This shareholder letter, as Jeff states, is "the cumulative effect of 15 years of customer experience improvements: increasing selection, speeding delivery, reducing cost structure so we can afford to offer customers ever-lower prices, and many others." It’s a list of Amazon’s achievements in the past 15 years as a public company.
Jeff opens the 2008 letter with a reference to the financial crisis plaguing the United States at that time. He reiterates Customer Obsession above all else, then talks about a common Amazon philosophy: Working Backwards. He then finishes out the letter talking to shareholders about Amazon's 'prudent spending,' justifying the outlays of cash Amazon is spending in AWS, 3P (third party) tools...
This year's letter is a big push for Kindle, a device that sold out in just 5.5 hours. Jeff touts it's importance and even the wireless connection (not Wi-Fi in the original) that connected to 3G cellular networks. But most interestingly he made an analogy of Kindle to paper books as amazon.com is to physical, old school retail.
Jeff talks all about new business ideas: one not ventured into (at the time) and retail. He discusses acquiring, Joyo.com, in China, one retail play, Fulfillment by Amazon, and one idea that would change Amazon forever, AWS. Jeff then talks about how growth is still celebrated, even though it might have a smaller impact to Amazon overall.
I can attest to this - Amazon is data driven. SO MUCH DATA! Data about everything. When possible, make a decision not based on gut, but based on hard numbers. But what about when you don't have the data? Or Customer Obsession tells you differently?
This is the first time we’ve seen charts or visualizations of any sort in one of Jeff’s letters. As someone who does not have a background in finance, I’m parsing this as a complete layman. The overall point is to illustrate Jeff's defense that free cash flow is what investors should be looking at, not a standard income statement. He goes into quite a bit of detail, including examples.
In this shorter-than-others letter, Jeff talks about the long-term, especially when it comes to the customer experience.
I formulate my “recap” of each letter by reading and taking notes as I go, and pulling out interesting facts and quotes. I got three sentences in this letter and wrote the word “Peculiar.”
The letter opens talking about Amazon’s financial achievements being marked by the move to institute a handsome discount, and we hear about those two words that I will forever associate with Amazon — “customer obsession.”
Jeff starts off with an “ouch” and proceeds to describe good performance, despite the 80% drop in Amazon’s price-per-share from the bust of the dot-com bubble.