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Amazon Accelerating Private-Label Brands

Also: Facebook has begun selling its own version of the Echo Show.

I Spy

Amazon and Apple vehemently refuted a report by Bloomberg Businessweek that their servers were compromised by the Chinese government. According to the story, microchips capable of gathering intellectual property and trade secrets were added to their hardware by Super Micro, a Silicon Valley company that makes parts for Chinese servers. The situation, which extends to more than two dozen other American businesses, has supposedly been under top-secret investigation by U.S. authorities since 2015.

But throwing cold water on the cloak-and-dagger caper were no less than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.K.’s cybersecurity agency, the National Cyber Security Centre, which both back up Amazon’s and Apple’s denials.

See the full story at Bloomberg Businessweek, CNBC and Investopedia.

Facebook Throws Down

In a direct affront to Amazon Echo (and Google Home), Facebook has released its first smart speakers, the Portal and Portal+. The long-awaited entries are more akin to Echo Show in that they’re ostensibly designed for video calling. Both feature a 10-inch, 1280 by 800 display (15.6 inches and 1920 by 1080 for the Portal+), although the $199 Portal undercuts the Show by 30 bucks.

The Portals also pack creepy-sounding “Smart Camera” tech that follows you as you move about your home, and, in an acknowledgement of Amazon’s AI prowess, come with Alexa on board. Both models are now available for pre-order, and Facebook is shaving $100 off the price of any two of the devices as a pre-launch incentive.

See the full story at TechRadar.

Friend Or Foe?

Amazon sellers are becoming increasingly alarmed by Amazon’s sizeable private-label business, which is seemingly growing by leaps and bounds. Besides introducing a new slew of in-house products last month, including its first microwave oven and memory foam mattress, the e-tailer has launched an “accelerator” program for third-party sellers to become part of the Amazon brand family, and has begun promoting its own products at the bottom of competitors’ listings.

As with other retailers’ in-house brands, private-label gives Amazon greater control over the merchandise it sells, provides better margins, and makes chain management easier. But it also places sellers in direct competition with the online giant, which can use the vendors’ sales and pricing data to its own benefit.

See the full story at CNBC.

Bezos Giveth, And Bezos Taketh Away

Amazon was initially lauded, including by staunch critic Bernie Sanders, for granting its warehouse and other timeclock workers a pay raise to no less than $15 an hour. The early Christmas present goes into effect Nov. 1, and will affect more than 350,000 full-time and seasonal employees.

But Bernie failed to read the fine print. In lieu of the increase, Amazon is scraping the monthly bonuses it doled out to overachievers, worth as much as $3,000 a year, as well as the single share of company stock (currently valued at around $1,850) it gave to warehouse staff every five years. Amazon insists that its employees are still coming out ahead, and can now count on hard cash every pay period, rather than vie for the incentive pay. Sanders has sent a letter to Amazon asking it to clarify the number of people this will affect.

See the full story at Money and The New York Times.

So You Wanna Be A Billionaire

Jeff Bezos largely made his fortune in Amazon shares, which helped catapult him past Bill Gates to become the world’s richest person. But being the savvy businessman he is, Bezos knows better than to put all his eggs in one basket, even if that basket is Amazon. So where else does the e-commerce tycoon place his stock-market bets?

According to Crunchbase, Bezos has invested most of his billions in tech, including an early gamble on Google and $200 million in education platform Everfi. But his other sizeable positions extend to the hospitality and personal transportation sectors, including a $112 million investment in Airbnb and a $37 million stake in Uber.

See the full story at TheStreet.

Amazon Quote Of The Week

“It’s a huge fear. We’re worried all the time that they’re about to enter our space in private label or whatever method they choose.” — Custom apparel seller Jeff Benzenberg of eRetailing on Amazon’s insatiable appetite