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Knowledge is power. According to Amazon, that extends to machine learning models, too.
The company wants to patent a system that transfers the knowledge of one machine learning model to another. Essentially, Amazon's patent allows for the knowledge of one machine learning model that's completed its training to be transferred to another model that's undergoing training, thereby speeding up the training of AI models.
"Generally, training a machine learning model, such as a reinforcement learning model, from scratch requires a huge amount of time and computing resources," the filing notes. "Thus, it is desirable to have techniques to Improve the learning speed of a machine learning model."
Amazon outlines two kinds of transfers: a representation transfer and an instance transfer. In a representation transfer, the knowledge that's given (such as how to perform a task or follow a policy) is based on the similarities between the "teacher model" and the "student model." Essentially, this system will distill the knowledge transferred to only the relevant information depending on those similarities.
Alternatively, in an instance transfer, the conveyed knowledge comes from "sampled trajectories" of the teacher model, or basically exact examples of its own inputs and outputs. The system automatically switches between doing representation transfers and instance transfers depending on the circumstance.
Amazon noted that this method could be applied to various AI training processes, including neural networks used for image processing and speech recognition.
Knowledge transfer is far from a new technique in the machine learning community, said Rijul Gupta, co-founder of AI communications company Deep Media. Gupta gave the example of an AI model that can play chess versus one that can play checkers: The games are somewhat similar, so transferring knowledge between them wouldn't be difficult.
Most of Amazon's patent is quite broad, Gupta said, so it's unlikely that it would get approved without a decent amount of pushback and narrowing. In its current form, granting it would "essentially cripple everyone else's machine learning development," Gupta said.
But the filing isn't entirely old news. One piece that's novel is its ability to automatically choose which teacher model is the best fit for training the student model without having to actually go through training, said Gupta. Typically, this process is a costly and tedious process that's done by hand.
Secondly, Amazon's patent discusses a way to bridge the gap between teacher and student models that are more distinct from each other. For example, rather than making the chess algorithm play checkers, Gupta said, it could "take an algorithm that's built to play chess and make it play Fortnite."
Using transfer techniques, he said, could speed up machine learning development by as much as 95%, helping it catch companies like Google, Microsoft and OpenAI. Meanwhile, securing the patent in a more narrow form could send the company's AI development soaring, making it "very difficult for any of Amazon's competitors to catch up to them."
Amazon has thrown its hat into the AI ring in more ways than one: The company pledged $100 million toward a AWS Generative AI Innovation Center, put together a new team focused on large language models, and has filed for multiple AI-related patents. As it stands, though, it remains a step behind the AI heavyweights.
That said, Amazon's real strength lies in AWS, said Gupta, with tools like SageMaker and Bedrock, as well as Inferentia and Trainium, its custom in-house chips for training AI. Plus, as AWS CEO Adam Selipsky told The Verge in a podcast last week, "Cloud and AI are not two different things. They're really just two of the many faces of the same thing."
"There's an old saying that when there's a gold rush, you should sell shovels," said Gupta. "And Amazon, right now, is selling shovels."
Have any comments, tips or suggestions? Drop us a line! Email at [email protected] or shoot us a DM on Twitter @patentdrop. If you want to get Patent Drop in your inbox, click here to subscribe.
It was called the Yasuní popular consultation, and it asked the people of Ecuador a simple question: “Do you agree with the Ecuadorian government in keeping the ITT crude, known as block 43, underground indefinitely?”
At 94% of the vote counted, the answer was 60% ‘yes’. The proposal was approved.
The referendum was a popular initiative demanded by indigenous communities for more than ten years and sought to protect the vast Yasuní National Park from oil drilling.
Home to the claimed ancestral territory of the contactable Huaorani tribe, and the voluntarily-isolated Tagaeri and Taromenane, the park, 700 square miles larger than Yellowstone, was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1989.
