Amazon’s Movement from “Missionary” to “Mercenary”


Ah, the customer — that delicious, discerning, weak-willed figure! For Bezos, the customer is everything: a comrade, a dependent, and a kind of theological entity, on whose altar almost any sacrifice is reasonable. If you can deliver the lowest prices and widest selection and speediest shipping, won’t your customer forgive just about anything? Speaking as one (and how), I can say that the answer is no. If the choice is between paying an extra two dollars for a paperback and putting an entire industry to the torch, I’m willing to ante up.

Perhaps Bezos is mulling over at least a few of these matters. At some point over the past couple of years, he drew up a memo called “Amazon.love,” which laid out “a vision for how the Amazon founder wants his company to conduct itself and be perceived by the world.” Stone reprints one section, in which Bezos has listed a series of aphorisms — all of them hinging on what is “cool,” a word he may well have used, all those years ago, to describe his infinity cube.

Defeating tiny guys is not cool.
Winning is cool.
Defeating bigger, unsympathetic guys is cool.
Obsessing over competitors is not cool.
Conquerors are not cool.
Leadership is cool.
Hypocrisy is not cool.
Missionaries are cool.

At Harper’s, James Marcus reviews Brad Stone’s The Everything Store, a book about online retail giant Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. Marcus’s review focuses on Amazon’s slow and steady move away from its “missionary” values to what now appears to be “mercenary”—once upon a time Amazon.com was the little guy battling big, profitable brick and mortar stores like Barnes and Noble, and it’s now siphoning revenue from book publishers big and small, avoiding tax payments in foreign countries by using loopholes, and spending more than $100 million to price-cut competitors and then acquire them (see: Zappos).

Marcus takes the position that Amazon’s low-prices doesn’t make up for some of these “mercenary” tactics, and that he’d rather spend a few extra dollars to avoid buying items from Amazon (Meaghan has taken a similar position by living in an “Amazon-free household”). I have to admit that my household (me), hasn’t gone Amazon-free—I ordered a gift for a friend on there just last week—but I’ve attempted to strike a balance with my purchases by buying books directly from publishers or authors whenever possible.

Photo: Steve Jurvetson

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

highjump (#39)

I feel so guilty about the amount of money I spend on Amazon. Its just so easy! One of my 2014 goals will be to transition to 100% Costco for bulk items.

echolikebells (#3,272)

I, like @highjump, feel so much guilt over my Amazon spending. I have made considerable efforts to purchase my books elsewhere (Barnes & Noble, Half Price Books, the crazy-confusing local book mansion that I always get actually lost in), but for everything else… it is just so, so good to be able to get what I want for so little money. I did give up my Prime membership once I had been in the student program for too long to receive the discounted rate, so I AM spending less there than I was last year and the year before.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@echolikebells Oh Half-Price books. I miss living in a city with HPB. Such a good store and they treat their employees so fairly. I have several friends who quit BN to work there and love it.

echolikebells (#3,272)

@andnowlights I love HPB so much. I used to live fairly close to two to two of them, and now I live within a 15 minute drive of four different HPB stores. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

lizziefresh (#651)

So a question for Amazon-free households, did you quit Zappos as well? There is lots of dislike for Amazon.com in my house, but I cannot quit Zappos. I’ve heard they are better in terms of how they treat employees, but it’s still ultimately supporting Amazon, right? What do you think about it?

Meaghano (#529)

@lizziefresh Ugh yeah Zappos is my weakness, my feet are a size 4/5 so it’s impossible to find stuff in stores. I think it’s ultimately the same thing, unfortunately.

One thing that has worked for me is finding stuff on Amazon/Zappos and then going to the actual website of the shoe/inflatable turkey/yoga mat and ordering it directly. You end up paying more and it’s an extra step, though.

andnowlights (#2,902)

Amazon is such a strange beast. We don’t use it very often, but we ordered my in-laws Christmas presents from there and they’ve slowed their free shipping down considerably. Ordered them on the 15th and they told us they wouldn’t arrive by the 29th and we should upgrade (read: pay $10) for expedited shipping. Can’t help but wonder if this is their new business model as they slowly eliminate competition.

I try not to buy much from Amazon, but I do have a kindle and love it. I also have a Nook, though, and try to alternate buying from B&N and Amazon. Between the library and borrowing from my sister, though, neither store is getting much of my money lately so: a loss for all big box stores?

As an office worker who dreads shopping, I find it REALLY hard to quit amazon! I have a prime membership, and this significantly cuts down on my shopping time. This week, I bought sunscreen, a dog car seat, a cell phone charger, shoe insoles, and label-maker tape. That just saved me a trip to the pet store, a shoe store (?), an office store, and sephora. Basically, I live in a big city, need those things, and want to avoid giant crowds and/or driving my car. I don’t live in a community that has those things within walking distance, so it’s either spend an entire day running errands, or take an hour out of my workday to buy it on amazon. Sigh, world.

Sloane (#675)

I don’t buy books very often – library, friends, and family are my main sources. And Little Free Libraries! (http://littlefreelibrary.org/)

But I do shop a lot on Amazon. I use subscribe and save for toiletries and housewares (15% off and free shipping). I really don’t like going to the store, and I’m terribly forgetful, so dropping stuff onto my amazon shopping list when I think of it is much more convenient than driving to the store and forgetting that one thing I needed and having to go back, etc.

CubeRootOfPi (#1,098)

I try not to shop much, period. When I do, though, a good portion of it is on Amazon, in part because some of the blogs/websites that I go to a lot get their operating funds through Amazon’s Affiliates Program.

lemonflower (#5,137)

I’m Amazon free! I actually don’t buy anything online, except when I’m buying direct from artists. And why yes, I AM smug about it. Pretty loathsome.

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