BBC Business Boomers Amazon’s Retail Revolution Documentary
Business Boomers Amazon’s Retail Revolution 2 BBC Full documentary 2014
This episode follows the fortunes of the ultimate online retail success story – a business that was born in a garage twenty years ago and grew into a 100 billion pound global giant. Along the way, the Amazon phenomenon has inspired, shaped – and sometimes squeezed – the rest of the retail sector, while revolutionising attitudes to online business and transforming the way people shop.
British people now do more of their shopping online than any other nation and in 2013, tens of millions of British customers used Amazon to buy 4.5 billion pounds’ worth of goods. The story of the growing use of Amazon is the story of the internet age.
Time and again, founder Jeff Bezos has moved the goalposts for many industries. Publishers, retailers and even the French minister of culture criticise Amazon’s practices and bemoan its sheer size, but Amazon defends its record for providing customers with choice and competitive prices. Furthermore, Bezos’ confidence in his mantra of ‘start with the customer and work backwards’ is already taking Amazon into new sectors – groceries, ebooks, film production, and cloud computing
How Amazon applied the Wall Street mindset to hi-tech
Amazon is so much part of its customers’ lives that it may be about to receive the ultimate accolade – becoming a verb. “If I want to know something, I’ll google it. If I want to buy something, I’ll amazon it,” one of the company’s fans told the BBC.
On average, every person in Britain spends just over £70 a year on Amazon. That’s more than half the country’s entire online retail spend. It’s an impressive result for a business started on a couple of computers exactly 20 years ago.
Back in 1994, Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos threw in his promising Wall Street career to jump on the internet bandwagon, relocating from New York to Seattle to start his own dotcom.
That he was also a computer science graduate makes Amazon the product of an unusual merging of two cultures: the hard-driving world of East Coast finance and the techie, laid-back ethos of Silicon Valley.
Having Wall Street thinking at the very top of the company has given Amazon its edge in the ultra-competitive retail business. But that advantage is built on technology, where efficiencies in constructing its unique supply chain depend on incremental improvements in the algorithms that run the whole complex process.The West Coast geeks have not always appreciated Mr Bezos’ East Coast mindset though. Shel Kaphan, Amazon’s first employee, fresh from Silicon Valley, was key to building the company’s early tech infrastructure.He fell out with Mr Bezos before leaving Amazon in 1999, and says the mix of Wall Street ways with what he calls the “hipster-saturated culture” of tech businesses was often “an uncomfortable combination”.
Mr Kaphan says that at previous start-ups he’d worked at “there was a lot more of a sort of convivial attitude… team spirit, rather than an intense, hierarchical, driven attitude about things”.Another early staffer, Mike Daisey, found the punishing work schedule at Amazon hard to take: “The employees were willing to do absolutely anything to make things work.” From management’s perspective, “it’s being able to inspire your employees not to have lives”, he says.
He points out wryly that the dotcom tradition of allowing pets in the office isn’t so much a sign of a relaxed attitude to work as a recognition that it wouldn’t be safe to leave them. “Those dogs would have died because their master would never have come home.”
Mr Daisey describes Amazon’s annual company picnics as being the chance to be “let loose” with team games. Mr Bezos himself took part with gusto, which was “inspiring for people”. It made them feel like they were “all part of one big dysfunctional family”.
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I feel like we’re six months away from them delivering [an item] before you order it”
Former Amazon editor
But the idea that the culture Mr Bezos has created is so demanding and abrasive that colleagues cannot stick it is not borne out by a look at his executive team, many of whom have worked with him for years
And for all his Wall Street drive, there’s more to Mr Bezos’ mentality than a desire to crush the competition through hard work and discounting prices. There is also an intellectual ambition to get to the bottom of knotty problems by the application of brainpower.
One of Mr Bezos’ ideas is that when hiring new staff, “Amazonians” should always pick someone smarter than themselves. That way the overall level of intelligence at the company will keep on rising. (Apparently he has not found anyone smart enough to replace himself yet.)
The focus on brainpower is seen daily in the way meetings are conducted.
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