Welcome to the Post-Email Enterprise: what Skype Teams means in a Slack-Leaning World

Work technology vendors very commonly — for decades — have suggested that their shiny brand-new tools will deliver us from the tyranny of email. Today, we hear it from all sorts of tool vendors:

  • work management tools, like Asana, Wrike, and Trello, built on the bones of task manager with a layer of social communications grafted on top
  • work media tools, like Yammer, Jive, and the as-yet-unreleased Facebook for Work, build on social networking model, to move communications out of email, they say
  • and most prominently, the newest wave of upstarts, the work chat cadre have arrived, led by Atlassian’s Hipchat, but most prominently by the mega-unicorn Slack, a company which has such a strong gravitational field that it seems to have sucked the entire work technology ecosystem into the black hole around its disarmingly simple model of chat rooms and flexible integration.

Has the millennium finally come? Will this newest paradigm for workgroup communications unseat email, the apparently undisruptable but deeply unlovable technology at the foundation of much enterprise and consumer communication?
Well, a new announcement hit my radar screen today, and I think that we may be at a turning point. In the words of Winston Churchill, in November 1942 after the Second Battle of El Alamein, when it seemed clear that the WWII allies would push Germany from North Africa,

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

And what is this news that suggests to me we may be on the downslope in the century-long reign of email?
Microsoft is apparently working on a response to Slack, six months after the widely reported termination of discussions of acquisition. There has been a great deal of speculation about Microsoft’s efforts in this area, especially considering the now-almost-forgotten acquisition of Yammer (see Why Yammer Deal Makes Sense, and it did make sense in 2012). However, after that acquisition, Microsoft — and especially Bill Gates, apparently — believed they would be better off building Slackish capabilities into an existing Microsoft brand. But, since Yammer is an unloved product inside of the company, now, the plan was to build these capabilities into something that the company has doubled down on. So now we see Slack Teams, coming soon.
Microsoft may be criticized for maybe attempting to squish too much into the Skype wrapper with Skype Teams, but we’ll have to see how it all works together. It is clear that integrated video conferencing is a key element of where work chat is headed, so Microsoft would have had to come up with that anyway. And Skype certainly has the rest of what is needed for an enterprise work chat platform, and hundreds of millions of email users currently on Exchange and Office 365.
The rest of the details will have to wait for actual hands on inspection (so far, I have had only a few confidential discussions with Microsofties), but an orderly plan for migration away from email-centric work technologies to a work chat-centric model coming from Microsoft means it’s now mainstream, not a bunch of bi-coastal technoids. This will be rolled out everywhere.
So, we are moving into a new territory, a time where work chat tools will become the super dominant workgroup communications platform of the next few decades. This means that the barriers to widespread adoption will have to be resolved, most notably, work chat interoperability.
Most folks don’t know the history of email well enough to recall that at one time email products did not interconnect: my company email could not send an email to your company email. However, the rise of the internet and creation of international email protocols led to a rapid transition, so that we could stop using Compuserve and AOL to communicate outside the company.
It was that interoperability that led to email’s dominance in work communications, and similarly, it will take interoperability of work chat to displace it.
In this way, in the not-too-distant future, my company could be using Slack while yours might be using Skype Teams. I could invite you and your team to coordinate work in a chat channel I’ve set up, and you would be able to interact with me and mine.
If the world of work technology is to avoid a collapse into a all-encompassing monopoly with Slack at the center of it, we have to imagine interoperability will emerge relatively quickly. Today’s crude integrations — where Zapier or IFTTT copy new posts in Hipchat to a corresponding channel in Slack — will quickly be replaced by protocols that all competitive solutions will offer. And Skype is that irritant that will motivate all these giants to make a small peace around interoperability, in order to be able to play nice with Slack.
We’ll have to see the specifics of Skype Teams, and where Facebook at Work is headed. Likewise, all internet giants — including Apple, Google, and Amazon — seem to be quietly consolidating their market advantages in file sync-and-share, cloud computing, social networks, and mobile devices. Will we see a Twitter for Work, for example, after a Google acquisition? Surely Google Inbox and Google+ aren’t the last work technologies that Alphabet intends for us? How might Slack fit into Amazon’s designs? That might surprise a lot of people.
But no matter the specifics, we are certainly on the downslopes of the supremacy of email. We may have to wait an additional 50 years for its last gasping breath, but we’re now clearly in the chat (and work chat) era of human communications, and there’s no turning back.

