Amazon.com’s Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos has a knack for harnessing product reviews to get customers to buy online. His latest move: Web-savvy moms whose opinions are coveted by peers who want to know what’s hot this holiday season.
Lisa Diaz unknowingly became part of that marketing push last month after posting a comment on how much her son would like a train set shown on an Amazon social-media page. The company took her feedback – along with that from 400,000 other moms who post on one of the company’s Facebook pages – and distilled it into a “Mom Picks 2014” list of 50 top toys and games for the end-of-year period. Amazon is now prominently displaying the list, which features a web-slinging Spider-Man and a “Frozen” ice-skating Elsa doll, on the toy guide section of its website.
“It means that other moms and everybody can have a voice,” said Diaz, 34, of Belton, South Carolina, who added that she didn’t realize the full extent of what she was doing by posting her comment. “I think it’s neat.”
Diaz and others are part of an ad hoc focus group called “Amazon Mom” that the largest U.S. online retailer is increasingly tapping to push products in its most lucrative period. Started last year, when fourth-quarter sales made up more than one-third of Amazon’s annual revenue, “Mom Picks” was rolled out as one of many holiday shopping tools – and it ended up being one of the most popular as people looked to sift through gift ideas. It was used more frequently than price and discount filters, the company said.
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As a result, Amazon this year broke out the feature, creating a page on its website called “Mom Picks 2014” that has a photo gallery of the most popular toys selected by parents. Cultivating the list gives Amazon insights into items that people are likely to purchase so it can stock appropriate inventory. Then the company promotes those same products to other shoppers as mom-to-mom recommendations.
“We are certainly stocking up on all items featured on the holiday toy list to ensure they are ready to ship to customers,” said Lori Richter, a spokeswoman at Seattle-based Amazon.
It’s all part of the marketing ploys that e-commerce companies are using to gain an edge this holiday season, when U.S. online sales are projected to reach $82 billion, up 15 percent from a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation. Amazon is latching onto a particularly influential online group – mothers – who are already a key force in spreading the word in online markets such as the digital-coupons industry.
“Word-of-mouth marketing – ‘people like you bought this’ – creates a strong urge to buy,” said Rebecca Lieb, a social- media marketing analyst at Altimeter Group in San Mateo, California. “It’s not Amazon or the toy company saying we think you should buy this. It’s moms to moms.”
For Amazon, attracting buyers is crucial this holiday season. Last week, the company forecast sales for the current period that fell short of analysts’ estimates. Its stock, which is down 27 percent this year, plunged 8.3 percent the day after the report.
Toys are also an important e-commerce category. Amazon increased its inventory to 1,000 toys and games this year, up from several hundred last year, said Eva Lorenz, Amazon’s toys and games category leader. Online sales of toys and hobby supplies in the U.S. will hit $12.1 billion this year, up 15 percent from 2013, according to EMarketer.
Toys, along with video games and books, are also among the few products that holiday shoppers prefer to purchase online as opposed to brick-and-mortar stores, according to a survey of 1,000 people conducted by research firm Market Track in Chicago.
“Parents buying toys are trying to do it on the sly,” said Traci Gregorski, vice president of marketing at Market Track. “They don’t have to touch and feel the product and they want to get it to the house without the kids knowing.”
Amazon started a Facebook page for parents and caregivers in 2010 to promote its site as a convenient shopping destination for parents. To become a member of the Amazon Mom Facebook group, people simply like the page on the social network. Dads can join too and some have, though the page is just called Amazon Mom.
The page then steers people to a free 30-day trial of Amazon Mom membership, which eventually costs $99 a year. The program is the same as Amazon’s $99 Prime fast-shipping program, except it also includes a 20 percent discount on diapers and members earn a $10 Amazon credit for each friend they refer. In exchange, consumers provide information about themselves to the company. Amazon uses the insights for targeted marketing.
Heading into the end-of-year period, Amazon takes the relationship further, offering a rare glimpse into how the company makes product decisions.
For 17 days last month, Amazon posted photos of toys in different categories on Facebook. The company enticed mothers to provide feedback on the items by offering a chance to win a $250 gift card to its online store. Mommy blogging sites like Coupon Clipinista were quick to spread word of the gift-card giveaway, drawing deal-seekers like Silke Schmittou.
Schmittou, who has four children and resides in Magnolia, Kentucky, found herself participating in Amazon’s holiday gift survey last month after hearing about the potential to win a gift card. She scrolled through a list of nine video games, picking her favorites, including Lego Batman 3 for the Xbox 360, which is featured on “Mom Picks 2014.”
“I do my Christmas shopping mainly on Amazon because it’s cheaper and, if needed, so much easier to return,” she said.
Jennifer Duran, a resident of New Fairfield, Connecticut, said she was happy to browse through Amazon’s photo galleries of Lincoln Logs, Barbie dolls and other toys to read reviews and offer her feedback on Facebook last month. She said that helped her shop in peace while her son, Logan, 3, naps, rather than drag him through a store.
“I liked some of them so other moms could also see what other moms are liking and I commented on some, the ones I have had experiences with, because I would want honest feedback and I feel other moms want this and deserve this also,” said Duran, 26.
Amazon also tapped moms on its Facebook page this month to chime in on which electronics would be popular this year, seeking feedback on tablets, watches, speakers and headphones.
Duran said she looked through tablets on the Amazon Mom Facebook page since she wants something durable and affordable for her son. She hasn’t purchased a device yet and said she hopes to win a free one by taking more surveys.
“I won him a LeapPad 2 last year on a mommy blog,” Duran said.