Former Tesco CMO Tim Mason: I can't say for sure Amazon will still be around in 20 years

Despite Amazon's staggering growth and innovative track record, the tech giant has weak spots that could cause it serious problems in years to come, according to former Tesco veteran Tim Mason.

Tim Mason: worked at Tesco from 1982 to 2012
Tim Mason: worked at Tesco from 1982 to 2012

Mason, the former Tesco marketer who rose to be the retailer's deputy chief executive and boss of its US business, said from where we are now, Amazon’s ascendancy seems unstoppable: "Because we’re part of that moment, we don’t see through it.

"I think Amazon has been absolutely brilliant at saying there’s a new way of doing things, and we don’t need to make any money, but I absolutely do not believe that a business that can go from nothing to that size in one man’s career will necessarily be around in 20 or 40 years time."

Asked if he was really suggesting Amazon could disappear in that timeframe, he added it was unlikely – but agreed it could fall from being the future of retail to something that used to be the future.

"It’s a huge amalgam of things that really come together in sustained winners," Mason said. "I think Amazon is far too young a business to judge whether it has that. If they’d spent as much effort on personalisation and customer experience as they’d spent on price optimisation, they’d be a very different business."

Mason offered a comparison from outside the business world to illustrate how Amazon’s star could plausibly fall.

"If we were from the 16th or 17th century, we would be flabbergasted at what’s happened to the Catholic church," he said. "They were Amazon, Walmart, Tesco rolled into one – and it doesn’t last forever."

The hyperpersonalisation guys

Since last September, Mason has been chief executive of marketing tech company Eagle Eye, which provides a platform allowing retailers to issue and process vouchers featuring unique codes, meaning each purchase can be attributed to an individual.

Mason was brought into Eagle Eye by Sir Terry Leahy, his former boss at Tesco, who was already an investor and board member of the company. Eagle Eye – which he calls "the hyperpersonalisation guys" – allows retailers to use the capabilities of digital marketing in the offline world, Mason said.

"If you take the speculative promotional side of marketing, Eagle Eye means when you try to recruit people through Facebook, Google ads, or wherever, you go out on a customer acquisition play but with a creative that has access to a unique code within it," he explained. "You then know who you’ve acquired. You’re not trying to calculate by attribution, you’re actually measuring redemption."

Time is all it takes

Mason was speaking alongside Leahy at an event for Eagle Eye customers in London. Asked about the weaknesses of Amazon, Mason suggested "they are not a customer-centered organisation, they are technology centred".

Amazon also cannot be regarded as merchants, he added. "Stocking everything is not what merchants do. Merchants select, choose, help you along the way. And I think at the end of the day – no one store has ever won in a physical shopping mile. So why should one digital store win, when literally you’re one click away from going somewhere else?"

Leahy said that if anything was to trip Amazon up, it would be "probably just time".

The former Tesco chief executive said: "They're having an amazing run. The run-up in the value of the organisation demonstrates the confidence investors have in the business and the future earnings capability.

"What strikes me is it's still a relatively small business in terms of total retail consumption around the world – there’s plenty of growth for them to get. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the emphasis shifts over time," he said.

Leahy said there were "much higher margins" in Amazon's Web Services. "So you may see Amazon working in a different way going forward, less as a traditional retailer online, more of an enabler to online consumption," he predicted.