Amazon's Kindle Mistake: Forgetting their Value Proposition

It isn't often that I say this - almost never, in fact - but Jeff Bezos and Amazon got it wrong on the customer front.


Not long ago, Amazon finally released its Kindle for Mac software.  In so doing, they as good as created an app for every Mac owner's computer that allowed us to purchase Kindle books.  That's a good thing.

(The fact that it came long, long after the Kindle for PC version wasn't so great, but what can you do?)

In creating the software, however, Bezos and his designers made a big mistake.  They limited the capabilities.

When you read a Kindle book on your computer, you can't do basic things - like highlight or make notes.  Sure, if you own an actual Kindle you can transfer your highlights and notes when you sync the Kindle with your computer.

But if you don't own a Kindle in the first place and you want to use those capabilities, you're out of luck.

Bad decision.  Short-sighted too - in more than one way.

First, by keeping the capabilities out, Amazon lessened the user experience.  After all, if you can't do the things you would want to do with my physical book when you're reading, you'll probably find another way to buy the book and get that experience.  Whether through a different e-book reader, app or on an iPad.

Evidently, someone thought that by 'tempting' the users with what they don't have, they'd lead them to buy a Kindle.  In a short-sighted way, that's not bad thinking - especially because the Kindle is a big ticket item.

What they didn't take into consideration is that they would run the risk that customers would potentially:

a) be disgusted and not want to buy Kindle books - whether on their Macs, PCs, iPhones or on a Kindle reader, simply because they feel cheated by Amazon...

...or had they included the capabilities

b) create an expanded customer base energized and amazed by all the capabilities (had they been there) leading them to purchase all the more Kindle books for their Macs, PCs and iPhones, which would have increased Amazon's revenues substantially...

...or, most short sighted of all, that customers would

c) become all the more intrigued with the iPad as a multi-purpose platform that, sure, at the moment doesn't offer up the same sized library - but what an experience!  And, Apple being Apple, the books will come.

Companies make mistakes when they forget their Value Proposition (VP) - that long term benefit that the purchaser feels and experiences far after the moment of purchase.

This is different from a USP (Unique Selling Position/Proposition).  Those are static.  That's what gets you the immediate sale.

Your VP is what keeps your customers coming back.

Because for all that a Kindle is 'close' to the actual book reading experience, the iPad is designed to be an extension of you, a bridge, if you will, connecting you directly to the internet.  And your books.  And the reading experience.

That's the VP that the iPad offers and that, making the decision to limit the capabilities, Amazon took away from its users.

And that's why this is such a surprise.  Bezos has always been clear about the relationship between Amazon and its customers.  His stated goal - from the inception of the company - was to be the most customer-centric organization in the world.  That was - and is - their VP.

For the most part, Amazon has nailed it.  There are few online or bricks and mortar shopping experiences that match, let alone exceed, what Amazon does for its customers.

Interestingly, Apple figured this out years ago when they opened their retail and iTunes stores.  In the highest compliment possible, they match the quality of the Amazon experience - which is no easy thing to achieve.

So, Amazon needs to go back and re-think what they're doing with the Kindle and its books.  Are they trying to become a hardware seller?  That that's what they have to offer?

Or are they going to continue to focus on creating the best possible customer experience so that, no matter what you're thinking of buying, you think of Amazon first?

Because that's what's at risk for the company if they continue in the direction they've set.  People will find other outlets.  They're there - or waiting to appear - and from the the newly-minted to the serial entrepreneurs, they learn from the Big Boys' mistakes.  Fast.

So, as you think about what you want your reading experience to be, think, too, about your own company's Value Proposition.  Do you know what it is?  Does everyone within?

And, most important of all, are action and every decision taken designed to achieve it?  Are you sure?

Because if you're not, you're giving your competitors the gift of a lifetime.