What’s a Store For?

The first e-commerce transaction—a music CD, pizza, or weed, depending on who you ask—took place around thirty years ago. That means that first truly native ecommerce generation is now in charge of their own foot traffic and armed with at least one device that spares them the trouble of leaving the house. This, paired with the broader shift in consumer behavior across all generations, means brick and mortars need to find new ways to compete with digital to inspire visits and sales. Stores are evolving and, along the way, challenging the very notion of what a store is for.
Up against digital
A big part of brick and mortar’s evolution is digital integration. Today, retailers are working to enhance and personalize customer experience by connecting to consumers in-store through their mobile devices—building apps, targeting ads, and using beacons. You can find many examples of digital integration today, though online retailer Rebecca Minkoff’s flagship store in New York offers one of the more comprehensive ones; its interactive wall and dressing rooms have been credited with tripling expected clothing sales. Timberland also just launched its first connected store while Nordstrom’s commitment to digital integration has been credited with 50% growth in revenue over 5 years. (They just hired a former Amazon exec to serve as CTO.) Target, too, is getting into the mix, launching an LA25 initiative where it’s testing 50 of its top enhancements in 25 Los Angeles stores.
The IRL advantage
But digital integration is not the only strategy; retailers can also draw on the in-real-life [IRL] advantages of the physical space. Immediacy comes in here, with more retailers enabling online ordering and pick up in store or curbside. It’s competitive because fewer exclusively online retailers can offer this instant gratification, but is not necessarily a long-term strategy given that online fulfillment will continue to evolve and speed up.
More effective is the opportunity to build community. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of caffeine; Barnes and Noble was an early innovator here, adding a Starbucks to a New Jersey store back in 1993. Since then, many retailers have adopted or tested in-store cafes, including Urban Outfitters, Target, Restoration Hardware, and Kohl’s. Along the same lines, Target, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom, among others, are offering cocktails in some stores. When trying to attract customers and increase dwell time, there’s an advantage in offering something that can’t be instantly downloaded, like coffee, booze, and yes, maybe even tattoos. (See Whole Foods.)
Meanwhile, another concept that keeps popping up is—ahem—the pop up shop. The pop up shop’s currency is urgency; if customers don’t come now they risk missing out forever. Bloomingdales is hosting a pop up inspired by the musical Hamilton while Macy’s is bringing in pop ups as part of the reinvention of its Brooklyn store. The pop up also presents a low-risk testing ground for online retailers, one compelling example being Warby Parker’s touring store that was housed in a school bus.
But…is it a store?
As brick and mortar adapts, becoming deeper integrated with digital, acting a fulfillment center and expanding to offer drinks and other services, the classic definition of “store” begins to fragment. Already, the “store” has lost its longstanding position as the finale of the customer purchase funnel; in no small part because that purchase funnel itself is an antiquated concept. Savvy retailers and brands in general now think of the consumer experience as an ongoing loop, with consumers moving from digital to physical and back until, eventually, there may be no clear delineation between the two. This emphasis on the overall experience changes the expectations of stores. It also opens opportunities for more types of brands to invest in physical locations.
For example, last year, there was an more than an hour wait at the Museum of Feelings in downtown New York City. The museum invited visitors to walk through a sensory presentation of each feeling: Optimism, Joy, Invigorated, Exhilarated and Calm, while its exterior changed color to reflect the social mood of New York. You might argue that this wasn’t actually a store, but then it wasn’t actually a museum either; The Museum of Feelings was a branded retail experience for Glade, generating buzz for an otherwise not-so-buzzed-about brand.
More recently, Samsung launched Samsung 837, a “first-its-kind cultural destination, digital playground and marketing center of excellence.” Samsung 837 serves as a showcase for innovation, offering what may be the first virtual reality experience for many visitors and providing Instagram-friendly experiences like the walk-through Social Media Gallery. But what’s unique about Samsung’s space is that there is nothing sold there. It’s an experience—an opportunity for Samsung to tell its story and give visitors a way to get excited about the brand they’ll buy in the future.
In cases like these, brick and mortars serve as a marketing vehicle—an opportunity for brands to curate their own presence for customers, just as social provided the format to operate as a media company. It’s a trend that makes Amazon’s decision to open its own brick and mortars seem strategic. But is the return there?
It always comes back to data
The ability to more accurately track consumer activity gives brick and mortars a host of insights. Not only can the more connected store know what was purchased, they can also see what products compelled the most research, price comparisons, or inspired trips to the fitting room. They can engage with in-store customers via social media as well as encourage and measure posts from their store and, increasingly, tap into emotional analytics. Further, more sophisticated attribution measurement is making it possible to determine what investments drove traffic to the store, even without purchase.
Though it would be inaccurate to suggest that traffic and sales aren’t still the key performance indicators for most stores, this broader set of data, if put to use, can help a retailer optimize beyond the limits of its four walls—especially critical at a time when stores are closing so rapidly that CNN wrote “Store Closings are the Hottest Trend in Retail.”
Where to go from here
Digital has an odd way of creating challenges and then presenting solutions for those challenges it creates. It offers a range of ways of to add genuine value, from brand awareness to interaction, coupled with pop-up flexibility. If retailers are savvier about embracing this value, they’ll stand a better chance of attracting customers. If not, they’re not only missing out on opportunities in the near term, they’re limiting their future prospects for growth—after all, isn’t it a waste to see a store as a fulfilment outlet?

