Posts from Amazon

Feature Friday: The Checkout Form

One of the most aggravating things about commerce online and on mobile is the inconsistent checkout experience site to site and app to app. It's one of the many things that keeps me shopping at Amazon and clicking on the PayPal button when its available. That and stored payment credentials.

Last week I saw something that makes me think we may be heading in the right direction. Stripe, the fast growing payments company, introduced Stripe Checkout. Now, if you choose to use it, Stripe will give you a standard checkout form for both web and mobile. It's a few lines of code in your app and Stripe takes care of the rest. It is optimized for the user experience and for the device. And they plan to keep optimizing it so that developers who use it will see better and better conversion rates.

But this is also great for the buyer. Now when I see this button below, I know I am going to pay with Stripe and I know what I am in for in terms of user experience.

Stripe button

It's like the good housekeeping seal of approval. I know I am going to get a simple and easy checkout flow.

The next thing I'd like to see from Stripe is stored payment credentials. Then they would enter the land of Amazon and PayPal for me for sure.


Disaster and the Cloud

About a dozen years ago, the Gotham Gal and I purchased a townhouse in Greenwich Village and did a gut renovation on it. Down in the basement, we built a large data room. There were racks and racks of equipment in this room. There was a home audio system with mp3 servers. There were network attached storage devices for family photos and videos. There was even an exchange server that I had taken from the offices of Flatiron Partners which ran our mail and related systems. It was an impressive room that would raise oohs and aahs from geeks who like that sort of thing. When we sold that house in 2007, we decided to decommission all of that equipment and put everything into the cloud.

The home audio system became Sonos units connected to Rhapsody,, and a number of other cloud based music systems that were available at the time. The family photos and videos went into cloud based file storage systems. The exchange server was scrapped and we all got onto Google Apps.

I thought of that room when we went back to visit our building on Tuesday in the aftermath of the storm. Our basement was filled with the Hudson River and I shivered to think about that townhouse data room filled with water to the ceiling. Of course that never happened. But what if it did?

We do have a data room in the basement of our building which was filled to the ceiling with water this week. But that data room mostly has network switches, routers, cable and DSL modems, and patch panels in it. We have redundant data networks in our home. When we get our basement cleaned up and dry, we will pull all of these switches, routers, amd modems out and replace them with new ones. And we will be back up and running. Because all of our systems are now up in the cloud. And I know they are operating fine. Because all week while we have been displaced from our home, I have been accessing all of them from our friend's home.

But it goes even deeper than that. For the next couple months, the Gotham Gal and I and our son will be living somewhere else. I have a home office that for over twenty years has had a windows desktop machine running Quicken on it. I am a bit obsessive about keeping good financial records and files. I thought briefly this week, "how am I going to manage all this stuff while we are displaced?" But then I remembered that we moved everything to Quickbooks Online a while back and I can make any place my home office because my data is in the cloud now.

And this applies to our portfolio companies as well. One of the companies I work with went down this week because their primary data center was flooded and has not come back online yet. Their engineering team worked pretty much around the clock to move their primary application to Amazon's cloud so they could get back up and running. As the CEO and I were emailing about this disaster, I mentioned that one good outcome of all of this is that our application is now redundant. We can run it in a data center and/or the cloud. Which of course is a good thing.

Whether it is a company or a family, moving your applications and your data to the cloud is a great disaster preparation effort. Most companies deal with disaster planning and redundancy when they "grow up". But many families do not. This week was an eye opening experience for me about the value of putting your applications and data in the cloud. We did that a while back and it has made being flooded and displaced a lot easier. I cringe to think about what would happen if we had replicated that big data room in the basement of our building. Thankfully we did not.


A Changing Tablet Market?

I saw this in a story I was reading this morning about mobile reading habits:

A year ago, the iPad accounted for 81% of tablets in circulation. That has fallen to 52%, with Android-based tablets grabbing a 48% share of the market. Amazon’s Kindle Fire accounts for far and away the largest slice of those: half of the Android tablets in use are Kindle Fires, and they represent 21% of the overall tablet market.

