“This is the story arc of AWS’ success,” said Brendan Witcher, vice president and principal analyst at research firm Forrester. He was referring to Amazon Web Services and how it contributes to the merchant’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) strategy, which has led to new growth opportunities for the region’s top ecommerce retailer.
It’s No. 1 in the Top 1000, Digital Commerce 360’s ranking of the largest North American online retailers. Amazon is also No. 3 in Digital Commerce 360’s Global Online Marketplaces Database, which ranks the 100 largest such marketplaces by 2023 third-party GMV.
“We already have made these investments, technologies,” Witcher said, speaking from Amazon’s perspective. “How do we create incremental revenue by applying those sunk costs to new opportunities for others to take advantage of those costs where we can benefit in a financial way? This has been part of Amazon’s strategy for quite a while.”
Andy Jassy, Amazon’s CEO, spoke about different SaaS initiatives on a recent earnings call with investors for its fiscal third quarter ended Sept. 30, 2023.
Amazon’s fastest-growing sectors are ads and seller services, said James Risley, research data manager and senior analyst at Digital Commerce 360.
It shows that “while Amazon’s online stores are still growing well, its third-party sellers are the real growth leaders for the company,” Risley said. “Online stores only grew 2.0% in the first half of the year, though, and grew 7.0% in Q3, so the momentum is strong for first-party sales as Amazon potentially shifts its focus ahead of government pressure and a more savvy consumer who prefers direct relationships with sellers.”
Supply Chain by Amazon changes the fulfillment game
Two key Amazon software-as-a-service programs Jassy addressed were Supply Chain by Amazon and a growing generative AI initiative. New Amazon generative AI technology gives merchants the ability to create web pages and product imagery “with nearly endless flexibility,” calling it, along with Supply Chain by Amazon and AWS “the democratization of technology.”
Jassy said the company has seen “very positive early response from sellers to Supply Chain by Amazon.”
Supply Chain by Amazon is a fully automated set of services in which the mass merchant handles:
- Inventory pickup
- Customs clearance
- Ground transportation
- Inventory storage
Amazon has been making “huge investments” in supply chain for more than a decade, Witcher said. The idea was that Amazon would eventually reach scale and those investments would pay off, he added.
“I think you’re starting to see that now, particularly because they’re starting to outsource delivery as a service,” Witcher said.
Amazon already has the infrastructure in place, so these are sunk costs, he said.
Amazon software as a service (SaaS) can change the game for third-party sellers
“Generative AI developments should be given more weight than Amazon let on,” Witcher said. “Using this innovative technology really gives Amazon the operational efficiencies in inventory planning and route planning that they need to realize the ROI of all these investments they made in supply chain.”
Witcher said AWS was the proof of concept that Amazon can create incremental revenue from its existing services and offerings. He said Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) “clearly” works for a lot of sellers.
“Now, Amazon’s removing the pain points of being a small-business seller,” Witcher said. “Nobody gets into the retail business saying, ‘I can’t wait to build web pages’ or do photoshoots. That’s not why they get into selling products. They want to sell products. Amazon understands this, and so they’re using this in a way to make it easier for third-party sellers to have that Amazon relationship and make more reasons to say why they should have the Amazon relationship. I think that’s really what this comes right down to.”
Generative AI technology and the Amazon ecosystem
Witcher said Amazon understands that mom-and-pop shops and small companies don’t necessarily have the time or skill set to generate web pages and product imagery.
“The ability to use generative AI just helps those sellers,” Witcher said. “There’s a compounding effect to this, which is: The easier it is for me to build websites, the easier it is for me to upload product pages. Then, it’s easier for me to sell on Amazon. Well, if I’m already selling on Amazon, then it’s easier for me to give Amazon my supply chain, pay for them to do my supply chain, pay for them to have Amazon Pay on my website. It just bakes you deeper into the ecosystem of Amazon as you start to find value in the things Amazon offers.”
He added that this is “certainly a differentiator” for Amazon compared with other marketplaces. However, he said, he expects other retailers to follow suit.
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