Tag: Amazon

Amazon to launch own-branded TVs

By Jay Peters for The Verge

Amazon is set to release Amazon-branded TVs as soon as October in the US, according to Insider. The TVs will have Alexa, screen sizes “in the range of 55 to 75 inches,” and will be designed and manufactured by third parties such as TCL, Insider reports. The company is also developing a TV designed in-house, Insider says, but it’s unclear when that might be released.

Amazon already has many irons in the fire with TVs — it partners with Best Buy to sell Toshiba and Insignia TVs that run Amazon’s Fire TV software, offers an AmazonBasics-branded TV in India, and has the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Fire TV Cube, which you can hook up to your TV. But this rumored new Amazon-branded TV could indicate that the company is stepping up its television efforts to take on TV stalwarts like LG and Samsung more directly.

Amazon didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Amazon slayer: open e-commerce

Source: Mint

The investing world is enthralled by a determined Beijing as it cuts China’s private sector down to size by relentless regulatory action. That’s good news for New Delhi: its more subtle manoeuvres in the same direction are going largely unnoticed.

Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart, however, would surely have felt the rising temperatures. Even as they weigh draft e-commerce rules that seek to restrict online marketplaces — not just theirs, but also the planned super-app by India’s Tata Group — a new existential threat lurks around the corner: a state-sponsored open network for digital commerce.

In China, homegrown stores like Taobao, Tmall and JD.com have an unshakable dominance in online retail. But now, the only other billion-people-plus opportunity open to American capital is also slipping away from its grasp.

It’s unclear how exactly India’s open e-commerce network will work — or if it will work at all. The template, according to the press statement, is the country’s highly successful Unified Payments Interface, a public utility that allows any entity to process real-time payments over smartphones provided a set of common protocols is followed. The UPI network has in a short time eclipsed proprietary card-based payments.

Fashioning a similar open network for online commerce will be a lot trickier. It’s easy to make a set of rules where there’s a simple, single-point objective of satisfying the central bank that the same funds aren’t being spent twice. Commerce, by contrast, involves far fuzzier outcomes. Did the consumer get the product she paid for? Did it arrive in one piece? Was the article genuine or a counterfeit? Was the returns policy enforceable? Additionally, brands selling online have to worry about resellers’ creditworthiness and their ability to manage complicated distribution logistics in a country with poor physical infrastructure.

The ministry says that merchants will be able to save their data under the open network to build credit history and reach consumers, breaking silos imposed by platforms “to drive innovation and scale.” Several questions arise: Are Amazon and Walmart-Flipkart, which aren’t directing even 10% of India’s $800 billion annual retail sales between them, stifling innovation to a point where the harm exceeds their positive influence from aggregating demand? Should they, therefore, be mandated to operate their merchant-onboarding processes according to some preset rules, eroding much of their power to determine what goes on over platforms in which they have invested billions of dollars? Like everywhere else, the danger with dominant marketplaces in India is that they will copy the bestselling ideas of merchants and introduce them as private labels. But is this threat currently so large as to require a systematic downgrading of platforms?

Not allowed to own inventory, the two dominant foreign-owned marketplaces have solved many of the underlying problems of trust by using a handful of large sellers they can control. This practice, challenged by some traders’ groups as discriminatory, is now in the crosshairs of India’s competition regulator. So intense is the scrutiny that Amazon’s joint venture with Indian software tycoon Narayana Murthy has decided to fold up by the middle of next year. The seven-year-old JV owns Cloudtail, the largest seller on Amazon’s India website. As the news website Morning Context notes, Cloudtail helped relatively smaller manufacturers — such as a saree brand from Rajasthan — acquire national reach on Amazon, something they may not have achieved on their own. Consumers are getting more choice than before. Once large platform-aligned buyers like Cloudtail are chased out, Amazon’s customer satisfaction scores could be hard to sustain.

