Amazon rolled out a product that went away very quickly, who screwed up?

Amazon rolled out a product that went away very quickly, who screwed up?
Image Credit: Canonicalized

Let’s face it, Amazon is a very big company that has done a lot of things correctly. We all know that we can visit their web site, pick out something that we want and almost magically it’s going to show up at our door in just a few days. All of this success has put some pressure on the Amazon product managers. They need to keep finding ways to allow the company to keep growing. As product managers we all know what this means – new products. Recently the Amazon product managers decided to expand their product development definition and introduced a new product that was yanked off the market after only a couple of days. What went wrong?

Paying For School

In the world that we live in, going to college is an expensive undertaking. Paying for four years (at least) of schooling, books, lab materials, housing, etc. can all add up. Most students who are just starting out on this journey don’t have enough savings to see them though the entire journey. What this means is that they are going to need to take some loans out now that they’ll hopefully be able to pay back after they get their degree and then go out and get a job.

Students who are looking to find a way to finance their college education generally have two options: federal loans (from the government) and private loans (from a bank). These two types of loans are very different from each other. Federal loans are currently being offered at a historically low interest rate of 3.76% fixed (which means that the interest rate won’t change). However, private loans are generally offered at much higher rates which currently could be as high as 13.74%.

The issue of just exactly how much debt a student is going to emerge from college with is a very important question. Generally speaking, student loans don’t have to be paid back while the student is in school. However, once they leave school (hopefully by graduating) the payments start. Currently students owe US$1.3 trillion (yes, that’s right – trillion) in student loans. More than 90% of that money is in the form of Federal loans. However, that also means that 10% of that very large number is owed to banks.

What Was Wrong With This Product

The issue of crushing students with loans that they will never be able to repay is currently in the news. Into this charged environment the Amazon product managers decided to step. Amazon teamed up with the bank Wells Fargo (you remember, the bank that just got in trouble for signing people up for products that they didn’t want) and planned on offering interest rate discounts on private student loans to qualified members of Amazon’s new “Prime Student” service. Sure sounds like something that could be added to a product manager resume.

Almost as soon as it was announced, this new product offering came under heavy fire. The Institute for College Access & Success (Ticas) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on higher-education as well as student-loan issues. Ticas said that the new Amazon product was an attempt to dupe students who are eligible for federal loans into taking out more costly private loans.

Ticas did more than just voice its objections to the Amazon / Wells Fargo partnership. They took their concerns to Capitol Hill in Washington. There they met with influential senators who are involved in the federal student loan program. These senators then met privately with Amazon and expressed their concern with Amazon using their brand to sell private student loans and that the discount that they were offering could be cancelled or changed at any time. The Amazon product managers got the message and Amazon and Wells Fargo ended up scrapping the product that had taken over a year to create.

What All Of This Means For You

Sometimes even the best sounding product can turn out to be a dud. In the U.S., when a student wants to go to college, it’s going to cost a lot of money. The product managers at Amazon saw an opportunity to create a product that would connect college bound students who use the Amazon service with discounted private college loans. It turns out that despite what they thought their product manager job description said, this was not a good idea.

Almost immediately after Amazon launched their new student loan matching service it started to get negative reviews. It turns out that in the U.S. students can get federal student loans with a very low interest rate. Private student loans are offered by banks and come with a much higher interest rate. Student advocacy groups were concerned that the Amazon brand would be used to steer students into higher priced private loans if they were not aware of the availability of federal student loans. Additionally, the Amazon deal was not all that great because the offered discounts could go away or be changed at any time.

This sure looks like a case where the Amazon product managers had their hearts in the right place, but they didn’t think the product offering through all the way. It turns out that only about 10% of all student loans are private loans and the people who offer these loans are not seen as being nice people. This is clearly one product offering that Amazon should never agreed to deliver!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that Amazon should team up with the U.S. government and try to offer federal college loans?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The majority of consumers identify themselves as being meat lovers. What this means is that they like their burgers to be made with a nice juicy piece of meat. For a variety of reasons, this has created a challenge that a number of different product managers are trying to solve. Can they change the burger product development definition and create a burger that looks and tastes like the real thing with one important exception: it does not contain any meat?

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How should product managers use email?

How should product managers use email?
Image Credit: William Iven

Note: this post was written by Jackie

Being able to communicate with coworkers and clients face-to-face is the best way to get your message across, but it is also time consuming. When there is a lot to get done during the day, email communication is often the quickest, easiest and most cost-effective way of getting in contact. Email is a good way of communicating with your customers, but as a product manager you need to be clear and concise with what you need to say.

Be Professional At All Times

As a product manager, you are in charge of both a brand and an image. You are also responsible for the image of your company. With this career you are investing in yourself and your company, so your written correspondence needs to convey this. You may have colleagues, clients and employees that are friends, but work email is only for work discussions. Steer clear of forwarding jokes, chain emails, and anything that isn’t directly linked to your work and your management. It is a lot easier with email for things to be misconstrued if you are trying to inject a level of humor into your emails. Being courteous and professional is important at all times.

Product Designs and Plans

Project managers have a lot of information to communicate, and this needs to be done in a clear way. When you are dealing with product designs, it is always a good idea to have good mockups from the start, to show the clear vision right from the start. All dimensions and measurements need to be given in every email, so that there is never any error made regarding these. If you are emailing out a plan, give a firm brief, instructions and a timescale. With this information, you are far more likely to get things done in the way that you have envisioned.

Communicating Tasks

When you are giving instructions and communicating tasks to colleagues and employees, it is a good idea to number them in order of importance and present them in a list format, rather than in the main paragraph of an email. Make sure that each task is allocated to a specific person, or team. You should also give a deadline for every task, so that it is clear when you are expecting the work to be done by.

Formality of Emails

Unless your email contact tells you that you can address them by their first name, always use a high level of formality. Address your contact as Dear Mr. Jones, Dear Mrs. Smith etc. You should be able to judge from later communication whether you can be a little more relaxed. Use a standard black font in emails, such as Times New Roman, or Arial. Using Comic Sans or handwriting fonts are not very businesslike. Steer clear of any unusual formatting too, as this can be confusing.

What All Of This Means For You

Email is a very effective way for product managers to communicate. It is important when you are doing so that you are transparent with the information that you are giving and professional.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How much email is too much email for a product manager?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s face it, Amazon is a very big company that has done a lot of things correctly. We all know that we can visit their web site, pick out something that we want and almost magically it’s going to show up at our door in just a few days. All of this success has put some pressure on the Amazon product managers. They need to keep finding ways to allow the company to keep growing. As product managers we all know what this means – new products. Recently the Amazon product managers decided to expand their product development definition and introduced a new product that was yanked off the market after only a couple of days. What went wrong?

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Your New Year’s Resolution: Subscribe To The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter!

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Is Twitter Out Of Control?

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Hopefully you are well aware of just who Twitter is. The micro blogging service has over 313 million monthly users (just think about adding that to your product manager resume). If you turn on just about any television program, they are always talking about what is being discussed on their Twitter feed. This is all […]

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