In pulling back the curtains, Amazon, one of the most private public companies in the world, revealed how it is racing to piece together an immensely complex puzzle—much of which it is having to build from scratch, at giant expense and with painstaking attention to the minutiae, as it tosses out assumptions that American customers have taken for granted for decades. In doing so, the company, an upstart here, has thrown itself into a knife fight with two privately owned and much more established Indian competitors—Flipkart Internet Pvt. and Snapdeal, owned by Jasper Infotech Pvt.—as well as a clutch of smaller Indian startups that are nipping at all of their heels. ... It is a fight that Amazon is far from certain of winning, yet one it cannot afford to sit out. The company predicts that India will be its biggest market after the U.S. within a decade and that the Indian e-commerce market as a whole will ultimately be gigantic. ... It is not hard to see why the battle for India is this fierce, nor why Bezos, famously obsessed with analytics, would see it as essential for Amazon’s future. The numbers alone are dizzying. India’s population of 1.25 billion is four times as big as the U.S.’s and more than double Europe’s. And since the median age is 27—a full decade younger than Americans’—the trajectory will be steep. India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country in just seven years, according to the UN. It is now the world’s fastest-growing major economy, and the IMF projects 7.5% growth next year. The roads and railways might be creaking under the strain. Many laws governing business are a confounding tangle, including a law forbidding foreign companies from selling products directly to Indians. That law effectively renders Amazon India a platform for vendors—akin to its “fulfillment by Amazon” program in the U.S. ... Barely one-quarter of India’s population has access to the Internet at home, whether on a smartphone or computer, and only a small fraction of those have ever shopped online. ... By some estimates the company is spending nearly $25 million a month in India already.
This is the Amazon Marketplace, where anybody can sell just about anything right alongside Amazon's own wares. Unlike eBay, where each vendor maintains a separate listings page, Amazon tidily groups its Marketplace sellers by item, hiding away the inferior offers, to showcase the best deals up front. (In seller parlance, landing the number-one spot is called "getting the buy box.") What looks so clean on your screen obscures the messy and massive jungle of the Marketplace: There are now more than two million sellers on Amazon. While the Seattle-based giant still sells the most popular items on the site itself, Marketplace sellers now ship nearly half of the products--about two billion items each year, all told--and those sales are growing twice as fast as Amazon's, according to the consultancy ChannelAdvisor. The Marketplace started in 2000 selling used books. In 2016, it's a retail phenomenon as significant as any in the past 50 years--together these sellers ring up what ChannelAdvisor estimates to be $132 billion in sales each year. That's more than Walmart sold in 1997. Yet we know so little about who they are. ... Pharmapacks, notched $31.5 million in revenue in 2014, which made its three-year growth rate 3,035 percent, good enough to earn it the 115th spot on the Inc. 500. By the end of 2015, its annual revenue was $70 million. Vagenas proudly told me the company was on track to do $140 million to $160 million in revenue in 2016, the vast majority coming from those platforms (and around 40 percent from Amazon). ... Inventory often stays in their warehouse only for a few hours before going right back out the door. The business is less like traditional merchandising than it is like a commodities trader from a bygone era, buying and selling well-known goods and turning a profit on each transaction.
Amazon’s CEO has driven his company to all-consuming growth (and even, believe it or not, profits). Today, though, as he deepens his involvement in his media and space ventures, Bezos is becoming a power beyond Amazon. It has forced him to become an even better leader. ... More has gone right for Bezos lately than perhaps at any other time during his two-decade run in the public eye. His company is expanding internationally and spreading its hydra-headed product and service offerings in unexpected new directions. Bezos, too, is evolving. Always a fierce competitor and stern taskmaster, he has begun to show another side. With the Post, he’s taken a seat at the civic-leadership table. And with his various projects Bezos is also becoming known as a visionary on topics beyond dreaming up new ways to gut the profit margins of Amazon’s many foes. ... Bezos is preternaturally consistent. He still preaches customer focus and long-term thinking. Yet of necessity, as Amazon has become massive—and as he has indulged his eclectic and time-consuming pursuits—he has become the sort of leader who empowers others.
This year, Amazon became the fastest company ever to reach $100 billion in annual sales. Also this year, Amazon Web Services is reaching $10 billion in annual sales … doing so at a pace even faster than Amazon achieved that milestone. ... What’s going on here? Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different. One serves consumers and the other serves enterprises. One is famous for brown boxes and the other for APIs. Is it only a coincidence that two such dissimilar offerings grew so quickly under one roof? Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply. But beyond that, there is a connection between these two businesses. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed. ... A word about corporate cultures: for better or for worse, they are enduring, stable, hard to change. They can be a source of advantage or disadvantage. You can write down your corporate culture, but when you do so, you’re discovering it, uncovering it – not creating it. It is created slowly over time by the people and by events – by the stories of past success and failure that become a deep part of the company lore. If it’s a distinctive culture, it will fit certain people like a custom-made glove. The reason cultures are so stable in time is because people self-select. Someone energized by competitive zeal may select and be happy in one culture, while someone who loves to pioneer and invent may choose another. The world, thankfully, is full of many high-performing, highly distinctive corporate cultures. We never claim that our approach is the right one – just that it’s ours – and over the last two decades, we’ve collected a large group of like-minded people. Folks who find our approach energizing and meaningful. ... We want to be a large company that’s also an invention machine.
