Overcoming the Multi-Person Identity Challenge
20 January, 2021
Multi-person identity is a new and intriguing phenomenon that has recently emerged and remains a challenge for many companies. To better illustrate this phenomenon, let me resort to an example. In most cases, people would share their Netflix or Amazon account with others in their household, a significant other, a close friend, roommates, etc. Therefore, multiple people would use the same login and password. Most of the subscription-based services that recently spanned are encountering this problem.
The ongoing debate is highly polarized and centers around whether this is good or bad for business. Some are resolute that this is a bad practice because companies are effectively losing revenue -- instead of charging three people, they are charging only one. On the other hand, others claim that this is a good growth opportunity as a primary subscriber serves as an ambassador who promotes and introduces other people to a company's services.
At Amazon, we were too riddled by this dilemma.
The first thing I did was to step out from the vantage point of judgment and observe this phenomenon as any other human behavior. I would reflect on my own situation, asking myself, do we as a family do this. My team also dug into extensive research, and the preliminary findings led us to conclude that it is quite common for people to share their access to services with people they trust and care about.
Family members share their physical assets and finances, even have the same bank account, and list each other as trusted account users on their credit cards. Why should a family buy two same books? We drew upon that analogy to better understand our customers' behavior.
We didn't want to disrupt patterns of behaviors that our customers deem as natural. When it makes sense for people to share some things, they will do so. We shouldn't change that, and even if we tried, it wouldn't work. Instead, we could address some issues stemming from sharing the same logging and password. For example, if my partner and I share the same account, how we could buy gifts for each other without the other person knowing about it or buy something for personal care that we are not comfortable sharing with someone else. To address some of these issues, we would have to understand who is behind the screen at any given time so that we can intelligently separate their experience without causing any inconvenience. Therefore, we introduced various products, nuanced family-focused shopping experiences, and user profiles similar to those on other platforms that would make sharing more convenient and provide our customers with the same level of personal experience. For example, with Amazon Household, the whole family can enjoy the benefits of a single Amazon Prime subscription.
- This phenomenon existed for hundreds or thousands of years and will outlive many platforms and apps of today. To understand it, you have to put aside business objectives and priorities and focus on the customer and their needs.
- Initially, it is hard for the business to accept how strong this phenomenon is and to enumerate potential incremental revenue that the right product can generate. The team had to establish an entirely new econometric approach to evaluating the revenue opportunities of a multi-person shopping experience.
- The basic principles of a product-market fit apply even in more complex use cases. If you make the customer experience simple, intuitive, and closely mimicking the existing people's behavior, customers will come more often and shop more. It is likely that if a person shares their account, the number of people shopping and the number of people the primary account owner shops for also increases.
- There is no one recipe the works for all platforms and apps. For example, Facebook is very individualized, while all members of a household use Netflix.
- You should accept rather than fight reality. One of the strongest arguments we presented to our executives was that this is what we are doing at home -- we are sharing our accounts with our significant others, family members, etc. On Amazon, people would buy for their partners, children, or even pets. And by now -- everything is being built for one person being behind the screen -- from your email to phone apps --, and we need to recognize that there are deeper human relationships that we should cater for.
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