The Devil Wears Amazon

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Michael C. Fina, a bridal registry to the wealthy and privileged for more than eighty years has decided to join Amazon rather than fighting them, according to an April 5th New York Times article.  The store for generations has provided silver and beautiful gifts for events such as John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and has had wealthy, celebrated clientele like Frank Sinatra.

Even if, “the Times they are “a-Changin” applies, perhaps jumping on the Amazon bandwagon is not the best choice for Michael C. Fina.

In the well-received and successful 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada, Andrea (Andy) played by Anne Hathaway is an aspiring journalist fresh out of Northwestern University.  Despite her own feelings for the shallowness of the fashion industry, Andy lands the perfect job; junior personal assistant to the mean-spirited Miranda, editor-in-chief of Runway fashion magazine played by award winner actress Meryl Streep. She understands that her boss will humiliate her but knows the position is the path to getting a better job in another industry. By the end of the film, Andy’s boyfriend accuses her of turning into Miranda – cold and calculating.

Will Michael C. Fina turn into Miranda (Amazon)?

Is partnering with Amazon a wise decision over the long run?  As a consumer I love Amazon. However, from what I hear from the retail sector, once products are sold on Amazon, the product becomes a commodity. I attended an event last week where one of the panelists cautioned the audience about selling completely online. She had a client who was a jewelry designer and decided to sell her unique, one-of-a-kind items solely through her ecommerce site. Her business was an instant success for six months. She was elated. Then it happened. What’s “it?” Manufacturers in Asia copied her designs and priced their pieces for a song. The result?  The client went out of business; not a fun rollercoaster ride.

Apple recently decided to sell iPhones directly to consumers instead of using third party wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T.  According to Denny Strigl, Verizon’s former chief operating officer, “it is a sign Apple wants to wrest control of customers from wireless carriers. Companies that control the customer relationship have more leverage in pricing and sales.”  Michael C. Fina has just handed Amazon their cherished list of customers – virtually, the elephant in the room.

The luxury retailer’s deal with Amazon shows how deep Amazon has woven themselves into the business of independent merchants. According to the article, Amazon has experienced huge growth in a service it calls, “Fulfillment by Amazon.”  Independent sellers pay Amazon to hold and ship their products extending to customers the fast delivery benefits of Amazon’s Prime membership.

Michael C Fina is also offering its wares on Zola.com, an online wedding registry start-up and will continue to sell through its own site. Steven Fina, the current president and grandson of the original owner says, “We are doing this because this is what our customers are telling us. We may be 80 years old, but we have to stay ahead of the curve”.

I wonder if Michael C. Fina considered other alternatives?

  • Can we partner with a specialized fulfillment and delivery company instead of Amazon where we would have more control?
  • Could we have made the customer experience in our stores so exceptional that customers would have preferred high-touch to no-touch?
  • What if we designed our website so that customers who work with our current sales staff in the store could now be their personal shoppers online similar to the highly successful Mitchell’s Family of Stores?
  • Is it possible by selling online via Amazon, Zola and their own site that each is competing with one another? Might that create even more confusion within their customer base?

I’m not sure Michael C. Fina really thought about all the alternatives and consequences. Would Michael Charles Fina, Steven’s grandfather, approve?

What do you think?

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