Amazon’s celebration of ‘record’ holiday weekend sales is short on details

Amazon is touting a record holiday shopping weekend thanks to the increasing popularity of its tablets, e-readers, streaming devices, and other hardware. Yet, the company still refuses to offer basic information about how many units it has sold, making it difficult to tell exactly how large its device business has grown.
The company said in a press release today that the most popular items sold through its online marketplace on Black Friday were the Kindle Fire and the Fire TV Stick. It also said that Amazon Echo, its smart speaker, was the best-selling product that cost more than $100. Kindle e-readers are also said to have surged in popularity.
These claims follow layoffs at Lab126 (the division of Amazon responsible for the company’s hardware) said to be the result of the Fire Phone’s spectacular flop. The division was also reorganized, and its parent company halted development on some of its more ambitious projects, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Since then Amazon has released a $50 tablet, which has become the most popular device in the product line’s history. The company even sold the devices in a six-pack, making it clear to consumers that they could buy a half-dozen Amazon tablets as gifts for the same price as one tablet from another company.
Then there’s the Fire TV Stick, which costs just $39 and promises access to all the streaming services a person might ever want to peruse. That’s more than Google’s Chromecast, but thanks to Amazon’s decision to pull that product from its virtual shelves, that $39 price tag probably seemed like a steal to shoppers.
It’s no surprise these products were the top-selling items on Amazon over the holiday weekend. Both are cheap devices with a recognizable brand that people can gift to their loved ones without breaking the bank. Tis the season to rake in customers with great deals, after all, and nobody’s better than Amazon at that.
Yet the fact remains that we have no idea what any of this actually means for the company. Just look at its claim that it sold six times as many Fire TV products this holiday shopping weekend as it did during the same weekend last year. Does that it mean it sold 6 million this year? How about 42 million? Nobody knows!
Other claims, like its devices being the most popular items on its website, are also dubious. When a store offers as many products as Amazon does, it’s likely that shoppers are buying a wide array of items instead of focusing on specific products. The popularity of Amazon’s hardware could’ve been a direct result of that hardware’s cheapness and Amazon’s willingness to plaster it all over its site.
All of which means that Amazon’s might as well have said “We had a record holiday shopping weekend!” and ended the press release there. That’s about as much information as we got, and until the company nixes its culture of secrecy, we’re unlikely to ever know for sure exactly how many people buy its products.
An Amazon spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Amazon Books should be the future of brick-and-mortar retail chains

