How Jeff Bezos and Amazon Win: By Steamrolling Rivals and Partners

From a Wall Street Journal story by Dana Mattioli headlined “How Amazon Wins: By Steamrolling Rivals and Partners”:

Jeff Bezos built Inc.from his garage with an underdog’s ambition to take on the establishment. He imbued staff with an obsession to grow fast by grabbing customers using the biggest selection and lowest prices. Today, he has more than 1.1 million employees and a market valuation around $1.6 trillion. (Bezos also owns the Washington Post.)

But Amazon never really grew up. Mr. Bezos still runs it with the drive of a startup trying to survive.

That ethos helps keep Amazon booming. Aggressive competition—including wresting market share from rivals—is often a hallmark of a successful business. It’s also why the tech-and-retail giant is the target of rivals, regulators and politicians who say its tactics are unfair for a company its size, and potentially illegal. As the company has grown, so has its capacity to take on an ever-growing array of competitors.

To keep customers happy, which Mr. Bezos has long said is Amazon’s fixation and growth strategy, executives behind the scenes have methodically waged targeted campaigns against rivals and partners alike—an approach that has changed little through the years, from diapers to footwear.

No competitor is too small to draw Amazon’s sights. It cloned a line of camera tripods that a small outside company sold on Amazon’s site, hurting the vendor’s sales so badly it is now a fraction of its original size, the little firm’s owner said. . . .

Amazon set its sights on Allbirds Inc., the maker of popular shoes using natural and recycled materials, and last year launched a shoe called Galen that looks nearly identical to Allbirds’ bestseller—without the environmentally friendly materials and selling for less than half the price.

“You can’t help but look at a trillion-dollar company putting their muscle and their pockets and their machinations of their algorithms and reviewers and private-label machine all behind something that you’ve put your career against,” said Allbirds Co-CEO Joey Zwillinger. “You have this giant machine creating all these headwinds for us.”. . .

This year, Amazon has zeroed in on Shopify Inc., a fast-growing Canadian company that helps small merchants create online shops. Amazon has established a secret team, “Project Santos,” to replicate parts of Shopify’s business model, said people familiar with the project.

Amazon executives often initiated efforts like these on their own, though in some cases examined by The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Bezos himself was involved, according to former Amazon executives and internal emails.

From its start as an online bookstore 26 years ago, Amazon has expanded into an online retailer with a presence in nearly every major category. It is also the leading provider of cloud-computing services, a gadget maker, a major entertainment player and a rival to United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. Mr. Bezos is the world’s richest man, with a net worth Forbes estimates at $187 billion.

He still exhorts employees to consider Amazon a startup. “It is always day one,” he likes to say. Day two is “stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by excruciating, painful decline, followed by death.” Mr. Bezos originally considered calling his company Relentless, and still redirects to Amazon’s site.

Mr. Bezos declined to be interviewed. Amazon declined to provide an overall comment on the topic of this article and responded only to specific examples.

Some rivals and partners say Amazon’s competitive zeal looks like unfair practices. The Journal this year reported that Amazon employees used data about independent sellers on its platform to develop competing products and that it has used the investment and deal-making process in ways that entrepreneurs and others said helped it develop products that competed with its would-be partners. Journal reporting showed how Amazon has limited some competitors’ ability to promote rival streaming devices and other gadgets on its dominant e-commerce platform.

Mr. Bezos in July testimony to the House Antitrust Subcommitteeabout the Journal’s private-label article, said: “I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.”. . .

The Justice Department last year launched a broad investigation of the market power of large technology companies including Amazon, and the Federal Trade Commission has oversight of Amazon as part of a broader look into the business practices of big tech. Europe’s antitrust regulators last month charged Amazon with violating competition law. Amazon said it disagreed with the allegations and would continue to engage with the commission.

In October, the House Antitrust Subcommittee concluded a 16-month investigation into tech companies with a report accusing Amazon of exerting “monopoly power” over sellers on its website. “It’s very clear that they use the enormous market power that they have to maintain dominance,” Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.), chairman of the subcommittee, said in an interview.

Amazon has denied exerting monopoly power. In response to the investigation, it published a blog post saying that “large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong.”. . .

Mr. Bezos set out to make Amazon a destination where consumers can find everything they want and continues that push. “If a company is offering something that Amazon thinks they can do better, or can do less expensively, then they will try to do it,” said Patrick Winters, an Amazon Prime Video manager who left this summer to work for Albertsons Cos. after more than a decade at Amazon.

“That was Amazon’s philosophy from the start,” Mr. Winters said, “to basically have everything a customer wants even if it’s something only a few customers want.”. . .

In targeting competitors, Amazon’s private-label team has access to a powerful tool: Amazon’s database of search terms customers frequently use. The team can add those terms to their product descriptions and detail pages to gain a boost on Amazon’s search engine, some former Amazon private-label employees said. . . .
Also see a post on by Shaoul Sussman and Matt Stoller headlined “Why Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple Are Bad for America.” Sussman is a Legal Fellow at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Stoller is the Director of Research for the American Economic Liberties Project and the author of Goliath: The Hundred Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy.



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