If that's true, that is a big deal. Our family has moved from iPads to Nexus 7s in our home but I didn't think the rest of the world had moved to Android tablets too.

I am curious if others are surprised by this. I honestly had no idea that Android had made such a big move in tablets. I realize Kindle Fire is hardly Android. More like a third tablet OS. So it's really like iPad 52%, Android 27%, Kindle Fire 21%. But even so, this is a big deal and I am surprised.


Android Fragmentation

Android is fragmented and geting more so. This is a challenge for those that develop on it for sure and has been often cited as a big negative for the Android ecosystem. But it also a big plus.

I have a Kindle Fire on my bedstand. I use it primarily to read on in bed having moved to a Nexus 7 as my primary tablet device. The Kindle Fire uses Android as its OS and then puts a Kindle shell on top which makes it look and feel like something other than an Android. But almost every app that I have on my Nexus 7 is also on my Kindle Fire. The reality is that if you build for Android, you are also building for Kindle Fire.

When Amazon launches a phone, it would be my expectation that the experience will be a lot like Kindle Fire. Meaning it will be running Android with a Amazon designed shell on top.

And then there is Facebook. I have to believe that Facebook will build a phone in the same way. Start with Android and then put its own wrapper and apps on top. If that happens, I would imagine I would be able to run all my favorite Android apps on the Facebook phone.

So imagine a world in which three of the top four consumer tech companies have phones running Android. Does that sound like a fragmented world for Android? Yes. Does that sound like a recipe for having a massive number of Android devices out there to build to? Yes.

In my view, we are in a two OS world for mobile and I think we are going to stay there. I think Apple will own the high end with the best and most integrated experience. And I think Android and its many variants will own the rest of the market. I think everyone else is playing for crumbs in terms of market share and would be better off joining the Android variant parade.

What does this mean for developers? It means build for iOS and Android and ignore everything else. And I think it increasingly means you have to be on both iOS and Android as soon as you can. I have advocated for building for Android first and iOS second. I think that strategy will start making more and more sense for apps that aren't looking to be paid.

Fragmentation cuts both ways. It's bad and it's good. Long term, I think it is a big plus for Android.


kindle fire

When Amazon opened up pre-orders for the kindle fire, I bought one immediately. I received mine on Tuesday and I've been playing with it for a few days. So I thought I'd post a few thoughts.

A lot of what you think of kindle fire will depend on what your use case is. If you are looking for a less expensive iPad, then this is not for you. But if you, like me, are looking for a kindle with a browser on it, this could well be the device for you.

My biggest frustration with the kindle is that I can't jump out of the book and do a quick map lookup, wikiepedia lookup, google images lookup, etc. I blogged about that a few months ago. I've solved that problem by moving all my reading from the kindle to the kindle app on the iPad. But the 11" form factor of the iPad isn't ideal for me. I like something a bit smaller for reading on the couch, plane, or in bed. So that is why I hit the pre-order button immediately when Amazon announced kindle fire.

A number of critics have said that kindle fire is slow. I have not experienced that very much. It seems plenty snappy for me. Again, I'm mostly using it for reading and light browsing. I am not doing email on it. I am not doing spreadsheets on it. Graphics rich applications like Google Maps do seem to be slower on the kindle fire though.

So with all that said, here's a quick tour. The main screen is what you'd expect. Navigation and apps.

Kindle fire main screen

Just a word to the wise. Those Twitter and Facebook apps are web apps, not android apps or kindle fire apps. One of the things I don't understand is why the kindle fire doesn't run android apps natively. I think that's a huge mistake on Amazon's part. The Netflix app is a native kindle fire app.

The best part of this device is the kindle functionality. This is a kindle with an OS and a modern browser. Here's the book library and the book reader.

