Forget all you knew about Amazon, because what is really cooking behind closed doors goes much deeper.
At first glance, Amazon may seem “just an e-commerce company, just like e-Bay”. Not only is Amazon the world’s largest Internet retailer, but also the most powerful producer of symbolic capital. Most worryingly, Amazon is not just a marketeer – it is the market itself.
A lot to take in? Let’s break it down.
Amazon started operating more than two decades ago, as a book retailer. The concept was pretty innovative for 1994: founder Jeff Bezos proved a visionaire. As of 2018, Amazon ranks third among the world’s most valuable companies. Bezos himself is eight, with a net worth of $130.5 billion.
Amazon may have started as an online bookstore, but it quickly became a convenience store. If a product is not available on Amazon…better make sure it exists altogether.
“All in one place.”
Then Amazon started manufacturing its own products. The Kindle e-reader may be the most famous, but it is hardly all the corporate giant has to offer: from baby wipes to batteries, Amazon leaves no profitabble segment vacant. In fact, Amazon owns 72 subsidiary brands that offer almost any product: vitamins, kitchenware, food, etc. There are 39 Amazon-exclusive clothing brands. Thirty-nine.
This being said, the logic consequences for such market practices are the establishment of one of the biggest monopolies. Whith such power, Amazon has the leverage to push every reticent provider out of the game. If a certain brand refuses to offer its products at Amazon, the company has ways to force its hand: for instance, when Birkenstock declined operating with Amazon, the latter threatened to putt he shoe brand out of business by bringing in knock-offs.
Anti-dumping laws do not apply to the corporation, for it can (and actually does) afford to sell goods at ridiculously low prices to secure segments of the market.
Another lobbying tool is the platform’s own algorithm. When a user performs a search, the top results will show either Amazon’s own products or those by brands who pay for the company’s services (storing and shipping). Besides, it has the resources to extract information from sellers and use it to compete against them: customers searches, preferences and general consumer behavior data.
As a result of this questionable strategies, Amazon has ammassed an immense amount of power and influence. It gets one out of every two dollars that Americans spend online.
Overwhelmed enough? If not yet, consider this.
Amazon is an infrastructure. The company’s website is consistently becoming a search engine of sorts, an environment where people spend as much time as on Google. Why googling products and information you are interested in buying, when you can skip a step? It is even affecting the way Americans talk: instead of saying ‘I have to buy more toothpaste’, there’s the ‘I have to order more toothpaste’. New technology creates new expressions, and language impacts on human behavior creating new customs and habits. The perfect circle.
Still not scared?
Amazon has the power to create culture, and it is actually using it. Amazon has the power to create culture, and it is actually using it. Books are a key part of our symbolic world – they educate, entertain and convey ideas and ideologies. The company has a great power over which ideas get published or discarded, promoted or hidden. Out of every two books, both digital and print, one is ordered from Amazon. But as big a factor the written word is, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The company has also gotten into creating original audiovisual content, and the list of shows and movies it has so far produced is quite long: Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, Bosch, Betas, Red Oaks, The Man in the High Castle and many more.
Then, in 2014, Amazon embraced artificial intelligence: now children spend more time listening to Alexa’s voice than to their own parents. Amazon has found the perfect way to exercise its influence at all times, and in places where people keep a low guard: their homes. There is a reason why the verbs ‘influence’ and ‘infiltrate’ sound so similar…
Not only does Alexa provide instantaneous opportunities for profit (if you ask Alexa to “order new batteries”, it will order the ones Amazon manufactures), but also it has the pottential to educate the people with the Amazon culture.
Will it ever come a day when Alexa becomes “part of the family”?
Amazon’s next move will be into a very sensitive field: healthcare. The company is providing a software that will (allegedly) help hospitals cut costs.
The implications are downright creepy, for now Amazon will be handling medical records and all kinds of personal data. Also, this is mere speculation from my end, but still it needs to be said: the team in charge of this new venture into healthcare is called…1492. I sincerely hope that number is not a date, because we all know what happened in 1492 and how it turned out for some people.
The company’s massive influence lies in their ubiquity, in their multiplicity/simultaneity of roles played.
Should one single player be allowed to concentrate such amount of power? Should it be permitted to meddle in both public and private affairs? Up to this point, the attributes and prerogatives of the Amazon Corporation can be equated with those of a nation. It has an identity and a culture that tries to instil in their ‘inhabitants’. It has police power and monopoly of violence to punish ‘deviants’. The one thing that is missing is the Amazon national anthem. And, in case there is one already…
I guess I don’t want to know.