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The Relentless Jeff Bezos (stratechery.com)
180 points by ingve 73 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 134 comments



My startup runs and operates on AWS, and we were able to get off the ground with a tiny little team within days — something that would have once taken a large team of engineers and business development folks weeks or months.

I like to joke with my friends that AWS is responsible for the greatest second-order GDP growth on the planet, if you add up all of the market caps of all companies that have been able to build off of AWS (or their competitors). Rivaled only by MS Excel, as far as I'm concerned.


> Rivaled only by MS Excel

Up until this point, I thought you were simply right (also: worked at AWS 2008-2014 and have a specific perspective on why I think you're right).

Then, when you mentioned MS Excel, I thought: brilliant. Simply brilliant. I feel I'm one of the few that sees MS Excel as the biggest software winner of the past 40 years. So when I see someone that thinks like me, I rejoice.


Nice to know I’m not the only one :).

> worked at AWS 2008-2014 and have a specific perspective on why I think you're right

Would you be able to talk about this? I’m curious.


Many things can't be said publicly. But here, publicly, I can say that AWS is certainly the lesser of two evils, in relation to choosing your IT Infrastructure provider. Doesn't mean you have to be 100% running on AWS; but there's almost always a decent double digit percentage of workloads that you can wisely move to AWS.


I have multiple static website hosted by AWS, cost me only a few dollar a month as it's cloud native and does not need a box. Major upgrade from older hosting and scales very well if they ever need it.


Isn't this more from the entire ecosystem of web hosting? In terms of basic hosting needs AWS doesn't do much uniquely that allows for tiny teams to do their job.


No, it's way more than that. 10 years ago, I worked at a fairly well known tech company with 500+ employees.

1. We had an in house production engineering team, manage our own BGP and PoP points.

2. As we started to scale, we required active-active replication across multiple datacenters with high SLA requirements, which spawned a year-long project with multiple engineers to build in-house.

3. As the team grew, we required some sort of pub/sub system to enable cross-service communication — which spawned a year long project with a handful of engineers to build in-house.

4. We had to deploy our own load balancers in our datacenters and ensure that they scaled as we grew.

Today, my tiny little team has access to tooling that enables pretty much everything I described above for a low monthly price. Elastic load balancer gave us (4) right out of the box, RDS (or Dynamo) gave us (2) right out of the box, SQS + SNS gives us (3) right out of the box. Within the AWS VPC in us-east-1, we hardly ever think about (1). Today, we just had a need to do OCR (optical character recognition) of receipts because it was becoming untenable to have humans read every single on of them. Once upon a time, that would have been its own big engineering workstream. Instead, we had an intern integrate with AWS Textract (https://aws.amazon.com/textract/) and called it a day.

These anecdotes just scratch the surface; if you go on https://aws.amazon.com/, every single one of those products were once months-to-years-long multi-engineer projects that had to happen in-house at every tech company as recently as 2012. The sheer breadth of what AWS allows startups with limited resources to do just can't be understated, and as a startup employee myself, I appreciate that first-hand.


Can you recommend some resources (Books/Articles/Websites/etc.) which explain usage of all/most of the AWS offerings to do stuff as you have done?


In case you wanted a quick-and-dirty explanation of everything AWS has to offer

https://expeditedsecurity.com/aws-in-plain-english/


Thank you, that is a nice summary.


>In terms of basic hosting needs

I'm glad it's been useful for you though.


yeah, that was my thought too.

I can literally pay for a $5 VPS and get off the ground in mere weeks as well. The only thing I don't get is the potential performance of AWS, but you have to pay extra for that at AWS as well, so paying extra outside of AWS for it isn't outlandish.

Now, AWS has a lot of value addons that can make it worth it/useful, so perhaps there's a point there but it's not nearly as noteworthy as the other poster is making it seem.


Last month I bought a season of Shark Tank on Amazon Prime Video for something like $17.99. I queued up the first episode and I noticed something really wonky about the audio - it was only coming out of one speaker. I thought it was my laptop, so I queued up a different episode from the same season - same result. I tried a different video on Prime Video and it worked fine.

Fast forward three days later and I get email from Amazon out of the blue saying they realized the audio of the episodes in the season were messed up. Not only did they fix the audio problems (the next time I queued up an episode, it was fine), but gave me a full refund. This was totally unsolicited and it blew my mind.


Although they do seem to be reverting to the mean as time goes by, regardless of how much people love to hate them there's a cultural reason why Amazon have done so well - even from people who dislike him I always read that Jeff Bezos sets the standard throughout Amazon of a ruthless focus on the customer.


I want to believe that but "the customers" hate the fake reviews, hate the counterfeit goods... Returning an item now is all over the map — it seems it depends on which 3rd party sold you the item.

Yeah, they're backsliding. They need to get their house in order.


Although I don't contend that the problem is real, is "hate the fake reviews, hate the counterfeit goods" an American thing because I have only ever seen this complaint on hackernews.


The 3rd party sellers in your region may not have fully realized all the arbitrage opportunities that the sellers in the US market have. Give them time, they won't leave that money on the table forever. It might just not be enough for them to get to first.


That sounds remarkably close to magical thinking. It’s easier for me to believe that the complaints about counterfeit goods are coming from a vanishingly tiny but vocal minority than that I’m the tiny minority somehow surrounded by a cloak that prevents me from seeing the counterfeit goods.


These days, it's more and more common where you see a product with 4.5-5 stars with thousands of reviews, go to the reviews, and see that all the top ones are 1-star with complaints about the product being counterfeit or breaking quickly. I don't go on Hacker News often but I do use Amazon, and I see this all the time.