One of, if not the most biodiverse places on Earth, Yasuní National Park is home to thousands of documented species of reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals, and birds, and according to one study, it holds world records for species richness for amphibians, bats, trees, and reptiles.
Part of its secret is that it lies within a transitional area of the Andes Mountains into the Amazon Rainforest, along several key tributaries of the Amazon River including the Napo.
MORE AMAZON NEWS: Brazil’s President Makes Good on Campaign Promise to Evict Miners from Indigenous Reserves in the Amazon
It has long been known to conceal potentially-vast oil reserves. In 2007 then-President Rafael Correa announced they would be left in the ground if rich nations contributed to an Ecuadorian poverty relief fund equal to around $3.6 billion, which was believed to represent around 50% of the oil wealth there.
Hardly any of the hoped-for total materialized, with only Turkey, Chile, Colombia, Georgia, Australia, Spain, and Belgium contributing, along with some extremely wealthy individuals. And so 6 years later, Correa announced the intention to move ahead with drilling in block 43, within the National Park boundaries.
OTHER BIG BUSINESS REJECTIONS: Arctic Oil Drilling Plans Suffer ‘Stunning Setback’ as Almost ‘No One Shows Up’ For the Sale
The recent referendum was seen as a blow to President Guillermo Lasso, who also had advocated for drilling. State oil company Petroecuador will have to dismantle its drilling operations in the area in the coming months, something which they’ve stated they will comply with as soon as the vote is officially counted and ratified.
SHARE This Huge Legal Victory For Indigenous Peoples And Animals…
(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s government may have lifted one of the key hurdles for Petrobras to drill at a promising offshore oil region, a move that could escalate a standoff between the oil company and environmental authorities.
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A major impact study that the Ibama environmental agency is demanding isn’t necessary for the project, the attorney general’s office, or AGU, said in an opinion that was released on Tuesday. It sent the case to a mediation chamber to start a reconciliation process between the federal agencies involved.
Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the Rio de Janeiro-based producer is known, is “fully willing” to join the mediation to solve any disagreements, it said in a message on Wednesday. The oil giant considers to have met all the necessary requirements to start work, adding that it’s open to any new requests.
In May Ibama blocked Petrobras from exploring the Foz do Amazonas basin out of environmental and social concerns. The license where Petrobras plans to drill was auctioned in 2013 and has been held up ever since.
Read More: Brazil Moves to Allow Amazon Oil Drilling, Marring Lula’s Summit
Mines and Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira supports the exploration project and had asked the attorney general’s office to rule on if an impact study was necessary. Meanwhile, Environment Minister Marina Silva, who oversees Ibama, has raised concerns about developing a region off the coast from where the Amazon River flows into the Atlantic.
Silva has so far resisted pressure from other parts of government. The absence of a major impact study was not the only reason why Ibama has blocked Petrobras’s drilling request, the Environment Ministry said in an emailed response. It also cited “inconsistencies” in information provided by the company.
Ibama said it has received the attorney’s general’s opinion and will comment in due course.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s administration is confronted with the competing priorities of growing the economy and protecting the environment. The debate about offshore drilling in Brazil comes as Colombia and Ecuador move to constrain the oil industry.
Ecuadorian voters passed a referendum this month to shut a major oil field in its Amazon region. Colombia’s Gustavo Petro is against exploring for oil at new areas and slammed “denialism” about climate change at an environmental summit in Brazil earlier this month.
Read More: Brazil Petrobras Blocked From Drilling at Key Offshore Zone
(Updates to add comments from Petrobras, the Environment Ministry and Ibama)
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WiFi just isn’t very good at going through buildings. It’s fine for the main living areas of an average home, but once we venture towards the periphery of our domains it starts to become less reliable. For connected devices outside the core of a home, this presents a problem, and it’s one Amazon hope to solve with their Sidewalk product.
