Becoming the ‘everything everything’
I remember when I was about 15, I took the 10-minute walk from my school to the bus stop while daydreaming about a future when I ran a company that made and sold everything. I’d have a record label but also sell CD players, I’d build houses and sell all the furniture to go inside them. I’d grow and sell food and run the shops and restaurants in which they were sold.
What’s more, I’d be so good at it that all my rivals would go out of business or be acquired by me, until I owned the whole market for everything that could be sold. My company, called 'Telstar’ for some reason, would sell everything to almost everyone. That flight of fancy that has stuck with me over the years.
Around the same time as I was dreaming up Telstar on my way to the bus stop, Jeff Bezos was busy founding Amazon, a company that is gradually becoming something approaching my imaginary firm.
The EU’s new antitrust investigation
into how Amazon uses data about third-party sellers on its platform highlights one way the company is in a position to crush its competition: invite sellers in, let them make some money, then learn from their successes and adjust your own pricing and product range to outdo them. We’ll have to wait for the EU’s verdict to decide whether it does this to an anti-competitive degree, but the potential is certainly there.
And sometimes Amazon is more direct. A recent Wall Street Journal report (paywalled, but summarised here by Retail Dive
) reveals how Amazon uses its accelerator programme for brands to spot successes and buy them at a fixed price.
Amazon has a growing range of its own brands
covering everything from baby clothes to home decor. And while it’s not quite my imaginary Telstar yet, it certainly sells music and the hardware to play it (via Fire tablets and USB sticks, and Echo speakers), makes and delivers TV shows, sells pharmaceuticals, delivers food from restaurants, has its own grocery stores, runs the infrastructure for many, many third-party apps and services, and much more.
Even as a teenager with no in-depth knowledge of how business worked, I knew my 'Telstar’ idea was implausible, unhealthy for society, and probably illegal, and I was never serious at all about wanting to do it.
The EU’s investigation is a reminder of that when ’the everything store
’ tips over into becoming 'the everything everything,’ regulators are not going to be happy. Even 15-year-old me knew that, but for some people, the urge for continual growth can blind them to the wider problems caused by their behaviour. Will Amazon be allowed to keep growing until it eclipses 'Telstar?’