Amazon’s dirty tricks – Best Branding Books

Sick Life for Amazon - sit on their arses and watch where their traffic is coming from.
Sick Life for Amazon – sit on their arses and watch where their traffic is coming from.

You may have noticed on this blog that I have a list of the best branding books. It has been built up over the years by reading the books and deciding which ones are the most relevant based on 22 years of running a branding and design agency and being involved with thousands of different businesses.

Well for some time now, if you put the search term ‘best branding books‘ into Google I have been at number One. This is partly I think because it’s a good list and partly because I have been doing some SEO experimentation on this page to see what can be achieved by using social media, page titling and some neat URL rewriting.

What you may not realise is that if anyone buys any of the books from the list, then I get a small commission from Amazon (normally 5% or so). It amounts to a few quid a month, sometime as high as £20, so not big beer, but a great test bed for me and an interesting experiment.

Well Amazon have had enough of that commission and now forced their own list to the top of the search. It’s not very good either. Produced by a man called Nick Wreden from Atlanta, it’s more a list of general business books.

It MAY be a complete coincidence, but it does seem remarkable that as I have been doing more and more work on the page to get it to the top of the search and Amazon notice all the extra traffic from my domain on one specific search term and they want a piece of my rather measly action. Hmmm.

Picture by and © Ruby Lyle. Thanks Duck.

What Chance do Comet and any other electrical retailer have?

What chance Comet and any other underfunded high street retailer?
What chance Comet and any other underfunded high street retailer?

Sadly, on November 2nd Comet slipped into administration. It was probably inevitable, even though it was only purchased by private equity firm OpCapita last year for £2. I guess they overpaid for the 236 stores.

Maybe i’m an idealist, but I do think these stores have a place in the market and this is where I see it.

1. They are brand showrooms. They price match any price anywhere on the Internet. It means they will lose out on some margin on sales to those who are price sensitive, but reward the ones who make all the effort to search for the best online price (like I do). There is no substitute for seeing the product and pressing the buttons and you just can’t get this from a photo online.

2. They then charge for delivery or installation as no Internet retailers seem to offer this.

So, is this possible?

Amazon seem to be able to match any online price pretty closely and whilst they don’t have 236 stores, they still have lots of warehouse space and staff. My suspicion is that the rent and rates on the stores are simply too high to make these spaces pay. I hope Comet survive. Not because I am a fan per-se, but because I believe in choice. I don’t want to just buy from Amazon and John Lewis, but I do want to be rewarded with a better price for my research and for making the effort to drive out to see them in their store.


I just went down to Comet in Nottingham Castle Marina. The only sign of any change at all is an A4 sheet in the window. It isn’t a bad looking store really and the staff I spoke to were all friendly and helpful. The staff have said that anything can be sold at face value only, no gift cards and no discounts. It did look a little like it had been robbed as there were lots of gaps in the stock (particularly in the upstairs bit!). Expect a fire sale soon.


Interestingly, when they bought the cahain, they said they would focus on low prices What i’m suggesting is just that.

Christmas shopping – Online shopping

I may not be that normal in many respects, but I do often get onto trends quite early and this year, I have shopped for Christmas differently to any other year before – and I think shopping may never be the same again.

I’ve written lots about the perfect economy, price driven shopping and how branding can help build differentiation. I’ve even written about online/offline price matching but this year it all clicked into place and a few online retailers got all my business.

Some examples.

Fifa 11. RRP £52 HMV high street price £39.99. Game High Street Price £39.99. Amazon price £24.91 delivered. Using the Red Laser App on my phone, I actually bought it on my Amazon account on my phone standing in HMV. I hope Red Laser are taking a commission.


Morse the Complete Collection. RRP £199.99 (yeah right!) Morrisons £50. Amazon price £34.97 delivered. Again, bought standing in Morrisons.

And I bought from Boots, Tesco, Dixons and a few others too. All turned up in plenty of time and I saved a small fortune without having to brave the ridiculous queues at the tills in the stores. There must have been 50 people queuing in the unsurprisingly poor performing HMV. They are playing into the hands of online retailers.

