When Shoppers Won’t Buy: The Importance of Meeting Expectations.

It’s Christmas 1992. I’m really excited. So excited I’m dancing on air. I’m going to get a Super Nintendo.

6 months earlier I told my dad I wanted a Super Nintendo for Christmas. I knew what I wanted and I was direct. My dad chuckled and gave me a sly grin.“okay” he said.

I wasn’t sure if I’d get it but I hoped that I would. About a month later Dad started dropping hints. Then I noticed both my Dad and my Aunt were dropping hints. As Christmas drew closer the hints became more obvious. “We think you’re gonna like your Christmas present” they said with a wink in their eye or “its gonna be big”.

Sweet sassy molassy! I was getting the video game console of my dreams! Man was I keyed up.

So it’s Christmas morning. The box is huge, the proportions look right. “I wonder if they got me a couple of games to go along with it”.

I opened all of my smaller presents first. “Gotta get the opening acts out of the way” I thought. “No way are socks gonna be able to beat an SNES!”.

Finally. The moment of truth. My heart was beating fast. I slowly started to open “the box”. I carefully peeled off the wrapping paper, making sure that the box would remain intact.

And then I saw it.

Hooked on Math.

It wasn’t my beloved Super Nintendo. It wasn’t even a Game Boy (which would still have been an A for effort). It was Hooked on Math. Hooked on Math! I started bawling. “Of all the things to buy why would you buy that?!” I wailed. I sat on the floor and I cried. I cried all day and all next week.

I was devastated.

I was angry with my dad for a long time. It felt like he lied to me. Now your target audience probably won’t feel the same levels of betrayal, anger, and frustration that a jilted kid on Christmas feels. But don’t let that fool you. It’s still really important to pay attention to the expectations of your target audience. This encompasses their expectations, interests, needs, wants, fears – all of it. This is where Amazon comes in. Amazon is one of the best places to learn about what matters to your target audience. Amazon offers a few simple tools to do just that.

What Can Amazon’s Lists Possibly Tell Me that I Don’t Already Know?

While it’s not immediately obvious, the lists that Amazon provides offer a whole lot of information on what people are looking for. What they want, why they want it, why they continue to buy and more. Let’s dive right in to the lists.

Best Sellers:

This category lists the best Sellers and the length of time these products have been in the top 100.

Why it’s awesome:
Best seller lists identify the products that have staying power. Once you figure out which products have that power, you can do some digging (via reviews) to find out why. Then you can create products and services with the same super powers. You can stick with the general overview, or if you’re like me and you need details, you can drill down to specific categories and subcategories.

Almost 5 Years in the Top 100. Now That’s Staying Power.

Past Best Sellers:

This tab is only available in the books category.

Why it’s awesome:
It’s useful because it shows shifts in thinking and an increase or decrease in interests (which, wouldn’t you know it, affects every other category).

In certain circumstances, the “past best sellers” category is a helpful forecasting tool. If there’s a lot of attention in a particular subject or category, it’s unlikely that interest will shrivel up overnight.

Amazon Past Best Sellers

Does the Past Predict the Future? It Depends.

You can also compare past Best Sellers with current bestsellers to see which trends are recurring and which ones are not.

Top Rated:

Amazon says it best: “the best items on Amazon, based on customer reviews”.

Why it’s awesome:
Customer reviews are wonderful. Positive reviews are great because they usually answer the question “What’s so great about this?” Positive reviews explain why a particular product is a bestseller. The more positive reviews a product gets, the more attention Amazon gives.

Negative or lackluster reviews on the other hand help you uncover problems that sellers may have missed. The product may be missing a particular feature, selling to the wrong audience, failing to meet expectations, or doing something else wrong. Reviews are a wonderful way to find that out. Reviewers are good about giving in-depth information. They’re also open about sharing their thoughts, feelings, and expectations. Used wisely, this information puts you in a position to make something better.

Negative Product Reviews on Amazon.com

Customers are confused here. Making policies clear means this won’t be an issue in the future.

Hot New Releases:

Lists the hot new products that are making waves on Amazon.

Why it’s awesome:
We’ve noticed a few things with hot new releases. The products in this category tend to fit into at least one of these categories (a.) They have a following (b.) They’re trending or seasonal in nature (c.) They have third-party or independent validation (e.g., great reviews, New York Times bestsellers, word-of-mouth, etc).

