Publisher’s Note: Watching Jeff Bezos

When he started Amazon in 1994, Jeff Bezos probably wasn’t sure that his company would rival the river of the same name as the upper definition of scale. (Actually, after watching the magic of Amazon unfold, I’m thinking that his original choice of company name—Cadabra.com—might have been more appropriate.)

And we’re all still talking about Bezos. In the Executive Roundtable conversation that we had recently at the NEMOA conference, most merchants expressed their ambiguity about Amazon (as do most merchants everywhere). Most value the sales that Amazon can create for them, but are uncomfortable about Amazon’s potential conflict of interest and/or competitive threat—and all worry about the ramifications of a monopoly of Amazonian proportions.

Speaking for myself, I watch Amazon and Jeff Bezos the way others watched Apple and Steve Jobs. Bezos’ original visions continue to fuel Amazon’s growth today; continue to spur innovation based on what’s best for the consumer. It uses data and technology as key differentiators, and resists the allure of short-term profits over long-term goals. I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember a time when many people thought that Amazon would never make money—or that it would run out of cash. But Bezos believed that customer-experience innovation would pay off. And it did.

And it will again. Amazon’s commitment to building a direct-to-customer operation and fulfillment engine will generate profits—over the long haul. We all know that this is an expensive and complex proposition. Amazon’s mission of building distribution centers, growing its workforce, and buying and building innovative technologies (as we went to press, Amazon had just announced its purchase of Kiva Systems) is an operational undertaking unlike any that this industry has seen. But Amazon is betting that consumers will like its fast service and delivery, and that services like Amazon Prime and Amazon Payments will weld customers and merchants to the company in one form or another.

Love them or hate them, admire them or consider them predatory, you’ve got to hand it to them. So here’s my question: What Amazon inspired changes or innovations have you made in your company? We want to know: Leave a comment below to share your thoughts about Amazon.

P.S. Make certain that someone from your company attends Multichannel Merchant’s Operations Summit in Memphis May 2-3. Direct-to-customer operations and fulfillment excellence are crucial competitive differentiators, and this is the only conference that focuses exclusively on them. See you there!

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