There are plenty of things you can say about the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, some good, some bad. That goes for the company he founded, Amazon, which is now not only the largest online retail business in the world, but also affects the lives of Americans in more ways than most people really understand.
One thing you can’t say, however, is that he isn’t careful with his words. Any leader at his level has to be. Rarely do they slip up or say the wrong thing. They tend to mean exactly what they say, especially when they put it in writing.
That’s why it’s so extraordinary that the testimony Jeff Bezos prepared for Wednesday’s antitrust hearing before the House Judiciary Committee took a not-so-subtle dig at the very people he was there to testify before. The entire 4,000-word document is worth a read, but I want to highlight one specific part:
Eighty percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Amazon overall, according to leading independent polls. Who do Americans trust more than Amazon “to do the right thing?” Only their primary physicians and the military, according to a January 2020 Morning Consult survey. Researchers at Georgetown and New York University found in 2018 that Amazon trailed only the military among all respondents to a survey on institutional and brand trust.
Among Republicans, we trailed only the military and local police; among Democrats, we were at the top, leading every branch of government, universities, and the press. In Fortune’s 2020 rankings of the World’s Most Admired Companies, we came in second place (Apple was #1). We are grateful that customers notice the hard work we do on 4 their behalf, and that they reward us with their trust. Working to earn and keep that trust is the single biggest driver of Amazon’s Day One culture.
Did you catch the part about trusting Amazon to “do the right thing?” How about the fact that Bezos pointed out Democrats, who were running the hearing, believe Amazon is more trustworthy than “every branch of government.”
Bezos’s message to Congress is pretty clear: People trust us far more than they trust you. That’s a remarkably bold statement from a CEO sitting before a hearing in Congress, but it’s absolutely true. According to the most recent Gallup survey, only 25 percent of Americans approve of the work Congress is doing. On the other hand, 91 percent of people say they have a favorable view of Amazon.
That doesn’t mean Amazon hasn’t had issues. The company has faced criticism over the way it has handled worker safety during the pandemic, and the way it responded to walkouts, even firing and insulting one of the organizers. Then there’s the fact that the company has struggled to keep up with the surging demand for online shopping, leaving many people waiting weeks for ordinary products.
To be fair, Amazon has worked hard to deal with those situations and has continued to make changes to better serve its customers. Through a spokesperson, the company told me its employees are:
“working hard to serve customers, and we continue to work to balance capacity across our network of fulfillment centers while ensuring we’re meeting social distancing and safety measures to keep our teams safe. We know customers want their deliveries as quickly as possible, and we’re doing all we can to get them items delivered with One Day and Two Day shipping.”
The most important measure, of course, is that people still use Amazon every day because, ultimately, people like buying things from Amazon, and they trust the company’s brand. That’s a fantastic lesson for every company because trust is your brand’s most valuable asset, and it isn’t even close.
Amazon has plenty of flaws, and it very well may be engaged in anti-competitive behavior. That’s for Congress to figure out. I just think it’s worth remembering that most people have a far better opinion of the former than the latter.