Many reviews and interviews have already touched on Brad Stone's book, The Everything Store. Stone provides an in-depth look at Amazon and the company's founder, Jeff Bezos. I want to accomplish two things with this post:
- Provide a brief review of the book
- Reflect on what I learned from the book and how it can benefit anyone working in the retail space
Stone's book is a fun read and will give you an "insiders" look at the massive online company. He has been reporting on Amazon for over a decade and has a good understanding of the company's culture, successes and failures. However, many of the interviews that were done for the book seemed to rely on former Amazon employees. After reading it, I was left feeling like the book was a mixed bag of solid reporting and bitter accounts.
Stone is hard hitting. Throughout the book he does a good job of depicting the battles between Amazon and it's many rivals, including Walmart, Target, Circuit City and Best Buy. Make no mistake, these companies are in bitter competition with one another and its anyone's guess on who will prevail. But the book felt a little slanted.
I could not help but fell that Stone has respect for Bezos, but at the same time he seems to look at him a little like an evil genius. Stone spends an inordinate amount of time talking about Bezos' peculiar laugh. I couldn't help but think of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers' movies. The author also spent a lot of time referring to interviews with former Amazon employees and referred to Bezos' loyal supporters as "Jeff Bots" - hardly a fair portrayal of team members that have chosen to work for the company and support its cause.
Overall, The Everything Store is a great book and if you are interested in understanding the last ten years of retail and what the future may hold, you should pick up a copy of this book and get reading.
It is scary to think this, but I have been working in retail for about twenty years, both on the retail and retail marketing sides. Retail is an exciting place to be in. It is always changing, demanding and gives you an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of every single customer you engage with.
I have met and built relationships with dozens of great people. I have also met my fair share of folks that should never have picked retail as a career. One of the key lessons I have learned over the years is that, like much of life in general, success in retail comes down to your perspective.
When I say I work in retail, I must admit that I work in one of the most challenging retail environments around - retail grocery. In retail grocery, the margins are tight which means the labors, budgets and everything else leave little to work with. You have to make use of every resource you have if you want to succeed. My guess is that most customers do not understand what this business actually looks like behind the scenes and know little about the competitive environment that exists between small local grocers and the big national chains. It is both fascinating and incredibly challenging. Now let me connect these thoughts up with the review you just read.
Like I shared, I felt like Stone portrayed Amazon and Bezos as being a little on the evil side. What he totally misses is the brutal realities of retail. Bezos did not create the retail environment. He simply learned it, adapted to it and created a disruptive business that has thrived. People love Amazon and in a capitalist society, the consumer votes with her dollars.
Is retail for everyone? No. But if you choose to play in that space, you need to do so because you want to. My favorite people that I have worked with in this industry are all tough, smart and frugal. They are there to fight a good fight and will do everything they can to take care of their customers. If you want to succeed, you've got to take on this mindset or get out.
Stone seemed to play favor to many former Amazon team members who had bitter feelings about Bezos and Amazon. I understand why, but it is hardly fair. These team members chose to leave or were fired. They obviously didn't belong there. To call Bezos' supporters as "Jeff Bots" is completely unfair simply because they want to be loyal and support the Amazon cause. To do so is the equivalent of calling Steve Job's supporters "Steve Bots." Every company and leader will have supporters and detractors.
Love it or leave it. If there are things you don't like, then stick it out and work toward making positive change. If you can't tough it out, then you really should be looking elsewhere for employment.