Have you considered that most people can't recognise fake reviews? It's pretty common in India too where sellers even give you discount for 5 star.


Not every capitalistic market in the world is a cuthroat race to the bottom like the USA.

This isn't a naive statement - this is a reflection of other markets that have had decades longer to manifest in the various societies compared to Amazon.

Food quality is higher, waste is lower, trust in government is higher, social programs can succeed, infrastructure projects are cheaper - all of this is universally true across progressive nations from Western Europe to Canada, compared to the US.


Fake reviews are a problem here in Europe, but I haven't heard of counterfeit goods.

What I don't like of Amazon now is how it is flooded with Chinese crap. It looks like Aliexpress.


> but I haven't heard of counterfeit goods.

If you peruse some of the sneakerhead forums, you'll see a lot of complaints about counterfeit dealers on Amazon. Nike used to partner with Amazon so you were assured your Nike's were coming directly from Nike. Nike killed the deal in 2019 and so now you have no idea where those Nike's and other sneaker companies products are coming from:

And the Wall Street Journal reported this week that Nike was “disappointed the deal with Amazon didn’t eliminate counterfeits and give the brand more control over gray-market goods,” which are legitimate items that Amazon sellers buy from distributors or retailers, rather than from Nike itself.

The problem for Nike is, removing itself from the Amazon platform won’t fix that problem. In fact, it’s likely to get worse. Amazon will now look to acquire more “gray market” Nike products to fill in the inventory gaps Nike’s departure will leave behind.

https://www.vox.com/recode/2019/11/14/20965434/nike-amazon-p...

Now Chinese Nike knockoffs are showing up under dubious brands like "fashion" or "Vitike":

https://sneakerhistory.com/2019/11/14/8-unbelievably-fake-sn...


You're replying to a question about Amazon in Europe with stories about Amazon in America.

The question wasn't whether it happens in America. The question was whether it also happens in Europe (personally I've always assumed it does but my point is your articles don't address that despite being in response to that question).


Is it typical to refer to legitimate third-party sale of goods as "gray-market?" If I buy a used pair of Nikes from the person that owned them, or a third-party consignment organization, or Nike themselves, they're still the same pair of Nikes and their legitimacy doesn't change one way or the other. Gray-market to me implies you can't be 100% sure if they're counterfeit or not.


I don’t know too much about sneakers, but that is how the nomenclature is used with watches, at least. There, a gray-market purchase is a purchase of a legitimate item from somewhere other than the manufacturer or an authorized retailer. Notably, gray-market goods are sold at a discount but lack the OEM’s warranty.


Nike wants to make sure that if a shoe store goes out of business, they can only throw out any Nike shoes they had, rather than sell their inventory to another retailer.

Similarly if you bought a pair and they didn't fit, your only option is to throw them out and buy a new pair. No reselling.

Gray market is very far from chinese knockoffs though.


This is not what gray market is. The issue is with distributors in low price markets braking their contracts by exporting products to high price markets. This hurts the manufacturer as well as customers in low price markets.


> gray-market goods, which are legitimate items that Amazon sellers buy from distributors or retailers, rather than from Nike itself.

Nike trying to cast distributors and retailers as "gray market" is a little gross.


The counterfeit good, I believe, come mostly when you buy something way under the normal price.


There's been plenty of articles about it:

Jessica — not her real name — has spent well over $15,000 on Amazon this year, buying everything from Halloween decorations to a queen-size inflatable mattress. She's purchased over 700 products, including three vacuum cleaners, six desk chairs, and no fewer than 26 pairs of earbuds. And even though most of the products are cheaply made, she’s given each a 5-star review. The twentysomething who lives on the East Coast isn’t a bad judge of quality — the companies that sell these products on Amazon reimburse her for the purchases.

Third-party sellers know what it takes to make it on Amazon: Get good reviews and a high search ranking. But attracting genuine customers is tough, so some sellers use a reliable cheat — bribes. Because of Amazon’s vast scale, inscrutable algorithms, and capricious enforcement of its own rules, unscrupulous sellers and paid shills largely get away with it.

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nicolenguyen/her-amazon...


The GP wasn't denying it happens in America (as your article demonstrates). He was asking how wide spread it is outside of America (which your article does not demonstrate). Not saying I disagree with your post, just saying that it doesn't actually address the comment you're replying to.

In fairness to the GP, it does seem less prevalent in the UK (either that or the reports about fake reviews are greatly exaggerated in general) but there's definitely been a few reviews here that have "smelt off" -- either before purchasing or after having received the product. And I definitely know these bribes do happen too as I know of a few people who have been contacted. All of which refused to take the money.... but please do take this anecdotal sampling with a pinch of salt.


Are there any forums for Amazon users? Would they be English?

Because Amazon has exactly the same problems in the UK, Germany, and Spain.

Delivery and logistics are outstanding. But the rating/review/counterfeit/duplicate issues are a complete dumpster fire, and have made me pull back from using the site.


It's a big problem here in the UK too, at least for me and the people I know.


Maybe I just can't tell what's a knockoff and what's not, but I've never noticed anything wrong coming from amazon.

Maybe I just don't buy brand stuff?

I've bought stuff that turned out to be shit, but I never thought there was a "real" version of it anywhere, just a shitty product.


It's a problem here in India as well.. and trigger same Ali express said with a mark up as well


I suspect that most of these problems are being actively worked on.

Unfortunately, while it's relatively straightforward to e.g. detect fake reviews in a static dataset, it's a constant arms race when you're doing so in an online adversarial setup. Same goes for counterfeit 3P goods.

Disclaimer: I work for Amazon, but not anywhere near the retail side.