It’s a low-bandwidth networking system that uses capability already built into some Echo and Ring devices, plus a portion of the owner’s broadband connection to the Internet. The idea is to provide basic connectivity over longer distances to compatible devices even when the WiFi network is not available, but of most interest and concern is that it will also expose itself to devices owned by other people. If your Internet connection goes down, then your Ring devices will still provide a basic version of their functionality via a local low-bandwidth wide-area wireless network provided by the Amazon devices owned by your neighbours.
The massive online retailer and IoT cloud provider would like to open up a portion of your home broadband connection via your home security devices over a wireless network to other similar devices owned by strangers. In the Amazon literature it is touted as providing all sorts of useful benefits to Ring and Echo owners, but it has obvious implications for both the privacy of your data should it be carried by other people’s devices, and for the security of your own network when devices you don’t own pass traffic over it. For the curious there’s a whitepaper offering more insights into the system, and aside from revealing that it uses 900 MHz FSK and LoRa as its RF layer there is not a lot information on how it works. As you might expect they have addressed the privacy and security issues through encryption, minimising the data transmitted, and constantly changing identifiers. To read the Amazon document at face value is to enter a world in which some confidence can be gained in the product.
The question on the lips of skeptical readers will no doubt be this: what could possibly go wrong? We would expect that the devices themselves and the radio portion of the network will be investigated thoroughly by those who make it their business to do such things, and while there is always the chance that somebody could discover a flaw in them it’s more probable that weaknesses could be found in the applications that sit atop the system. It’s something that has plagued Amazon’s IoT offerings before, such as last year when their Neighbors app was found to sit atop a far more garrulous API than expected, leading to a little more neighbourly information being shared than they bargained for. If Amazon’s blurb is to be believed then this system is to be opened up for third-party IoT device and app developers, and with each one of those the possibility of holes waiting to be discovered increases. We’ll keep you posted as they emerge.
Products such as Amazon Echo and Ring are incredible showcases of 21st century technology. They’re the living embodiment of an automated Jetsons future, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t want a little slice of that future. But as you all know, the version of that future peddled by them and their competitors is a deeply flawed one in which the consumers who buy the products are largely unaware of how much data is created from them. From a purely technical perspective the idea of home security products that automatically form a low bandwidth network for use in case of main network failure is an exceptionally cool one, but when coupled with the monster data slurp of the Amazon behemoth it assumes a slightly more worrying set of possibilities. Is it possible to be George Jetson without Mr. Spacely gazing over your shoulder?
There was virtually nothing but rainforest for miles, and then the government agents spotted it: a makeshift shelter, the fire still smoldering. There were two sets of footprints, two machetes and two spots for hammocks.
“He was just here,” said one of the agents, Jair Candor, crouching beneath the shelter in June as his partner snapped photographs. Mr. Candor had spent 35 years searching for a man who did not want to be found — and this time, he just missed him.
That man, Tamandua Piripkura, has lived his life on the run. Not from authorities or enemies — though plenty of people would like to see him dead — but from modernity.
Tamandua is one of the last three known survivors of the Piripkura people, an offshoot of a larger Indigenous group that once spread across a large swath of the forest. He has lived isolated, deep in the Amazon rainforest, his entire life, believed to be about 50 years.
His partner in isolation had long been his uncle, Pakyi, as they trekked through the forest, nude and barefoot, with little more than machetes and a torch. (The third survivor, a woman named Rita, left the land around 1985 and married into another tribe.)
But Pakyi, older and weaker, recently began living near a Brazilian government base in the forest dedicated to protecting the two men. At the same time, Tamandua — seen as the best and maybe only hope for the survival of the Piripkura people — has vanished.
The men are at the center of a larger question that Brazil has been grappling with for years — one that poses major consequences for the future of the Amazon and the native people who have long inhabited it.
Who has the right to the forest? The ranchers and loggers who hold government titles to the land, or two Indigenous men whose ancestors were here before Brazil had a government?
