Amazon announced Jeff Bezos is stepping down as
CEO almost 27 years after he founded the company to
sell books to customers over dial-up modems.
Amazon wasn’t the first bookstore to sell online, but it
wanted to be “Earth’s biggest.” When it first launched, a
bell would ring in the company’s Seattle headquarters
every time an order was placed. Within weeks, the bell
was ringing so frequently employees had to turn it off.
But Bezos – who will remain at the company – set his
sights on making it an “everything store.” After achieving
dominance in retail, the company would go on to
become a sprawling and powerful global conglomerate
in numerous lines of business.
Today, Amazon is the third-most valuable U.S. company
– behind Apple and Microsoft – with a market
capitalization of around US$1.7 trillion, greater than the
gross domestic product of all but a dozen or so
Here’s how Bezos reshaped retailing.
Amazon – named after the world’s largest river –
continually took shopping convenience to newer levels.
Before Amazon’s founding on July 5, 1994, shoppers
had to travel to stores to discover and buy things.
Shopping used to be hard work – wandering down
multiple aisles in search of a desired item, dealing with
crying and nagging kids, and waiting in long checkout
lines. Today, stores try to reach out to shoppers
anywhere, anytime and through multiple channels and
After first experiencing two-day free shipping from
Amazon’s Prime membership program, shoppers started
expecting no less from every online retailer. An
estimated 142 million shoppers in the U.S. have Amazon
The company made shopping more convenient through
features like one-click ordering; personalized
recommendations; package pickup at Amazon hubs and
lockers; ordering products with the single touch of a
Dash button; and in-home delivery with Amazon Key.
Shoppers can also search for and order items through a
simple voice command to an Echo or by clicking an
Instagram or Pinterest image. Amazon even has a
cashier-less “Go” store in Seattle.
Amazon has also been a factor in the rising closures of
brick-and-mortar stores that can’t keep pace with the
changes in retail. Even before the pandemic, stores
were closing at a phenomenal rate, with analysts
predicting a coming “retail apocalypse.” Amazon
benefited enormously last year as much of the U.S. went
into lockdown and more consumers preferred ordering
goods online rather than risking their health by going to
Amazon’s share price has almost doubled since the
lockdown began in March 2020, even as over 11,000
retail stores closed their doors.
A major employer
Amazon’s impact extends to other industries, including
smart consumer devices like Alexa, cloud services like
Amazon Web Services and technology products like
Such is Amazon’s impact that industry players and
observers use the term “Amazoned” to describe their
business model and operations being disrupted by
Today, Amazon is the second-largest U.S.-based
publicly listed employer and the fifth biggest in the world.
It employs 1.2 million people, having hired 427,000
during the pandemic. No wonder Amazon created such
a buzz in 2018 when it held a competition to select a
location for its second headquarters. It eventually picked
Amazon’s work culture is intense. It has a reputation as
a cutthroat environment with a high employee burnout
rate. It is automating as many jobs as possible, mostly in
At the same time, after criticism from policymakers,
Amazon stepped up in 2018 and raised the minimum
wage for its U.S. employees to $15 per hour.
Faced with growing criticisms about the mounting impact
of Amazon’s boxes and other packaging material on the
environment, Amazon has also pledged to disclose more
information about its environmental impact.
The next generation
What’s in store for Amazon as Bezos steps down from
his CEO role later this year?
Bezos, who will stay on as Amazon’s executive chairman,
has previously said his focus is on preventing Amazon
from dying. As he noted at a 2018 all-hands meeting,
“Amazon is not too big to fail.”
As a professor of marketing who has conducted
research on online retailing and analyzed hundreds of
cases, I believe that Amazon’s future – and humanity’s –
is inextricably linked to the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).
Starting with Alexa, the company’s virtual assistant,
Amazon is betting on AI.
In fact, Amazon is testing anticipatory shipping, a
practice in which it anticipates what shoppers need and
mails the items before shoppers order them. Shoppers
can keep the items they like and return those they don’t
want at no charge. It is also betting on cashier-free
stores and AI-powered home robots.
Amazon’s future success will depend on how the
incoming CEO – current head of cloud computing Andy
Jassy – navigates these new technologies while pushing
the company into more industries, such as health care
and financial services.
His challenge is to keep Bezos’ legacy and Amazon’s
disruptive culture alive.
Important disclosure information
Authors Venkatesh Shankar
Coleman Chair Professor of Marketing and Director of Research,
Texas A&M University
Venkatesh Shankar does not work for, consult, own shares in or
receive funding from any company or organization that would
benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant
affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Texas A&M University provides funding as a founding partner
of The Conversation US.
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