This seems a little hollow when there are third party sites who detect fake reviews on Amazons platform


My point is that if Amazon e.g. directly integrated with any one of those solutions you'd enter an adversarial scenario, and all of the scammers would try (and almost definitely succeed, even if just by brute force chasing false negatives) in finding a way around it.

The same would happen if e.g. half of Amazon customers would use one of these solutions.

The difference between being online versus being in an adversarial scenario largely depends on how / to what degree you're visibly impacting the bottom line of the scammers.


Are you sure they hate fake reviews and counterfeit goods?

If those things didn't work reliably, I don't imagine the bad sellers would keep doing it


yes, a customer hates fake reviews and counterfeit goods, the problem is you don't know its fake and counterfeit before buying. So it works reliably to get the buyer to buy, but it does not work reliably to make the buyer happy with what they bought. As a general the exact opposite.


And hate how poorly warehouse and other non-office employees are treated. Other than that, I like the business model. But it's difficult for me to shop with Amazon knowing how the employees are treated, so it is a last resort for me.


Not in defence of Amazon,but how do you know how other retailers,the ones you use, treat their warehouse staff?


>a ruthless focus on the customer.

If by that we mean "token goodwill gestures where it doesn't hurt our bottom line", then yes.


I've heard it described as a focus on the customer in aggregate, as opposed to a focus on individual customers.


I work at Amazon and all the disclaimers apply. The key difference I see with Amazon is that it is actually focus on individual customers. The general idea is to go from anecdote to generalized solution. They call it "peculiar" inside. There are several stories inside that kinda exemplify these qualities - When kindle first launched in UK, they realized they need to do something different for folks in Isle of Man. There were something like 12 customers there at that point. The launch was delayed/additional people were added to make sure those 12 customers also got it at the same time. Jeff Bezos's famous question mark emails are mostly start with a single customer complaint. My biggest learning is that you have to focus on individual customers, but should learn to do it at scale.


Doesn't this exactly fit the "token goodwill gestures where it doesn't hurt our bottom line" thing?

If they cared for the customers they'll have improved things that affect hundreds of thousands or millions or all of them (tons of such long-standing, including for the Kindle, which has languished as hardware in neglect-land).

Doing a fuss to make the release day the same for 12 customers (or 100) in the Isle of Man is not "caring for invididual customers". It's either a token empty feel-good gesture within the company, a whim of some superior, or a "nice story" empty marketing stunt.


This video from 1999 clearly shows how customer obsessed he was:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxwjzVW7z5o


One time many years ago, I accidentally selected one day $50 shipping on a small item. I frantically tried to contact customer service to change the shipping. Without any hesitation, they refunded my money and not only that, they let me keep the super fast shipping on the item. Blew my mind.


That's the right way to handle it. Not directly relevant to Amazon, but I had a comparable experience with a different and much less prominent streaming provider. The picture quality was exemplary, but the sound mix was movie-ruiningly atrocious. It had been normalised to the point that during a lull in a conversation, the background sound of chirping crickets would rise in volume to match the volume of the dialogue. I tried several playback devices, it made no difference. I tried reporting the issue, but didn't have the will to wade through their irrelevant questions, so I simply decided to never buy from them again.

Turns out I'm not the only one:

https://www.avforums.com/threads/chili-tv-audio-compression....


Ok, so I'm only replying because this has some visibility and it might get seen / fixed at Amazon.

Everybody loves that Amazon and Prime bought and made new episodes of the Expanse, right? Well, on my stock Sony Bravia Android TV, if you are watching the Expanse with English subtitles, when the text for the subtitles is on, the screen is brighter. It's noticeable, and quite annoying, and this ONLY happens on the Expanse. Other apps and other shows on Prime work.


Sounds like a dimming / dynamic contrast feature of your TV to me, does your TV only have edge lit dimming?


I have set the settings on my TV not to do this; the common factor is the Expanse show on Prime. I have not backtested S04-.


My biggest complaint wrt their prime video player is that the subtitles will, over time, slowly desync more and more with the audio.

Having said that, one of the reasons why I'm a huge Amazon fan is because they have such great service. For example, I purchased a PS4 that died 3 days in and it was the easiest thing in the world to get it sent back and replaced.

It's one of the reasons I generally trust ordering expensive items through Amazon.


> This was totally unsolicited and it blew my mind.

That is small time customer service. Even Costco and Nordstrom’s and Trader Joe’s do it.

But the big time stuff, like Amazon providing retail products via a trusted supply chain, are where they screw you. It’s a low margin business, and Amazon wants as little to do with it as possible. So they removed the filter for showing only items shipped and sold by Amazon.com years ago, and they commingle inventory, so you have no idea of the supply chain of your product. Could be coming from some random product by some third party seller. Who knows?

Obviously, Amazon wants that 15% top line revenue from being a platform rather than the 2% to 5% they get from sourcing and selling retail products. That doesn’t align with my interests as a consumer.


You can also contact Customer Service about stuff like this and they'll handle it and that feedback often makes it back to the teams responsible. There's not a lot of CS contacts in Prime Video compared to retail but they can be meaningful.


More than anything I'm sad to see that this is mind blowing nowadays... I feel like at one point, this kind of customer service was the norm


> I feel like at one point, this kind of customer service was the norm

When?


it still is, amazon just makes it easy and doesn't make you feel like you're the asshole.


My dad lives in a small town and runs a couple of businesses. Last year he spent $24,000 on Amazon. He ran up $3000 in refunds and replacements. And despite being 4 hours from the closest airport or hospital, they still get everything delivered for free in two days (or sooner). He thinks Amazon is simply a modern marvel, rivalling any other invention or service out there.