After Mr. Candor first found Pakyi and Tamandua in 1989 — in a tree, foraging for honey — Brazil effectively sided with the loggers. For the next two decades, the government did nothing, and the forest was carved up by sawmills.
Then, in 2007, Mr. Candor found the two men again. The government, under a leftist administration and influenced by shifting attitudes about preserving the Amazon, reversed its stance. Brazil protected nearly 1,000 square miles of forest, an area twice the size of Los Angeles, just for Pakyi and Tamandua.
The protections infuriated the people who owned that land. Decades earlier, the government had sold most of the territory to settlers for almost nothing, part of an effort to encourage Brazilians to exploit the forest and expand the economy. The people who inherited or bought those land titles are now challenging the protections to get back to razing the land and putting cattle on it.
The fight is led by the Penços, a family that runs the state’s largest limestone mines and owns nearly half the Piripkura protected area. Pakyi and Tamandua do not need so much land, they argue, and the government is violating their rights in a veiled effort to stop logging.
“These two Indians are victims, being used as a means to further an environmentalist agenda,” said Francisco Penço, the spokesman for his family, on a recent visit to the forest with his lawyer, their dress shoes covered in mud.
For centuries, Indigenous people were seen as obstacles to progress and slaughtered across the world. But mounting pressure in recent decades has forced governments to protect Indigenous lands. In Brazil, such reserves have become a pillar of efforts to conserve the Amazon. Fourteen percent of the nation — roughly the size of France and Spain combined — is now Indigenous territory.
Yet those territories have remained under constant threat from invaders, and since 2019, almost 800 Indigenous people have been killed. After years of genocide and deforestation, many tribes have just a few dozen members left.
But no known tribe in Brazil is smaller than the Piripkura, according to experts, and now their protections are at risk.
After 15 years of delays, the government aims to complete a study early next year on whether the Piripkura deserve a permanent reserve — or any protections at all.
The Penços and other opponents argue that the protected area should shrink significantly or be eliminated altogether, in part because Pakyi now lives near the government base.
That has made proving Tamandua is alive critical to the safeguards.
So in June, Mr. Candor, 63 and gray-bearded, drove his mud-splattered government truck five hours into the rainforest on a dirt road the Penços built to extract wood. He was heading to the government base to search for Tamandua, whom he had not seen in roughly two years.
Soon after he arrived, a figure appeared at the base’s screen door: a 4-foot-3 Indigenous man covered in red dye from an Amazonian fruit. It was Pakyi.
Pakyi entered cautiously at first, eyeing the newcomers: government agents and New York Times journalists. But he warmed up quickly, smiling wide, grabbing hands and tugging on beards. He had begun wearing clothes, seeing that others did, too. His stained shirt was on backward, displaying its text on his chest: “None of us is better than all of us together.”
While eager to re-enact past hunts, he ignored or refused to answer questions about his family and his nephew.
But a day later, he sat down on a log and began talking. Tamandua is in the forest, he said through a translator, and did not want to be found.
One of the last times Tamandua was seen, in 2017, he and Pakyi walked up to the government base with a simple request: Light our torch.
Mr. Candor had last given them fire in 1998. He believes they had kept it alive since, passing the spark from torch to campfire and back, wrapping the embers in banana leaves when it rained.
Less than a century ago, the Piripkura lived in a village of more than 100 people, perhaps many more, anthropologists believe, with similar technology as their neighbors: fire, weapons, pottery, crops.
How the Piripkura went from a village to three people is unclear. Anthropologists have pieced together history largely based on stories from the third survivor, Rita, believed to be Pakyi’s sister. She said her family told her things changed when white people arrived.
In the 1940s, the government was handing out land in the Amazon for cheap. “More rubber for victory!” declared a 1943 Brazilian government poster, calling on men to become rubber tappers to aid the Allied war effort.
Many settlers slaughtered Indigenous people. The Brazilian government has acknowledged that during the country’s military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, at least 8,300 Indigenous people were killed.