Earlier this month, Amazon opened a bookstore in a mall that used to house a Barnes & Noble. Much has been written about this foray into the physical realm: It’s been called a potential library of the future; Amazon itself has been called the Darth Vader of the books business; and some have wondered about the possibilities afforded by a location that bridges online and offline commerce.
Those are all interesting considerations, but as with Amazon’s other programs, the secretive company hasn’t said whether this is a small test or the beginning of a larger initiative that will lead to Amazon Books locations across the country. So I don’t want to consider the effect this physical store could have on Amazon — I’d rather question why other brick-and-mortar stores are resting on their laurels.
Seriously, why aren’t there more retails stores like Amazon’s book store experiment? A store with a variety of goods on physical shelves with prices that fluctuate to stay in sync with the online version of the store. Of course, there would need to be some changes to accommodate those who don’t like change, but there’s potential here to merge the online and offline shopping experience.
People use their smartphones while they shop. Often this is because they want to learn more about an item before purchasing it. One study from 2013 states that only six percent of people who use their smartphones in a physical store plan to purchase an item online. The rest were seeking more information about the item’s quality, the reputation of its manufacturer, and other data that might inform a purchase. (I’m sure that has changed significantly over the last two years, with Amazon’s image-based physical product search tool helping lead the charge.) Still, that could change as more people use their smartphones to find the best prices. Why buy something from a brick-and-mortar store when you can order it online for a lower price, even after figuring in the costs of having it shipped? Unless someone needs the item immediately — in which case someone probably isn’t comparison shopping — the lower price will win most of the time.
Retailers could change this by emulating Amazon Books’ model of automatically price-matching items sold in their stores to items sold on their websites. Right now there’s no guarantee that a Walmart store will match the price of an item sold on Walmart.com, for example, and other stores have similar policies. It’s almost like retailers actually want shoppers to treat their stores like showrooms.
The truth is that I don’t want to check the prices of items on my smartphone. I’m indecisive enough when it comes to shopping — I’ll often grab an item, think of buying it, then put it back right before I get to the checkout aisle. Multiple times. Having to worry about a price discrepancy between a retailer’s physical location and their online store just gives me even more reason to reconsider a purchase. Knowing that the price I see on a shelf is the price I’d have to pay online would make the whole process easier. (While I could still compare the price to Amazon and other sellers, it would be foolish to expect retailers to automatically match a competitor’s price instead of requiring shoppers to notice the discrepancy.) That offers all the benefits of shopping at a physical store with fewer of the drawbacks.
Of course, Amazon can get away with this because it’s running a test in one location and is comfortable with wafer-thin margins on the items it sells. Other retailers have their own challenges, like the sheer number of employees required to staff physical locations around the United States, that make it harder for them to pull an Amazon Books and bridge the gap between on-and offline shopping.
But that might be what it takes for these stores to thrive. What happens when Amazon slowly but surely competes more and more with physical locations? The company’s already expanding its grocery business, for instance, and is reducing the amount of time it takes to ship items to customers with multiple services. Amazon Books — if it’s successful — could easily become an Amazon Market. There are other advantages, too. If an item on the shelf is sold out, retail stores could provide incentives for people to pull out their phones and have the item shipped to their home later on. Surely that’s better than just losing the customer.
Stores could also apply dynamic pricing to certain goods. I’m not saying they should be dicks and implement “surge pricing” the same way Uber has — that wouldn’t sit well with shoppers, managers, or regulators — but it would give the stores more control over the price of items that sit on or fly off the shelves. Why have near-static prices that only change once a week, or when a sale goes on, when you could experiment with different prices to see what works the best?
Perhaps we’ll see more online sellers follow Amazon’s lead here. It seems easier for online stores to introduce physical locations than for brick-and-mortar stores to get people to use their websites. The future is digital; better to build for that future and experiment with the past than the other way around. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if traditional retailers like Walmart and Target attempt this fusion.
If that happens, it will be caused by Amazon’s willingness to make shopping easy. It doesn’t ask people to leave their homes to buy something; nor will it require them to buy something online if they prefer to handle the item in person. The company morphs to suit its customers instead of requiring its customers to change their lives (even if it’s just by asking them to drive somewhere) to shop.
Doesn’t that sound better than driving to a brick-and-mortar store and having to check prices on your smartphone to get the best deal? Who wants to waste that trip? Hell, who wants to walk around stores filled with people struggling to push a cart and check prices on their phones at the same time? Grabbing an item, taking it to a register, and getting a fair price on it shouldn’t be so damn hard.

Amazon is reportedly running a secret shipping operation in Ohio

Amazon is steadily expanding its delivery infrastructure, whether it’s by driving items to consumers in select cities or testing a secretive drone delivery program. Could the company also reduce its reliance on shipping companies like UPS and FedEx by running its own air cargo operations instead of using others’ planes?
A report from Motherboard indicates that Amazon is most likely behind a secretive operation from an Ohio airport dedicated to shipping consumer goods. If the report is accurate, it would appear that Amazon is at least testing a system that could give it more control over the paths its wares take to reach consumers.
This control would help Amazon sidestep any issues other carriers face. Instead of being at the mercy of UPS and FedEx, the company would be responsible for making sure items reach their new owners on time, and it would have the power to fix anything that goes wrong instead of just mopping up after others’ messes.
It could also help reduce shipping costs. As Motherboard notes in its report:

With shipping, as with all of Amazon’s $250 billion empire, efficiency is key. Amazon’s net shipping cost in 2014 was $4.2 billion, up from $3.5 billion in 2013, according to a 10-K filing from 2014 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. With delivery costs weighing heavily on Amazon and ongoing headaches with UPS and other third party shippers, the company has a lot to gain from its own logistics network, whether just supplementing shipments in peak seasons or cutting out other carriers entirely.

