ripe for the picking, so don’t sit idly by. Look for ways to be the change.

Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, SIG

Sarah Holliman, Chief Marketing Officer, has more than 20 years of experience in the sourcing industry. Prior to joining SIG's leadership team, Sarah was with A.T. Kearney, leading the marketing efforts for the A.T. Kearney Procurement & Analytic Solutions unit. She also spent five years at A.T. Kearney consulting primarily to financial services companies on topics that ranged from strategic planning to procurement cost reduction to back-office operations. Before joining A.T. Kearney, Sarah was in business development at one of the largest commercial banks in the country.

Sarah has held numerous leadership positions on non-profit boards promoting children, women and educational issues, and has specific expertise in membership development, fundraising and strategic development. Sarah has a BA from Furman University and an MBA from the Anderson School at UCLA.