Every business has its own way of learning about what the competition is up to.

But what does it look like when it’s done at Amazon scale? 

Last week the Wall Street Journal broke a story about Amazon’s “Project Curiosity” which was set up to learn about their rivals – Walmart, eBay, Flipkart, FedEx, etc.1

Amazon registered a subsidiary called Big River Services International, operating secretly under the guise of an ecommerce seller. Big River, generating about $1 million annually, used its operations across various marketplaces like eBay, Shopify, Walmart, and Amazon to collect pricing data, logistics details, and other competitive information.

The most intriguing part of the article to me is the section that describes the secretive communication practices of Amazon’s Big River team, particularly their preference for using paper printouts over emails. This approach was part of their efforts to avoid leaving a digital trail that could expose their undercover operations aimed at gathering intelligence on competitors. 

The team, involved in the covert “Project Curiosity,” would present their findings to Amazon executives using printed copies instead of sending electronic documents. This method allowed them to control the dissemination of sensitive information closely. After meetings, the documents were collected back from the executives, maintaining a high level of secrecy about their competitive intelligence activities.

The article also talks about how members of this secretive Big River team attended an eBay conference in Las Vegas under false pretenses. Presenting themselves only as employees of Big River Services, they did not disclose their affiliation with Amazon. This conference was for eBay to share important updates and “exclusive information” with sellers.

Other than those bits, it mostly looked like just a dogfooding (using own products to test, and improve) project to me, albeit done at Amazon scale.

  1. Inside Amazon’s Secret Operation to Gather Intel on Rivals by Dana Mattioli and Sara Nassauer ↩︎

About the Author

Jagath Narayan is the CEO and co-founder of Ordoro, the #1 ecommerce platform for retailers growing from 10 to 10,000 orders/day. Follow him on LinkedIn to learn more about entrepreneurship and ecommerce.