Again, I don’t think i’m particularly tight, but I can see no reason at all to pay more for an identical product and the privilige of buying on the high street.

If the high street doesn’t just want to become a gigantic Amazon showroom, it needs to find a way of reflecting the price of the online retailers.

Sports Direct match online to offline, and I’ve shown before that Waterstones and HMV don’t. Which do you think is likely to still be in business by February?

Waterstones v. – I know the difference

I just went out to buy two copies of a book for my wife and her Mum and have learnt a lot about online/offline pricing in my little jaunt around the city.

Firstly there are only two real places you can buy a new book (other than the discount end of line retailers) and that is at Waterstones or WH Smith – who are a retailer of sorts.

Before I went out, I looked on Amazon for  target price. £7.49. Now that sounds like good value to me. £5.50 off list price but none in stock and my customers want this book NOW!

The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body from
The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body from

So it was off to WH Smith, the confused retailer that seems to have ‘buy one get one half price’ on almost everything. Isn’t that what Thresher did before they went bust too? Well, they had the book in stock, but only one of them, so the deal wasn’t that effective. They had a price of £8.44 online. If I had managed to buy the two of them in the store each book would have cost £9.75, so not far off a decent price.

The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body - from
The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best-ever Body - from

And then onto Waterstones. The only decent sized book store in Nottingham. I was greeted by a friendly young man as I entered and asked him where on the four floors I would find this book. He confirmed they had five in stock at the full price of £12.99 on the third floor.

So I asked the kller questions.

Why could I buy the same book from them online for much less?

The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best ever Body from
The Clean and Lean Diet 14 Days to Your Best ever Body from

The answer?

Apparently, and I quote “Because they’re on the Internet, they don’t have the overheads we do.”

Oh, that’s it then, they’re not part of the same group or anything simple, or even based on exactly the same central distribution depot.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago saying that their new logo was a bit silly and pointless, but did give them the get out clause that a new logo can be worthwhile if it marks a change in behaviour.

You judge for yourself whether this traditional retailer is behaving any different now it has an online presence, or if it is still making the same mistakes as Borders and all the other smaller book stores that have folded before them.

If you offer the same price online and offline (like Tesco and Asda and Sainsbury’s and everyone else with any retailing skill does) you may find that people still buy from your stores rather than looking at you as a showroom or a place of last resort.

Why does it cost more to repair things than to replace them?

I am open about the fact that I am a bit of a geeky bloke. I like to repair things. Actually I Like to take things apart and see how they work and as I have got older I have become (slightly) better at getting them back together and working again.

So if something breaks, I always start from the position of seeing if I can repair it. We all know this is a more environmental route don’t we?

But when my almost new Morphy Richards slow cooker crockpot broke (because you can’t use it on the hob to get it going – doh!!), I thought it would be a simple case of buying a new crockpot and that would be that.

So I stumbled around the Morphy Richards site and spares are listed as accessories there. It’s a ceramic pot. They break. Surely they should describe it as a replacement? I did eventually find one at £15.86 with the benefit of free delivery.

Buying spares and accessories from Morphy Richards

Spares 2 Go had one at the bargain price of £42.63

Buying one from Spares 2 Go will cost you twice as much as a new unit

And Buy Spares had one at the rather more attractive price of £15.99, but by the time you added £4.98 shipping, this came to a less attractive £21.97

Getting closer. This part only costs a bit more than a whole new unit

And then we come to Amazon. A new one, from stock with free delivery for £19.99.

Amazon come in with a bargain price of £19.99

How do they do it?

For an extra £4.13 over the cost of the cheapest delivered replacement spare part, I get the whole of the rest of the unit in a shiny box with a new warranty all delivered to home within 3 days. So where is my incentive to repair?

I don’t want to turn this into a rant, but for any brand owner, it has to be a better long term proposition to make us stay with them by incentivising a repair.

I could just have easily gone away and bought another brand and all of the retailers have some stupidly priced products in the run up to the winter months.

