Jeff Bezos’ 2019 Letter to Amazon Shareholders Is Light on Insights

At least there were no references to his 'first-party butt'

jeff bezos
Bezos' annual letter was heavy on public relations, but light on new information. Getty Images
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Key Insights:

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ 2019 letter to shareholders is out today, but it doesn’t offer much insight into the company that’s playing a pivotal role in consumers’ access to essential goods in the wake of a global pandemic.

More than half of Bezos’ 2019 letter is (understandably) focused on coronavirus, but most of it is just reiterating the talking points Amazon releases daily on its COVID-19 blog rather than offer any new information from his vantage point as the chief executive of a platform that controls nearly half of U.S. ecommerce.

Bezos’ coronavirus highlight reel includes:

There’s a lot of touting.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

Bezos reiterated messaging about the new hires from a March 16 blog post, but also shared the names of two temporary workers: Newark airport mechanic Joe Duffy, who is now an Amazon operations analyst, and Dallas preschool teacher Darby Griffin, who helps manage new Amazon inventory.

He also repeated that the wage increases will cost the company more than $500 million, which we heard earlier this week. However, this time, Bezos added, “While we recognize this is expensive, we believe it’s the right thing to do under the circumstances.”

Bezos, however, did not address employee concerns about health and safety or the court decision to close Amazon warehouses in France until the company reassesses worker risk.

Instead, Bezos spent two paragraphs on a new employee testing initiative, which was lifted nearly verbatim from an April 9 post:

“A team of Amazonians—from research scientists and program managers to procurement specialists and software engineers—moved from their normal day jobs onto a dedicated team to work on this initiative. We have begun assembling the equipment we need to build our first lab and hope to start testing small numbers of our frontline employees soon.”

We see similar language when Bezos mentioned the World Health Organization using Amazon Web Services, reminding shareholders that AWS is making a so-called “data lake” publicly available.

Bezos also pointed to the launch of the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, a program to support customers working on diagnostics for COVID-19, and borrowed from a March 20 post that discussed the company’s $20 million investment to “accelerate diagnostic research … and development” to more quickly detect COVID-19 and “to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks.”

He stressed that Amazon is “acting aggressively to protect our customers from bad actors looking to exploit the crisis,” but the numbers he shared don’t elaborate beyond what we already know.

On March 23, Amazon said it had removed “well over half a million” offers and suspended more than 3,900 seller accounts in the U.S. In his letter, Bezos stuck with the “over half a million offers” figure but said Amazon has suspended more than 6,000 seller accounts globally, so there’s no apples-to-apples comparison. (He also said Amazon has turned over information about sellers to 42 state attorneys general.)

What does appear to be new is Bezos’ letter is that the ecommerce giant has joined the New York City COVID-19 Rapid Response Coalition to develop voice technology to help at-risk and elderly New Yorkers receive information “about medical and other important needs.” (Amazon has been pushing Alexa’s role in the pandemic since March 25, including an entire blog post detailing how the voice assistant can help users stay well, informed, connected and entertained.)

In other news…

Bezos also took some time to tout Amazon’s Climate Pledge, which he reiterated “commits Amazon to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years early—and be net zero carbon by 2040.” Bezos said Amazon will announce new signatories soon.

He reminded readers that Amazon ordered 100,000 vans from electric vehicle startup Rivian (although he still didn’t mention Rivian has received at least $440 million in investment capital from Amazon, which doesn’t include its participation in the $1.3-billion financing round Rivian closed in December).

As Adweek reported in September, Amazon’s announcement of the Climate Pledge came after significant internal and external pressure. A group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice has called on Amazon to reach zero emissions by 2030, to end AWS contracts for fossil fuel companies and stop funding climate change-denying lobbyists and politicians.

Bezos didn’t mention his critics, but reiterated that “shopping online is already inherently more carbon efficient than going to the store” based on research by Amazon scientists, which determined “a single delivery van trip can take approximately 100 round-trip car journeys off the road on average.” He even cited an internal study that found “averaged across all basket sizes, online grocery deliveries generate 43% lower carbon emissions per item compared to shopping in stores” and “smaller basket sizes generate even greater carbon savings.”

And, in a return to a theme we saw in his 2018 letter with the unfortunate “first-party butt”-quote, Bezos once again touted Amazon’s “industry-leading $15 minimum wage” and called on “other big employers to join us by raising their own minimum pay rates.” (Although there was no taunt to “top retail competitors (you know who you are!)” this year to “throw the gauntlet back at us” by raising their minimum wage to $16. Bezos did, however, say the company continues “to lobby for a $15 federal minimum wage.”)

He also brought up Amazon benefits—including health insurance, a 401(k) plan, 20 weeks’ paid maternity leave “and other benefits” for full-time employees, which “are the same benefits that Amazon’s most senior executives receive”—and reminded us of its $700 million investment to “upskill” 100,000 employees by 2025.

In closing, Bezos reminded shareholders that he’s focused on COVID-19 and how Amazon can help, urging everyone to “reflect” on a Dr. Seuss quote: “When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

The world’s richest man wrote: “I am very optimistic about which of these civilization is going to choose.”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.