Classic Bezos

The Washington Post conducted an online interview and Q&A with Jeff Bezos today, and it's a good study in his changing rhetoric on the company. As usual, it combines a high degree of prefab statements - you'd be prefab, too, if you were talking to the media for an hour to five hour a day every day of your life - with the kind of cheerful honesty that Bezos always delivers. One statement struck me in particular as a classic example of his mode of expression:

It turns out that operating a network of physical stores is a very difficult business and that the set of skills you need to be a great operator of such stores is completely different from the set of skills you need to be a great e-commerce company."

If you take this statement apart - one that I've heard from him for several years, in fact - you see lots of interesting structure in how he conceptualizes the retail world. First, he recognizes volume: a network of physical stores. Second, the statement encapsulates the evolving throught process: it turns out... Third, it acknowledges that chains of stores aren't a bad idea: the set of skills you need to be a great operator of such stores - especially important because they have so many bricks-and-mortar stores as partners now. Finally, it implicitly and modestly addresses's own ability: the set of skills you need to be a great e-commerce company.

Another aspect of this rhetoric is Jeff's classic parallelism: I'm sure there's a formal Latin term for this, but it's very common for him to parallel task or ability for bricks and mortar versus task or ability for ecommerce. The approach allows him to balance the two instead of playing them off each other as direct competitors. It defines larger realms into which both sets of players are dominant or successful. (Elsewhere in the interview, he says that online sales will be about 15 percent of retail but not until about 10 years - from when they started or 10 years from now, it's unclear from context, but I believe he's looked at 2005-6 not 2010.) continues to evolve as their extensive partnerships and co-branding replaces the one-stop shop. It still amazes me how much is under their tent, and I expect that in early 2002, we'll see some of the elephants get retired and a few clowns promoted.