Amazon Is Not Evil… or Maybe They Are?

Mitch JoelPosted by

That is the question.

If you read the major stories that were recently published in The Atlantic  (Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan) and/or The New Yorker (Is Amazon Unstoppable?), this is the new(wish) position of the media: Amazon is bad for business. Jeff Bezos is bad/evil. I wonder how true this is? I wonder what the consumers think? I wonder if the stock market feels the same way as the media does? The media is under a lot of fire these days as well. It seems to me like the media should be, after reading those two pieces on Amazon. I’m not an Amazon apologist. Amazon can do better in many ways. Amazon tries and works hard to deliver for their consumers. Some think that this comes at the cost of their own employees health, but it’s hard to run a business like Amazon. It’s not easy to employ 750,000 people, and ensure that everything works as perfectly as everyone else wants. It’s also easy to criticize the beast that is Amazon. I’m fine with criticizing, so long as it comes with tangible solutions or opportunities to fix the problems. Usually, it’s just complaints with no solutions.

As Amazon emerged, everyone loved it. Everyone still does.

Consumers loved the convenience, the speed, the price and what it brought. As everyone used Amazon more, talked about it more, Jeff Bezos and his team pushed out further. From exploring space to AWS to acquiring businesses like Zappos, Twitch, RingWhole Foods and countless more. It’s hard to look at Amazon and know exactly what it is. How does the government step in and break up something that is as diverse (and pervasive) as Amazon has become? Do we believe that Amazon is just a retail play? Do we believe that they are an e-commerce platform, a web hosting platform, a streaming service, a logistics company? Something more? Something less? It’s hard to see. It’s hard to feel. It’s hard to think of shopping, hosting and streaming without Amazon – and those are all very different businesses (and there are many more industries that Amazon is disrupting).

Would Netflix be as good and competitive as it is if Amazon Prime had not made their move?

Would newspapers be amping up their newsrooms had Jeff Bezos not bought the Washington Post and stayed invested in quality journalism (whether you follow his political slants or otherwise?). It’s amorphis. It’s jello. It’s hard to understand just what Amazon is, and what Jeff Bezos’ end game is. The articles listed above try to dismantle major milestones of the company, while dissecting Bezos’ private life. Neither had access to Bezos. Most employees (current and former) would only speak off the record or have been anonymized. This can be read as, “they are afraid to speak,” or it can read as, “there’s nothing to see here.” Where there is smoke, there is fire. We know this. But what kind of fire are we dealing with?

What if Amazon is just a business that keeps getting bigger?

What if Amazon is unstoppable (even if the government steps in)?. What if this is just the kind of company that customers wants? Are we going to put the brakes on it, because we’re uncomfortable with just how well this company has been built, and how it has capitalized on capitalism (some argue that Bezos has mastered capitalism, while others argue that he broke it)? With that, there are plenty of other sides to this story. Plenty of horror stories. Plenty of dirt, and things that have gone sideways. Plenty of tragedy. There is no denying that. How could there not be all of this bad and all of this good in an Amazon world, which includes billions of dollars being made and millions of customers and employees. It’s a nation unto itself. Show me a nation where everything is fair, where everyone agrees on how big things should get, and what value there is? It’s unrealistic for us to look at Amazon as all that is bad in the world, because we built it. We buy from it. We use it. We encourage others too. Now, we’re stuck figuring out how to manage and accept the results of it.

People can vote with their wallets.

There are always options. This doesn’t make Amazon good or bad… it just makes them a big company (bigger than anything that we have ever seen), and it makes them scary. Size, growth and control should always be scary. Still, this doesn’t give the media the right to try to dig for something that may not be there. To make it feel bigger and scarier than it might be. To gaslight everyone. To try to tell a different narrative that consumers are not only buying into, but don’t agree with. Ask a consumer what they really hate about Amazon. Now ask a consumer what they really hate about the media. Now ask a consumer about what they want, in terms of making their lives easier, cheaper and more livable. Don’t be fooled. The media is quick to judge without getting any real quotes from the subjects that they’re covering, or speaking to any of their millions of customers. As a customer, I spend no time thinking about Amazon. It just delivers on their promise. I prefer to focus on the brands and businesses that continually fail to meet my expectations, overcharge and underdeliver on services (think airlines, telcos, banks, pharma, etc…). Maybe that’s the real tragedy? The media might be better served drawing attention to the brands who are constantly letting their consumers down, not the ones that we all seem to like and love. 

Yesterday was a telling day for Amazon.

Will customers focus on Jeff Bezos giving $10 billion (almost 8% of his net worth) to fight climate change and/or will they focus on the PBS Frontline documentary, Amazon Empire – The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos, that aired last night? Did the documentary uncover real truths that should startle and make customers think twice about using Amazon? Was the timing of Bezos’ donation questionable and done to deflate the attention that might be given to this documentary?

Are we going to have a smoking gun or just smoke when it comes to Amazon?

If you feel passionate that Amazon is evil, how would you solve the problem?