To our shareowners:
A dreamy business offering has at least four characteristics. Customers love it, it can grow to very large size, it has strong returns on capital, and it’s durable in time – with the potential to endure for decades. When you find one of these, don’t just swipe right, get married.
Well, I’m pleased to report that Amazon hasn’t been monogamous in this regard. After two decades of risk taking and teamwork, and with generous helpings of good fortune all along the way, we are now happily wed to what I believe are three such life partners: Marketplace, Prime, and AWS. Each of these offerings was a bold bet at first, and sensible people worried (often!) that they could not work. But at this point, it’s become pretty clear how special they are and how lucky we are to have them. It’s also clear that there are no sinecures in business. We know it’s our job to always nourish and fortify them.
We’ll approach the job with our usual tools: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, heartfelt passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and a willingness to think long-term. With good execution and a bit of continuing good luck, Marketplace, Prime, and AWS can be serving customers and earning financial returns for many years to come.
Marketplace’s early days were not easy. First, we launched Amazon Auctions. I think seven people came, if you count my parents and siblings. Auctions transformed into zShops, which was basically a fixed price version of Auctions. Again, no customers. But then we morphed zShops into Marketplace. Internally, Marketplace was known as SDP for Single Detail Page. The idea was to take our most valuable retail real estate – our product detail pages – and let third-party sellers compete against our own retail category managers. It was more convenient for customers, and within a year, it accounted for 5% of units. Today, more than 40% of our units are sold by more than two million third-party sellers worldwide. Customers ordered more than two billion units from sellers in 2014.
The success of this hybrid model accelerated the Amazon flywheel. Customers were initially drawn by our fast-growing selection of Amazon-sold products at great prices with a great customer experience. By then allowing third parties to offer products side-by-side, we became more attractive to customers, which drew even more sellers. This also added to our economies of scale, which we passed along by lowering prices and eliminating shipping fees for qualifying orders. Having introduced these programs in the U.S., we rolled them out as quickly as we could to our other geographies. The result was a marketplace that became seamlessly integrated with all of our global websites.
We work hard to reduce the workload for sellers and increase the success of their businesses. Through our Selling Coach program, we generate a steady stream of automated machine-learned “nudges” (more than 70 million in a typical week) – alerting sellers about opportunities to avoid going out-of-stock, add selection that’s selling, and sharpen their prices to be more competitive. These nudges translate to billions in increased sales to sellers.
To further globalize Marketplace, we’re now helping sellers in each of our geographies – and in countries where we don’t have a presence – reach out to our customers in countries outside their home geographies. We hosted merchants from more than 100 different countries last year, and helped them connect with customers in 185 nations.
Almost one-fifth of our overall third-party sales now occur outside the sellers’ home countries, and our merchants’ cross-border sales nearly doubled last year. In the EU, sellers can open a single account, manage their
business in multiple languages, and make products available across our five EU websites. More recently, we’ve started consolidating cross-border shipments for sellers and helping them obtain ocean shipping from Asia to Europe and North America at preferential, bulk rates.
Marketplace is the heart of our fast-growing operations in India, since all of our selection in India is offered by third-party sellers. Amazon.in now offers more selection than any other e-commerce site in India – with more than 20 million products offered from over 21,000 sellers. With our Easy Ship service, we pick up products from a seller and handle delivery all the way to the end customer. Building upon Easy Ship, the India team recently piloted Kirana Now, a service that delivers everyday essentials from local kirana (mom and pop) stores to customers in two to four hours, adding convenience for our customers and increasing sales for the stores participating in the service.
Perhaps most important for sellers, we’ve created Fulfillment by Amazon. But I’ll save that for after we discuss Prime.
Ten years ago, we launched Amazon Prime, originally designed as an all-you-can-eat free and fast shipping program. We were told repeatedly that it was a risky move, and in some ways it was. In its first year, we gave up many millions of dollars in shipping revenue, and there was no simple math to show that it would be worth it. Our decision to go ahead was built on the positive results we’d seen earlier when we introduced Free Super Saver Shipping, and an intuition that customers would quickly grasp that they were being offered the best deal in the history of shopping. In addition, analysis told us that, if we achieved scale, we would be able to significantly lower the cost of fast shipping.
Our owned-inventory retail business was the foundation of Prime. In addition to creating retail teams to build each of our category-specific online “stores,” we have created large-scale systems to automate much of inventory replenishment, inventory placement, and product pricing. The precise delivery-date promise of Prime required operating our fulfillment centers in a new way, and pulling all of this together is one of the great accomplishments of our global operations team. Our worldwide network of fulfillment centers has expanded from 13 in 2005, when we launched Prime, to 109 this year. We are now on our eighth generation of fulfillment center design, employing proprietary software to manage receipt, stowing, picking, and shipment. Amazon Robotics, which began with our acquisition of Kiva in 2012, has now deployed more than 15,000 robots to support the stowing and retrieval of products at a higher density and lower cost than ever before. Our owned-inventory retail business remains our best customer-acquisition vehicle for Prime and a critical part of building out categories that attract traffic and third-party sellers.
Though fast delivery remains a core Prime benefit, we are finding new ways to pump energy into Prime. Two of the most important are digital and devices.
In 2011 we added Prime Instant Video as a benefit, now with tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes available for unlimited streaming in the U.S., and we’ve started expanding the program into the U.K. and Germany as well. We’re investing a significant amount on this content, and it’s important that we monitor its impact. We ask ourselves, is it worth it? Is it driving Prime? Among other things, we watch Prime free trial starts, conversion to paid membership, renewal rates, and product purchase rates by members entering through this channel. We like what we see so far and plan to keep investing here.
While most of