If the price of the biggest and most breakable part was around half of the lowest price you could by the whole unit from scratch, there would be no debate, you’d get on and stick with it. But when it is virtually the same price, however well intentioned your repair/environmental principles, you’d be silly not to take a new one.

The end of an era – another structural change quietly changes our buying behaviour

The end of an era as my Filofax is replaced by a Moleskine diary
The end of an era as my Filofax is replaced by a Moleskine diary

It’s a bit of momentous day for me today as I have just been out and bought a Moleskine diary. This probably isn’t that momentous for most people, but it is an indication for me of a structural change in the way I work.

I bought a Filofax years ago – when I was still at college in fact – and have kept all of my diaries dating back over 20 years. I’ve seen off a few covers, but the format of the inners have remained broadly the same.

Over this 20 year period, I have now switched almost completely to a shared online diary – as most of us who work in groups have done too. Google Calendar is our calendar of choice and it works brilliantly. It allows others in the team to make appointments for me and then invite me along. When I get those invites, I add them to my Filofax diary, so the two should correspond perfectly.

But they never do.

Because I never carry my Filofax anymore.

It’s not that it has become any chunkier, it’s just that I now only carry a laptop bag with me 90% of the time, and this doesn’t have room in it for a big chunky Filofax. It does however have room for my new best friend the Moleskine notebook.

On my trip the US recently, I carried it everywhere and it is full of little notes and reminders of that trip as wel as ideas and notes for blog posts. It has quickly become a very treasured little possession. I liked it so much, that I have been out and bought the matching Moleskine diary. Week to view, with a detachable address book section in the back. On Amazon at a bit under £8.00. You too can be a bit like Hemingway yourself, by buying some of his heritage here.

I completely understand that this isn’t significant in any way to most people, but to me it shows that they way I buy and the way I behave is now different.

Filofax have changed and are doing lots of cool things with Twitter, Facebook and limited edition books, but they can’t really influence the size of the bag we carry and this alone has changed my behaviour.

I look at the branding work we do at Purple Circle. Yes it’s still branding. But it isn’t branding like we were doing 20 years ago. I’m looking at our own industry and wondering where the next structural change is going to come from. I suggest you do the same.

Brave, very brave – Dixons gets honest

The new and rather honest ads by Dixons
The new and rather honest ads by Dixons

This is some very brave advertising by Dixons and you can see the copywriter has had great fun in constructing it. Its beautifully written, there’s no doubt about that, but is it good for the long term health of the Dixons brand?

For me, ever since Dixons profits showed that they made more money selling warranties that we didn’t need than they did from the products themselves, they showed their true colours as sales charlatans. Their brad values were short term opportunistic profits. They became the brand that people loved to hate. John Lewis, with their sensible people offering sensible prices in sensible locations became the choice of sensible people and they filed that void left behind by the Dixons customers who deserted them. They became a better than viable alternative.

But just recently, I’ve started falling out of love with John Lewis. I don’t believe their people are that nice. I don’t actually believe they are never knowingly undersold as I can always find cheaper (they don’t want or allow you to compare their prices with online prices you see!) and I began to doubt the value of their brand promise when I (over)heard people being knocked back when they were trying to return things a few days out of warranty.

So after I’ve walked through the hallowed halls of John Lewis, played with their docking stations, left funny messages on the screens of their laptops, logged them into things they shouldn’t be and and had their sensible staff come along and offer to help me, will I go to Dixons last?

No. Actually I won’t. I’ll go home and buy it online from Amazon, or another online retailer where I know where I stand, I know where and when it will be delivered and where I know that, at the moment at least, I’m a valued customer.

Good try Dixons, but I still think you’re too shady to get my custom in the near future. Keep this up though and I’ll certainly come back into store to look.


Another brilliant written and crafted ad from Dixons. I’m starting to think they actually deserve some success in what they are doing as they have captured most of our thoughts and more importantly, our actions, pretty damn well.

Another brave ad from Dixons capturing the spirit of what we're actually doing!