Will Micromanagement be Amazon’s Eventual Downfall?

Jeff Bezos needs to stop calling all the shots, if Amazon is to remain the “king of online retailers” and continue to grow

This post is by Kenneth Eade, a political novelist and attorney, who practices ecommerce law at Amazon Sellers Attorney.

Leadership coach Miles Anthony once said: “Micromanagement is the destroyer of momentum”. Whether this will be the eventual fate of Amazon.com is a question that is being asked by frustrated sellers who deal with the bureaucracy created by CEO Jeff Bezos, who has a penchant to micromanage everything that goes on at the giant retailer.

Before breaking off a niche law practice to help Amazon sellers cope with the wave of seller account suspensions in recent years, as an Amazon seller and self-published author, I was no stranger to the fact that it is almost impossible to find anyone in authority at Amazon who seems to be able to make a decision besides Bezos himself.

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When you’re leading a mega-giant tech company whose growth has seemed to spiral out of control, excessive micromanagement can be the brick wall that stifles creativity. However, some ex-Amazon employees have the opinion that hyper-micromanagement, at least in Bezos’ case, propels the company forward in a way nothing else could. According to a 2011 article in Business Insider by Mark Rosoff, this is the opinion of ex-Amazon engineer Steve Yegge, who described Amazon’s CEO as being such a control freak, that he “makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies”.

There is nobody between Mr Bezos and his bevvy of bureaucrats who is capable of making a simple executive decision.

At first I thought it was great that, if you reached an impasse with Amazon’s Seller Performance department or Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you could take your beef directly to Bezos. You do this simply by sending him an email at jeff@amazon.com. That was until I discovered that there is absolutely nobody between Mr Bezos and his bevvy of bureaucrats who is capable of making a simple executive decision without his supervision. Even appeals to Douglas Gurr, the long-time Amazon executive who recently took the helm of Amazon UK, are often routed through Bezos’ office.

Bezos’ innovation and its resulting success are unquestionable. Amazon is a thriving corporate conglomerate which continues to defy traditional retail business models, relentlessly gobbling up and redefining traditional retail industries. But there is a fine line between effective management and micromanagement.

When a manager gets too involved with the minor details of the business, it wastes their time and energy. This causes the company to forgo opportunities that could have made the business move forward, strips responsibility from the manager’s underlings and stifles individual employee incentive and creativity.

A good example of how Bezos turned micromanagement into calamity is the disastrous Fire Phone.

A good example of how Bezos has turned micromanagement into calamity is the disastrous Fire Phone. Which, due to his oversight of every little detail, resulted in the company developing a phone to satisfy Bezos, as opposed to the ultimate consumer.

Bezos has expressed that, not only does he want a good relationship with Amazon employees, who are free to contact him at any time, he also wants a good relationship with sellers. While this is commendable, the main problem with this line of communication between Amazon sellers and Amazon is that communication can only occur through email. This is, of course, with the exception of Amazon Seller Support, whose job appears to be to apologize to sellers for their frustration of not being able to communicate with anyone to solve their problem, while, at the same time, being totally incapable of anything else.

When one of my clients has their seller account suspended or product listing blocked, it would be nice to actually be able to discuss the matter with an employee at Amazon who is responsible for deciding whether their account or listing can be reinstated. Alas, this is not possible. Instead, you must send a string of emails to an anonymous team of bureaucrats, who send back form responses to your critical inquiries.

For example, I had a client who listed a medical test product and had it disallowed because Amazon took the position that it was not approved by the FDA. In reality, it was a device that was exempt from FDA approval, but you can only communicate that to Amazon by email. It is impossible to discuss anything with their Seller Performance Team over the phone. You can’t even determine whether you are emailing the same employee each time because Seller Performance communications are not personally signed – they are anonymous.

Bezos seems to be the Vladimir Putin of Amazon.

The solution? You have to write to Jeff Bezos and hope that his staff will assign someone with the time and energy to research the matter to respond to your dilemma. In this case, Mr Bezos did solve the problem and allowed the listing by assigning it to someone who used their brain instead of the button on their computer keyboard.

Amazon sees selling on its marketplace as a privilege. However, if it decides to kick you off, it generally allows you to appeal the decision, by recognizing the policies you’ve violated, and providing a “plan of action” on how to prevent breaches of policy in the future. Sometimes though, no matter how detailed or prospective your plan is, it is summarily dismissed by Seller Performance.

Kenneth Eade

You could take Amazon to arbitration. But this is cost-prohibitive for most small sellers, and could put the seller out of business for another seven months while the arbitration process drags on. There is another remedy though. You guessed it – Jeff Bezos again! It is called an escalation. Of course, he has a staff who opens his emails, but you can be sure he is looking over their shoulder.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire Bezos and the fact that he is concerned enough to provide this final avenue of appeal for my clients. However, I can’t shake the feeling that he is the only one at Amazon who is calling all the shots. In this respect, he seems to be the Vladimir Putin of Amazon. But, unlike Putin, as Amazon continues to grow, as we know it will, Mr Bezos needs to learn how to delegate responsibility if he wants to achieve the customer satisfaction levels that the company aspires to.

Kenneth Eade can be contacted at Amazon Sellers Attorney.

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