Dubai: On the same day that Sears, the American department store chain and former retail giant, declared bankruptcy, an Amazon executive said there is still opportunity in retail, and that the rise of e-commerce should be embraced, not feared.
Headlines around the world have linked the decline of Sears and other physical retailers to the rise of e-commerce, and to Amazon’s rise in particular.
“E-commerce turns out to be somewhere between 5 and 10 per cent of retail,” Paul Misener, Amazon’s Vice President for Global Innovation Policy and Communications, told Gulf News during an interview. “I would guess here in the Middle East it’s closer to 5 per cent. It just crossed the 10 per cent line in the United States this year. That means there is 90 to 95 per cent of retail that is still offline. That’s a lot of headroom for us and for new entrants to come in, so this really is Day 1 for the industry, not just for Amazon. There is a tonne of opportunity out there. It just needs to be embraced, not feared.”
Misener said companies looking to get in to e-commerce need to focus on customers and on what customers want.
“We thought long and hard about what services and products we’d like to be able to deliver to our customers, and I assume that other companies should be doing the same things,” said Misener, a 19-year-veteran at Amazon who oversees the company’s global innovation, which over the past years has included Alexa, a virtual digital assistant; a drone delivery system in development; and developments in Artificial Intelligence technology.
Amazon’s answer to retailers still looking to get into e-commerce is to learn from the Seattle-based company, or more specifically, to buy the tools they used to create their empire.
“The tools that we have developed for our various businesses are now being made available to third parties, so if another enterprise wants to use artificial intelligence, they don’t have to go build it themselves,” he said. “It is now available as a service.”
Amazon Web Services opened in the UAE in early 2017, and is one of many companies, along with Microsoft, Oracle and others, currently offering cloud computing services in the Middle East, a growing trend that has gained steam over the past couple of years. Amazon data centres are expected to open in early 2019. The company also acquired souq.com, a UAE-based e-commerce site, last year for an undisclosed amount.
Amazon in September became the second company in the world to reach a market value of $1 trillion (Dh3.7 trillion) though the company is currently valued at $872 billion after last week’s stock market correction.
Misener also dismissed the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on employment, saying the technology does not result in jobs losses.
“Automation is going to make all workers more efficient, better. It doesn’t mean there will be [fewer] workers,” he said. “Our own history has been one of automation from the very beginning... It’s always been in the context of adding automation and also hiring more people. We have over half a million employees at Amazon right now; so there has been no shortage of hiring at Amazon as a result of automation.”
Amazon has come under fire for its “intense” work environment, including a clash with US Senator Bernie Sanders who called the company’s pay and benefits “inadequate.” Amazon responded by saying that “Sanders continues to make inaccurate and misleading accusations” against it. However, two months later, the company did increase its minimum pay to $15 an hour. According to BusinessInsider.com, the pay raise will affect 350,000 full-time and seasonal employees.
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Who is Paul Misener?
Paul Misener graduated from Princeton University after studying electrical engineering and computer science.
“I… went to college to be an astrophysicist, so I chose Princeton because that was the place [where] Einstein ended up when he came to America,” he said. “It turned out that I wanted something slightly more social when I got to college and that meant electrical engineering and computer science. For me, that was more social,” he joked.
Misener said he has always loved technology and seen opportunities to build bridges between policy making and technology, engineering, and science.
“I always wanted to fit into the niche so I went to law school at night and the whole idea was to get myself in a position where I can [move between] the two worlds,” he said,
He started working in tech in the mid-90s, taking a job at Intel Corp and has also done “a few stints in government.” He joined Amazon from the Washington, DC, law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding.