e-commerce technology

Amazon’s CTO on how customer centricity drives innovation

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels
Amazon CTO Werner Vogels

Amazon’s goal is to be the most customer-centric company on earth, said its chief technology officer, Werner Vogels, on stage at the WIRED Smarter conference in London yesterday.

“Focusing on the customer gives direction to our innovations,” he explained.

The business is mandated to always start from the customer and work backwards, including by writing a press release and a basic FAQ of what the end product or service will look like, before beginning to build it. Within that will always be why said focus is useful for the customer, Vogels noted, even if the customer today wouldn’t yet know it for themselves.

“We always think of innovation being this glitzy new stuff, but [we’re focused on] what the things are that our customers will all love, and love forever,” he emphasized. “We need to know that what we are building is exactly what they want.”

Keywords like convenience and price always therefore come into the decision making, he explained. “No one 10 years from now will say, ‘Oh I wish Amazon would be more expensive’.”

To do this, Vogels said the most important part of the internal culture at Amazon is about a willingness to continuously experiment.

“Decisions are most often two-way doors – you can mostly always back out again, but if you wait too long the opportunity might have already passed,” he noted. He talked to the idea of culture, learning from doing, taking risks, failing fast and, through relentless measurement, taking something from each step along the way as a result.

On that basis, he referenced a letter from Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, written to shareholders in 1997, that reads: “We will make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some of these investments will pay off, others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case.”

As a recent example, with something like its voice technology, Amazon Alexa, the company was making a big bet, but it knew if the seed was going to grow it would make a big impact, Vogels explained. He referenced the flurry of new devices recently released by Amazon to bring this further into people’s homes, including a microwave and a smart plug.

“At Amazon we are strong believers that if we stop innovating, we will be dead in five to 10 years,” he added.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about helping you build innovative integrations and experiences. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology, powered by a network of top startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Tommy Hilfiger on why embracing risk is the key to innovation

Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger's Tommy Now show
Gigi Hadid in Tommy Hilfiger’s Tommy Now show

Tommy Hilfiger underwent one of the biggest business model shifts in its history when it moved to a “see-now, buy-now” runway show called Tommy Now in 2016. That meant shortening a typically 18-month production process into just six months, as well as launching its product live in 70 countries around the world simultaneously as brand ambassador Gigi Hadid hit the catwalk.

Speaking at Lions Innovation, a division of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this week, chief brand officer Avery Baker referred to the change as leaping off from a traditional S-curve. “When success is achieved, companies have the hardest choice to make – do we stay on that current path and hope we’ll continue ever upwards or take the leap to new levels of relevance?”

She referenced the fact consumer gratification is arriving much sooner than ever before today, with expectations set and met by other industries, meaning fashion has no choice but to try and keep up or be increasingly deemed irrelevant. “The first sign of madness is repeating the same behaviour over and over again and expecting a different outcome. We had to change the way that we thought and most importantly the way that we behaved,” Baker explained.

The resulting Tommy Now show generated over 2.5 billion impressions worldwide. “Our biggest learning of all is that embracing risk is powerful; it’s liberating. We have to retain the guts to keep pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone again and again; keep pushing ourselves to keep up with the pace of consumer expectations. By doing so we can rewrite the rules around creativity and innovation,” Baker explained.

She highlighted a nine-step process that she said enabled the business to do this, grounded in an entrepreneurial spirit that allowed everyone in the organisation to make decisions, while still ensuring the brand would land safely. Head over to Forbes to read the steps.

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Digital snippets: shoplifters at Harvey Nichols, Iris van Herpen on fashion and science, Rakuten’s virtual fit start-up

A round-up of the latest stories to know about surrounding all things fashion and tech…


  • Harvey Nichols features genuine CCTV shoplifting footage in new Rewards ad (as pictured) [Creative Review]
  • Iris van Herpen’s science fashion [BoF]
  • Rakuten buys virtual fitting room start-up Fits.Me in a fashion commerce play [TechCrunch]
  • Why an “Amazon for high fashion” is a really bad idea [HighSnobiety]
  • Amazon Fashion, playing the long game [BoF]
  • ShopStyle figured out how to monetise Snapchat [Racked]
  • Why it took Zappos Labs five tries to admit failure [Fast Company]
  • Stamp your in-store Snapchats with custom Lilly Pulitzer prints [Digiday]
  • Crocs bets big on interactive Twitter videos with ‘Funway Runway’ effort [AdWeek]
  • Online jewellery start-up Bauble Bar to open retail stores [Forbes]
  • Matthew Williamson to sell part of pre-fall collection exclusively on Lyst [Fashionista]
  • Net-a-porter partners with Tom Ford on e-commerce exclusive [WWD]
  • Nike quickens plans to ‘seamlessly connect social platforms to commerce’ [The Drum]
  • How artificial intelligence is powering e-commerce in India [TechinAsia]
  • Fashion apps continue the trend for mobile swiping [The Telegraph]
  • Six futuristic retail displays that will change your idea of ‘e-commerce’ [Time]
  • Luxury brands dip toes in e-commerce waters [WSJ]
  • Why the Internet of Things won’t be about the ‘things’ for retailers [Retail Dive]
  • The man who wants to turn our clothes into modular gadgets [Wired]
  • Meet Mona, the world’s smartest personal shopper [PSFK]
  • Why the Apple Watch is flopping [Co.Design]
  • 3D-printing has stagnated, says pioneering designer Francis Bitonti [Dezeen]
  • We did not expect Vogue’s native advertising to be this good [Brand Republic]