|Founded||July 5, 1994|
|Geographic areas served||Worldwide (Amazon Marketplace in 14 countries)|
|Headquarters||Seattle, Washington, U.S.|
|Current CEO||Jeffrey P. Bezos|
|Revenue (US$)||177.866 billion (2017) 30.8% increase over 135.987 billion (2016)|
|Profit (US$)||3.033 billion (2017) 30.9% increase over 2.317 billion (2016)|
|Main Competitors||Alibaba Group, Apple Inc., eBay, Inc., Facebook Inc., Alphabet (Google Inc.) Inc., International Business Machines Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, Netflix Inc., Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and many other Internet and retail companies.|
Amazon.com business overview from the company’s financial report:
“Amazon.com opened its virtual doors on the World Wide Web in July 1995. We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company. We are guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. In each of our segments, we serve our primary customer sets, consisting of consumers, sellers, developers, enterprises, and content creators.
We serve consumers through our retail websites and physical stores and focus on selection, price, and convenience. We design our websites to enable hundreds of millions of unique products to be sold by us and by third parties across dozens of product categories. Customers access our offerings through our websites, mobile apps, Alexa, and physically visiting our stores.
We also manufacture and sell electronic devices, including Kindle e-readers, Fire tablets, Fire TVs, and Echo devices, and we develop and produce media content. We strive to offer our customers the lowest prices possible through low everyday product pricing and shipping offers, and to improve our operating efficiencies so that we can continue to lower prices for our customers.
We also provide easy-to-use functionality, fast and reliable fulfillment, and timely customer service. In addition, we offer Amazon Prime, an annual membership program that includes unlimited free shipping on tens of millions of items, access to unlimited instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV episodes, and other benefits.
Our current and potential competitors include: (1) online, offline, and multichannel retailers, publishers, vendors, distributors, manufacturers, and producers of the products we offer and sell to consumers and businesses; (2) publishers, producers, and distributors of physical, digital, and interactive media of all types and all distribution channels; (3) web search engines, comparison shopping websites, social networks, web portals, and other online and app-based means of discovering, using, or acquiring goods and services, either directly or in collaboration with other retailers; (4) companies that provide e-commerce services, including website development, advertising, fulfillment, customer service, and payment processing; (5) companies that provide fulfillment and logistics services for themselves or for third parties, whether online or offline; (6) companies that provide information technology services or products, including onpremises or cloud-based infrastructure and other services; and (7) companies that design, manufacture, market, or sell consumer electronics, telecommunication, and electronic devices.
We believe that the principal competitive factors in our retail businesses include selection, price, and convenience, including fast and reliable fulfillment. Additional competitive factors for our seller and enterprise services include the quality, speed, and reliability of our services and tools, as well as customers’ ability and willingness to change business practices.”
Amazon SWOT analysis
1. Low cost structure, the largest merchandise selection and a huge number of third party sellers
Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world. In 2017, the company earned US$140.235 billion purely from online sales, more than any other retailer in the world. In 2015, we predicted that Amazon would become the 2nd largest retailer (as measured by revenue) in the world, behind Wal-Mart by 2018 and the Amazon’s extraordinary growth has allowed the company to achieve this milestone.
Source: Amazon financial reports and Digital Commerce 360
Note that Amazon has grown much faster than the entire U.S. e-commerce market, meaning that the company has actually increased its market share by taking it from competitors.
What is the key to such success? According to Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com, the company’s success lies in its low-cost structure and wide variety of merchandise.
Figure 2. Jeff Bezos “napkin sketch” outlining Amazon’s strategy
Source: Seeking Alpha
A low-cost structure leads to lower prices, which combined with a huge range of products, results in a better customer experience. Satisfied customers invariably return to the Amazon websites, creating ever-growing traffic, which subsequently attracts 3rd party sellers to Amazon’s marketplace. All of these factors lead to faster business growth for Amazon.
Amazon follows a cost leadership strategy, but so do many other online and offline retailers. Why then does Amazon outperform them?
Low cost structure. By mainly selling online, Amazon doesn’t incur huge costs related to running physical retail outlets. Online marketplaces also potentially allow for selling more units without any increase in marginal costs. Amazon constantly invests in both additional fulfillment centers and to existing centers to enable a reduction in order fulfillment times and shipping costs. These time and cost savings result in lower prices that are passed on to consumers.