As India deliberately de-emphasises the platform model, even the conglomerate Tata Group, which is planning a marketplace extending from fashion and lifestyle to electronics, may be handicapped if it’s unable to sell a cup of Starbucks coffee on its website. That’s because Starbucks Corp.’s joint venture in India with Tata makes it a connected party, which can’t act as a seller on the super-app, according to draft e-commerce rules. Ditto for Walmart Inc.’s separate wholesale unit. As an affiliated entity of Flipkart, it may not be allowed to hawk a shirt on the retail website.

The winner may be someone pursuing a different business model for aggregating supplies. Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, controls both the largest chain of physical stores and the biggest telco. Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. could carry its own inventory, using its $180 billion balance sheet to buy and stock third-party merchandise and sell it online or offline — or in a hybrid online-offline setup.

A deliberate assault on the economics of digital platforms will possibly rank among the most far-reaching separations of platforms and commerce seen anywhere in recent years — save China’s recent forced restructuring of Ant Group Co.‘s operations. America’s historic moves to segregate coal from railroads, commercial enterprises from banking, and television networks from programming took place in a very different era that ended with breaking up AT&T Inc.’s lock on communications in 1982. But the pendulum is swinging again. Lina Khan, chosen by President Joe Biden to chair the Federal Trade Commission, is a keen proponent of a more muscular approach to reining in tech platforms.

This shifting zeitgeist gives New Delhi the perfect cover to prepare its Amazon slayer, even though digital commerce in India is at present just a sideshow. Far bigger anticompetitive forces are at play in sectors ranging from telecoms and ports to airports.

But then, politicians like to invent challenges that don’t exist, rather than tackle those that do. An open digital commerce network is one such solution searching for a problem. Emasculating the economics of platforms will give a big advantage to retailers who are allowed to own inventory. It could turn out to be more efficient, but not necessarily more competitive.

 

Competition Commission to investigate Amazon

By Hanno Labuschagne for MyBroadband

The Competition Commission’s enquiry into South Africa’s digital market will include international platforms, which means the Amazon Store, the Apple App Store, and the Google Play Store would form part of its investigation.

The Commission announced it would be launching the Online Intermediation Platforms Market Inquiry (OIPMI) in February 2021, a few months after it published its “Competition in the Digital Economy” whitepaper.

The Commission said it had reasons to believe that market features exist that impeded, distorted or restricted competition amongst the platforms and undermined the Competition Act’s purposes.

South Africa’s biggest online retailer Takealot was singled out for its dominance in e-commerce.

Responding to recent requests for clarification on the scope of the inquiry, the Commission said the OIPMI was not restricted to only platforms that had a physical presence in South Africa.

“The scope of the OIPMI includes foreign-based online intermediation platforms that have an economic effect in South Africa even if such platforms do not have a physical presence in the country,” the CC said.

“Foreign-based or international platforms that lack a physical presence — for instance through an incorporated entity in South Africa — still fall within the jurisdiction of the Act and hence the Inquiry itself.”

“The inquiry is whether the platform has an effect within the Republic, not whether it has a physical presence,” it added.

The Commission said some international platforms might be market leaders domestically in areas such as app stores and online travel and accommodation platforms, which is why they form part of the investigation.

“Whilst some types of online intermediation platform may require a physical presence, it is apparent from the nature of digital markets that services can still be provided to consumers and business users domestically without a physical presence.”

“Foreign-based platforms contract directly with South African business users to be present on their platforms and facilitate transactions with South African consumers, as well as with foreign consumers using South African businesses.”

“Their economic activities, therefore, have a direct effect on both business users and consumers within South Africa.”

Although the Commission did not name specific platforms, its statement implies it will likely be looking into the role of Amazon.com, the world’s biggest e-commerce store, which also ships products to South Africa and last year started allowing South African businesses to sell on its platform.

Given that Android and iOS are the two leading smartphone platforms in the country, the Google Play Store and Apple App Store are the dominant mobile stores in South Africa, and would be subject to investigation.

Under travel and accommodation, leading players likely include Airbnb and Booking.com.

The Commission said while certain international platforms raised the issue of whether their economic effect within South Africa was substantial or not, the Inquiry would determine this.