Living in the city, I think it's easy to quibble and groan about their offerings or subtle changes in their service quality. But sometimes it's helpful to step back and marvel at the sheer scale of what they built.


I don't own a car, so Amazon Prime is almost an essential service to me. I agree with your dad that this is a modern marvel. I know certain things are priced higher, especially cheaper items, but I don't care because it saves me so much time doing something I don't enjoy. It's cool to hate on Amazon on social media these days, but I don't personally know anyone who has put their money where their mouth is and switched to a different online retailer.

I've attempted to buy from other places and the experience has always been so terrible that I just end up buying even more from Amazon. As an example, I bought some stuff from Lowes, they sent me the wrong items, and my only choice was to drive a few hours to return it. Unless I price my time at $0, this isn't worth it. Another incident happened with Home Depot, where their delivery person was some random dude who banged on the door loudly in the middle of the pandemic saying that they absolutely had to get my signature on a <$100 order. I begrudgingly opened the door and signed, and then decided to never buy from them again. Something like this happens every time I try to buy from anywhere that isn't Amazon. On Ebay, the last time I used it I received a very used item when it was supposed to be new. The reason Amazon is doing so well is just that everyone else is so terrible. I've had issues with them as well, but it literally takes me minutes to resolve any problems.


The first (tech) amazement I got while living in a village is the first time I synced my Chrome bookmarks from college laptop to our home PC by logging in to it's Chrome. The second one is getting books from other continents in as little as three days.


If you’re an Amazon investor today, you might be asking yourself “how much of Amazon’s stubbornness was directly due to Bezos?” Seems that’s an important question if you thought Amazon will continue to grow.


When Jeff Bezos was 3 years old, he wanted to sleep in a big boy bed. His mother Jacklyn explained to him that one day he will, but not now. The next day she found him screwdriver in hand dissembling his crib. Instead of chastising him, she sat down to help.

I think his mother was very good at encouraging his interests and nurturing that relentless spirit.

Btw, a bit of trivia, try typing relentless.com into your address bar.


In relation to the first part of the essay, how smoothly Amazon handles customs, that's not my experience in Brazil. Specifically, Amazon makes one rather large error, they include the shipping costs in the declared customs value, so you end up paying import duties and sales tax on the combined product + shipping, which is just plain wrong. Recently for example I bought a product valued at US$35 and shipping charges were US$25, but I ended up paying duties and sales tax on US$60 instead of US$35. Amazon pre-charged me those duties and tax, and since they declared the package as having a value of US$60 the Brazilian customs happily charged them that amount, so no refund for me.

I've written to cs@amazon.com about it a couple of times and not gotten any reply whatsoever.


Having been personally unable to justify the astronomical price of buying a replacement laptop while in Brazil, I assume Amazon is complying with tax policies:

“Import costs include the Import Duty (II), the Merchandise and Service Circulation tax (ICMS) and the Brazilian Federal Value-Added Tax on Manufactured Products (IPI). Import duty is a federal product-specific tax levied on a CIF (Cost, Insurance, and Freight) basis. Rates usually vary between 10% and 35%. The IPI is a tax levied on finished products (whether foreign or domestic), resulting from some sort of industrial process. The IPI is not considered a cost for the importer, since the value is credited back to the importer. IPI rates range between 0% and 15%. The ICMS is the VAT levied by states and applies to the legal, physical, or economic circulation of goods, whether imported or not, the services of transportation and telecommunications.”

https://santandertrade.com/en/portal/international-shipments...


I don't know about Brazil but that's how the rules work in the UK, because otherwise everyone would charge $1 for the item cost and $itemPrice+25 for shipping, and no custom tax would be paid.


In my country, customs is charged on CIF - Cost, Insurance, Freight, so that's probably the correct treatment. Not sure if that's the case in Brazil.


fyi, by law, shipping is included on tax calculations.

source: brazilian, talked to people that know more about this than i do.


> " [..] which is my way of explaining why so many stories about Amazon — including, I guess, this one — start with the fact that relentless.com redirects to Amazon.com."

Relevant thread from earlier today that discusses, if relentless.com was considered as a name for the company before it was amazon.com - with Amazon employee #2 chiming in.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26007814

Seems like relentless.com was first registered on 24th of September 1994 (a Saturday), just 37 days before amazon.com was registered on the last day of October 1994 (a Monday).


Amazon has a special place in my heart. I'm from Poland and currently live here (though I've spent a few years in USA and NL). Thanks to Amazon I can order virtually any book and have it delivered in a few days. I've been doing this since 2008. I've been able to read niche academic books and brand new non-fiction releases, classic textbooks and worn-out copies of the classics thanks to Amazon.

Thanks for all that, Jeff.


Are hagiographies the norm here? That mythological Amazon (pun intended) is long dead. Now you have a 50/50 chance to get a good item, the rest will be counterfeited crap.


I was going to add that he was relentless with his employees as well. I had a kid and was expected to be on call with a newborn, after spending all my vacation because there was no parental leave. Getting paged at 2am with a tiny baby is terrible.

I was repeatedly told that working on games outside office hours was not allowed, then later was permitted but only if you were willing to give Amazon all related IP. Oh, and you could not collaborate with people outside Amazon, so no game jams with friends.

To say nothing of the treatment of workers in the FCs, relatively low engineering compensation, etc.


But hey, stuff gets to your house in 2 days rather than 3! That makes everything worth it /s


Well, COVID showed us that it's not just that stuff gets to your house in 2 days (rather than 3!), stuff gets to your house in 2 days even during worldwide pandemic with widespread supply chain disruption.

