Perhaps no other company in history has sold so many different products (354 million) while competing against so many other companies (hundreds). In the past, that power hasn’t lasted. Amazon is betting it will be different.
Amazon today is a retailer, a logistics network, a book publisher, a movie studio, a fashion designer, a hardware maker, a cloud services provider, and far, far more. The private equity firm Pitchbook estimates the company Jeff Bezos founded in 1994 competes head-to-head with at least 129 major corporations just in major markets. That number grows higher as it adds new business units such as fashion, food, and analytics.
The company so far has escaped serious antitrust scrutiny by US regulators in part because it can point to so many commercial adversaries with a piece of the market. Even in its primary business—e-commerce—Amazon only took in 23% of the $395 billion Americans spent online last year, and far less when that spending is broken down into individual markets. The one exception is books, where it controls about 65% of the e-book market.
But Amazon’s unprecedented logistics and delivery infrastructure, paired with access to personal data about Americans’ purchasing habits, means it is unique in the history of global commerce. No company has ever wielded this combination of consumer insight and infrastructure, say historians and legal analysts, which means the company grows stronger and less assailable with every purchase.
The seed of Bezos’s vision of a store that could sell everything was planted long ago. Bezos told shareholders (pdf) in 1998 that Amazon “may make decisions and weigh tradeoff differently than some companies…At this stage, we choose to prioritize growth because we believe that scale is central to achieving the potential of our business model.” Not much has changed. This year’s $13.7 billion Whole Foods acquisition, and Bezos’s personal purchase of The Washington Post in 2016, are merely stepping stones in Bezos’ globe-spanning ambitions.
Regulators are starting to size up whether Amazon is on the verge of becoming a monopoly. Amazon may find it doesn’t like the answer.
Read more at Quartz.