Kinde fire book library

Kindle fire book reader

As a book reading device, kindle fire works great. It is heavier than a kindle, about the same weight (I think) as an iPad. But because it is a smaller device and the same weight, it feels heavier in the hand. That said, I do not have any issue reading on the kindle fire for long lengths of time (same with iPad).

The browser great for reading. Here's the Gotham Gal's blog on the kindle fire.

Kindle fire browser

I do have a few issues with the way Google Maps works on the Kindle Fire browser. It seems less functional and a bit slower.

In addition to books and web, the kindle fire has tabs for newstand, music, video, docs, and apps. The only tabs that interest me on that list are apps and videos. I use the web to access everything else on that list (and much of the video I watch is also on the web). I used kindle fire to watch a youtube video in full screen mode on the treadmill this morning and it worked great (with headphones on).

The app store looks like this. It is pretty sparse right now from what I saw.

Kinde fire app store

Amazon Prime Instant Video is a pretty awesome service. We use it a lot in our home on our mac mini (sure wish it was available on Boxee). Here's what that service looks like on the kindle fire.

Kindle fire video store

So that's a quick tour of the kindle fire. I think it will replace the iPad next to my bed as my primary reading device. It's smaller and fits better in the hand. And while it is not much lighter, it still feels like a better reading device. The browser works fine. I can jump back and forth between reading and browsing easily.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the family reacts to it. I will put it on our family room coffee table for a few days next to the iPad and see what the rest of the family thinks. If I learn anything interesting, I will report back.

Bottom line – if you are in the market for a kindle or a new kindle, consider this. If you are looking for a less expensive tablet, this is not a good choice, at least yet. I think the android tablets are a better choice for that.

Additional reviews:

Mossberg on Kindle Fire

Pogue on Kindle Fire


Affiliate Marketing Undervalues The Link

Two days I posted about Gretchen Rubin's new book, The Happiness Project. When I linked to the book in the original post (and here too), I included an amazon affiliate code.

And here is the data two days later:

Happiness project

So, in two days, that blog post generated 535 views of the Amazon page and 40 purchases. The affiliate fees associated with those 40 purchases add up to $6.50.

But those 535 views are pretty valuable. Those 535 clicks translated into a total of 118 orders in the past two days, including a Kindle. The total affiliate fees associated with those 535 clicks were $25.20.

But even including all the commerce that was generated from that link, that $25.20 is a cost per click of roughly 5 cents. I think that's low for a bunch of reasons.

First, let's take the 535 views of Gretchen's book. Yes, only 40 of them actually bought it right then and there. But surely more of them will convert over time into buyers. Maybe when they see Gretchen on TV. Maybe when they get hooked on her blog. Maybe when they see the book on Amazon's bestseller list.

And of course, the same is true of all the other things those 535 visitors/visits saw and did on Amazon.

comScore once did a panel-based survey of people who saw a banner ad. Very few of them actually clicked on the banner ad and transacted. But many who saw the banner ad eventually searched on the item they initially saw in the banner and transacted later. comScore has also observed that many products that are initially found and/or researched online end up being purchased offline. I wish I could find both pieces of comScore research. If I can find them, I'll come back and link to both (got one of them now).

The point is that my blog post drove a lot of value to Amazon that is not totally captured by the 40 purchases of Gretchen's book or even the 118 transactions that were done by those visitors in the past two days. The value of that link, in my opinion, is significantly greater than $25.20 and as a result bloggers and other users of affiliate services are getting under compensated for the value they are providing.

UPDATE: Gian Fulgoni, co-founder and Chairman of comScore left a great comment which you can see if you click on the comment link and scroll down to the end. Here is part of it where he shares links to the research I cited above:

Fred, you're correct that past comScore research has shown that search and display ads cause latent buying and offline buying that are not reflected in the click:

Essentially, it all comes back to the fact that the click does not reflect the "view thru" impact of ads (i.e. the impact of ads that are not clicked) — and that even clicks don't accurately measure all the latent buying that occurs (because of cookie deletion).