Also, starting an online business is easier than ever due to democratized access to infrastructure that was once only available to large blue chip companies with access to 1000s of high skilled engineers, and has seeded an industry of small/medium sized tech companies that has resulted in further consumer surplus and wealth creation.

Not saying that there's an obvious "correct" point of view, but once you add a little more nuance, it actually does make everything worth it for a lot of people.


> stuff gets to your house in 2 days even during worldwide pandemic with widespread supply chain disruption.

On the backs of warehouse and distribution workers who put themselves at serious risk for Covid (or just backbreaking work environments).


Warehouse and distribution workers that are paid $15/hr at a minimum, enjoy the same group health insurance benefits as their software engineering and product management coworkers, and enjoy the same 401k matching as their desk-bound co-workers — benefits that are unavailable to almost any other entry-level job that requires no college education.

And while it's definitely difficult that they have to put themselves at serious risk for Covid, that's true for any essential worker too. Ultimately most people agree that this is a worthwhile tradeoff to ensure that people continue to get access to food, supplies, COVID tests (in the case of frontline nurses), etc.

I'll re-iterate, there's no obvious correct answer, and it's difficult to agree on the best way to litigate these issues. One thing I can say for sure is that blithe one-line HN comments is the worst possible way to litigate them, much less understand them.


You're eulogising a system that doesn't deserve eulogies.

Workers pass out in warehouses and aren't allowed toilet breaks. And many are gig-economy contract hires who have zero chance of ever seeing a 401k or any other permanent employee benefits.


> You're eulogising a system that doesn't deserve eulogies.

Nobody is eulogizing anything. The system isn't dead, it's alive and well. What I, personally, am doing is simply appealing to nuance.

> Workers pass out in warehouses and aren't allowed toilet breaks

Yes, this is bad. Nobody is arguing that it's all sunshines and daisies for Amazon Warehouse workers. The argument is that the reality is more complicated because they are well compensated relative to their similarly-skilled counterparts elsewhere. And it's not like they're not allowed toilet breaks as a rule, the reality is that Amazon's warehouse policies are decentralized and in one documented situation, there was malpractice. This is undeniably bad and should be fixed, and one would be a fool to argue otherwise. Notwithstanding (objectively bad) isolated incidents like this, in the aggregate, it is arguably a good thing that 1.3 million unskilled people are gainfully employed with competitive benefits, and all in service of providing convenient supply chains to the world especially in times of widespread pandemic and distress.

> And many are gig-economy contract hires who have zero chance of ever seeing a 401k or any other permanent employee benefits.

At least as it relates to the warehouse workers in the United States, this is factually untrue.


Honest question that will sound snarky: What's the point of (relatively) generous pay and benefits if workers burn out / get injured and fired in a short amount of time?


First of all, I'm not sure it's obvious that burn out / injury is the norm instead of the exception — though happy to shown otherwise if you have any links. We hear about the worst cases because that's what's reported on, but we never hear about the boring average Joe warehouse worker that just clocks in, does their work, clocks out, and then goes about their life.

The hours are predictable, and there's no oncall rotation so you can reasonably plan your life around the difficult working hours, and you never have to worry about not affording health care because Amazon health insurance is quite generous.


Saying warehouse workers enjoy the same benefit from 401K matching as a software engineer making $300k a year is like saying the warehouse workers also get to enjoy the same discounts at the local Rolex dealer. They simply can't take advantage of it the same way as someone making 6x their salary.


Sure, I was just listing one of the many benefits they enjoy. You can view the exhaustive list here -> https://www.aboutamazon.com/workplace/employee-benefits. It includes paid leave for up to 20 weeks, with up to 6 weeks transferrable to spouses, which I hope you agree would be useful to warehouse workers.

That a warehouse worker might benefit less from 401K matching doesn't refute the central argument: Amazon provides high pay and generous benefits atypical of entry level unskilled work that doesn't require a college degree. Not only that, they offer this to 1.3 million people. As a fun exercise, I recommend just trying to do the back-of-the-napkim math and try to work out the total cost to providing $15/hr (at a minimum), generous group health insurance (usually working out to about $1000/month in premiums), 401(k) matching, paid parental leave, and then multiplying that by 1 million (my rounding error there is more people than employed at most large tech companies).


Some things missing from the official PR:

* This is specifically parental leave, not just general purpose leave. And it's only 6 weeks for adoptive parents.

* There are reports of people losing healthcare coverage while on leave - right after having a baby? Really?

* Reports of people being put on PIP after their leave was over, which as we all know is a threat that you might lose your job

* Reports that people are not pushed to use their leave and there is sometimes pressure to not use it (risk of PIP, “Boy, will you be sorry if you use it.”)

* Parental leave doesn't extend to hundreds of thousands of temporary, contract, and part time workers

https://www.fastcompany.com/3053093/whats-missing-from-amazo...

I would also say it's not a great argument to say how much Amazon spends in aggregate going "above and beyond" on its employees. I doubt it really affects their bottom line in any material way.

$15/hour is also looking to soon become the minimum wage. I guess a pat on the back they did it before they were legally forced to. $32k a year is not what I'd call "high paying" though, even for unskilled entry level pay. Many waiters and bar tenders in big cities get paid a lot more than that.


I promise you I do not work for Amazon, nor have I ever worked for Amazon, nor am I in any way affiliated with Amazon — though it does say a lot about our discourse that one might think that the only way to have a charitable view of Amazon is to literally be a paid shill. I work in healthcare. At most, I work at a startup that relies quite heavily on AWS and am a happy customer. I'm just tired of the lack of nuance that I see in these threads.