This is what Amazon is all about — owning everything its customers might ever have to interact with. Take digital media, for example. Amazon sells the devices used to access online content; runs services used to stream that content; and operates the network that delivers all those bits and bytes to people’s devices.
Those efforts pay off by making Amazon an integral part of digital media, convincing people to continue purchasing things from its website, and even create an incredibly valuable business devoted to the cloud computing market. Why wouldn’t the company want to replicate that success in the physical realm?
Given all that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Amazon might be testing its own air cargo operations. If anything, it’s more surprising that it’s taken this long for a company whose greatest strength is owning every aspect of whatever business it’s in took this long to run an experiment like the one taking place now. (I reached out to Amazon for comment and will update this post if I hear back.)

Amazon’s disingenuous plan to remove Fire TV’s competition grows

Earlier this month, reports indicated that Amazon planned to stop selling the Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast products through its online marketplace. While the devices are still available right now, they’re scheduled to be pulled at some point today, according to Bloomberg’s initial report on Amazon’s plans.
So why is Amazon doing this? Well, the company would have you believe that it’s trying to prevent consumer confusion, because neither of those competitive devices support its Prime Video service as well as its own Fire TV set-top boxes. But several reports published over the last few days offer an alternative theory.
First came a GeekWire report about Amazon’s apparent plans to introduce a QVC-like channel to the Fire TV. This shopping network would complement a new feature the company is reportedly testing with a small number of users: The ability to purchase items shown on-screen directly via the Fire TV remote.
The report says that Amazon wants to sell items via banner ads shown on the main Fire TV interface, and through the X-Ray feature, which uses Amazon’s IMDb service to share information about whatever a person is watching. (It can identify actors, for example, or share background info about a scene.)
These shopping features wouldn’t be as easy to implement on competitive products. Nor would Amazon make as much money from them — Apple takes a 30 percent cut from all transactions made through its platforms, which is why Kindle users can’t purchase new books via the company’s iOS applications.
That’s a compelling enough reason not to believe Amazon’s claim on its own. Saying it was trying to help its Prime customers was likely disingenuous; it seems more like Amazon is trying to do its best to promote a potential revenue scheme than like it was trying to make sure its most loyal customers are happy.
Then came the revelation, courtesy of BuzzFeed’s review of the new Apple TV, that Amazon could very well introduce its Prime Video service to the platform. Here’s what the review said, captured in a handy-dandy little “screenshort”:


I’ve reached out to Amazon for comment on this claim. Right now it seems damning. If the company can introduce Prime Video to the Apple TV, wouldn’t the customers it’s trying to save from befuddlement be better served if it did that, instead of pulling from its website a device they might want to purchase?
None of this will really stop people from buying a new Apple TV. Like I wrote when Amazon’s plan was revealed: The company isn’t hurting anyone but itself, given the ease with which someone can point their Web browser to Apple’s website instead of refusing to buy something not on Amazon’s market. It’s very possible that Amazon is trying (likely in vain) to retain some of the market share for streaming boxes it swallowed up due to years of Apple neglecting to update the Apple TV.
I’ll update this post if Amazon responds to my request for comment. Not that I’m holding my breath — when the company isn’t sending me press releases about new products or making sure I see Medium posts, it’s fairly tight lipped. Given the apparent duplicity at work here, I don’t expect any comment from it.