In one massacre, a Piripkura village was decimated, relatives told Rita, who is in her 60s. Men dismembered bodies, mutilated genitals and left victims impaled on tree trunks, Rita told government officials.
When Rita and Pakyi were children, their group had just 10 to 15 members left. As one of the few women, Rita was highly coveted. She had two children with a man from another tribe, and when he died from infection, Pakyi and her father propositioned her. “Are you crazy?” she said in an interview. “Marry my father?”
Then came the moment that broke the family apart: Pakyi killed her two children.
Pakyi first killed her older son, who was about 4 or 5 years old, because he was crying, according to Rita and a 2012 government report. Pakyi cut off the boy’s scalp and buried his body, the report said. Later, he carried Rita’s infant daughter into the forest and left her there. Pakyi has never spoken of it, Mr. Candor said, and the government has never investigated the murders further.
Rita fled, running for hours to a cattle ranch called Change Farm where she knew white men lived. It was owned by the Penços.
“I’m surprised when they say ranchers want to kill the Indians,” Mr. Penço said. “We protected Rita when she needed to escape.”
Change Farm was the end of Rita’s isolation. From 1983 to 1985, she worked at the ranch, where she began wearing clothes and speaking Portuguese. An anthropologist’s report also said she was abused and beaten with a broom.
By 1985, she ran away again, eventually ending up with government specialists searching for her tribe. She showed them where her family had lived, but when they arrived, the homes were abandoned.
In 1989, she joined another expedition, this time with Mr. Candor. On the second day, after visiting Rita’s son’s grave, they waded chest-deep through a swamp to an island.
There, they spotted Pakyi and Tamandua looking for honey. Pakyi bolted. Tamandua, in a tree, was stuck.
“He began to tremble,” Mr. Candor said. “And he just asked that we don’t kill him.”
Eventually Pakyi and Tamandua brought Rita and Mr. Candor to their shelter. The group spent two weeks together, and over and over, Mr. Candor asked Pakyi and Tamandua the same question: Where were the others?
“They said they died. Then, in another moment, that they are somewhere out there,” Mr. Candor said. “But they never said where or why or what happened.”
Mr. Candor had officially discovered a new people — a finding that would usually lead to government protections. Yet by the late 1990s, the government had largely abandoned the case.
In 2007, another Indigenous tribe asked the government what had happened to the Piripkura. Mr. Candor was sent to search again.
When he arrived with Rita, the place had been transformed.
“Every direction you went, there were loggers, the roar of chain saws, fallen trees,” Mr. Candor said.
After three months of searching, Mr. Candor and Rita were prepared to give up. Then they heard the pair chatting in the distance. Pakyi and Tamandua were a decade older, but still alive and alone in the forest.
For years, the Penço family had been extracting wood from the area, much of it destined for floors in the United States. The protections, issued in 2008, abruptly halted that business.
The family’s patriarch, Celso Penço, had bought cheap tracts of rainforest from the government decades earlier. When he died in 2016, he left 770 square miles of the Amazon to seven heirs, an inheritance half the size of Long Island. Two-thirds was inside the Piripkura protected area.
The Penços argue that the boundaries are arbitrary and outdated, based on traces of shelters found decades ago. Instead, Pakyi and Tamandua should receive 150 square miles, they say, or a sixth of the current protected area. “Not that we believe these two Indians need that much space,” said one of the Penços’ lawyers, Rodrigo Quintana.
To Mr. Candor, the Piripkura have a stronger claim to the land than the Penços. “If they have the right to all this,” he said of the Penços, “why don’t the guys who were born here, grew up here, lived here and saw their relatives die here?”
Francisco Penço, who is Celso Penço’s son, said the government was changing the “rules of the game” after handing out land. If the government wants it for the Piripkura, it should pay the landowners. His family, he calculates, would be owed $45 million to $70 million.
