Opinion: Finding Meaning

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All Hail to Amazon

I’m a nice guy, mostly. It didn’t come naturally. Took decades of training by the Beautiful Wife for whom “nice” is an art form. But there was that day in a Sears store when I took such offense at rude customer treatment that I declared a family Sears boycott. I guess you know how that turned out. That store site is a dirt lot today. Hah. I mention this in case Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is reading.

Driving I-5 from Sacramento, I was counting the brands on the 18-wheelers. It’s a long drive. FedEx had a few trucks, as did Costco, Walmart and Target. Home Depot and UPS were there too. But one brand dominated so strongly I couldn’t believe it. One company had over 10 times more trucks than any other—Amazon. How did Amazon dominate retail, a mature business, seemingly overnight?

Sears got its start publishing catalogs. Every home had one; kids called them “wishing books.” Sears grew to dominate the mail order business. Amazon took the catalog concept digital. Remember when Amazon was mainly known for books? They used the Internet to connect book suppliers, down to small-town used book stores. In a second you could find that long-wanted, out-of-print book selling for $0.01 plus shipping. That’s when my romance with Amazon started.

Their next big idea was to add fulfillment—besides being a digital catalog, they made sure the stuff was available, in a week or so. Then they started trimming the delivery time. We’re an impatient people. We want our stuff now. Remember those Amazon notes, “Want it delivered tomorrow? Order in the next three hours.” Lots of us did.

Amazon Prime, offering two-day delivery for an annual fee, was launched in 2005. Big success. In a turn-about, they’re now building brick-and-mortar stores, just like Sears once did. Or they just buy the properties of failed companies that couldn’t keep up with the revolution, like Borders, Toys R Us, or the closed malls.

In another innovation, Amazon’s new Go stores don’t need cashiers—you just grab your stuff and walk out. Cool. The pandemic was first a challenge then a boon to Amazon, especially its budding grocery delivery service, Amazon Fresh. Did you notice their purchase of Whole Foods?

Amazon keeps growing. Now they’re pushing UPS and FedEx aside, delivering that last mile to your doorstep. They’re the biggest innovation in logistics since the Pony Express launched 10-day mail delivery between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento back in 1860. All hail to Amazon. They thought big and did the hard work of building an incredible logistics system.

All of which brings me back to that drive down I-5 and my astonishment at the dominance of Amazon Prime logos on trucks. Bezos is now the richest man in the world, and he did it in a low-margin business. All hail to Bezos and his creation, Amazon.

Mr. Bezos, if you’re reading this week’s “Indy,” please remember one thing: unusual success, in time, brings unusual hubris. Like the BW teaches, be nice to people. People matter. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email:  [email protected]

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