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Le monde selon Amazon by Benoît Berthelot

2019, Le Cherche Midi, Paris

(The world according to Amazon). Not available in English. So read on!


I bought this book at the Gare du Nord.


Berthelot, a journalist specialized in new technologies, spent 3 years carrying out an investigation of Amazon, and spoke with 150 current or former employees from all levels of the organization worldwide. He discusses the company's inception, present and future, with a focus on Amazon France.


I shook my head in surprise at the enormity of Amazon's plans, in shock at some of its practices, e.g. destroying merchandise to save money, in bewilderment at our need, as clients to have our goods RIGHT NOW. But there’s nothing you wouldn’t expect from a for-profit company in a capitalistic market, including the need for more regulation.


The book opens with the following quote:


When Jeff hired me, I didn’t measure the full extent of his ambition. Even today, I don’t think anyone really measures it.

-- historic associate of Jeff Bezos, September 2018 (translated from French)


 

Some highlights:


Amazon’s 14 commandments:


These are rules employees are expected to work and live by. Rule number one is “Client Obssession”.

You can find the rules here:


Employee ideas are encouraged:


Some are bigger hits than others.


HIT: Prime Now, which has not yet reached its full potential but is already massively profitable. Amazon is testing the use of drones to deliver items with even more speed. (After all, no one should have to wait more than a few minutes to fill his every desire!)


MISS: The Dash button is an Amazon-provided button to install on your washing machine. As soon as you’re out of laundry detergent press the button and BOOM! more arrives, probably by drone, possibly within minutes so you can keep washing your clothes without having to go out and buy more detergent at the grocery store. This idea didn’t work and was shelved. (I wonder if it didn’t work because it’s too hard to have to push the button?!)


Tax avoidance:


Jeff Bezos hates paying taxes and Amazon is registered in tax-havens like Luxembourg, allowing the company to get out of oodles of taxes.


Algorithms:


Amazon’s algorithm tool Delphi, sometimes referred to as Houdini, determines, for example, how to lay out the warehouse for maximum efficiency and when to restock products. Delphi is based not on magic, but on the data Amazon collects from us. 119


Markekplace and destruction of new goods:


Amazon advertises that at least 50% of their products come from small or medium-sized businesses. These sellers, who use Amazon Marketplace, often stock their goods in Amazon warehouses in exchange for a monthly fee. But it’s cheaper to destroy items that aren’t selling than to pay for storage or transportation to recover the stock. It was estimated that in 2019, one warehouse in France incinerated or put into landfills 3% of stocked products; extrapolated to the rest of France, this represents 3 million products destroyed in a 9-month period. p. 128


Amazon Flex


Flex is an employment system used to fulfill varying demand for delivery workers at the lowest possible cost to Amazon. The delivery people only work when they are needed and have no reliable contract. 147


Amazon Web Services (AWS):


Amazon’s biggest money maker is Web Services, or cloud data storage, which it provides to companies and even governments. It holds 35% of the global market, more than its main competitors, Microsoft, Google, IBM and Alibaba (China), combined. Some of them cannot operate without using Amazon’s services themselves which, as the author comments, is rather humiliating! 168


Data Lake:


Amazon continues to constitute a huge “data lake” (soon to be an ocean or galaxy?) using MTurk, a system where anyone with a computer can carry out human intelligence tasks virtually. This basically means people input data in their homes, not knowing what it will be used for. It’s the stuff Artificial Intelligence is made of. Average earnings in the USA equal about 2 dollars per hour; only 4% earn $7.25 per hour, according to estimations. The header on mturk.com is, “Access a global on demand 24x7 workforce”. You can check it out here: https://www.mturk.com

178


Alexa:


To improve Alexa, Amazon’s voice activated home robot, employees study from a distance the questions asked by users in randomly selected, anonymous households. In other words, Amazon employees have a microphone into your home. Employees interviewed report that sometimes they overhear funny situations, but sometimes more serious ones, such as "what sounded like sexual aggression". They can’t react since it's anonymous. 185


Food Industry:


Amazon has been studying ways to replace supermarkets, which is a mega billion dollar industry. They tried with Amazon Fresh, but it didn’t work. People are still resistant to doing the weekly grocery shopping online. Not easily defeated, Jeff Bezos found another solution for the moment, and purchased Whole Foods, a grocery chain. 194


Future:


The author provides a science fiction type vision of Amazon in 2030. The company knows all the needs of its clients and delivers products without even having to be asked. 217


Bezos believes that in the future clients will continue to want the lowest price, the quickest delivery, and the largest choice. However, the author implies that things could changing, noting that Amazon is no longer on the list of top 10 brands in France. 227


The Decline of the Amazon Empire?:


The book closes with Bezos predicting the eventual decline of Amazon, in accordance with the laws of probability (most companies last around 30 not 100 years). But, he adds, “we have to try to push that day as far out as possible. I’d like it to be after I die.” 228

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yvonnelemonnier
yvonnelemonnier
May 25, 2020

There is a good podcast called "Land of the Giants" about Amazon. It's not all negative: it mentions Jeff Bezos' willingness to try new things, even if a lot of his ideas fail. However, it also talks about the Marketplace and how merchants have to pay to be at the top of the page, how Amazon doesn't really police counterfeiters, and other eyeopeners.


Then there's Jeff Bezos' enormous influence in Seattle. The city has become very expensive to live in due to Amazon and other large tech companies' presence. He managed to get a voter-passed law charging large companies a head tax to pay for new public housing repealed by strong-arming the city council.

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