February 15, 2018

Computers versus humans: Amazon HQ is cutting a bunch o’ jobs


Amazon’s crazy-ass Spheres in Seattle — an “urban botanical garden” workspace.

Those working at Amazon’s Seattle Headquarters must be feeling a bit nervous around now. According to Matt Day at the Seattle Times, several hundred jobs are about to be axed on the consumer retail side of the business, with hundreds more likely to go in global operations. And Heloise Wood at The Bookseller has said that cuts could be hitting the UK too.

Why the loses? They seem to be largely the fault of a “hiring binge” over the last few years, which according to Day saw a staff of just 5,000 in 2010 rise to more than 40,000 today. Overstaffed and under-budgeted departments needed to be reconfigured. A spokesperson told Day, “As part of our annual planning process, we are making head count adjustments across the company — small reductions in a couple of places and aggressive hiring in many others… For affected employees, we work to find roles in the areas where we are hiring.”

It’s true that for a company that employees 566,000 staff, cutting a few hundred jobs can be seen as minor (although not for the poor bastards who will find themselves unemployed). Amazon still has grand expansion plans, aiming to create 100,000 new jobs in the US and open its second headquarters.

Michael Lagoni used to work at Amazon and is now a chief executive officer of Stackline, an e-commerce data analytics firm that helps brands and manufacturers sell on Amazon. He told Spencer Soper at TIME, “Amazon’s business is growing, not declining… They are either automating the work or passing it back to manufacturers to do themselves.” In other words, time to get rid of some pesky humans.

Are these cuts symptomatic of a larger issue? The BBC reports, “The firm’s website shows many of the new positions report to Amazon Web Services, the firm’s profitable cloud computing division. The firm is also building up units focused on the company’s Alexa robot and other devices.”

It’s sounding more and more like robots are the future, at least for Amazon. Sorry fellow humans, we’re just not as efficient and profitable as our technological counterparts.

Amazon’s imaginary-but-probably-soon-to-be-real-maybe robot spokesperson failed to make an automated comment.



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.