20 Years On From its UK Launch, What Can Businesses Learn From Amazon?

    Fun fact: typing the words ‘relentless.com’ won’t lead you to the homepage of a popular energy drink, but instead will redirect to the Amazon home page.

    This curiosity stems from Amazon’s early history, when Jeff Bezos purchased the URL Relentless.com and briefly considered baptising his new project as Relentless. The sinister connotations eventually dissuaded him – but considering the imperial ambitions of the company, perhaps it would have been appropriate.

    Regardless of what industry you belong to and what markets you play in, Amazon is inescapable.

    2018 marks the web giant’s 20th anniversary of its UK launch. Two decades on, what can be learnt from its success?

    Books and bridgeheads

    1998 was the year that Amazon made its first steps to becoming the ‘everything store’, expanding its services beyond books. But why did Bezos start with books in the first place?

    Ultimately, selling books amplified all the advantages of Amazon’s ecommerce model.

    From a consumer perspective, the book category has a far larger selection of different items than any other type of product. This heightened one of Amazon’s core strengths versus traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers – the ability to provide a vast selection at the click of a button.

    From an operational perspective, books are easy to store and easy to ship – they aren’t perishable, they stack easily, and they have a near-universal system of weights and measurements. This favoured reliable and convenient shipping and delivery.

    Books therefore provided the bridgehead through which Amazon built its brand, founded on endless choice, seamless delivery, and lower-than-thou prices.

    Any business looking to launch a new product/service or expand into a new market can take away a valuable lesson – look for a point of entry which amplifies your USPs and which favours your capabilities. Building a bridgehead in favourable territory provides a strong base for expansion.

    Clouds and creativity

    In business as in life, what can appear in retrospect to be obvious can be anything but at the time.

    When Amazon launched its web services platform – AWS - back in 2002, no one could have predicted that it would become as a leading force in a pioneering and fast-growing IT services market.

    Depending on who you ask, AWS was either an opportunistic punt, or a part of a masterful strategy of domination. Either way, in the early 2000s it was by no means obvious for Amazon to offer what was essentially internal IT infrastructure to the general market. Starting life specifically as an IT solution designed to enable Amazon to keep up its frenetic pace of growth, AWS is now its most profitable business.

    The lesson? Not all success comes from where you expect it to. Think creatively about adjacent opportunities, about unexpected areas where you can deploy your existing strengths. Life doesn’t move in straight lines.

    Data is a prime example of this. Whether analysing customer shopping habits or building job profiles in the recruitment process, it is helping organisations glean unexpected yet fascinating insights which help identify new opportunities. In our own research we found that almost three-quarters (73%) of business leaders say insights gained from data have been critical to their organisation’s growth. It’s therefore alarming to note that over half (55%) say that they are only just beginning to understand the value their data holds.

    In light of this, what unexpected opportunities could be discovered with a thorough and creative exploration of your data?


    "If you're competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering."

    Amazon’s notorious ruthlessness stems from one premise – they win by making things easier and cheaper for the customer. It is this philosophy that led to the disruption of the publishing industry, to 1-Click ordering, to the development of Alexa, and to the acquisition of Whole Foods.

    As the Bezos quote above illustrates, keeping focused on the customer prevents a business from becoming myopic and inhibited by industry norms. It opens the door to unforeseen opportunities and innovation. And with a large majority (9-in-10) of senior business leaders expecting a shift in customer behaviours in the next five years, this is clearly a vital time to keep a sharp eye out for new and better ways to help existing customers and find new ones.

    Amazon is now involved in a huge variety of markets, from groceries to music and video streaming. With the recent launch of the Echo Spot in the UK it’s looking to accelerate its incursion into the home, aiming to (once again) reshape the way we shop by putting voice – via Alexa – at the heart of everything.

    Throughout this expansiveness, the relentless focus on customers, the creativity in seeking unexpected growth areas, and the use of favourable territory to create a bridgehead have all remained fundamental to the Amazon’s continued success. Where could these approaches take your business?

    Why not download the report 'The new rules for a tech-empowered customer experience'?