Katrin Gruber is Director Consumer Insights & Innovation at Amazon in Germany, and a juror for the Digital Female Leader Award 2020. In our interview, she explains what’s behind her Munich-based role, how she works, and why it is important for women to become more visible in the tech industry. Spoiler alert: It’s all in her job title.
Katrin, what was your first job at Amazon?
Basically, my first job at Amazon was exactly what I still do today: fulfilling customer expectations. My field of business, my role and means were very different though at the beginning. I was a category leader for 'Home Appliances', i.e. for offering Amazon customers a convincing selection of attractively priced products. By the way, I am still professionally informed to this day: So if someone needs tips for a new coffee machine, a robotic vacuum cleaner, or a great smoothie mixer: ask me!
How did you come to work for Amazon?
The classic digital way via an online job advertisement. I was very attracted by the mix of operational, team and sales responsibility. This is what still inspires me today. I think it's great when projects are implemented together as a team in a scalable way.
What has been your main reason to stay with Amazon for the past years?
I think we really make a difference here at Amazon in the interests of customers, and this is due to a great spirit of innovation and curiosity. Seeing customers adopt innovations and maybe even providing prompt feedback - that is a strong driver of my motivation. Just like the teams I work with every day. My colleagues are smart, motivated and interesting people. In my experience: Great innovations are implemented in great teams.
Your job title is Director Insights & Innovation for DE Retail. How would you describe your job to your neighbor?
My dad actually asked me this very recently! I replied that I try to understand how to make Amazon’s customers even happier. My mission is to meet the customer requirements of tomorrow, today. Once I have found an approach to this, I move on to implementation. And then to testing, learning and adapting. An example from everyday life: I work on new store concepts that are not yet available.
What do you usually do with an interesting customer insight?
First, I dive deeper into the matter to understand what’s happening from the customer's point of view. We are very fact-driven at Amazon, which I appreciate. I believe that if you make something measurable, you can find better ways to improve and then scale it. The first step is to go from a pure observation to an actual "insight". These are two different things that should not be confused. Observing something means to establish facts. An insight goes one step further: Insights are the actual information behind the observation, the understanding of connections and reasons, which then leads you to more specific solutions. Then it is a matter of evaluating whether these insights result in a real customer benefit. And if the answer is 'yes', the implementation phase can be started in various ways.
How do you tune into the customer's needs and preferences?
I try to maintain my customer perspective. A rather simple habit we call "walk the store" helps with that: Just like you’d walk through a physical store, I look at what we are offering every day, just like a customer does. And if I see something not running smoothly, I try to understand how it can be improved. This is something that Amazonians often do: We let you know when we see something that isn't working properly. In your own shop you would also pick up a jumper that has fallen off the shelf. Above all, I am in very close contact with our customer service, which I think very highly of, by the way. Those colleagues always have a very accurate picture of what could be optimized. Regarding our international business, I can gain a lot of valuable input from international customers. And I always keep my ears and eyes open for feedback from all channels, both professional and private.
What do you think is the most important invention in world history?
Language, in oral and written form, because it is the basis for knowledge and progress.
Amazon is sponsoring the Digital Female Leader Award for the fourth year and you are a jury member. Why do you think it’s important for women to become more visible as leaders in tech?
There are probably quite a few women out there who are not interested in being the focus of attention – I am one of them, by the way. They simply want to achieve something material and meaningful in their job. Believe me, I get this! But without visibility and recognition we are not making enough progress towards equal opportunities. Therefore, my appeal to all those women out there: Please become more visible and share your great ideas and projects! It might motivate other women to do the same and thus make a difference. The Digital Female Leader Award is a fantastic platform for celebrating each other, and I am looking forward to my time as a jury member and to meeting many exciting women and great minds.