2017 has no doubt been a year for the record books, from the inauguration of the 45th president to protests like #TakeAKnee and #MeToo and mega storms like Harvey, Irma and Maria and wildfires in both Northern and Southern California.
But 2017 has also seen plenty of headlines from a single company: Amazon.
“There’s not a retail Client we’ve worked with this year that has not had discussions with us regarding Amazon,” said Daniel Olduck, EVP of Global Strategy at Acronym. “Some of those discussions have been in the context of an increasingly important advertising partner and leveraging its new platforms, others as a troublesome competitor encroaching on their activity and marketshare. Often a hybrid of the two. This has demonstrated how huge a 2017 Amazon has had in impacting retail in its advertising solutions, its marketing and its overall user prominence. We’ve had to be increasingly nimble as an agency to react to its growth in the marketplace and have had a big focus on Amazon solutions in 2017 and into 2018.”
Here’s a look back at the ten things we think are most noteworthy about Amazon in 2017:
Soliciting pitches for HQ2.
In September, Amazon announced it was looking for a site in North America for a second headquarters dubbed HQ2.
This request yielded 238 proposals from 54 states, provinces, districts and territories eager to host Amazon, its $5-billion construction project and “as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs,” along with what Amazon expects to also include “tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.”
These 54 suitors were eager to flex their muscles – proposals included gimmicks like New York lighting up landmarks like the Empire State Building in orange; Tucson, Arizona sending a cactus (which Amazon could not accept); the mayor of Kansas City, Missouri writing 1000 five-star product reviews; Birmingham, Alabama setting up giant Amazon boxes and Dash buttons throughout town; and Stonecrest, Georgia offering to rename itself Amazon.
The location of HQ2, however, remains to be seen.
Quietly ramping AAP.
Amazon shocked the digital advertising world in March when its Amazon Advertising Platform (AAP) was rated the most-used DSP in its inaugural appearance in a report from analytics firm Advertiser Perceptions, beating out even Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager. And, according to its third quarter earnings report, Amazon’s “other” revenue, which Digiday says is mostly ad sales, grew year-over-year to $1.12 billion.
That may be small potatoes compared to Google and Facebook, but Amazon certainly has growth in its sights. The ecommerce giant made its first appearance at the Search Marketing Expo conference in New York in October, an event that caters specifically to the search marketing community. There, Colleen Aubrey, vice president of performance advertising at Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), used her panel to detail Amazon ad products and tools, as well as tips for using them to maximize ROI.
Coolly dropping $14B for Whole Foods Market.
Another surprise move came in June when Amazon announced it was buying the Whole Food Market brand for nearly $14 billion. The deal closed in August and has since resulted in lower prices “on a selection of best-selling staples,” Amazon Lockers in Whole Food stores, Whole Food product availability via grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh and lower prices on Thanksgiving turkeys for Prime members as Amazon seeks to find synergies between the brands and encourage consumers to not only become Prime members, but also purchase Echo devices.
Meanwhile, platforms like Google, Walmart and Jet.com are banding together to innovate in online grocery themselves, looking to offer perks like voice orders, in-store pickup, drone delivery and high-quality private label products.
Launching a voice-enabled device with a screen.
Amazon rolled out a number of new iterations of its voice-enabled Echo devices this year, including Echo Show, an Echo with a screen so “now Alexa can show you things,” like music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts and to-do and shopping lists. Users can also make hands-free calls. And as similar devices from Google, Facebook and Apple are also reportedly coming out with screens – and perhaps even touchscreens – and voice assistants like Alexa are no longer theoretically limited to a single answer, there’s speculation we’re moving even closer to a search experience that flows across devices.
Outselling pretty much everybody on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Amazon has had a very good holiday season so far, calling Cyber Monday 2017 “the single biggest shopping day worldwide in the company’s history” in which customers ordered hundreds of millions of products – including millions of Alexa-enabled devices. Per data from analytics company Slice Intelligence, Amazon accounted for nearly one-third of all online sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, as reports say Amazon could control nearly half of all US ecommerce sales in 2017.
Per Adobe’s figures, US customers spent $5.03 billion on Black Friday and $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday 2017. And while that’s nothing to sneeze at, it’s still just a drop in the bucket compared to Alibaba, which sold $25.3 billion overall on Singles Day, prompting questions about whether US retailers should start their holiday promotions even earlier in 2018 to capitalize, too.
Making lots of money for Jeff Bezos.
Thanks to Black Friday, Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth pushed past $100 billion, meaning it’s been a pretty good holiday season for him, too. His evolution from online bookseller to ecommerce titan was also illustrated in a popular 2017 meme (of sorts).
Winning its first Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards.
Wearing rose-colored glasses for Prime Air.
In June, Amazon freaked out the nation when sketches of plans for beehive-like urban drone docking stations emerged, pointing to an all-too-real dystopian future. While Amazon seems to remain optimistic about this so-called Prime Air delivery service, speculation remains about how realistic drone delivery really is in the US.
Rolling out Amazon Key – and letting itself into customers’ homes, too.
Similar to Volvo’s in-car delivery service for the 2015 holiday season, Amazon recently launched Amazon Key, an in-home delivery and access service that allows consumers to get packages delivered directly into their homes and to grant access to people they trust. Some, however – even in the Bezos-owned Washington Post – complain Amazon Key is the “most aggressive effort I’ve seen from a tech giant to connect your home to the Internet in a way that puts itself right at the center.”
Still working on Amazon Go.
Amazon spent much of the year quietly testing Amazon Go, its checkout-less convenience store concept that allows customers to simply pick up what they need and walk out, in Seattle in a beta program open to employees. Amazon says the checkout- and line-free experience is made possible thanks to computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning.
“Our Just Walk Out Technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart,” Amazon says.
And, reports say, it is “almost ready for prime time.” (Get it?)
Debuting Instant Pickup – and trying to win the hearts and minds of Millennials.
Finally, in August, Amazon debuted Instant Pickup for Prime members in multiple college towns throughout the US, enabling anyone with the munchies to order products like snacks and drinks and pick up those items at specified locations within two minutes.