Number of staff
Seattle, Washington, USA
It’s hard to imagine now, given the breadth of its business, that when Amazon.co.uk launched in October 1998 (four years after its launch in the US), it positioned itself simply as an “online book seller”.
In spite of this modest description and the fact the brand started life operating from founder Jeff Bezos’ garage in Seattle, the brand harboured big ambitions from the outset. Even the name ‘Amazon’ was picked because it conveyed size and power.
Today, the company offers millions of products across a multitude of categories including music, film, toys, clothing and DIY. It boasts 304m active customer accounts worldwide, defined as accounts that have purchased in the past 12 months. It has led the way as an online customer-experience innovator, introducing initiatives such as ‘1-click’ purchasing in 1997, its Prime membership scheme in 2005 (announcing its ambition to launch a 30-minute drone-delivery service for customers in 2013) and e-reader Kindle in 2007.
Yet, while Amazon’s rise (and profits) are impressive, its start was shaky due to the dotcom boom and bust at the end of the 20th century. This dent to consumer confidence destroyed many a fledgling online brand; Amazon was one of the few to survive, but it didn’t turn a profit until it was six years old – a modest $5m on revenues of more than $1bn.
Although Amazon’s business has diversified hugely since launch, its core mission hasn’t – it still hinges its entire operating model on being the most customer-centric company in the world, undoubtedly the reason for the brand’s meteoric rise.
Its constant pursuit of convenience and value for its customers explains why it has successfully crushed competitors, such as Borders (now defunct), on its way to the top.
That’s not to say that all brand ambition has proved positive – the human cost of fulfilling such uncompromising targets was alleged to have led to unhealthy working practices for some staff, which have been widely reported, although vehemently denied by Amazon senior management.
Much of the brand’s entrepreneurial ‘can do’, unrelenting attitude is due to the influence of its hands-on US founder and CEO Bezos, a former Wall Street worker, who owns 20% of the company. As well as an apparently obsessive focus on customer service, Bezos is a visionary whose sights are firmly set on the long-term, not short-term, gains.
Another pivotal brand approach for Amazon has been personalisation. Ensuring that site content and all contact with customers is relevant, useful and takes previous buying behaviour into account has always been a priority and source of competitive advantage.
An example of prioritising useful content is Amazon’s commitment to encouraging consumers to review products honestly, so customers can benefit from the personal insights, whether positive or negative.
These strategies have paid off and become synonymous with the Amazon brand and its diversified services, such as Fresh (sells and delivers groceries in the US), Kindle (tablets and ebook readers), Studios (TV production) and Prime (membership scheme).
These key brand principles can also be found running through the raft of Amazon-owned companies, which include Zappos.com, audible.com, Goodreads, lovefilm.com and pets.com.
Having grown from its beginnings in a garage into a huge empire, the major brand challenge facing Amazon now, on the brink of world domination and comprising so many different components, is to humanise its brand.
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410 Terry Avenue, North Seattle, WA 98109, USA
Neil Lindsay, vice-president, worldwide brand and mass-marketing and device product-line management
Monica Newsom, marketing director
Barry Furlong, director marketing, EU
Simon Morris, director of advertising, EU
Sanjay Balakrishnan, director of marketing, UK