Amazon Hot New Releases

Trends and Cults. How Hot New Releases are Made.

Head to Google Insights for Search and Google Correlate and work on identifying trends. Once you understand why a product is “hot”, you can figure out what to do about it – assuming that it’s relevant to your business or industry, of course.

Movers & Shakers:

The biggest gainers in Amazon sales ranked over the past 24 hours.

Why it’s awesome:
Movers and shakers are typically a good indication that something is going on. It could be a marketing push or a youtube comment with lots of “thumbs up”. It could be a popular status update, Tweet, Stumble, Reddit, or Digg. The point is, there’s a reason for the spike. If it’s relevant to you, it’s a good idea to find out why.

Gift Ideas:

Amazon’s most popular products explicitly ordered as gifts.

Why it’s awesome:
This is useful when you compare this list with products in the “Most wished for” category. Are people getting products they want? Can you create a product that supplements some thing else or fills a need that was missed?

Most Wished For:

Like the name suggests, this category points to products that customers add to their wish lists.

Why it’s awesome:
what’s interesting about this list is that the products listed aren’t always the latest and greatest. Often there’s a renewed interest in products I call “oldies but goodies” (see the screenshot below). Look for renewed interest in retro or previously popular products. Once you have that data head to Google’s Keyword Tool, Insights for Search, and Correlate to get a better understanding of what’s behind the renewed interest in this products.

Amazon Most Wished For

Mmmm, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Oldie but a Goodie.

Okay, so what do I do with this information?
The short answer: you find what works, improve your products, fix a problem, and sell more stuff.

How Do I Use This Info to Sell More Stuff?

You can use these lists in a number of different ways. Here’s a few examples.

Sell products and services.

Let’s pretend you’re a management consultant. You notice that there is a growing demand for time management products. You also notice a lot of books talk about How to manage your time properly but not many that explain why you’re not managing it properly. You could take advantage of the gap in information and:

  1. Create new content that answers the “why” question, explaining why it matters.
  2. Publish your blog on the Amazon kindle store.
  3. Self publish an e-book, sell it on Amazon.
  4. Offer additional free resources at the end of your book, leading people to more content they can download and subscribe to.

You’ve essentially created a system that keeps your pipeline full of prospects. No dialing for dollars or knocking on doors required. Introduce the people that devour your free content on time management to the other services you offer in your consulting practice. Those that become clients are introduced to services that are a good fit.

Improve your product or service.

Monitor competitor products. What are people saying? Do you have some of the same problems as a competitor? If both of your products fall apart in the same way it’s time to make some changes. If you see that reviewers keep bringing up a particular problem or issue it’s an opportunity. Capitalize on it with some kind of risk reversal e.g. guarantee, warranty, buy back, etc. Apply the same principles if the negative reviews are about your products (it’s really tough I know).

Fix your product or service.

Find a competing product (or book) that’s relevant to what you do. The more relevant the better. Make sure the product you’re looking at has reviews. Start with one star reviews and work your way up from there. What are customers’ experience with this product? Are these one-off problems or do multiple reviewers seem to bring up the same few problems?

It’s easy to write a reviewer off as a troll if their review is abusive, overly critical, or harsh. Ignore any vitriol and scan their review for helpful nuggets. One-off problems can be helpful, but you’re looking for trends in reviewer comments. Does the product fall apart after 90 days? Is the manual missing? Does the book focus on inspiration and not enough how to? Does the seller use bait-and-switch tactics? Remember, events may be newsworthy, but trends tell the story.

Create a new product or service.

Here’s a common theme I see pretty often.

  1. Shoppers buy a product.
  2. Product fails to meet expectations.
  3. Shoppers post negative/lackluster review.

So either sellers are targeting the wrong people, the product failed to deliver (for whatever reason), or both.

This problem is pretty common with books, movies, and music. It’s not as easy to find in other categories, but it’s there. Look for products with a good amount of 4 and 5 star reviews that also have an unusually high amount of 1 to 3 star reviews. Oh almost forgot an important side note: If it’s political or religious in nature, all bets are off.

