From the expansion of its one-hour delivery service to new cities to the testing of product deliveries directly to customer car trunks and the expansion of its ecosystem of apps and streaming content, the first quarter found Amazon on a typically productive footing.
The scope of that activity – which included things like the company’s studio arm greenlighting new seasons of original shows like “Mozart in the Jungle” and launching new features around some of the company’s hardware offerings – also sheds light on how the e-commerce behemoth plans to spend the rest of 2015. Based on its at times dizzying operational pace during the just-ended three-month period for which Amazon reported earnings Thursday, which included revealing for the first time the size of its $5 billion cloud business, 2015 looks to be another year of big bets, occasional misfires and breakneck expansion for the company.
One of the inescapable realities about Amazon today is that it’s now such a sprawling conglomerate of products and services that certain corners of its empire tend to draw outsized attention. Such was the case with the company’s first earnings report of the year, when Amazon broke out the reporting of its industry-leading cloud business segment in such a way that let everyone finally attach an official dollar amount to the size of the platform used by organizations as diverse as Pinterest, Netflix and the CIA.
“Born a decade ago, AWS is a good example of how we approach ideas and risk-taking at Amazon,” said company founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.
And, moreover, it continues to grow at a fast pace, as well as expand into new areas. A few days before Amazon’s earnings announcement, for example, AWS senior Vice President Andy Jassy unveiled a new machine learning platform at the AWS Summit in San Francisco.
The company says the platform gives customers visualization tools and wizards to help them create machine learning models without needing to be fluent in sophisticated machine learning algorithms and technology. It’s based on the same technology Amazon’s internal data scientist community uses and can generate billions of predictions daily, serving them in real time – with no upfront hardware or software investment required.
“What we’ve heard from customers is that they see a large opportunity of using existing and growing datasets with machine learning, but that to take advantage of this, there has to be a very low barrier to entry,” wrote Matt Wood, general manager of data science at Amazon Web Services, on his personal blog earlier this week. (link – http://tothestars.io/2015/4/20/a-little-more-about-amazon-machine-learning.html)
Along the lines of its cloud capabilities, Amazon also during the quarter launching unlimited cloud storage for customers via two new storage plans. One plan offers unlimited storage for photos, videos, movies, music and files, and the other is a photo-centric plan that offers unlimited photo storage plus 5 GB of additional storage for videos, documents or other files.
Of course, critics will note that Amazon still managed to report a net loss for the quarter ($57 million, compared to a profit of $108 million during the first quarter of 2014) despite its $5 billion cloud business. One reason why – the company as always is plowing money it makes back into its various businesses to keep them humming along, and to fund expansion.
Here, for example, is a sample of some of the things Amazon was busy with during the first quarter:
On the device front, Amazon launched its Fire TV Stick in the U.K. and Germany, with the company saying preorders in those countries broke all previous records for Amazon devices in the first week of availability. The company also has given its Echo wireless speaker new features including Pandora integration, home automation and voice control for customers listening to music via Bluetooth. Amazon also released a limited preview of the associated SDK.
Amazon also released its Dash Button, which customers can put in their homes and use to reorder household items from 18 major brands including Bounty and Clorox. There’s also the related Dash Replacement Service that lets connected devices send reorders of products running low to Amazon, like a connected coffee maker automatically ordering fresh beans when running low.
The company also has expanded its Prime Now delivery service to Miami, Baltimore, Dallas, Atlanta and Austin. Amazon’s studios arm also greenlit second seasons of its original shows “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Bosch” as well as several kids series, and as if that wasn’t enough, the company introduced “Amazon@Purdue,” a staffed on-campus pickup and drop-off point at Purdue University.
The company also launched Amazon Home Services, its new marketplace for on-demand professional services. Continuing on to the international front, Amazon launched a mobile app for sellers in India, and Amazon China opened an Amazon international brand flagship store on the Chinese website Tmall, along with several other new developments and innovations during the quarter.
Starting in May, Amazon announced this week, customers in Munich, Germany with Audis will be able to enter their Audi as the shipping address for online orders. The car company is working together with DHL Parcel and Amazon Prime on a project that calls for parcels shipped directly to the car, with the DHL driver handling the package getting a one-time-use digital access code that allows them to open the customer’s trunk and leave the package inside.
“Amazon is not an e-commerce company,” blogger Ben Thompson, who writes at stratechery.com, wrote recently about the company. “No more pointing at the fact that e-commerce is only 6% of U.S. retail, or that Amazon’s multi-sided network of merchants and customer base are the key factors in determining their future success. No, the company is going for something a whole lot bigger.”
Indeed, most of the immediate Amazon earnings coverage this week focused on the company’s massive cloud business. But as this even abbreviated list of first quarter developments shows, Amazon is nothing if not a company with a seemingly limitless number of cards to play.
And the pace does not stop. A few hours after the company ended its quarterly presentation for analysts Thursday, it pushed out another press release, touting yet another new development:
The company said that its shopping app will be available on the Apple Watch, which is being released Friday.