The reaction was understandable given the lofty goals outlined in the Echo's original plan: It envisioned an intelligent, voice-controlled household appliance that could play music, read the news aloud and order groceries — all by simply letting users talk to it from anywhere in the house. ... the Echo's path into consumers' homes was hardly a sure thing. The gadget was stuck in Amazon's in-house labs for years, subject to the perfectionist demands of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and lengthy internal debates about its market appeal. And in the wake of the high-profile failure of Amazon's smartphone, the industry rumors that circulated for years about a speaker product languishing within Amazon's labs seemed like more confirmation that the ecommerce giant lacked the chops to create a game-changing hardware device. ... The story of the Echo's origins, recounted by several insiders, reflects the ambitions and challenges within Amazon as it quietly set its sights on the tech industry's next big battleground. ... The key to getting latency down was to collect as much data as possible and constantly apply them to improve the product. The team did thousands of internal tests and weekly data analysis with speech scientists. Eventually, the team was able to bring latency down to below 1.5 seconds, far exceeding the speed of its competitors.
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For much of the twentieth century, Brazil defined the region’s approach to the aislados: its National Indian Foundation sent scouts to contact them, with the goal of assimilation. These efforts were mostly calamitous for the contacted people, who tended to die out from disease, or to wind up living in frontier shantytowns, where the men often succumbed to alcoholism and the women to prostitution. In barely fifty years, eighty-seven of Brazil’s two hundred and thirty known native groups died off, and the ones that remained lost as much as four-fifths of their population. In the nineteen-eighties, officials at the National Indian Foundation, horrified by the decline, began to enforce a “no contact” policy: when its agents spotted aislados, they designated their land Terras Indígenas—areas forbidden to outsiders. ... Most of the neighboring countries adopted Brazil’s no-contact policy, which anthropologists now see as the best way to insure the survival of the remaining aislados. But, for Peru, land in the Amazon was too rich to give up. In the past two decades, the country has experienced an economic boom, based on natural resources. Opening up the jungle has made Peru one of the world’s largest exporters of gold (as well as the second-largest producer of cocaine), and the Camisea natural-gas facility, north of Manú National Park, provides half of the country’s energy. ... But, even as Peru embraced the no-contact policy, a new idea was emerging. Last June, the journal Science published a paper in which two prominent anthropologists, Kim Hill and Robert Walker, argued that isolated indigenous groups were “not viable in the long term,” because their environments are too degraded or too vulnerable to incursions. Instead, they advocated a new policy, built around “well-organized contacts.”
Starting in September 2015, people in the city noticed more planes flying in and out of the airport, loading and unloading those black-wrapped boxes. This March, Amazon announced that it was leasing 20 Boeing 767s from Air Transport Services Group, a cargo company that operates out of the air park. Amazon had also negotiated an option to buy nearly 20 percent of the company. ... Two months after the Ohio announcement, Amazon leased 20 more jets from Atlas Air, an air cargo company based in Purchase, N.Y. Amazon has also purchased 4,000 truck trailers. Meanwhile, a company subsidiary in China has obtained a freight-forwarding license that analysts say enables it to sell space on container ships traveling between Asia and the U.S. and Europe. In short, Amazon is becoming a kind of e-commerce Walmart with a FedEx attached. ... Amazon’s ambitions depend on the continued success of its Prime service. For $99 a year, Amazon Prime customers get two-day delivery at no extra charge. Those who sign up tend to spend almost three times as much as their non-Prime peers. The company zealously guards its numbers, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimates that Amazon had 63 million Prime members as of late June—19 million more than the year before.
In the next 15 years India will see more people come online than any other country. Last year e-commerce sales were about $16 billion; by 2020, according to Morgan Stanley, a bank, the online retail market could be more than seven times larger. Such sales are expected to grow faster in India than in any other market. This has attracted a flood of investment in e-commerce firms, the impact of which may go far beyond just displacing offline retail. ... India’s small businesses have limited access to loans; most of its consumers do not have credit cards, or for that matter credit. The e-commerce companies are investing in logistics, helping merchants borrow and giving consumers new tools to pay for goods. ... Amazon wants to make India its second-biggest market, after America. For the time being, though, with just 12% of the market, it lags behind the home-grown successes, Flipkart (45%) and Snapdeal (26%). All three, as well as some smaller competitors, are spending at a blistering rate. ... The prospect of a second market growing to a near-Chinese size attracts those who made a packet the first time round. ... Indian regulations bar foreign-backed e-commerce firms from owning inventory, and so acting as a straightforward retailer is not an option. As a result India’s top e-commerce companies look much more like Alibaba.
