Amazon’s Priorities Over the Years

Viewed in Harvard Business Review.

Harvard Business School professor Boris Groysberg, who has partnered with us on several corporate research projects, teamed up with Harvard Business School researcher Tricia Gregg to analyze, with the aid of two technical tools (NVivo 12 Pro and Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC)), Amazon’s annual letters to shareholders over the 20-year period of 1997 to 2017.

What emerges, the authors contend, is insight into Amazon’s priorities, which they summarize in three conclusions:

1.) Amazon markets itself as customer-centric. Indeed, a careful review of the words in 20 years of its annual shareholder letters backs that up. The word “customer” has been the most used word collectively over these 20 years of letters, exceeding even use of even its own name. But this is not the case in each of these 20 years; in some years, other words appear more regularly, reflecting other organizational priorities in some years;

2.) While references to customers are a predominant theme collectively over the 20 letters, there is some variance. Since 2013, the word has appeared less frequently, the authors observe; and

3.) Bezos has rather consistently presented Amazon employees as a top organizational concern. This too reflects in these 20 years of shareholder letters. Since 2013, the authors write, “Bezos has written about them in every subsequent shareholder letter except for 2016 and has spent 2%-4% of each letter discussing fulfillment center employees.”

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