Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is a fascinating, kind of authorised, insight into the man behind today’s biggest online retail brand. Reading it has taught me a few things:

***** from a one-time Amazon interviewee
I never, ever want to work for Amazon (and from my fleeting experience with their recruiting processes some time ago, it appears the feeling is mutual).

***** from a John Lewis customer
Amazon puts putting the customer first at the heart of what it does. But its view about what the customer wants from a retailer is very much painted in the image of a fridge: reliable, economical, sterile, cold. That’s one version of a customer experience, but it’s a million miles away from, for example, luxury goods retailing or the average corner shop.

***** from a struggling startup
Mature companies who still think that they are startups annoy me. They annoy me because they are living a myth. And they annoy me because they tend to put the pressure of pseudo-startup status on to their staff (long hours, poor benefits) but without the (risky) equity upside of a real startup. Making the transition from startup to maturity is something I see few of the tech sector companies from the past 40 years making anything like a decent stab at.

***** from someone who doesn’t make products for a living
I never, ever want to get into a relationship with Amazon as a supplier.

***** from a Hsieh fan 
I’d never quite worked out why Tony Hsieh of Zappos, a firm famous a culture that seems to be the polar opposite of Amazon’s, sold to the Seattle giant. It turns out that it was mainly driven by a desire to help his staff out with a windfall when many of them had been nearly wiped out by the property crash of 2008.

***** from an anti-bullying in the workplace supporter
Being a complete arse to all of your staff, interspersed with violent tantrums and bullying, should not be acceptable management or leadership styles in this day and age. The West Coast of the United States seems to ignore that. Bezos seems as demanding and demeaning at Jobs was.

The thing is, Amazon is ruthlessly effective. I’m a customer, and with its combination of first-party, second-party and third-party selling (from Kindle through to associates who sell through the store) it has managed to capture markets both in terms of product types and geographies. And that’s not to mention how important AWS has been to the second wave of the Web, being the engine that powers many startups.

Stone’s book is insightful, and an often scary insight into the way in which Bezos and his company operates. Looking forward there are two chinks I can see in Amazon’s long-term armour: firstly that providing more that a fridge-like experience is a realistic way for competition to differentiate in some product categories; and secondly that at some point they are going to have to stop thinking like a startup.

There are new territories, categories and innovations that may well postpone the necessity for both of those changes for some time to come, though – in which case regulation (particularly around either anti-trust or tax) might be the thing that forms their demise.

One thought on “Book review: The Everything Store

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