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Amazon’s Ryder: Riding Herd Over New Technologies Online And Off

It’s been over a year since Paul Ryder joined from GE Appliances as consumer electronics and wireless VP, but given the breakneck pace at the world’s largest online-only store, he’s had little time to look back.

“ operates at a very rapid pace and CE is a rapidly changing category,” he recently told TWICE.

“I love CE,” he continued. “I’m a gadget guy. It’s a very exciting, dynamic category. But it’s also challenging to manage because of all the newness, unlike other categories that hardly change at all.”

Another challenge for Amazon merchants is riding herd over a virtually limitless assortment. “We have a very broad selection,” he understated. “Because we’re not limited by shelf space, we can continue with a category to the very end, and always carry at least one SKU. We’re expected to carry the latest and greatest, but we also offer very unique products or accessories that you can’t find elsewhere because they turn too slowly.”

To help move all of that virtual inventory, Amazon continuously upgrades its site to provide its 69 million customers with “the best information possible” on the products it sells, Ryder said. “Consumers are much more price conscious and savvy,” and can enlist a growing roster of high-tech shopping tools to make informed purchasing decisions, as demonstrated during a “walk-through” of Amazon’s Electronics Store.

The first thing a visitor notices is the new tab-free page design, which presents a cleaner, fresher look and feel for the Amazon gateway. Next, products are presented along with customer-submitted images on the left, alternate retail choices on the right and vendor-supplied demo videos below.

Scrolling down, shoppers are next presented with a link to Amazon’s “click to call” product specialist hotline, which recently expanded from TV support to include audio, GPS devices and MP3 players.

Amazon also offers suggested accessories that complement the product, examples of add-ons that other customers purchased and a ranking of items that other page viewers ultimately purchased. This is followed by a detailed product description, and a section for customer reviews both written and videotaped.

The CE department also features 20 branded “stores,” including AT&T, Apple, Belkin, Garmin, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Sony, Verizon and Zune, which serve as “our version of an end-cap display,” Ryder said.

More recent additions include a DRM-free music store; a daily blog; beta tests of a customer discussion board and Armapedia, a kind of Wikipedia for customers’ most-beloved products; and product news and reviews culled from industry publications and Web sites.

Amazon has also launched a new feature called Askville, which invites questions from anyone on any topic, and for the second year in a row invited holiday shoppers to vote on which of a series of deeply discounted products would be offered as seasonal promotions.

“We’re doing different things all the time,” Ryder said, “anything we can to help our customers.”