America’s Orthodox Jews Are Trailblazing Entrepreneurs On Amazon

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Lakewood, NJ – Orthodox Jews in America have often suffered from a media image depicting them as passive, unimaginative people who are just following their ancient dictates and living on welfare. Yet a recent Buzzfeed News article demonstrated that, far from being divorced from the business world around them, they are increasingly becoming leaders and innovators in the world of Amazon business. Despite having no formal business education and having studied for many years in Yeshivas, numerous frum Jews are successfully developing models which enable them to successfully sell on Amazon.

The company’s third-party sellers make up 58% of all sales on the site. But there’s an estimate passed around third-party Amazon consultants that claims 7% of all Amazon third-party sales originate from a single zip code in Brooklyn, and that Orthodox Jewish–owned businesses make up 15% of marketplace sellers. Amazon declined to comment on both numbers. but in a statement to BuzzFeed News the company admitted that “Brooklyn is home to many impressive independent retailers selling on Amazon.”

Even seasoned managers at Amazon are amazed at the success of these retailers. James Thomson, a manager with Amazon Business Services from 2007 to 2013 remarked that he noticed his third-party seller clients were mainly concentrated in only a handful of neighborhoods — Brooklyn; Fair Lawn, New Jersey; and Lakewood, neighborhoods with large concentrations of Orthodox Jews. “Before I left Amazon, some of my clients were Orthodox Jewish sellers, and I saw incredibly sophisticated entrepreneurs and saw business models that weren’t taught in business school,” he said. “It became natural that we’d do anything to make sure we worked with them.”

Thomson now runs Prosper Show, an annual three-day Amazon seller conference that he expects will draw in roughly 2,000 sellers to Las Vegas in March. Given his experience at Amazon, he designed the conference schedule to be Orthodox- friendly. The schedule is organized around Orthodox Jewish prayers, and the conference serves kosher food.

Yet despite these accommodations, the real question is how frum Jews can maintain
their values and still live make a livelihood within the modern, Internet-based
commercial world. In their homes they invest great efforts to maintain their purity
and sanctity and not expose their children to popular Internet culture. However
many people have realized that they can utilize Internet sales to make money
without compromising their principles.

For example, Yisroel, a retail seller and father of ten from Lakewood, had his business downgraded during Pesach because Amazon’s algorithm pushes a seller’s rank down when they are out of stock, which is part of the company’s method to get customers the items they order quickly. At one time, Yisroel was selling bread and cookies. Since he didn’t have them in stock during Pesach, his seller rank took a hit. It took him two months to get back to where he had been before. Now he sells those items directly to Amazon, so he’s never in possession of bread or cookies during Pesach. Another time he was not able to respond to an Amazon suspension of his site because it happened just before Shabbos.

Yet Yisroel still finds time to learn every morning and takes time off to Daven Mincha and Maariv. On his desk are taped four messages in Hebrew that read, “I have set G-d always before me; surely He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved,” “My help comes from G-d, who made heaven and earth,” “Mine is the silver, and mine the gold, says the G-d of hosts,” and finally, “A person’s entire livelihood is allocated to him during the period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.”

He is convinced that his success is from Hashem and not from Amazon and despite his conviction that his son is a better businessman than him, at present his son is sitting and learning and Yisroel’s dream is that he will continue to grow in learning and not have to dabble in the sordid world of business.


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