> * This is specifically parental leave, not just general purpose leave. And it's only 6 weeks for adoptive parents.

I'm not sure that I insinuated otherwise.

> * There are reports of people losing healthcare coverage while on leave - right after having a baby? Really?

> * Reports of people being put on PIP after their leave was over, which as we all know is a threat that you might lose your job

> * Reports that people are not pushed to use their leave and there is sometimes pressure to not use it (risk of PIP, “Boy, will you be sorry if you use it.”)

Do you have an actual link with context? Otherwise this is just unfalsifiable conjecture. The links in your article are 410'ing. Keep in mind that you can't draw conclusions from one off incidents. Even non-Amazon workers have work horror stories — they happen. Whether this is emblematic of the experience of all 1 million-odd workers is another question entirely.

> * Parental leave doesn't extend to hundreds of thousands of temporary, contract, and part time workers, contrary to you saying it covers 1.3 million employees.

Sure, but that's true anywhere. What we do know is that Amazon does not rely predominately on temporary contract workers. It also heavily narrows down the scope of your argument to "Amazon probably doesn't treat its contract workers well", and I might agree with that. I also, personally, think that Amazon is still a net-good to society in spite of that because I'm not an absolutist.

> $15/hour is also looking to soon become the minimum wage. I guess a pat on the back they did it before they were legally forced to. $32k a year is not what I'd call "high paying" though.

First of all, it's not even obvious that $15/hr is soon to become the minimum wage, Joe Manchin has signaled opposition to it (https://twitter.com/bpolitics/status/1356676773971456003). It'll most likely be left out.

Secondly, $32k a year isn't the total compensation, because you have to take into account the monetary value of Amazon's group health insurance policy (it's around $1000/month).

Thirdly, $32k (+ ~$12k) is around the median wage in the US, and that happens to be in the top 5 in the developed world (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_income#Median_equivalen...).

And fourthly, this is for an entry-level job that doesn't require a college degree or any sort of training, it's obviously not going to be 6 figures, nor is it going to be on par with (say) teacher's salaries or police officers.


That is the case with all essential jobs, isn't it? Logistics, retail, medical, emergency services, infrastructure. All remained open, all had to show up in person. Amazon is, in the big picture, still far from the biggest one in that field.


> that was once only available to large blue chip companies with access to 1000s of high skilled engineers

Back in the old days, THE CLOUD came from IBM or CompuServe. Now it comes from Amazon and Microsoft. Big deal. It's still way more expensive than buying hardware, and now every programmer also has to work as an incompetent sysadmin and DBA.

I guess that if you see a spike in traffic, AWS will let you bankrupt yourself from the bills rather than take your site offline for an hour.


I think it's you that is lacking nuance, no offence. For instance: the climate crisis is one of the most serious issues we will have to face in the following decades. Yet, millions of delivery vans every day will depart half-empty rather than wait to be full in order to deliver funko pops in 2 days instead of 3 (yes, I realise the hyperbole). Emissions may be 40% greater because of this, according to one analysis. And because externalities like these aren't properly accounted for, some people can get fabulously rich off the price that will be paid for us all, in illnesses, deaths, and price (with heavy "interest") that we'll all have to pay later to clean up their mess. Also, I'm pessimist that they will never be properly accounted for, since the people acquiring huge sums of money with this state of affairs also acquire with it huge power to kill any meaningful reform or progress that would endanger their cash cow.


Is it clear that Amazon delivery is worse for emissions? Isn't it better to have one truck deliver everyone's goods, versus each person individually driving to the store (which also has a much larger geographical footprint than a warehouse, per item)?

I'm willing to concede that Amazon may well have driven overall consumption up. Also, anything being shipped by air is causing way more emissions by weight than any amount of people driving to the stars. But I still wonder how this balances out against the efficiency of a delivery van; I don't think the answer is that obvious.


The point is there are no incenctives for them to optimise for this. They optimise for profit, so if doubling their emissions nets them +0.05% profit on each delivery, they'll jump right on it. That's a failure of the system, more than of any individual company itself.


> I think it's you that is lacking nuance, no offence.

I think you might be misreading my comment to suggest that Amazon is unambiguously good. Read it again, I'm trying to argue that it's not unambiguously bad, and that we need more nuance when discussing these issues. I'm not sure if it's possible for an argument to be any more nuanced than that.

Regarding the climate issue, we agree! It's a big problem. But again, we need to put our nuance hats on:

1. While Amazon is a substantial contributor to CO2 emissions, it's nothing compared to that of the coal industry, airlines, and everyday drivers of automobiles. That being said, it's worth noting that US renewable energy consumption surpassed that of coal for the first time last year -> https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=43895

2. Amazon is simply meeting the needs of its consumers. Ultimately there's a cost to convenience (there's no denying that), and it comes at the cost of the climate. We agree that we'd be better off if externalities were priced in. The fact that externalities are not priced in isn't really Amazon's fault, because they're in no position to enact such policies as a whole. They only have control over their own policies, which brings me to...

3. Amazon is on track to power their operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 (https://www.aboutamazon.com/planet/climate-pledge), and invested $2 billion (with a B), in green energy companies (https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/sustainability/amazon-annou...). So it's not like they're doing absolutely nothing in their power to at least check their own emissions.

Now, all this said, is it still not worth it? Maybe, I don't doubt that there exists some people that believe that the warts are big enough that none of this is worth it. But it isn't obvious or straightforward, and there are just as many people (if not more) that do think this is all worth it, warts and all.

How's that for nuance?