“Substantiality cannot be determined simply by reference to the share of South Africa in the overall business of the platform or to the number of transactions taking place,” the Commission said.

“The determination needs to be properly assessed within a context which cannot occur if there is no co-operation around information which provides the Inquiry with a better understanding of the context.”

“For this reason, the Inquiry will require that any international platforms which have an economic effect within South Africa respond to information requests and participate in public hearings if requested to do so.”

 

Amazon on a hiring spree in South Africa

Amazon is advertising 168 jobs in South Africa, including work-from-home positions that can be done anywhere in the country.

South Africa is one of the countries where Amazon is expanding its presence. Last year Amazon Web Services (AWS) went live with the Cape Town region, which opened many new positions.

This followed an announcement by Amazon in June 2020 that it was hiring 3 000 new staff members in South Africa, ranging from customer service associates to technical experts.

Amazon customer service director in South Africa, Andrew Raichlin, said they were “thrilled with the talent in South Africa.”

This hiring spree will take the number of employees of Amazon in South Africa to 7 000, which makes it one of the largest tech employers in the country.

Another vote of confidence in South Africa is Amazon’s decision to base its new African headquarters in Cape Town.

The company is the anchor tenant in the new R4-billion River Club development, which received the go-ahead from the City of Cape Town earlier this year.

Amazon’s expansion in South Africa continues and the company is now advertising many new vacancies in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

There are also a few work from home vacancies where successful candidates can work from anywhere in South Africa. Applicants must have a fibre broadband connection at home.

Most of the new Amazon jobs are technical, including operations and support engineering, software development, and technical product management.

TOWER reaches Amazon UK’s digital shelves

In May 2021, leading South African self-adhesive products brand TOWER launched their range on the proverbial shelves of online retailer giant, Amazon.

This move will give TOWER a boost as well as inspire fellow South African brands to brave the international online shopping space, especially within the United Kingdom.

Despite its small size geographically, the United Kingdom is a big e-commerce player, with annual online sales at $99 billion, a 14.5% share of the global e-commerce market.

TOWER’s main purpose for expanding their online presence and selling on Amazon is to grow the reach of the brand. CEO of TOWER, Stephen Beattie, comments: “We’ve established ourselves to be a strong brand with solid values and an unwavering commitment to quality products. We are now looking to the future to scale up the business internationally.”

Beattie explains that, “TOWER is an international company that happens to be headquartered in Cape Town. We want to honour our roots and leverage our international ties to share the benefits of our products in every office, school and home worldwide.”

What stands out about Amazon to TOWER, however, is not just their impressive distribution channels, but their dedication to the consumer experience. Partnering with a company like Amazon is a good fit for TOWER who is a consumer centric business that champions the stories and experiences of business professionals, teachers and parents.

TOWER’s focus on the consumer drives their product development and TOWER understands the needs of parents and teachers who guide and encourage the developing minds and confidence of children.

TOWER has chosen the 30 best-selling range of school labels and stickers to sell on Amazon, which focus on encouragement and rewards. Acknowledgment of a job well done, or the encouragement to keep trying, are important affirmations to provide children when they are learning, and TOWER hopes they can spread joy and positivity to children and inspire other South African businesses to reach for success beyond the borders of South Africa.

 

Amazon to build new headquarters in Cape Town

By Dan Meyer for The South African

The City of Cape Town has given the go-ahead for the construction of a R4-billion mixed-use development to be occupied primarily by global retail giant Amazon, with some 19 000 jobs promised to those responsible for carrying out the project.

Executive mayor Dan Plato said in a statement on Monday 19 April that the 15-hectare parcel of land in the River Club has been approved for development by the Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, with development promising to provide “a significant boost to the Cape Town economy as the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown [continues]”.

Plato said that the 150 000 square metre mixed-use space will be divided into commercial and housing uses across two precincts, and said that heritage considerations have been accounted for.

“The city has carefully and thoroughly considered all of the submissions and concerns during the appeal process. We are acutely aware of the need to balance investment and job creation, along with heritage and planning considerations,” he said.

