Amazon workers at Las Esferas, the botanical garden that is part of the company’s Seattle headquarters, in early May.
Amazon is undoubtedly a giant: it has 1,541,000 workers (in 2021 it reached 1.6 million), 467,678 million dollars in annual net sales (according to Statista) and a leading brand in the sales sector and in the provision of services. web services through AWS. If considered as an organism, this enormous monster has its main brain in the center of Seattle, a city of 733,000 inhabitants (more than Seville and less than Valencia) located in Washington, the northernmost state on the west coast of the United States. Bill Gates, creator of Microsoft; Kurt Cobain, musical leader of Nirvana; guitarist and songwriter Jimi Hendrix; and the Starbucks coffee chain. There are no packages or delivery vans on Amazon’s urban campus. The complex, which is attended by 6,000 dogs with their owners (there are 10,000 registered with entry permits) and has a giant greenhouse and a static caravan to distribute millions of free bananas a year, has generated 50,000 direct jobs in the city, representing the neurons that design the current strategy, born from a failure: the Fire Phone mobile phone.
“About eight years ago [el móvil de Amazon se presentó en julio de 2014 y dejó de venderse un año después], we threw a phone and it didn’t work. But in the failures there are flashes and from there a phoenix emerges. We went to a room like this [una sala de reuniones para unas 50 personas] and we said, ‘My God, we have a lot of smart people, we have other assets [productos]. What will be the strategy for us in the future? The answer was home, where we spent much of our time and it was being ignored”, recalls Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president, at the company’s headquarters during a meeting with international media to which EL PAÍS has been invited.
Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president, at the presentation of the company’s strategic plan in early May.
In this way, Amazon maintains its constant struggle for world leadership as a sales channel, the great heart that sustains and moves the giant. In this field, it competes with the Chinese AliExpress or the emerging Temu. It also has AWS, the web services provider that includes quantum computing and is the lung of the organism. But the other central strategic axis is to conquer the home. The main objective is not the devices themselves, but the linking of users to an entire ecosystem of their own. “Our business model is that we don’t try to make a lot of money from the devices themselves. We earn money with you using the devices”, summarizes Limp.
With this vision, the multinational has put all its teams to work on generative artificial intelligence, considering that the new language models and the skills they can provide are key to interconnecting the entire house. “We have hundreds of millions of terminals connected with Alexa. Users are turning more and more to functions that work in the background and are proactive,” says the manager. “More than 90% of the routines are executed behind the scenes. The user does not do anything, does not activate anything or ask for it through an application. It just happens ”, he adds to explain the proactivity that they intend to implement in all services and that they call “ambient intelligence ”.
To conquer the home
In this way, televisions, voice assistants, household appliances, cameras or locks work with the same central brain that assimilates repetitive actions to group them under a single voice command. Thus, all you have to do is say “Alexa, I’m leaving” so that all the devices turn off, the key locks the door when leaving and only the devices with scheduled tasks are activated when there is no one at home, such as the vacuum cleaner or the surveillance cameras. .
The television will be part of this home computer and it will be activated when you enter the house, showing on the screen a reproduction of a work of art or family photos or the pending agenda or the shopping list or an original image that we ask you to generate. starting from certain premises.
Remote with Alexa from the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
To this are added smoke and air quality detectors, thermostats, as well as internal and external security cameras to respond remotely to someone who knocks on our door in our absence or to monitor the situation of the home or follow adults, children or pets.
The new strategy does not ignore the products that have worked, such as the Kindle, the electronic text reader that has been increasing its capabilities and which, according to the company, maintains its growth at a time of crisis in consumer electronics. The trend, according to Limp, is to expand entertainment options and focus on 10-inch (25 cm x 17 cm) screens. It will also have the associated home automation functions
That automated home also rests on guaranteeing the Internet connection (Amazon plans to become a global satellite provider with the Kuiper project) and the multi-connectivity of all devices, which is why the company maintains its next-generation router business.
Free banana caravan outside Amazon headquarters in Seattle in early May.
Bananas, dogs and a botanical garden
The hundreds of employees at the South Lake Union headquarters, which opened in 2010 in downtown Seattle, are concentrated along these strategic lines. 50,000 people work in the more than 40 buildings on the urban campus, but 2121 Seventh Avenue is the emblem.
The most distinctive architectural element of the Seattle headquarters, where there are no packages or delivery vans, is the complex known as The Spheres (The Spheres), two gigantic greenhouses built with 2,643 glass panels and designed a decade ago as a of a botanical park so that employees can “collaborate, innovate and reduce mental fatigue”. In this way, jobs and meetings are confused among 40,000 plants from 30 countries, among which a Welwitschia specimen stands out, an endemic species of the deserts of southern Africa capable of living for more than 1,000 years.
Next to this complex, in a small caravan at street level, free bananas have been offered since 2015. They have distributed up to 8,000 a day and more than a million a year. They do it for its nutritional value and being a widely accepted fruit, but they do not hide the similarity of its shape with the brand’s smiling logo.
A customer enters the Amazon Go store in Seattle, USA.Jefrrey Dastin (Reuters)
The ground floor is occupied by an Amazon Go, the food market that is accessed with the brand’s application and there are no dependents. A complex of cameras monitors the chosen products and charges them directly to the user’s account.
Dozens of people taking their dogs to work can be seen on the main stairs leading to the dark glass building. Up to 6,000 dogs come to the venues and have their own park for their recreation between Las Esferas and the main building. This custom began with Rufus, a manager’s dog who became a mascot for the entire team and died in 2009 after several years attending work. An Amazon building is named after him.
On the contrary, services for mothers with children have not been a priority at Amazon, according to what the group of employees called Momazonians exposed during the pandemic. The pressure of these led the company to establish a temporary aid program for the care of children and the elderly dependent on its workers. It currently maintains a labor flexibility plan that includes discounts on some services in the United States: Amazon FamilyFlex.
Two Amazon employees show one of the 6,000 dogs that come with their owners to the office at their jobs. Lucas Jackson / Amazon
In the main hall, a couple of employees receive the visitor with a forced smile and offer to help with anything. From there, the atmosphere becomes more serious and security measures are strict. No non-resort guests are allowed to roam without an authorized Amazon escort.
On the walls of the elevators you can paint with markers and on some floors there are recreational games. Although it has several restaurants, they are insufficient for the entire staff, who use all the spaces to eat.
The work plants are austere. It is a condition of a company where very few are authorized to travel in the first classes of the planes in charge of the company.
Main lobby of the Amazon headquarters in Seattle.
Nothing suggests that it is the headquarters of Amazon. No brands or almost logos. The furniture consists mainly of conventional white or beech colored tables and black chairs. Large dark windows make up all the facades and the interior spaces, many set up as meeting rooms, are separated by white walls or panels with few concessions to decoration.
Amazon’s commitment to the city center has generated an unwanted effect. The increase in housing prices and rents has generated the multiplication of homeless people who sleep in the arcades of downtown buildings and who disappear, in an orderly fashion and without a trace, when the city that houses the giant’s brain awakens .
You can write to [email protected] and follow EL PAÍS Technology on Facebook and Twitter or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter.