Since the launch of Amazon in Australia in December last year, there has been much hype about how the launch would impact Australian businesses and consumer behaviour. Just on 61-bit alone, three articles were written about Amazon and its potential impact (you can read more here, here and here).
We decided to engage in an expert opinion on this topic (especially about the startup ecosystem) and had the good fortune of meeting with Mark Baartse, Chief Marketing Officer of Showpo while attending a talk at Academy Xi. Interestingly, the talk entitled “Amazon and it impacts on the Australian Business Ecosystem” (which featured panel, including Mark), touched on several key ideas about the arrival of Amazon on Australian shores.
Having been in the digital scene for over 20 years, Mark has worked with many top global and local brands, including Woolworths Group, Officeworks, Dymocks, Catch of the Day, Microsoft, Allianz, and Vodafone. Since building his first website in 1993, Mark has come a long way, playing many different roles as a marketing manager, project manager, programmer, information architect, usability consultant, and copywriter. His credits include being an official judge of the 22nd AMY Awards and conducting a Digital Marketing course at Zambesi.
Here were some questions we probed Mark with:
You have built an illustrious career as a leading expert in digital marketing and e-commerce. How did you build your journey, from developing your first website in 1993, to being a consultant / subject-matter-expert in this field?
It took a lot of twists and turns. I think that was important – back then when no one knew what they were doing you’d put your hand up and say “I know how to do this!” and since no one else did, you had the job. I did that a lot. It gave me the opportunity to work in different fields and get a wide range of experience. You really need to balance between being a specialist who can execute really well and a generalist who can see the big picture, and I’ve been fortunate to do a bit of both. I also am constantly learning, and I can’t understate the importance of that to succeed in the digital space. You can’t rest on your laurels.
In your opinion, what has been the most important ingredient in Amazon’s strategy in supporting startup businesses in the US?
Their reach and ability to execute the logistics. If you have a product you want to get out to a large audience and don’t have the logistics infrastructure, Amazon can be a good channel. Lots of people have made lots of money selling on Amazon. However, their fees are pretty steep, so you need to have the margins to support that. And given Amazon does well on comparing prices, that can be a challenge. Uniqueness and brand identity helps.
Having been in the digital e-commerce scene for many years, what is your own take on how Amazon could potentially influence startup businesses in Australia?
Their play will be very similar to the USA, although it remains to be seen whether they have the reach. However, FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) is a good logistics offering in the USA for startups, and may also be in Australia, let’s see. That could help startups with physical goods get running quickly.
There have been a few negative perceptions amongst local businesses here since the announcement of the arrival of Amazon in Australia. Has it been an all-negative influence, or do you see a positive side of Amazon’s presence?
Amazon has forced the traditionally complacent Australian e-commerce businesses to up their game. It’s not ok to be “good enough” anymore. This is a great thing for consumers, and for any progressive e-commerce business. I have no doubt we’ll see casualties. Amazon in the USA is getting into a near monopoly position, and that’s not good for business. I hope we don’t get there in Australia.
What advice can you give to small Australian startups who would like to leverage on Amazon to build and grow their businesses?
AWS is already well known to the startup community and provides an excellent, cost-effective tech infrastructure to build and grow quickly. FBA may be a great way to scale logistics – let’s see when they launch!
What about startup founders who aren’t very tech-savvy? Do you have any advice to offer to them?
Partner with someone who is! The problem with the tech space is there are a million “experts”, many of whom will lead you up the garden path. You need to have someone to guide you.
Any last words of wisdom you’d like to add?
Be careful with any partner. We’ve seen what happens with companies who built a huge presence on Facebook only to be told they need to pay for it. The saying “don’t build your house on rented ground” rings true. While there’s a lot of money to be made, ultimately owning the customer will give you more long-term options and certainty.
A perspective from one of the biggest online retailers in Australia, this is some liquid gold advice.
We will be keeping a keen eye on how the Australian startup ecosystem will evolve with Amazon.
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