Today, Amazon ships approximately 72% of its own packages. This is up from about 47% in 2019. Ben Thompson of Stratechery recently published an excellent article talking about why this is important and how the company’s investments in logistics are, yet again, paying dividends.
The foundation of Amazon’s “moat”, Ben argues, is aggregating customer demand. When most people buy something on Amazon from a third party merchant, they think and feel as if they’re buying directly from Amazon. Some people probably don’t even appreciate the difference and in most cases it probably doesn’t matter. It comes in a box with Amazon’s logo on it and that’s that.
But it’s an important distinction because if you’re a third party merchant, Amazon pretty much “owns” your customers. They are the ones aggregating demand. They have the brand equity and loyalty. And if you left the platform, your customers would be unlikely to follow you.
This is kind of the opposite of how Shopify’s ecommerce platform works. When you operate a Shopify store you are using their platform, but you are bringing your own brand, web domain, and other assets to it, such that you can now establish a more direct relationship with your customers. This doesn’t mean that Shopify doesn’t have a moat, it’s just something different.
All things being equal, most businesses would rather “own” their customers than not. The problem right now is that shipping and supply chains are no joke, and so there are real advantages to being on Amazon and having them handle your fulfillment. It could mean the difference between getting your products out for Christmas, or not.
So all things are not equal.