Retail Insider Breakfast with Patrick Pondaven, director of consumables UK, Amazon

Retail Insider held its latest Breakfast Event of the year with Patrick Pondaven, director of consumables UK at Amazon, who gave some insights into the operational and cultural aspects of the company and how it puts the customer at the heart of everything it does.

Senior executives from Fortnum & Mason, Hotel Chocolat, Belstaff, and BrandAlley were among those gathered at The Delaunay in central London to hear how Amazon takes a very agile and flexible approach to building any new capabilities.

Patrick shared that Amazon is customer-obsessed and not competitor or product focused. There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but the big one is that, as Jeff Bezos [Amazon founder] explained in his 2015 letter to shareholders, customers are always dissatisfied, even when they report being happy. Customers always want something better like faster deliveries or more product selection. The desire to delight customers drives Amazon to invent on their behalf.

Patrick described what Amazon called ‘Day-One’ mindset where it experiments patiently, accepts failures, plants seeds and doubles down when it sees customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen, he says.

In order to keep innovating and moving fast, Patrick explained that Amazon sees most decisions as changeable, reversible – they’re “two-way doors”. “If you’ve made a suboptimal decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. The teams are empowered to make such’ two-way doors’ decisions on their own quickly without multiple layers of bureaucratic approvals,” he says.

Patrick adds that Amazon is committed to the UK as it has invested over £9.3billion in the UK operations since 2010 and this year it will create 2,500 permanent, full-time roles, taking the total UK workforce to 27,500.

Amazon will also create over 650 roles in its UK development centres and AWS cloud division this year. Three UK-based Development Centres are now in place in Cambridge, Edinburgh and London, working on projects including Prime Video, Prime Air, Alexa and Amazon website/mobile customisation. Successful initiatives developed by these teams are then shared around the world across Amazon businesses.

Despite the success, Patrick reminded us that total online retail, according to ONS, only accounted for 17.1% of total UK retail sales in July. Those online sales include Amazon sales but also the online sales of every bricks and mortar and multichannel retailers.

To work within this environment Amazon requires certain types of individuals and he says the company will typically look for people who “think big” and “deliver results”. Amazon keeps looking for talent across industries and geographies.

Retail Insider would very much like to thank Patrick Pondaven and the morning’s sponsors Software AG, Red Ant, K3, Womble Bond Dickinson and ORESA. Without their much appreciated support this event would not have been possible.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider