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Amazon added another 50 million Prime subscribers during the pandemic

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Bezos’ final annual letter highlights Prime’s growth

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

In his final annual letter to Amazon’s shareholders, CEO Jeff Bezos — who will step down in Q3 2021 to make way for Andy Jassy — shared that the number of Prime subscribers has reached 200 million. Its Q4 2019 earnings included the milestone of surpassing 150 million subscribers to its Prime service that offers fast shipping, original TV content, and more. Essentially, Amazon convinced 50 million people to join Prime during the pandemic, accounting for an approximate 33 percent growth of the base.

If you haven’t paid attention to the company’s earnings in the past year, Prime subscribers certainly aren’t the only numbers Amazon has been able to grow. 2020 was the company’s most profitable year yet, growing bigger during a time when many other businesses shrank or disappeared. To put context on some of the success, halfway through 2020 — around the first big countrywide surge of COVID-19 — Amazon was already doubling its profits. And that came even after the company pledged $4 billion of its Q2 2020 earnings to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE), clean its facilities, to ensure “higher wages for hourly teams,” and expand its own COVID-19 testing capabilities. In late March 2021, Amazon got FDA authorization for an at-home COVID-19 test kit that it developed.

It’s been quite a busy final year for any CEO to steer through — let alone, the one in charge of such a big and profitable company. But despite the success on a company level, it has been a tumultuous year so far from a PR perspective. Amazon’s warehouse employees who contribute to the success still struggle to be recognized and gain ground in their efforts to unionize. And, lest we forget that 2021 has already seen the company sparring on Twitter with US state representatives about taxes, as well as publicly disputing reports that some of Amazon’s workers pee in bottles just to meet company targets. It later apologized to Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI) for its “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” tweet from its @AmazonNews handle, while attempting to shift the blame.

Correction: Removed an erroneous claim that Amazon is the world’s biggest and the most profitable company. It is neither. We regret the error.