Amazon hits back against NYT report on working environment

It’s been a few months since the New York Times published an in-depth look at what it’s like to work in Amazon’s corporate office. The company’s immediate reaction was limited to chief executive Jeff Bezos claiming that the workplace described in the report doesn’t resemble the one he’s come to expect. Now the company’s senior vice president for global corporate affairs, Jay Carney, has published a Medium post to add some context to the paper of record’s story.
Carney’s post centers around one grievance: That many of the former staffers quoted in the New York Times report wanted to disparage Amazon because of their own personal issues, ranging from one employee leaving the company because he allegedly tried to defraud vendors and falsify business records to another misrepresenting the feedback she received from internal feedback tools. They had an axe to grind, in other words, and the Times offered a grindstone.
Other problems were also mentioned in the post. Carney alleges that the New York Times declined to provide an update to its readers when Amazon made this information available weeks ago; that the reporters on the story didn’t seek comment from the company in response to accusations from people mentioned above; and that the paper, as its public editor has said in the past, has taken an unduly harsh stance on Amazon that has colored its coverage of the company. (Update: The New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, has responded to Carney’s post with a Medium post of his own, which you can read right here.)
But there are some other interesting things about the post: That it was published in the first place; and that one of Amazon’s spokespeople emailed it to me this morning to let me know of its existence and make sure I’d cover it.
Amazon is famously reticent about talking to the press. I’ve often reached out to the company for comment on a story only to be told that the company doesn’t have anything to say on the matter. That’s par for the course on many stories — as tech companies face more scrutiny, many have stopped accommodating press inquiries — but Amazon took this to another level. Just read this passage from a New York Times profile of Bezos written after he bought the Washington Post:

The philanthropic Bill Gates, whose wife, Melinda, served on The Post’s board, might have been a more likely buyer. Mark Zuckerberg, who adopted Donald E. Graham, the Post Company’s chief executive, as a mentor, could have been plausible. When it turned out to be Mr. Bezos instead, no one minded admitting astonishment. Neither his managerial style nor his entrepreneurial success nor his passion for secrecy seem to necessarily transfer over to his newest possession.

‘Every story you ever see about Amazon, it has that sentence: ‘An Amazon spokesman declined to comment,’’ Mr. Marcus said.

Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

This seems to have changed in recent months. I’ve noticed that Amazon is responding to more inquiries, whether they’re about new products or the spread of a worker feedback system from its warehouses to its corporate offices, when before it would have either ignored my email or declined to offer a comment. Then of course there’s the publication of this rebuttal to the Times’ reporting, and the company’s apparent desire to make sure tech reporters would read it.

Curious, I asked the Amazon spokesperson who emailed me the link to Carney’s post if Amazon’s approach to handling the press has changed. His response? “Hey Nate, thanks for the note,” he wrote, “but we’ll decline to comment beyond the piece this morning.” A question about this spokesperson seeing the irony there went unanswered, but I like to think that response was tongue-in-cheek.

Either way, the publication of Carney’s post could mark a turning point. Amazon isn’t going to rest on its laurels and allow the media to tell any story it wants anymore. Now we’ll get to see which is harder to handle — a company that doesn’t want to help the press in any way but will allow pretty much anything to be written about it, or one that will hit back against reports like the Times’.

Update: Carney has now written yet another response to the New York Time.

From warehouse to cubicle farm: Exploring Amazon’s employee feedback system

Evidence that Amazon is starting to treat its white-collar workers the same as the laborers in its distribution warehouses continues to mount. A new report shows that the company, which has been criticized in the past for how it treats workers, started expanding an employee feedback program in recent months. Will that be enough to change the perception of the company’s labor practices?
Amazon says the expansion of its program, dubbed Amazon Connections, is unrelated to a New York Times report about the culture in its corporate offices. The report described a company where new mothers are expected to work more than eight hours a day, where it was common to see people crying at their desks, and where employees are hired quickly then worked harder than ever before.
At the time, I wrote that anyone surprised that Amazon treats its technical workers the same way it treats its non-technical staff was engaging in classism. Amazon didn’t suddenly begin to treat its workers poorly — it was built on the backs of workers who are always pushed to do more for the retailer’s empire, which makes no distinction based on the color of a worker’s metaphorical collar.
Amazon Connections shows this. The system, which collects feedback from employees which is processed by dedicated teams in Seattle and Prague before it’s anonymized, was introduced in Amazon’s warehouses. The company says the system has been used by its operations network for over a year; it made the jump to its corporate offices some time this summer, and continues to expand.
Soon perhaps every one of Amazon’s employees will be queried like this. (Try not to think about it as Big Brother keeping an eye on the populace. I’m sure Amazon would prefer a metaphor involving close friends who can tell each other anything, even if one friend has the power to threaten the other’s livelihood.) Will that help chief executive Jeff Bezos recognize the company he has built?
Some think it could. Here’s what Dan Finnigan, the chief executive of recruiting software-maker Jobvite, said when I asked about Amazon’s program:

At Jobvite we certainly listen to feedback like this. I can draw direct correlations between an uptick in happiness levels and a big sales quarter or a good run on our product development roadmap. Likewise, you might be able to note a downturn in happiness if you haven’t been having enough all-hands meetings, or if a popular employee leaves the company for a ‘better offer’ elsewhere. If you track all this valuable data, you’ll learn what makes your employees tick, what puts them at risk for departing, and what you as a leader can do to bolster morale and keep your employees performing at their peak.

