As Amazon continues its ceaseless push towards world domination, should we be concerned that soon one brand could influence every aspect of our lives?
To say Amazon has its fingers in a lot of pies is something of an understatement. The website that started life 23 years ago as an online book marketplace has since morphed into an own-brand fashion label, producer of Oscar winning films, on-demand grocer and AI pioneer. At breathtaking pace, Amazon is infiltrating every part of our lives.
In the first quarter of 2017 alone the ecommerce behemoth grew its sales 23% to $35.7 billion, cementing its position as one of the world’s most powerful brands.
For its latest trick Amazon has turned its hand to live music. The web giant will promote and stage gigs through it’s Prime Live Events arm, bringing internationally renowned acts to intimate settings starting with indie icons Blondie. Exclusive to members of its £79-a-year Prime subscription service, the gigs will also be streamed live via Amazon’s Prime Video channel.
This channel is currently home to original content from the Amazon Studios stable, creators of TV shows such as Emmy Award winning dystopian thriller The Man in the High Castle and new blockbuster series American Gods.
Founded in 2010, Amazon Studios scooped three Academy Awards in March, claiming the Oscars for Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay for Manchester by the Sea, and Best Foreign Language Film for Iranian drama, The Salesman. Approval from the entertainment establishment doesn’t get much bigger.
Aside from film and entertainment, Amazon has also taken a lead in the voice activation space with the launch in 2014 of its AI assistant Alexa. As the high profile roll out of Alexa’s consumer facing platforms Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Look stole the headlines, Amazon was also busy diversifying into own brand fashion.
Over the past year Amazon has stealthily launched seven fashion brands in the US and Europe, as well as two further brands exclusive to the UK and Europe – lingerie label Iris & Lily, and men’s and womenswear brand, Find.
Available only to Prime members, the own brand fashion labels sit seamlessly alongside the 350-plus branded collections already amassed on the Amazon Fashion platform.
This play for the fashion market pits Amazon against high street favourites Primark and H&M, as well as online players such as Asos, Zalando, Boohoo and Missguided. Aside from possessing a formidable supply chain, Amazon boasts the customer experience credentials to go toe-to-toe with these fashion heavyweights.
The significant advantage for Amazon compared to its ecommerce fashion rivals is the lure of its famously slick delivery service. Prime subscribers are, for example, entitled to free same day delivery and two-hour delivery as part of the service.
And this is the crux upon which the whole Amazon brand expansion strategy hinges. Each new service or product is geared towards driving Prime membership.
While Amazon keeps the real figures close to its chest, reports suggest that Prime has 60 million members globally, with subscriptions growing 50% annually. New subscribers are enticed with a seemingly endless list of benefits including unlimited streaming of films and TV episodes, 30-minute early access to Lightning Deals and exclusive downloads of new releases through Twitch, the live gaming site Amazon acquired in 2014.
Aside from the £79 annual fee, Prime subscriptions are so valuable to Amazon because of the sheer volume of data they offer on millions of customers worldwide. While data is useful to help the online giant personalise the experience for its customers, there could be a far more important reason on the minds of Amazon executives.
By capitalising on the amount of data at its disposal it has been suggested Amazon could be the one to finally break Google and Facebook’s stranglehold on the digital advertising market.
In March, the CEO of ad agency giant WPP, Sir Martin Sorrell, said that Amazon – not Google or Facebook – keeps him awake at night. He predicted that utilising its sheer depth of customer data Amazon could soon pose a threat to Google in the area of search, which is why WPP has set up an agency in Seattle purely to “cater to Amazon”.
The Amazon allure
Amazon’s reach and rich data also make it a highly attractive prospective partner for global brands. This was certainly the thinking at drinks giant Diageo, which in May unveiled a five-part travel series co-created with Amazon, aimed at “closing the loop” between content and purchase.
Each 20-minute long episode in the World Class List video series follows aspiring musician and drinks enthusiast Carey Watkins as he learns to make cocktails using Diageo Reserve brands like Ciroc vodka or Don Julio tequila. Links to the various drinks brands are embedded within the video, giving Amazon Prime viewers in the US, Germany and the UK a direct route to purchase.
While Diageo took a content focused approach, a slew of brands from credit card company Capital One to Uber, Spotify and Domino’s have raced to integrate their “skills” onto the Alexa platform.
They join food delivery service Just Eat, which in October began offering users the chance to order food, re-order their most recent meal and receive voice updates on the progress of their order via the AI system. Meanwhile, wearable tech specialist Fitbit has integrated Amazon’s Alexa programme into its flagship wearable watch, allowing wearers to ask the AI assistant how well they slept or how many steps they’ve taken that day.
The roll out of Alexa coincided with the UK launch of Amazon’s Dash button, which enables users to order household goods at a single press. The button launched in September with 40 brand partners from Andrex toilet roll to Whiskas cat food.
From groceries to AI and content projects, there are so many ways for brands to integrate into the Amazon mega network that it is hardly surprising the online giant is becoming indispensable to both businesses and consumers alike.
Ruling the skies
And just when you thought Amazon could take a break from world domination, the online giant finds time to squeeze in the development of its drone delivery service.
In December a drone from Amazon’s Prime Air business successfully completed a 13-minute flight in Cambridgeshire, dropping off a package containing popcorn and an Amazon Fire TV stick. The mission of Prime Air, founded in 2016, is to deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using GPS guided drones.
So here we are, at a point where Amazon is not only designing our clothes, producing our favourite films and enabling us to order takeaway through its AI assistant – soon it will be sending drones to our houses armed with bags of crisps ordered via a Dash button.
Couple with this the fact that there is a whole generation of consumers aged 23 and under who have never known a world without Amazon and who sit in the coveted millennial age bracket global brands are clamouring to attract. For these consumers it might seem like common sense if in ten years’ time they are selling their house or buying a new car via Amazon.
Truly one brand to rule them all.