Find a need that’s not being met.

When you’re reading reviews about unmet expectations, you’ll usually get an explanation of what shoppers expected or wanted. Post a reply if you’re unclear about what Mrs. Shopper actually wants. If they respond you’ll have the opportunity to get clarification and feedback if you’ve got an idea.

Take what you’ve learned from Mrs. Shopper and use it as the starting point for your product research. Google’s keyword tool and Insights for Search are great places to start.

Learn from someone else’s mistake.

I did some browsing in the bargain best sellers category and I found Kevin Trudeau’s book “Free Money “They” Don’t Want You to Know About”. Curious, I clicked through and decided to read some reviews.

Learn from Other People's Mistake

1 & 2 Star Reviews Galore!

Yikes! An average of 2 stars. Trends in the reviews point to one thing: People had expectations that weren’t being met. Naturally, they were pissed.

The obvious lesson here is – bait and switch doesn’t work. What’s not so obvious is whether there’s useful information in the book or not. Most reviewers felt the information was common knowledge. Here’s one reviewer’s comment:

“Everybody already knows about the Pell Grant and everybody knows about buying foreclosure houses for next to nothing, fixing them up and then selling them for a profit. Everybody knows about eBay and everybody knows about craigslist.”

I’d expect 2 star reviews to mean the end of book sales. But that’s not the case for Kevin. His book is clawing to the top of the bargain bin ($10.19 isn’t really a great deal). This may seem like a good thing but in the end it’s not. Failing to fix the catalyst for all of those negative reviews just perpetuates the problem. Since he’s probably going to earn more negative reviews, a top 100 rank in Amazon is probably not the best thing for him right now.

Why Do Some Products Stay on the Best Seller List?

The unsatisfying answer is – it depends.

It depends on a whole list of factors. Here’s an example. The New York Times and other news outlets began to publish a few success stories on authors who had self-published their books and made it big. These articles talked about how self-publishing had changed for the better, and how it no longer held the stigma it used to.

Once that happened the floodgates opened. Books on how to “make it” as a self published author began popping up on Amazon. The irony is that most of these books were self published themselves.

Outside factors that impact the Best Sellers List:

  • Marketing
  • Current events
  • Trending/controversial topics
  • Common/timeless problems.

What Works for Those “Best Sellers” Won’t Work for Me.

We haven’t tested these methods with every business and every industry so it’s possible they won’t work for you. But, we think you should give it a shot if it makes sense.

That said, that’s not the point. The principles remain the same regardless of whether this particular method will help you bring home more bacon.

Push Button Receive Bacon

Push Button, Bring Home Bacon.

Find problems your target audience has and solve them. Solve the basic ones for free. Work to give and support others. It may seem like a lot of touchy-feely nonsense at first but that’s how people work. We crave relationships. Solving your target audience’s basic problem for free gives you a chance to establish that relationship. The worst thing you can do is hide your expertise and talents.

Yeah Well, I’m not Already Famous So This Isn’t Going to Work.

It’s totally our opinion here, but we feel that being famous makes this harder. Would you take investment advice from Dwayne Johnson? What about business advice from Lindsay Lohan? Doesn’t sound right does it?

What about body building advice from Vin Diesel? Ding Ding! Or investing advice from Warren Buffett? Ah! Now that makes sense.

Being famous makes things harder because you’re pigeonholed in people’s minds. The world tends to roll its eyes when a musician wants to become an actor or launch a clothing line. There’s nothing wrong with that so why do some of us give them guff about it? Because we’ve put them into a box in our heads and we’ve thrown away the key. If you’re not already famous, you can choose. You can work towards the future you want without prying eyes and (less) judgement. Your anonymity gives you freedom and speed. You can make snap decisions. You have less responsibility so you can pursue new goals and ambitions without worrying about how they’ll be received. Anonymity is a gift if you use it well.

Failing to meet customer expectations isn’t as bad as failing to meet your kid’s expectations on Christmas morning but it’s still stinks. With free tools like Amazon’s best seller lists, there’s no reason why you should be in the dark about what customers care about or expect from you.

What about you? What do your customers expect from you? Is your product or service in line with their expectations? Do you think Amazon’s tools can help your business? Share your thoughts or post a rant below.

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