Mr. Penço also questioned whether the men are truly isolated, pointing out that on several occasions, modern medicine has kept them alive.
In one case, in 2018, Mr. Candor and a colleague carried Tamandua out of the forest because he could not walk. At a hospital, doctors discovered a blood clot in his brain.
Pakyi and Tamandua had seen virtually only each other for decades and, according to anthropologists, believed modern technology came from a deity above the clouds, fetched by white people in planes. Now they were on a commercial flight to São Paulo, Latin America’s largest city, for brain surgery. In the airport, they tried to urinate in the open. On the plane, Pakyi grabbed a woman’s breasts.
They spent 45 days in São Paulo, sleeping on hammocks the hospital hung for them. “They asked to leave the entire time,” said Cleiton Gabriel da Silva, the federal agent who accompanied them. “The city was traumatizing.”
The experience was especially difficult for Tamandua. “Cutting into his head, injecting him all the time, sedating him,” Mr. da Silva said. “He didn’t understand that this was to save his life.”
Shortly after returning, Pakyi began staying close to the government base. He boils small birds the agents catch for him and tries to play soccer, slapping the ball with his hands. He and Rita still have a strained relationship, but each night he sleeps with a stuffed owl she gave him.
Tamandua, however, has disappeared.
So in June, Mr. Candor, accompanied by The Times, went back to the base. There, he found the shelter with the two sets of footprints just a 30-minute walk into the forest.
To him, it was proof that Tamandua was still alive — a finding that could prove crucial to the protections.
Still, the creation of a Piripkura Indigenous reserve could save this part of the forest, but may not save the Piripkura.
Several years ago, Mr. Candor brought Pakyi and Tamandua to the village of another Indigenous group that spoke a similar language. Mr. Candor hoped to inspire them.
Anthropologists would consider any offspring from the two men another Piripkura generation. He does not think Pakyi, with his age and temperament, will procreate. But he believes Tamandua can.
“If there was a spark between him and one of the girls there, for sure,” Mr. Candor said. But in the village, the women were more interested in their smartphones.
“Wrapped up in technology,” he said, “they’re not going to want to come to this life here, roaming the forest.”
As for Rita, much of the rainforest where her family once lived has been razed, and so has the sacred area where her people, including her, gave birth.
If there was going to be another Piripkura birth, she said, it was up to one person: Tamandua.
“We have to find him,” she said.
Lis Moriconi contributed research from Rio de Janeiro.
Beauty ecommerce has continued an upward trajectory over the past few years, with growth in the market nearly quadrupling between 2015 and 2022.
As well as the impact of influencers and social selling, a spike in demand during the pandemic, and direct-to-consumer innovation – one factor in the sector’s growth has been the expansion of beauty categories at marketplaces such as Amazon.
The US is now the second largest market for beauty and cosmetics online, with ecommerce sales reaching $11.7bn in 2022. Indeed, RetailX’s ‘Beauty and Cosmetics Report 2023’ states that the largest share of the US online beauty market is held by Amazon, with its share being almost three times higher than that of specialist retailer Ulta Beauty. Meanwhile, it’s been predicted that Amazon could overtake Walmart as the biggest overall US beauty retailer, taking 14.5% of a market that could hit $180 billion in value by 2025.
Beyond its well-established reputation for price, choice and convenience, how is Amazon continuing to grow sales within beauty and cosmetics, and how are beauty brands benefitting from its dominance within the category?
Promotions and sales events are a key part of Amazon’s strategy, helping to amplify brands and products across categories. This is particularly the case for beauty, where consumers tend to ramp up spend during key retail events such as Christmas and Prime Day sales.
According to RetailX, Korean skincare brand Laneige become one of the top selling beauty brands on Amazon Prime Day 2022 in the US, with its Lip Sleeping Mask and Lip Glowy Balm ranking as number one and three best-selling products in the category.
