When Jeff Bezos was spotted striding between meetings at the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference last summer, biceps bulging and looking like a real-life Terminator, the image of “Swole Jeff Bezos” went viral: The Amazon CEO, it seemed, had come to embody his killing machine of a company. He had just acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion, wilting rival grocers’ stock prices as much as 14% merely on the news. He eradicated the upscale market’s long-standing “whole paycheck” reputation in a single day by cutting prices on popular items like kale and salmon. He also turned the stores into showrooms for Amazon’s expanding line of Echo home-assistant devices, which includes the camera-enabled Look (for AI-powered fashion advice), the touch-screen Show (which can play videos), and Spot, an alarm-clock replacement. People can find Amazon’s Alexa (which also powers Echo) in a growing number of places, from BMWs to business conference rooms, and the company is supporting additional conversational applications by allowing developers to sell enhanced skills (à la Apple in-app purchases) and subscriptions to voice services, such as a Jeopardy! trivia app.
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Amazon is also adding muscle in places you didn’t even know it had muscles. It significantly expanded its restaurant delivery service to more markets, such as Washington D.C. and Las Vegas, guaranteeing no markups from menu prices or it’ll refund customers money. For the cook-at-home crowd, it quietly introduced meal kits and when word got out, the Amazon Effect kicked in and Blue Apron, which had gone public less than three weeks earlier, saw its stock drop 11% in one day. (It would end 2017 as the worst-performing major U.S. IPO of the year.) Internationally, Amazon purchased Middle Eastern ecommerce leader Souq.com for $580 million to expand into the region. By the end of summer, Souq added Amazon-style same- and next-day delivery services. The company also made big moves into Brazil, adding electronics and appliances and introducing a no-hassle return policy.
Meanwhile, Amazon has quietly bulked up its own roster of private labels, adding dozens of homegrown brands in categories that include pantry staples, athleisure, and furniture. So now, when a customer asks Alexa for cashews or diapers or a Bezos-style tight black polo, Amazon can fulfill the order with its own products.