“It is clear that this development offers many economic, social and environmental benefits for the area. We are committed to driving investment to revitalise the economy, which is slowly recovering following the impact of COVID-19,” said Plato.

The proposed development will contain the following:

  • 59 600 SQM office space;
  • 20 700 SQM retail space;
  • 8 200 SQM hotel;
  • 4,100 SQM gym;
  • Restaurants, conferencing, school and events space

The developers of the project have pledged to assign 20% of the residential floor space to affordable housing opportunities. A total of 31 900 SQM of the development is intended for residential purposes.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) welcomed the announcement, saying that the potential job creation is vital.

“The DA welcomes the announcement that Amazon will establish its South African headquarters in the City of Cape Town. This project has the potential to create up 19 000 jobs – 5 239 during the construction phase alone – and will inject an estimated R4 billion into the local economy,” they said.

The DA said that the announcement highlights the City of Cape Town’s success in “setting itself at the forefront of investment and economic development in the country, while keeping local concerns front of mind”.

“The extended COVID-19 lockdown has caused devastation on the South African economy, with Cape Town not escaping this economic fall-out. This development that will serve to revitalise the local economy and increase the trust already placed in the competence of the Western Cape government, once again proving that the DA does it better.”

 

Jeff Bezos steps down as Amazon CEO

Source: EWN

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced that he will stand aside later this year as chief executive of the company he built from a startup into one of the world’s most valuable firms.

The world’s richest person based on his Amazon stake, Bezos said he will transition to the role of executive chair in the third quarter, handing over the CEO role to Andy Jassy, who heads Amazon Web Services.

The news came as Amazon reported a blowout holiday quarter with profits more than doubling to $7.2 billion and revenue jumping 44 percent to $125.6 billion – as pandemic lockdowns caused online sales to explode around the globe.

In a letter to Amazon employees, Bezos said he would “stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives” but would pivot towards philanthropic initiatives, including his Day One Fund and Bezos Earth Fund, and other business ventures in space exploration and journalism.

“I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring,” Bezos wrote.

“I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organisations can have.”

Bezos, 57, founded Amazon in his garage in 1994 and went on to grow it into a colossus that dominates online retail, with operations in streaming music and television, groceries, cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and more.

His other businesses include The Washington Post newspaper and the private space firm Blue Origin.

His successor Jassy joined Amazon as a marketing manager in 1997 and in 2003 founded AWS, the cloud services division of the company which has been one of the most profitable but least-known units of the tech giant.

“He will be an outstanding leader, and he has my full confidence,” Bezos said of Jassy.

“Right now I see Amazon at its most inventive ever, making it an optimal time for this transition,” he said.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives saw giving command of Amazon to Jassy as a “major step up in the clouds arms race with crosstown rival Microsoft.”

Vast expansion

Bezos’s tenure at Amazon has been marked by a vast expansion globally and surges in profitability.

The company is based in Seattle, Washington, and is developing a second headquarters outside the US capital.

Amazon’s market value was some $1.69 trillion as of Tuesday, a tenfold increase from a decade ago, making it one of the world’s most valuable.

Bezos’s stake gives him a personal fortune worth an estimated $196 billion, slightly more than Tesla chief Elon Musk who had briefly captured the title of world’s wealthiest person.

Amazon has led other businesses by guaranteeing a minimum $15 per hour wage and has invested billions in COVID-19 mitigation – but it continues to face criticism over workplace conditions at its warehouse operations.

“The company Jeff Bezos started nearly three decades ago is under a cloud of scrutiny,” said Maurice BP-Weeks of activist group coalition Athena.

“Workers are speaking up, walking out, and organizing against miserable working conditions … Small businesses are banding together to challenge Amazon’s anti-competitive practices.”

The company employs more than one million people worldwide including 800,000 in the United States.