Amazon has become a core part of omnichannel strategy for beauty brands, with the marketplace offering several tactics to help boost performance, such as Sponsored Brands and Sponsored Products (custom ads that run on-site), as well as the ability to optimise product pages and Brand Stores for events such as Prime Day.
Today’s beauty market is ultra-competitive, offering consumers a dizzying array of retail channels, ranging from direct-to-consumer websites like Glossier and speciality retailers like Ulta, to high street drugstores like Superdrug and supermarkets like Sainsbury’s. Let’s not forget the retailers that have also launched their own brand skincare and cosmetics, including Aldi and M&S.
Amazon promotes its ‘always-on’ advertising strategy, facilitated by its Amazon Ads solution, as one way to stand out from the competition – and to help brands drive longer-term success.
Moroccanoil is one brand, which sells first-party on Amazon, that has succeeded with this strategy, partnering with the ecommerce giant in 2022 to assist in achieving campaign goals, which involved consideration for its existing haircare line as well as awareness of a new expansion into bodycare. Morocconoil also launched a full-funnel campaign approach which, alongside Amazon Ads, also included streaming TV and audio ads. Emma Sayles, senior manager of eRetail and digital marketplaces at Moroccanoil, told WWD that in the months that followed the campaign launch, the brand saw above-benchmark increases in average monthly sales and glance views. Additionally, in a 2022 study, Amazon Ads data revealed that beauty brands that included brand-building solutions in their strategy saw a 14 times higher consideration rate on average.
“The shopping journey is not always straightforward, so brands that can reach shoppers across various ad experiences with relevant messages at different points in their journey can see an increase in conversion rates,” Sayles told WWD. “It’s all about finding the right mix of ad products that work for your brand and reaching shoppers where they are most likely to engage with your message.”
How are beauty and cosmetics companies using generative AI?
While drugstore or lower-priced beauty brands appear eager to sell on Amazon, high-end brands typically steer clear of the marketplace, due to worries that it might dilute their luxury image or impact their control over a brand. One way Amazon is aiming to expand into luxury beauty is through its Premium Beauty Week, offering brands greater visibility, and the opportunity to target consumers through promotions.
Another tactic is Shopbop, Amazon’s luxury online fashion retailer (acquired in 2006), which has its own website and app, as well as selling through an Amazon storefront. In October 2022, Shopbop launched a dedicated beauty category featuring prestige brands such as Dr. Barbara Sturm and Costa Brazil.
But in addition to building out its share of luxury beauty, the launch is also part of Shopbop’s wider strategy to compete with the likes of Farfetch and Moda Operandi – both luxury fashion ecommerce retailers which also now sell beauty. Speaking to Business of Fashion, Luca Solca, head of luxury goods research at Bernstein, explained that “Beauty is a category consumers buy often, [and] if you manage to leverage that traffic and promote other categories like fashion, this can provide a good tailwind to GMV [gross merchandise value] growth.”
Amazon can be an effective starting point for new and independent beauty brands. Hero Cosmetics is one of the most successful examples, first launching on Amazon in 2017 before going on to be acquired by Church & Dwight for $630 million in 2022. As of 2021, it was reported that 50% of the brand’s sales still stemmed from Amazon.
At the same time, however, legacy brands are also looking to Amazon to enable them to boost omnichannel strategies. Take Avon, for example, which recently started selling on Amazon in a bid to accelerate online strategy. Speaking about the decision, Kristof Neirynck, the brand’s Global Chief Marketing Officer stated that “Avon is a true pioneer in direct selling and, as we continue to realise our omnichannel ambitions, now is the right time to launch our new Amazon store. Across Avon worldwide, online sales are now nearly three times pre-pandemic levels and expansion into other channels complements our existing network of reps.”
