For many of us, rooting for the underdog is almost second-nature.
We do it as sports fans, or when watching our favorite reality TV show.
The same can often be said for business, where – sometimes rightfully so – there’s can be an innate weariness and distrust for the “big guy.”
Ever since the days of J.P. Morgan and Teddy Roosevelt, there’s a tendency to look at the company making all the money and wonder what they’ve done to cheat the system or mistreat the public.
Through the past couple years, this is the narrative that has quietly but firmly built around Amazon.com, where shots have come from multiple directions trying to nail the e-retailer for bad business.
In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to Amazon.com controversies that covers accusations ranging from differential pricing to warehouse conditions for employees.
At MPS, we’re not here to get political or serve as judge and jury for issues like those. We’ll leave that to the journalists and the court of public opinion.
Where we’re a bit more willing to ‘rule’ is the not-uncommon depictions of Amazon as a villain, that appear to be rooted simply in its success.
For example, a recent article from CNN Money uses the subtitle, “A growing number of traditional American retailers are in intensive care — and Amazon put many of them there.”
When the concept of failing retailers is broached, there’s a natural association with particularly negative imagery and effects: shuttered buildings, job losses, reduced competition, and a weakened economy, for example.
And while not expressly labeling them the bad guy, there’s unquestionably a negative connotation by using the phrase, “Amazon put [the failing retailers] there.”
It goes without saying it’s vital in a capitalist system to maintain oversight of big businesses to ensure corporations aren’t using their size as leverage to take advantage of the consumer and society at large, but by the same token it’s equally important to not demonize legitimate success.
Changing with the Times
Western Union built the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861, and by the mid-20th Century had a virtual monopoly on North American telegraph service.
But it probably wouldn’t exist today if they had rested on those laurels and not adapted to fit the fast-changing technology of the past century.
Among many other advances made over time in its offerings and infrastructure, the company began offering charge cards in 1914 and Telex service in 1958. They were at the forefront of satellite communications technology in the 1970s, while also playing a significant part in the proof-of-concept of what became the Internet.
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Western Union all along, but if telegrams were still their meat-and-potatoes, they likely would’ve crumbled into a mess of dots and dashes long ago.
And, today – 166 years since its founding – the company remains in the Fortune 500.
(photo by Western Union)
Two Steps Behind
Macy’s, K-Mart, and Sears aren’t where they are today because Amazon “put them there.”
In the mid-1990s, when it became clearer Amazon and e-commerce could very likely play significant roles in the future of retail, those organizations were well-known entities with name recognition far exceeding that of Amazon — then a little, online bookstore.
If these retailers had embraced e-commerce technology then with the same purpose and intent of Amazon, the big names would’ve been far more likely to gain initial market share simply due to their reputation as a trusted large-scale retailer.
Even those retailers that have had an online presence for 20-plus years perhaps didn’t take e-commerce seriously enough or invest adequately in keeping up with competition.
Macy’s, for example, has had a website since 1996 (e-commerce didn’t launch there until several years later), but in 1998 their CEO compared the importance of Macys.com to that of their mail-order catalog.
Ultimately, the truth resides in this 2016 article, which laments, “Sears tanked because the company failed to shift to digital.”
As Amazon continues to grow, it clearly must adhere to the same expectations of corporate responsibility as any organization employing thousands and serving millions.
However, while it’s perhaps human nature to cast the big guy as the bully taking everyone’s lunch money, it’s important to not assume immorality in what may have been simply recognizing an opportunity that would change the world; and putting time, effort, and ingenuity into the right place.
Images: Amazon.com, Western Union