Has Amazon Prime Pushed Consumer Expectations Too Far?

0aaaJimmy Duvall BigCommerce

It may be one of the services that I use most often for my personal online shopping, not to mention the added perks like movies, TV shows and music that accompany membership. The impact it’s had on revolutionizing content, products, fulfillment and many other aspects of broader commerce can’t be denied.

What I do not love is the way that Amazon Prime has skewed consumer expectations beyond repair.

I say that because of the sky-high expectations that Amazon has set and thus shoppers have grown accustomed to, especially within the purchase, fulfillment, shipping and returns phases of the e-Commerce journey. Since Amazon invested more heavily in its Prime offering in 2014, membership has grown to more than 100 million consumers and completely transformed the way people think about online shipping and delivery. In fact, data from a recent omnichannel survey we conducted reveals the effects Amazon has on buying behaviors. Consumers no longer view price as the main reason to shop on Amazon, with 28% noting convenience as the top deciding factor. In addition, more than half of shoppers anticipate returning one in every four purchases they make online.


Those expectations make it challenging for other retailers to compete, no doubt. But Amazon Prime’s lead in molding consumer expectations for every single e-Commerce experience, Amazon-based or not, also provides a framework from which independent retailers can learn. Here are just a few of the proven Amazon tactics that can help guide improvements to parallel e-Commerce experiences.

The simplest checkout: Although Amazon’s 1-Click Checkout patent expired in late 2017, it’s still next to impossible to name a more streamlined, low-involvement checkout process in the industry today. That’s true across its web site and mobile app, and is even being reflected in the way the company is building its Amazon Go physical stores. As part of that process, I’d argue that Amazon has established an expectation for payment options to just be there, saved and ready to be used without the consumer needing to track down their credit card or authenticate their identity 10 times over. Frankly, it’s the most effective digital wallet out there. And once a purchase is finalized, its status is always right at the customer’s fingertips, at any point from payment to delivery.

2-day shipping: Perhaps the single thing Prime is best known for, the importance of expedited shipping cannot be overstated. Though other platforms, retailers (like Walmart), services (like ShopRunner) and shipping carriers are figuring out ways to democratize that expediency, that entire sea change is predicated on the pressure Amazon applied. And with baseline expectations set at two days flat, Amazon has forged a path to rewarding the selection of slower shipping options (that used to be standard and acceptable) with Prime Now credit, especially during the busy holiday season. Other merchants spurn similar shipping strategies at their own peril.

Free returns sans hiccups: For as long as I can remember, Amazon Prime has always been good about making purchases (even apparel) easy to return. We can partially trace that back to Zappos, which had this strength in its DNA and significantly influenced Amazon’s return policies and practices upon being acquired. And those returns aren’t just for marketplace credit, but cash refunded to the original form of payment in a matter of days rather than weeks. Think about the last time a retailer tried to inform you that store credit was the only option for a return. It probably didn’t sit well. I’ve seen people pitch legitimate fits about that. Now think about the last time you had to pay for return shipping. Left a bad taste in your mouth, didn’t it? Feels like you paid for something you didn’t actually get to keep. Beyond mitigating those messy situations, Prime Wardrobe actually took “returns” and “refunds” to the next level within the last year, setting a new try-before-you-buy expectation for clothing that could easily be extended to other categories.

Repeat purchases: Last but not least, one of my personal favorite parts of the Amazon shopping experience is the appearance of the “Buy this again?” button within purchase history. It makes repeat shopping exceedingly easy for consumers, whether it’s something they need to buy every month or every couple years. There’s no hard sell or scouring the web from square one again, just a quick, efficient way to make the exact same purchase again. If only all purchases could be that easy.

Obviously, Amazon stands to gain a significant amount (read: revenue) by making the whole process as painless and impressive as possible for all consumers, Prime members and casual shoppers alike. In doing so, the collateral damage is that consumer expectations are driven that much higher, making it exceedingly difficult for other parties to keep pace. By focusing on the priorities outlined above as well as others core to the Amazon Prime experience, other online merchants should be able to take marked steps toward succeeding in feeding the beast of current consumer expectations.


Jimmy Duvall is the Chief Product Officer for BigCommerce and leads all aspects of Product Strategy, Product Management, Marketing and Product Design, and the Program Management Office. Prior to joining BigCommerce, he served as Vice President of Product for Hootsuite, the world’s most widely used platform for managing social media, where he led Product Management, Product Design and Product Strategy.  Additionally, Duvall spent more than 10 years in leading product roles shaping the e-Commerce platform industry, growing both Fortune 100 brands and hundreds of thousands of small to medium sized business at eBay/Magento, GSI Commerce and Yahoo!.

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