But neither am I arguing that it is "unambiguously bad", so perhaps we are misunderstanding each other :)

What I'm saying is that I find it difficult to praise a company for its success when that success is at least in part predicated upon costs that they do not bear. In other words "profits for them, costs for us all". All that could be solved, or at least improved, by adequately pricing in those externalities, or even restricting them all together (e.g. for emissions: carbon tax + hard cap).

And I don't buy the "they're not in control of whether or not externalities are priced in", they have immense lobbying power to de facto subvert democracy and overpower the will of the people. They can kill or stall legislation that harms their bottom line, and of course they will! It makes them more money so why ever wouldn't they?


> And I don't buy the "they're not in control of whether or not externalities are priced in", they have immense lobbying power to de facto subvert democracy and overpower the will of the people. They can kill or stall legislation that harms their bottom line, and of course they will! It makes them more money so why ever wouldn't they?

What evidence do you have that Amazon, specifically, has done this? And why would Amazon work towards becoming 100% renewable by 2025 (surely at a high cost to them) or investing $2B in climate action (that's roughly how much they'd have to pay in carbon pricing anyway), if they actually wish to lobby against carbon pricing legislation? That is internally inconsistent.


Wish he was relentless on doing something about all the fake 4.5 star reviews. It really sours my ability to buy efficiently. And it must affect their bottom line because I return every single bad item. At least they have the incredible return system, which I assume he had some hand in.


The major problem with the return system for this is that it's great and easy, until you hit some of the anti-fraud systems and your entire account is at jeopardy, :/.


I’d be too scared to return that much. Getting banned from Amazon would be annoying. Unless you aren’t actually returning that much.


Where does this 50/50 myth come from? I have used Amazon prime as my first choice for all shopping since 2014. Only if I can’t find an item on Amazon will I buy elsewhere. (This is a convenience and customer service decision, I am relatively price insensitive.) Now I have kids and a larger family, this usually means 1 or 2 packages a _day_.

I have exactly _once_ received an item that was obviously fake.

Every time I purchase elsewhere I am shocked to be charged shipping, wait days for the item to be shipped, and go through hell if I need to return something. Amazon wins because it’s a better product in every way.


in all these amazon threads over the years, i've never chimed in before, but what the hell, just this once.

i think you can have a better than 50/50 chance of getting a decent item from amazon. you just have to be picky about what you buy from them. for example, i would never buy an apple charging cable from amazon. no matter what the listing says, it is probably going to be a cheap chinese knockoff that might set my house on fire. for that particular case, i'd buy it from apple instead.

about ten years ago, i paid US$1500 for a brand-new sony teevee, from amazon. it has always worked fine, and i am still using it today. (i'm glad i bought it before "smart" teevees that phone home to the mothership became the norm.) my trust in amazon was much higher in those days. really doubt i would ever do that again. for any moderately expensive piece of high tech gear, i'd try to buy it directly from the manufacturer, or from a reseller that specializes in that particular type of thing.

if you limit your amazon purchases to medium-expensive items that are not easily cloned in china, you'll probably be fine. it is kind of a shame that you have to be so cautious, though.

okay, actually, i lied: i wouldn't buy anything at all from amazon these days. they are looking far too much like a monopoly for my tastes, and i do not approve of the way they treat their minimum-wage workers. it has been a struggle, but i recently abandoned my amazon account, created in 1998, and have moved 100 percent of my substantial amount of e-commerce to other sites: chewy.com, target.com, crutchfield.com, b&h photo and video, newegg, ebay, and so on. almost all of them have a substantially worse experience than amazon did, but i am willing to suffer a bit of inconvenience for this particular bit of principle.


> i do not approve of the way they treat their minimum-wage workers

Amazon doesn't have minimum-wage workers, at least in the United States [1]. The starting wage at Amazon, $15 USD per hour, is more than twice the U.S. minimum wage.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/02/business/amazon-minimum-w...


That's not the starting wage, that's the "average" wage as reported on GlassDoor.

UK minimum wage is £8.20. Amazon warehouse basic day rate is £9.70, less deductions.


> > Amazon doesn't have minimum-wage workers, at least in the United States [1]. The starting wage at Amazon, $15 USD per hour, is more than twice the U.S. minimum wage.

> That's not the starting wage, that's the "average" wage as reported on GlassDoor.

No: see the link in my previous post. In the United States, the lowest starting wage for Amazon workers (including warehouse workers) is $15 USD per hour.


okay, fair point! they still aren't treated very well, though.


I'm not defending Amazons practices, but from what I can gather it really isn't any different at other retailers. You just don't hear about it because the media has a dislike of Amazon.


How are they not treated well? They get a much higher than minimum wage even though the work is entirely unskilled, and didn't I read once that Amazon pay for some of them to be educated? Seems like a pretty sweet deal to me.


I'd definitely switch over to a webstore that sold items that were sourced from the manufacturers or their authorized / official distributors. And who could prove it.

Bonus points for getting the manufacturers themselves to link to this company directly from their own websites. Obviously, they'd have to cut a sweet deal for providing the fulfillment services, but for many items, I'd rather pay a slight premium to ensure I'm getting the real thing.


What are some examples of counterfeited items you've received?

In the past 20 years I've probably ordered about a thousand things from there and have never received a counterfeit item.


I've never gotten a single counterfeit good from Amazon. I also look at what I'm buying carefully.


I have made at least 200 orders from Amazon (USA, UK, and DE) and I've never had this issue.


Back in India, the leadership, courage and innovative thought leadership of Jeff Bezos is being taught in most businesses schools.

Many claimed that he was possibly one of the greatest CEOs in the technology sector, sharing a podium with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.