The company’s e-commerce platform was involved in purchases by more than 100 million individual shoppers in 2016, yet it is invisible by design, enabling the end-to-end operation of its customers, some 400,000 individual retail shops and brands. It proudly operates not from San Francisco or SoHo but from six floors of an inconspicuous office tower in Ottawa ... the company has quietly but aggressively encroached on territory occupied by retail giants like Amazon and eBay to carve out a lucrative niche in e-commerce. ... Lütke’s goal is a lofty one: to make commerce easier for everybody. Just as WordPress made it easy for anyone to set up a blog or content website, Shopify lets anyone set up and run a digital store immediately, without needing any technical prowess.
The number of active workers, who live across the globe, is estimated to run between 15,000 and 20,000 per month, according to Panos Ipeirotis, a computer scientist and professor at New York University's business school. Turkers work anywhere from a few minutes to 24 hours a day. ... American Turkers are mostly women. In India, they're mostly men. Globally, they're most likely to have been born between 1980-1990. About 75% are Americans, roughly 15-20% are from India, and the remaining 10% are from other countries. ... "Requesters"—the people, businesses, and organizations that outsource the work—set prices for each task, and the tasks vary widely. ... what do Turkers make, on average? It's hard to say. But Adrien Jabbour, in India, said "it's an achievement to make $700 in 2 months of work, working 4-5 hours every day." Milland reported that she recently made $25 for 8 hours of work, and called that "a good day."
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They think Amazon is going to grow faster, longer and bigger than almost any firm in history ... only ten firms with sales of more than $50bn have managed to grow by an average of 15% or more for ten years straight since 1950; no company with sales of more than $100bn has done so. If Amazon were to pull it off, it would be the most aggressive expansion of a giant company in the history of modern business. ... That raises two questions. The first is how Amazon could possibly achieve this. The second is which industries it might upend in the process. ... Mr Bezos claims, as a corollary to thinking only of customers, never to think of rivals. However, the list of current and possible competitors that Amazon is required to include in its annual filings is long and getting longer. It ranges from retailers and search engines to film producers and, as of last year, logistics and advertising firms. ... the best defence is simple: sell something that customers want and Amazon does not have. Exceptional merchandise and service helps.
They were assigned perhaps the most urgent rescue mission in business today: Repurpose Wal-Mart’s historically underachieving internet operation to compete in the age of Amazon. ... Lore cuts an unusual figure at the Bentonville headquarters, which he now visits once a month on a private company plane, and in the geeky hallways of San Bruno and Sunnyvale, Calif., where most of Walmart.com’s engineers work. He’s a former bank risk manager and longtime New Jersey resident who’s a fan of Bruce Springsteen and of figuring out ways to simplify the routines of daily life. He recently ditched his Tesla and uses only Uber, for example, and he visits the same sushi restaurant near his office four times a week, always ordering the salmon sashimi. He also spends time on customer-pleasing contrivances that, in the parlance of Silicon Valley, do not scale. He recently devoted a 12-hour day to recording a thousand variations of a video greeting for new Jet customers. Now when customers sign up, Lore welcomes them by their first name. ... He’d like to extend Jet’s sensibility and business model to Walmart.com, the second-biggest e-commerce destination in the U.S., according to ComScore Inc. ... Wal-Mart has a lot riding on Lore. Last year he received $244 million in pay, 10 times that of his boss, Doug McMillon, Wal-Mart’s CEO. His project could determine the future of Sam Walton’s legacy and the eventual success of McMillon.
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The market for portable battery packs generated $360 million in the 12 months ending in March 2017 in the US alone. The brands behind these packs are largely anonymous — Kmashi, Jackery, and iMuto — and they often stay that way. ... Except Anker. The steady rise of the company’s profile is proof that it’s possible to meet one very specific consumer need and ride that wave as it continues to ripple out to other markets. A majority of Anker’s sales come from cables and wall chargers, and it’s now moving into the smart home and auto market — anywhere a plug and a cable can solve a problem. ... Yang and his team started a company with the sole purpose of selling a better third-party accessory. But they stumbled onto a more lucrative reality: mobile phones, once niche luxury items, are now ubiquitous centerpieces of our digital lives. Each of these phones, and all the products that connect to them, need their own cable and plug. And each and every day these devices die before we want them to. ... In many ways, Anker’s success is born from the failures of premier manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. Where those companies introduce points of friction — like ever-thinner devices with short battery lives — Anker offers a remedy. ... Anker takes a more straightforward approach by solving the inevitable problems technology creates.