The transition comes with Amazon and other large tech firms under heightened scrutiny from antitrust enforcers in the United States and elsewhere for their dominance of key economic sectors, which has become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Amazon has become the leading force in online commerce, Bezos has brushed aside criticism over its dominance of the sector.

He told a congressional hearing last year that Amazon accounts for less than four percent of retail spending in the United States and has a “range of retail competitors.”

The latest quarterly results showed growth across all business segments including its cloud computing as Amazon has expanded its streaming media offerings and grocery operations.

Neil Saunders of the research firm GlobalData said Amazon has boosted sales during the pandemic “off the back of its superior logistics network,” but also faces growing competition.

“We maintain our view that Amazon will emerge from the pandemic as a bigger and stronger business,” Saunders said.

“We welcome the leadership change, if only because it will allow Jeff Bezos to focus more on innovation and new ideas.”

 

By Jon Porter for The Verge

Amazon says it has just had its “biggest holiday season to date” as customers turned to the site to shop rather than venturing out to physical stores.

Although CNBC notes that the company did not share actual sales figures for either Black Friday or Cyber Monday, in a blog post the company revealed figures for independent sellers on its platform.

Amazon says these sellers saw over $4.8 billion in sales through the two shopping days worldwide, an increase of 60 percent over last year.

“Through Cyber Monday, 2020 has been the largest holiday shopping season so far in our company’s history thanks to customers around the world,” Amazon wrote.

While Amazon’s sales reached record highs, traffic at physical stores has reportedly plummeted. Preliminary data from Sensormatic Solutions reported by CNBC said that in-store traffic fell by 52.1 percent this Black Friday compared with 2019, as customers stayed home to avoid the crowds. If current trends continue, 42 cents of every dollar spent this holiday season could go to Amazon, according to one analysis, up from 36 cents last year.

Amazon says 71,000 small- and medium-sized businesses worldwide surpassed $100,000 in sales so far this holiday season. But Amazon’s own brands also appear to have sold gangbusters.

The company says customers bought “more Ring, Blink, and eero devices on Amazon than during any previous holiday shopping weekend.” The company adds that other top-selling devices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday include its new Echo Dot and Fire TV Stick 4K.

Other top-sellers in the US over the holiday season include Barack Obama’s book, A Promised Land; a Revlon hair dryer and volumiser hot air brush; and a genetic DNA test ancestry kit from 23andMe.

Over the course of this year, Amazon has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of changing shopping habits due to the pandemic. In its last earnings release, the company reported that its net income nearly tripled in the quarter compared to the previous year, and that’s not including its Prime Day sale that had to be delayed this year.

This growth has fuelled a massive hiring spree at the company, The New York Times reports, with Amazon adding 427,300 employees to its global workforce over the course of ten months.

 

AWS outage takes out a chunk of the Internet

By Jay Peters for The Verge

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Amazon’s Internet infrastructure service that is the backbone of many websites and apps, experienced a major outage affecting a large portion of the Internet.

“Kinesis has been experiencing increased error rates this morning in our US-East-1 Region that’s impacted some other AWS services,” Amazon said in a statement to The Verge. “We are working toward resolution.” And, ironically, in a notice on the AWS Service Health Dashboard, Amazon said the issue has apparently “affected our ability to post updates” to that dashboard.

A number of apps and services have posted on Twitter about how the AWS outage is affected them — it seems the issue is fairly widespread:

  • Flickr
  • Adobe
  • Anchor
  • RSS
  • The New York subway

Downdetector.com also showed spikes in user reports of problems with many Amazon services.

 

By Jan Vermeulen for MyBroadband

Amazon announced in June that it was hiring 3 000 new customer service agents in South Africa. The company was looking for skills ranging from basic computer literacy to technical experts.

These new employees are required to work from home and provide support to Amazon customers in North America and Europe.

This means you needed access to a high-speed ADSL or entry-level fibre connection to your home, and to be willing to work shifts the coincide with North American business hours. Some job listings explicitly state a 10Mbps minimum line speed and that LTE connections are not suitable.