Selection. According to ScrapeHero, Amazon sells around 562.3 million of various products in its Amazon.com Marketplace. In comparison, Walmart offers only 38 million SKU’s in its online shop, or just 7% of the number of products that Amazon offers. This vast difference in range is the reason why online customers are more likely to visit Amazon.com rather than Walmart’s e-shop.
Third party sellers. Amazon’s business model includes accommodating third party sellers who are able to offer their own merchandise on Amazon’s sites and whose products therefore compete against Amazon’s. Third party sellers are mainly attracted to because of the high volume of traffic on Amazon sites. They often offer products that are not available through Amazon’s retail division. In 2016 (no data for 2017), Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service shipped over 2 billion third-party sellers’ items. This number does not included the items shipped by third-party sellers themselves. eBay is the only other online company that has as many third party sellers as Amazon.
Low prices, a huge product range and the vast number of third party sellers are all key factors in improving the Amazon customer experience and in driving more traffic to their sites. Few companies can compete with Amazon in any of these areas.
2. Synergies between Marketplace, Amazon Web Services and Prime
Amazon is involved in 3 key businesses:
- Amazon Marketplace
- Amazon Web Services (AWS)
- Amazon Prime
All three Amazon offerings support each other and create benefits that would not be achieved if the businesses operated independently.
Source: Strategic Management Insight
AWS was introduced in 2006 when Amazon realized it could sell its servers’ excess capacity to other enterprises. For Amazon as an online retailer, the key place to sell its goods is its website. To run an e-commerce website with millions of visitors each day the company had to invest heavily in its server infrastructure. These investments and the resulting server capacity have helped AWS to grow. In return, AWS provides two important elements for its sites:
Speed. Amazon has calculated that a slowdown of 100ms in page load could cost them 1% in sales each year. In 2017, that would had equaled to at least US$18 billion loss. Therefore, page load speed is crucial for Amazon. AWS helps to speed up the website’s load time, so that Amazon is able to serve each customer as quickly as possible.
Capacity. During the peak times of Cyber Monday (the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S), Black Friday (the Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday), and in the several weeks leading up to Christmas, Amazon receives an overwhelming number of visitors to its sites. AWS’s huge capacity, which is not needed during the rest of the year, is employed during these peak times to help Amazon cope with the increased number of visitors.
In 2005, Amazon introduced the Amazon Prime subscription service, which offers access to Prime Instant Videos, Prime Music, free two-day delivery and many other benefits for a flat annual fee. There are currently more than 90 million Prime members worldwide who use Amazon as their primary non-grocery retail store. Prime users buy more merchandise and spend more on each item than regular users. Marketplace helps to attract new visitors to Prime through its Fulfillment by Amazon program (FBA).
The FBA program allows third party sellers to place their products in Amazon’s warehouses, where Amazon takes responsibility for all logistics, customer service, order fulfillment and returns. This enables more products to become eligible for Amazon Prime, which is the key for the program to flourish. In addition, packaging and shipping costs are reduced when two or more items are shipped. As a result, Prime becomes more profitable and Amazon customer satisfaction increases.
Synergies between Amazon’s Marketplace, AWS and Prime are rarely quantifiable, but CEO Jeff Bezos recognizes them as providing some of Amazon’s strongest competitive advantages.
3. Unmatched brand reputation in the retail sector
Amazon.com owns one of the most valuable brands in the world. The company, despite having a solely online presence until 2017 and being far behind the largest retailer in the world in terms of revenue, has an impressive brand reputation. Interbrand and Forbes have respectively listed Amazon.com as the 5th and 6th most valuable brand in the world, at US$64.8 billion and US$54.1 billion. The brand was one of the fastest growing brand in terms of dollar value in both lists in 2017.
Brand value is closely related to a brand’s strength, awareness and reputation. These factors are much more important for online retailers than offline retailers. Amazon’s rivals are just a click away and if the company’s customers are not satisfied with the brand they can easily switch to another online retailer.
Amazon has a reputation as a huge online retailer offering the lowest prices on a vast range of merchandise, fast shipping, a comfortable shopping experience and great customer service. Strong brand awareness combined with the company’s positive reputation helps Amazon to both increase sales and introduce new products to the market without the need for huge advertising and marketing efforts. Few other online or offline retailers can effectively compete with Amazon’s brand.