The people who command six-figure salaries to negotiate multimillion-dollar deals with major brands are being replaced by software that predicts what shoppers want and how much to charge for it.
Machines are beating people at the critical inventory decisions that separate the winners and losers in retail. For the staffers deciding how many books, games or plastic pool toys to peddle, the tradeoff can be stark: Order too little and you miss out. Order too much and you’re forced into costly clearance sales. Amazon’s algorithms, refined through years of monitoring customer behavior, are getting the Seattle-based company out of the guessing game.
It also appears that a winner has emerged in a long-running competition between the two teams most responsible for the company’s retail success. Former and current employees say the retail group that used industry connections to lure brands to Amazon and helped create an e-commerce colossus is now being merged with the team that runs the marketplace, an automated platform that lets anyone with an internet connection price, market and sell their wares on Amazon without interacting with a single person. In recent months, several high-ranking executives have left for other jobs or been reassigned, but few express much surprise that a company with a cloud services division and prowess in artificial intelligence would put machines to work wherever it makes sense.
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