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Selected Case

published: 11 Dec 2017

  • Topic: Strategy
  • Industry: Catalog and mail-order houses; Computer processing and data preparation, Processing services
  • Region: North America

On 30 May 2017, Amazon shares traded at a record high – above $1,000 – surpassing the share price of Google parent Alphabet. Started as an online bookstore 22 years earlier, Amazon has achieved uninterrupted growth by becoming the largest internet bookstore, the largest online marketplace, a media company, and the most successful IT service provider. It recently expanded into the bricks-and-mortar retail business, launching Amazon Books across the US and beta-testing Amazon Go in Seattle. As of May 2017, it was ranked the world’s most innovative company and the fourth largest company by market capitalization. The case explores Amazon’s path to growth and its successes and failures along the way. Successful strategic moves include Amazon Marketplace, Prime, Amazon Web Services, and Kindle. Failures included Auctions, A9 Search Engine, Endless, and the Fire Phone. Identifying commonalities and differences among them, the case shows the causes and consequences of Amazon’s at-once stellar performance and severe setbacks. It applies Blue Ocean Strategy concepts to analyze its market-creating logic for future growth.

Pedagogical Objectives:
The case aims to understand the root of a company’s high performance and growth. A company, in this case study Amazon, makes a series of strategic moves in pursuit of growth. Some of them largely contributed to Amazon’s growth and market dominance; some of them made Amazon to experience a serious setback. The case analyzes these strategic moves and finds out key commonalities and differences between the two, aiming to make the following learning points: 1) There is no perpetually excellent company – it can be brilliant at one moment and wrongheaded at another. 2) Amazon created a series of new markets by multi-faceted business offerings from online retailing to media and IT services. Those strategic moves opened and captured new market space instead of exploiting existing markets. By focusing on delivering meaningful value to buyers, Amazon made a significant leap in demand and achieved high growth. Furthermore, it eventually lowered the cost structure as a mass of buyers flocked and were locked-in by Amazon’s unprecedented utility. 3) Amazon jumped into many attractive industries and leveraged its entrenched resources and capabilities to bring intense competition against incumbents. These strategic moves, anchored in red ocean traps, focused on offering higher value or lower cost than the rivals, but they were not necessarily bought in by customers. 4) Key difference between Amazon’s success and failure can be found in the presence of value innovation. Amazon achieved high growth regardless of industry condition when they pioneered a new strategy that opened up a new value-cost frontier through a step change in the kind and degree of value offered, hence creating a new market and making competition irrelevant. By contrast, Amazon failed when it focused on delivering novelty technology without buyer value or simply exercised cost leadership in order to beat high-performing incumbents.

Blue Ocean Strategy, Blue Ocean Shift, Innovation, Growth, Strategy, Corporate Strategy, Failure, Technology Innovation, Market Creation, Competition, Amazon, Online Retailing, Amazon Web Services, Jeff Bezos, Prime.