According to Amazon, the addition of these 3,000 permanent and seasonal full-time positions will bring the company’s total permanent workforce in South Africa to 7,000.

MyBroadband recently had the opportunity to interview a successful applicant for one of Amazon’s customer service roles, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity. The interview was conducted in person and we were able to verify the authenticity of the claims made.

Impressive, efficient systems
The first thing our jobseeker noted was that every stage during his application and training process was like clockwork.

Amazon communicated what was required at every step and everything was streamlined for efficiency.

After the application through the Amazon jobs website, there was about a week’s wait before the applicant heard that he had made it through the initial screening stages.

Amazon asked whether he was still interested in the position. If he was still interested, he was informed that he needed to complete an aptitude test.

Aptitude testing
This extensive aptitude test is conducted online and took about two hours to complete.

Amazon tested for fluency in English, and reading and listening comprehension.

It then placed the applicant under pressure by having them listen to a scenario where a customer was complaining about something. The recording may be paused at any moment and they were required to answer questions such as “When was this item meant to arrive?”

As he was listening to the customer complaint, Amazon would also pop up perception questions like “Is this customer happy?”

Gruelling training
Another week after the aptitude test, Amazon responded with a job offer. It contained the conditions of employment, salary, and details on company perks like a medical aid, provident fund, and Internet allowance.

Our customer service associate-in-training said that they were given an allowance of R1 200 which had to be put towards their Internet connection.

His total pay package was around R12 000 per month.

The corporate medical aid was provided through Discovery and the provident fund through Momentum.

After accepting the offer, he received a call from an Amazon manager who congratulated him on his appointment.

Two weeks later, he received an email on a Thursday stating that he would receive everything he needed the following day and that his training would begin that Monday. The email also contained instructions on how to set up his equipment.

On Friday morning, a courier arrived with a Lenovo all-in-one computer, an uninterruptible power supply, and a set of hardware security keys. The computer was configured so it could only be used for Amazon.

On Monday morning at 08:00, our trainee was online with a group of 30 other people, a training officer, and his assistant.

They spent eight hours a day in a rigorous and strict training programme.

“Amazon expects a very high level of self-discipline,” he said. “During training, being absent is just not an option.”

If someone was not online at precisely 08:00 in the morning when training was scheduled to start, it was no small issue. The training officer was immediately on the phone to the absent trainee to find out what was going on.

Long hours, strict self-discipline
Trainees were told that after they completed the programme, their working schedules would be quite rigid.

To serve the North American market, your shift in South Africa would begin between 16:00 and 19:00 in the evening and run for eleven hours until the following morning.

This includes an unpaid lunch hour and two paid 15-minute tea breaks.

When you step away from your workstation to take a break, you must set your status as being on a break. If you couldn’t take your break at the scheduled time because you were finishing up a call, you must note that in the system.

Trainees were also informed that they should prepare for the fact that during the first six months of work they will not be able to swap shifts with other customer service associates.

Performance monitoring
Once you graduate from training and you begin working, Amazon monitors your performance.

However, this is not a fixed number applied to all customer support agents. Amazon makes provision for new recruits to go through a period of improving as they become more familiar with the job.

“Everything is measurable,” the interviewee said. “You set a baseline performance level in that first week.”

As long as you are always improving, Amazon is happy. The company also works hard to try and retain staff, he said.

Exit procedure
The person we interviewed did not end up becoming an Amazon staff member. They bowed out during training for personal reasons, and because they felt they would not be able to multitask at the pace needed to excel at the job.

He explained that during training, he learned that they would be required to look up information related to a customer’s query in the Amazon knowledge base for support agents while on a call, and then proceed based on the guidelines provided.

“It’s extreme multitasking,” he said.

When he informed Amazon that he did not wish to continue, there was genuine concern. They wanted to know if they had done something wrong and whether they could be clearer in explaining what the job entailed so applicants would know exactly what to expect.

He was also caught off-guard when Amazon said they would pay him for the time he spent in training.

“It was truly impressive,” he said. “It would be great if South African companies could operate at this level of efficiency.”

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