In addition to this, however, Avon is also using Amazon as part of a wider brand refresh, as “some people were saying it feels a bit dated,” Neirynck told Cosmetics Business. In partnering with Amazon, Avon is aligning itself with brands such as Hero Cosmetics, Paula’s Choice and e.l.f – beauty brands that have gained traction through viral social content on TikTok, and that are targeted at a younger audience.
By offering beauty brands the opportunity to connect with new customers, as well as unique benefits such as cross-promotion and product replenishment, and optimisation and targeting – Amazon looks set to continue building out its market share in beauty.
How are FMCG brands succeeding on TikTok?
Amazon’s focus on cutting costs appears to extend to third-party sellers.
In October, the e-commerce giant will reportedly impose a new 2 percent fee on sellers who opt out of using Amazon’s logistics and fulfillment services, according to Bloomberg. That would add to the approximate 15 percent commission that merchants already pay Amazon to sell products on the Everything Store.
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The development comes as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is said to be preparing to file an antitrust case targeting Amazon’s perceived pricing power and policies that force merchants to use services such as Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA).
“Creating a separate fee rather than just increasing commissions is a bit unusual and regardless of whether it is intentional or not, it suggests Amazon is trying to nudge more sellers into using its own services,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, a London consultancy. “This isn’t necessarily just about trying to make more money; it’s also about increasing the volumes going through the Amazon network to make it more efficient.”
The fee targets merchants who use the recently relaunched Seller Fulfilled Prime (SFP) delivery program, which Amazon reintroduced after four years on hiatus, enabling third-party sellers to ship Prime-eligible products out of their own warehouses. These merchants often sell bulkier items like furniture that are harder for Amazon’s warehouses to handle.
“Seller Fulfilled Prime is a voluntary, optional program that enables sellers who independently handle the fulfillment of their products to have their offers receive the Prime badge,” an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. Without confirming the reported 2 percent figure, the spokesperson said there is “a small fee associated with units sold through this program.”
One furniture merchant told Bloomberg the fee would cost them an extra $1 million per year, and force the seller to raise prices.
“The new fees will certainly eat into seller margins,” Saunders told Sourcing Journal. “However, Amazon’s own costs have risen over recent years, so it is probably passing some of these over to sellers. Amazon still delivers a lot of benefits to sellers including exposure to a massive audience, so it likely feels that even with the increase, it is still offering very good value.”
The potential new fee comes as Amazon reportedly wants to extend its ground delivery capabilities to include non-Amazon products.
The tech titan has re-launched a non-urgent ground delivery service called Amazon Shipping that is designed for shippers that aren’t selling products on Amazon, according to a report from FreightWaves. It appears to be a reboot of a pilot service it had discontinued at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the company delivered non-Amazon packages via its own logistics service. Amazon has not confirmed the launch.
The service is accessible to shippers who place orders through Amazon’s marketplace, but they can also integrate the option into their own website and other selling channels, according to the report. Ground deliveries will be made in five days or less, with 24/7 customer support available.
Rather than delivering packages from Amazon warehouses, the original program allowed businesses to ship their goods using Amazon’s delivery fleet. The online giant wanted to entice those shippers with promises to eliminate the fees and surcharges leveraged by other providers. The pilot program launched in 2018 in cities including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Although Amazon has captured 23 percent of total parcel volume delivered in the U.S., according to Pitney Bowes, it hasn’t established a standalone shipping business that directly competes with UPS and FedEx.
In the time since it discontinued the service, Amazon doubled the size of its fulfillment network, regionalized it into eight interconnected hubs and now offers same-day delivery in more than 90 U.S. metro areas. Amazon said it now touches delivered packages 20 percent less, and travels 19 percent fewer miles to make a delivery. It now fulfills 76 percent of orders from the region around the customer.
The new ground option isn’t the only change coming to the company delivery operations. Amazon is also teaming up with local small businesses as part of its Hub Delivery program. Third-party businesses in the program commit to delivering packages with their own staff, vehicles and devices. By the end of the year, Amazon aims to partner with 2,500 small business drivers.
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