Amazon’s Pandemic Savior Complex
In a mind-boggling image makeover, the most maligned company on Earth is now positioned as a public good
Year after year, Jeff Bezos and his Amazon juggernaut have claimed bigger and bigger chunks of a growing and sweeping collection of industries — electric vehicles, cloud computing, movie making, and gourmet foods. But now Amazon has improbably also become the most central economic player in the country apart from the Fed itself — the omnipresent channel for what seems like all surviving commerce as Covid-19 increasingly brings business to a standstill.
Yet Bezos has achieved an even bigger triumph, and that is managing in the midst of the pandemic to utterly transform Amazon’s public image. From a company long demonized for crushing small business, Amazon is now arguably a public good. Bezos and his vast “everything store” — its network of warehouses and one- and two-day transportation — have met this unforeseen and unprecedented moment with little visible fuss, exhibiting the apparent singular ability to stock every U.S. household with food and other necessities as long as we need them delivered to our doorstep. As long as the pandemic persists, Amazon will keep all 327 million Americans unstressed, in addition to hundreds of millions elsewhere on the planet, at least as far as essential supplies go.
But now Amazon has improbably also become the most central economic player in the country apart from the Fed itself.
“It’s the Amazonification of the economy,” says Sridhar Tayur, a professor at the business school at Carnegie Mellon University. Or one may want to call it Amazonization — Amazon’s power is not only what it has accomplished to date, but extends to how it’s built to pursue anything Bezos sets his eyes on. He chased books before anyone realized they could be a launching pad to something larger. He was a first mover for the cloud before rivals knew it was the new thing. He has changed the expectation of free, two-day delivery of nearly any item into an entitlement. As a literary inspiration, he called the whole enterprise the “everything store,” which most people thought was crazy—until it became clear he was serious and was pulling it…