Scott Dobroski, the community expert at Glassdoor, agrees with that sentiment:

We know that companies of all sizes, big and small, also leverage internal surveys as added data points to help them engage employees and better understand what’s working well, and what needs improvement in the eyes of employees. Google is perhaps most famous for doing this as they are constantly surveying their employees, analyzing feedback, and making improvements to meet the needs of their global workforce. Companies that pay attention to feedback, whether from internal surveys or from public sites such as Glassdoor, have the edge when it comes to recruiting the best talent because it shows they care about their employees, how they feel about where they work, and want to improve as an employer. When this happens, people typically want to work for a company that embraces employee feedback and practices transparency.

Of course, it’s up to Amazon to respond to anything it hears from its employees. That’s where the connection between technical and non-technical workers could break down: Many of the people hired to work in Amazon’s warehouses are hired through another company, and are often employed on a seasonal basis. (Gotta make sure all those boxes are placed underneath the Christmas trees.)
It isn’t hard to imagine that the complaints of people working from Amazon’s office in Seattle might be given a little more weight than complaints from temp workers in a distribution center all the way across the country. Amazon has done a lot to show that it doesn’t distinguish between different types of employees — usually in a bad way. Now that it has the chance to do some good, it will be interesting to see if that collar blindness remains, or if it’ll suddenly disappear.

Amazon will stop selling Apple TVs and Chromecasts. So what?

Although it seems pretty cut and dry, there are folks in tech media that feel Amazon shouldn’t actually stay competitive, as businesses tend to do to survive.
Case in point: Amazon doesn’t like that neither the Apple TV nor Google’s Chromecast provide easy access to its Prime Video service, so it’s taking steps over the next month to stop businesses from selling the products through its website.
“Over the last three years, Prime Video has become an important part of Prime,” Amazon said in an email to employees. “It’s important that the streaming media players we sell interact well with Prime Video in order to avoid customer confusion.”
This means that products which play nice with Amazon’s streaming video service — like most game consoles, Roku’s set-top boxes, and the company’s own FireTV — will remain available on Amazon. Apple and Google are the only ones being booted.
It’s hard to be too upset about this. Could this frustrate Apple and Google? Maybe. Will it be annoying for Amazon Prime customers who expect to be able to purchase anything through the company’s marketplace? A little, I guess. But that’s about it.
But let’s not pretend this is going to hurt Apple or Google that much. Apple has the highest sales per square foot of any retail store in the United States, and it can easily promote its products by emailing the hundreds of millions of people who gave the company their email addresses so they could download stuff from the App Store.
As for Google? Well, running the world’s most popular search engine has its perks. It can also put ads for the Chromecast on YouTube, in Gmail, and basically anywhere else it desires through its advertising platforms. Sure, it won’t offer free two-day shipping, but I doubt most people are in a rush to purchase a new dongle.
Could this be the start of a worrisome trend? Maybe. I guess it would be a problem if Amazon stopped selling e-readers that don’t support the Kindle Store, given that it’s all-but-synonymous with the product category. But those competitive devices are still listed on the company’s site, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon.
At this point, the only entity harmed by this action will be Amazon. It’ll frustrate people who want to make it their one-stop-shop for all things commercial, and it makes the company seem like a petulant child stomping its feet because the other, more popular kids don’t want to play with it. Does that seem like a stable company?
This move reeks of desperation. Amazon might be the biggest online retailer in the United States, but it’s not the only place where people can buy these products. It would’ve been better off allowing them to be listed on its site, if only to keep up its appearances, than to plan the products’ downfall to serve its own selfish purposes.
But we’re only discussing this because of the companies involved. Remove the brands and this becomes a lot less interesting. A retailer pulled some items from its virtual shelves. There are other stores, and luckily for anyone with a decent Internet connection, it only takes a few seconds to visit them and buy those items.
Yawn.