Amazon Prime member Evie Schwerin ordered a Haggadah, the Jewish text traditionally read at Passover Seder, before realizing that she already had what she needed. But due to issues including a mistaken email address, she says she was unable to return her purchase despite trying four times.
So she took her complaint directly to the top.
“Could you please return this for me?” she asked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos during the Q&A session at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday morning in Seattle.
“We’ll get that return taken care of,” Bezos vowed, asking her to stick around to the end of the meeting. “My apologies that you had to use this unusual venue to accomplish what should be a much simpler task. We’ll also look into the root cause of why that happened. Anybody else have anything they need to return?”
Off-topic questions aren’t uncommon at shareholder meetings, but Amazon’s event this week was remarkable for the relative dearth of time spent on traditional shareholder concerns, things like the company’s financial results and outlook for the future.
This is part of a long-term trend at Amazon’s annual meetings, as the company has expanded its reach and become a lightning rod for a wide variety of social issues and causes. To be sure, many of the record eleven shareholder proposals were directly related to the company’s business, including a climate change initiative backed by thousands of the company’s employees and two resolutions related to sales of the company’s facial recognition technology to governmental agencies.
But the first question asked during the Q&A session was emblematic of just how all-over-the-place this meeting was.
“How do you feel about coast-to-coast high speed rail?” a shareholder asked.
“Coast-to-coast high speed rail?” Bezos replied. “I don’t know. I’m not an expert on that. It sounds fun. I would love to have it. I think the hard question there is how you pay for it.”
Next question! “So I live in Portland and the current apartment building I’m living in is kind of a shit-show …”
Uh-oh. This doesn’t sound good. But as it turned out, that bit of background was merely the preamble to a relevant issue, leading to Bezos acknowledging that many large apartment complexes do have problems dealing with Amazon deliveries. The company is working to address this problem with new initiatives including Hub by Amazon, a locker system for multi-family residential buildings that can accept deliveries from any retailer or carrier, not just from Amazon.
The meeting also turned serious and confrontational at times. Employees who led the climate change initiative asked Bezos to come out before the Q&A session so that they would know he was listening to his concerns. He didn’t appear at that time, as you can see in the video taken below by one of the people in the audience.
WATCH: Amazon employees confront Jeff Bezos over lack of action on the #climatecrisis at the shareholder meeting today. We asked him to join us and commit to bold climate leadership now. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/okGmFCdj7B
— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) May 22, 2019
However, during the Q&A session later, Bezos did address employee questions about the climate. Amazon, which in recent years has stopped webcasting audio or video of the meeting, released the video above last night with selected highlights from the event, including Bezos’ response to the climate question.
For the record, Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky did take the stage after the shareholder initiatives and before the Q&A to talk about the company’s actual business.
Amazon meeting turns to biz. CFO Brian Olsavsky notes that op. cash flow in '18 was $30.7B, up 67% yoy, w/$12.4B in op. inc., up from $200M in '14. However, he cautions, "We continue to invest significantly in future opportunities." In other words, don't count on profits ahead.
— toddbishop (@toddbishop) May 22, 2019
But even he couldn’t resist having a little fun, when talking about the growth of Amazon Web Services around the world.
“We’ve expanded our geographic footprint to 66 availability zones across 21 geographic regions, and we’ve announced 12 more availability zones and more new regions in places like Bahrain, Cape Town, Jakarta, Milan … and King’s Landing,” Olsavsky said, pausing for the joke to land.
“I see a couple ‘Game of Thrones’ fans in the room,” he said. “I just want to see if you’re still paying attention. AWS isn’t in King’s Landing yet, but stay tuned.”