The internet was a solution looking for a problem. I believe these days it was around when Bezos quit his job to chase the internet, but this time, it is blockchain.

The new blockchain-based millionaires/billionaires will be minted starting these days.

No, not cryptocurrency. Please don't conflate the two. Cryptocurrency is a side effect of blockchain.


Given that blockchain is exclusively a workaround to lacking a trusted third party, approximately what fraction of economic activity would be revolutionized by not having to trust anyone?


I'm under the impression that many of the blockchain-ers see it more as a new internet and less of a means of executing "trustless logic"


Well, it's grossly inefficient, so in that sense it's in the spirit of the web.


Yeah to add to my above comment, I don't see why anyone would think it's "new internet" or use it in any non-subversive use case


That's the exciting part. We don't know. Read Neil Postman's writing.


Yes I agree. Blockchains would be pretty useful for many scenarios. Few ideas (some already in prodcution):

- supply chain transparency (with the right crypto model you can do things like that different parties have different visibility into transactions)

- food traceability

- fighting counterfeit items (on amazon!)

- a review website where reviews cannot be tampered with (bye bye google or amazon removing negative reviews)

- logging stack for IT operations that cannot be tampered with


Many HN threads and articles (including this one) about Jeff Bezos link to interviews or speeches where he tells the primary reason he chose books as the first articles Amazon sold: because you could not build a physical book store offering millions of books.

I don't fully understand that reason. It was trivial to get one of the millions of books not in stock at a book store even before Amazon. You could just ask for it, or call them, and they would order it. You could usually pick it up the next day. After all, they were using exactly the same infrastructure to order the books as Amazon. So basically any half-decent bookstore was offering millions of books decades before Amazon did, and any half-decent bookstore would also do home delivery.


Yes, but I think Amazon differed on 2 key points.

1. You had to go through their order process, talking to someone, completing the ordering process, and then coming back to pick it up. If you live 45 minutes from the book store, that gets to be a pain.

2 You have to know the book existed. I don't think I ever really ordered a book, because for the most part, I didn't know what alternatives existed to what they offered. Amazon helped fix that. Instead of finding say one book on Python, there were a dozen on Amazon's site.


> You could just ask for it at the next book store, or call them, and they would order it

Going to the store in person? Or calling them on the phone??? It's not 1874 anymore, nobody wants to do either of those things.


> Going to the store in person? Or calling them on the phone??? It's not 1874 anymore, nobody wants to do either of those things.

Signal-to-noise. I'd love having a knowledgeable consultant to help cut out the noise.

For instance, I'm kinda-sorta in the market for a new mechanical keyboard for my home office. (I got one for work years ago and might want something a little different.) The price point is enough that I want to have some confidence before an online order. The Internet has tons of data that are nowhere close to giving me the knowledge I need to make an informed decision about whether it will satisfy my desires.

Crucially, I also don't know exactly what questions to ask to winnow the universe of possibilities into something more manageable.

Being able to consult with someone in the absence of having access to a plethora of keyboards would be huge—the feedback is killer.

I suspect books are actually very similar in this regard. The world of books is huge, and having a guide to get you to what's helpful is really important. I don't have time to read everything to get to the Good Stuff.


Yes, but they did when Amazon was founded.


Yes, because there wasn't a better option


The point is that on Amazon, you can browse the whole collection with the long-tail as a first-class citizen. With brick-and-mortar stores the buying experience for long-tail books was clearly inferior for browsing. Sure, if I knew I wanted a particular book, I could get it -- but you couldn't browse the long-tail to explore if you didn't know exactly what you were looking for.

Every friction point in the customer experience causes potential customers to lose interest and give up on their prospective purchase. So if your potential customer has to take two actions, spread across multiple days, then all else being equal you're (hopefully obviously) going to get lower conversion/purchase rates and lower customer satisfaction than if they can impulse-buy in one action.


I think you and a lot of other readers of this thread would get much from reading about a "similar" book enterprise - Chegg, and Osman Rashid. This episode was mind-blowing for me personally https://open.spotify.com/episode/3JXLKRQaZGqiBuyyGfICYe?si=3.... It takes as much tenacity as deciding to open up a restaurant or a pizza shop.


Sadly, not every city has a bibliomecca such as Powells.[0] The initial catalyst for Amazon wasn't selling every book, it was discovery that other books in your obscure little interest even existed.

[0]https://www.powells.com


Being from a smaller town I'll note a _good_ bookstore is not always an option. I don't think my town has any first-hand bookstores (at least not anymore) so I have to drive 45 minutes one-way just to get to a B&N.


The online service is able to compete directly with book ordering and delivery. It can't compete directly with physical books.


I'm always puzzled when stratechery articles hit the front page. Every one I've read seems long winded and trying too hard to sound smart. I guess people like his writing though.


Why are long-pants long?


Thank you Jeff Bezos! I think customers could tell the last couple of years he has stepped out of the business though. Amazon reviews have been gamed, and there is tons of unreliable products being sold sadly.


All the comments here are praising Bezos/Amazon as if they are some kind of Gods at innovation and yet Kindle has completely destroyed and crippled innovation in eBooks. They've so much potential but due to Amazon's monopoly, we're still stuck in the 90s when it comes to eBooks.


Doesn't that further prove the success and the sheer capacity to project market power of Bezos/Amazon?

I'm not saying it is good for technology, or innovation. But one cannot deny the advantage it provides to key Amazon stakeholders.


What's missing from ebook readers? My kindle paperwhite is probably my favourite piece of hardware


Unfortunately I cannot use nor recommend AWS after their recent deplatforming of Parler. And that added to the already questionable business practices at Amazon and bad treatment of workers etc.




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