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Jeff Bezos says Amazon's doing fine, despite his tough start to 2019

In his annual letter, he talks up independent sellers, Echo, Amazon Web Services -- and that $15 minimum wage.


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos called on other major retailers to keep raising their minimum wages.

Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images

This year hasn't been easy for the world's richest person. Of course, you wouldn't know that from reading his annual shareholder letter, which came out Thursday morning.

Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos uses these letters to talk broadly about Amazon's efforts to innovate and to invent things, while also pointing to his long-term plans for the business. This year was no different, with Bezos talking up the many successful features created for Amazon Web Services, the company's cloud-computing business, and the growth of Amazon's Echo smart speakers.

Bezos started the letter showing off the strong growth of independent sellers on Amazon, with 58% of sales through the company now coming from these third-party merchants and not directly from Amazon. The company has spent the past few years emphasizing its work helping small and medium-sized businesses grow on its platform, looking to use those stories to counter impressions that Amazon is hurting local businesses and forcing brick-and-mortar stories to shutter.

"Third-party sellers are kicking our first party butt. Badly," Bezos wrote Thursday.

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Several publications linked Bezos' comments about third-party sellers to calls to break up big tech companies, particularly from US senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. His comments Thursday could be viewed as a defense against such antitrust concerns.

While Bezos typically uses these letters to celebrate parts of his growing business, it's still notable that he avoided addressing several recent problems. In February, Amazon scrapped its plans to build a new, 25,000-employee headquarters in New York City, following heavy blowback from local activists and politicians. Additionally, Bezos' personal life has been on display for months since he and his wife, MacKenzie, announced their impending divorce.

Bezos has commented publicly on the divorce, including an update this month, but has largely avoided making a public statement about the failed effort in New York.

'Match our $15 minimum wage. Do it!'

In the letter, Bezos also called on his retail rivals to keep raising their minimum wages. Amazon boosted its minimum wage to $15 an hour in November.

"Today I challenge our top retail competitors (you know who you are!) to match our employee benefits and our $15 minimum wage," he wrote. "Do it! Better yet, go to $16 and throw the gauntlet back at us. It's a kind of competition that will benefit everyone."

Rival Costco last month raised its minimum wage for store workers to $15, and Target plans to go to $15 by the end of next year. Walmart's minimum wage is $11.

Also Thursday, Amazon said that board member Tom Alberg, a venture capitalist who's been on the board since 1996, will be stepping down. Bezos personally thanked him Thursday for his work with Amazon.