The official business at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting at Seattle Center this morning was quick and to the point, as shareholders re-elected Amazon’s board and rejected a shareholder proposal asking for more transparency in the company’s “politically motivated spending.” Then Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to the podium for a broad overview of the company’s business, accompanied by a simple slide deck of black text against a white background.
Amazon told reporters that they weren’t allowed to use computers, cameras or other devices to create an account of the meeting — even my appeal to use a Kindle Fire was politely turned down — so I dusted off my shorthand and scribbled down everything I could. These are some of the highlights.
Bezos opened his remarks by saying the company is “incredibly lucky” to have 209 million active customers — people who have purchased something from Amazon in the last 12 months. He then reiterated his famous line about it being “Day One” for the company, with a new twist.
“In fact, I believe that the alarm clock hasn’t even gone off yet,” he said. “We’re still asleep in our beds, far from having even pressed the snooze button.”
Then he walked through some of the areas where the company is investing most heavily in its business.
The company is adding new categories of products and investing in more geographies (Bezos cited China, Italy and Spain specifically.) and expanding the selection within existing categories. Bezos pointed to Amazon Fashion as an example, saying that the company now has more than 35 million fashion customers in the United States alone. “A huge amount of progress, this team has been working on this for a few years now, and they’re doing a great job,” he said.
Fulfillment Centers: Amazon has 89 fulfillment centers around the world as of the end of 2012, up from 39 at the end of 2009. The company is also starting to roll out its Kiva Systems robots to automate activities inside those centers. Bezos showed a video of the robots at work, bringing the inventory to workers on the floor, rather than requiring those workers to fetch the products themselves.
“We’re going to get a lot of variable cost productivity by using these Kiva robots over time,” he said, calling it a big transition that will take time to roll out.
Bezos also cited the expansion of the company’s Career Choice program, giving tuition benefits to warehouse workers.
Amazon HQ expansion: Bezos outlined the company’s growth in Seattle’s South Lake Union and expansion into the Denny Triangle area, citing the environmental and cultural benefits of building in an urban area vs. constructing a suburban campus. He did not reference the company’s newly unveiled “biodome” concept.
Amazon Prime: Bezos mentioned the addition and improvement of benefits in Amazon’s $79/year subscription service, including the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, Prime Instant Video, including exclusive content. He also mentioned the company’s investment in original content, and its unusual approach in letting customers vote on the pilots. He also cited new investments in the “founding benefit” in Amazon Prime — free, unlimited two-day shipping on more than 15 million eligible items.
“I believe it’s the best bargain in the history of shopping,” he said.
Amazon Web Services: “It’s an overnight success, and we’ve been working on it for eight years,” he said. The AWS team has added 159 new services and features in the past year, and cut prices by 31 times since AWS was founded.
Kindle Fire and Kindle e-readers: “We see these devices as a service,” he said. “The hardware itself is a premium product at non-premium prices, but what really delights customers is what they can do with those devices, and that’s the ecosystem.”
He concluded by talking about the company’s investment in reading and authors, covering topics including Kindle Direct Publishing (an open platform for digital book publishing), Kindle Singles (curated content shorter than a book but longer than a magazine article), Kindle Serials, the Immersion Reading feature that leverages Amazon’s Audible subsidiary, and the new Kindle Worlds fan fiction initiative.
He concluded by playing this Amazon commercial for shareholders.
He gave no specifics about the future of the Kindle or Kindle Fire, and didn’t address the company’s rumored/reported plans to release a smartphone and a television set-top box for video streaming.
The shareholder Q&A portion was dominated by questions about Amazon’s policies on violent games and movies.