Amazon may act as though it doesn’t hear criticism from outside of the company but, according to company founder and chairman Jeff Bezos, this is not the case. In a letter to shareholders accompanying Amazon's annual report, Bezos addressed the company’s view towards its competition. “Our energy at Amazon comes from the desire to impress customers rather than the zeal to best competitors,” Bezos wrote. That approach would be questioned by many publishers and booksellers who view Amazon's strategy as one aimed as crushing competitors, even if some of those competitors are also its vendors.
"We don’t take a view on which of these approaches is more likely to maximize business success,” he continued. “There are pros and cons to both and many examples of highly successful competitor-focused companies. We do work to pay attention to competitors and be inspired by them, but it is a fact that the customer-centric way is at this point a defining element of our culture."
The Amazon style, Bezos noted, leads to “a certain type of proactivity. When we’re at our best, we don’t wait for external pressures. We are internally driven to improve our services, adding benefits and features, before we have to. We lower prices and increase value for customers before we have to. We invent before we have to. These investments are motivated by customer focus rather than by reaction to competition. We think this approach earns more trust with customers and drives rapid improvements in customer experience – importantly – even in those areas where we are already the leader.”
In the letter Bezos touched on Amazon’s expanded offerings. “We now have more than 15 million items in Prime, up 15x since we launched in 2005. Prime Instant Video selection tripled in just over a year to more than 38,000 movies and TV episodes. The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has also more than tripled to over 300,000 books, including an investment of millions of dollars to make the entire Harry Potter series available as part of that selection. We didn’t “have to” make these improvements in Prime. We did so proactively."
Being proactive also lead to Amazon Publishing’s decision to pay authors more frequently, Bezos said, paying “royalties monthly, sixty days in arrears. The industry standard is twice a year, and that has been the standard for a long time. Yet when we interview authors as customers, infrequent payment is a major dissatisfier. Imagine how you’d like it if you were paid twice a year. There isn’t competitive pressure to pay authors more than once every six months, but we’re proactively doing so,” Bezos explained.
And on Amazon’s Kindle strategy, Bezos noted: “Our business approach is to sell premium hardware at roughly breakeven prices. We want to make money when people use our devices – not when people buy our devices. We think this aligns us better with customers. For example, we don’t need our customers to be on the upgrade treadmill. We can be very happy to see people still using four-year-old Kindles!”
He closed by observing, “As proud as I am of our progress and our inventions, I know that we will make mistakes along the way – some will be self-inflicted, some will be served up by smart and hard-working competitors. Our passion for pioneering will drive us to explore narrow passages, and, unavoidably, many will turn out to be blind alleys. But – with a bit of good fortune – there will also be a few that open up into broad avenues.”