Jeff Bezos first launched Amazon.com in 1994, he gave
himself a 30 percent chance of success ó slightly
better than the 1 in 10 odds for internet startups.
actually a very liberating expectation, expecting to
fail," he told Time magazine when it named him
Person of the Year in 1999.
then, sales had ticked past $1 billion, but the company
had yet to turn a profit. Some analysts remained
skeptical that Bezos could deliver on his plan to sell
everything and anything. ("Anything with a capital
A," he told Time.)
two decades after its launch, Amazon has conquered
online retail, racking up $136 billion in sales in 2016.
Itís also taken on cloud computing, tech gadgets and
the entertainment world. With its blockbuster
announcement Friday that it is buying upscale grocery
chain Whole Foods, Amazon now plans to upend yet another
industry: grocery stores.
consumers increasing rely on the Seattle-based
e-commerce giant, itís hard to remember a time when
Amazon sold only one product: books.
virtually nothing left that they havenít
touched," said Kelly OíKeefe, a professor at the
Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.
launched its online bookselling site at a time when
bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks
and Crown Books were familiar storefronts in U.S.
itself as "Earthís Biggest Bookstore,"
Amazon opened for business in July 1995, using major
book distributors and wholesalers to rapidly fill its
orders. "The idea of selling books online was a
foreign one, it took a while to take off," OíKeefe
not long. Not beholden to the physical constraints of a
bricks-and-mortar shop, Amazon was carrying more than
2.5 million titles by 1997, and its sales totaled $148
million that year. The company had 1.5 million customers
in more than 150 countries.
company went public May 15, 1997, with its stock priced
at $18 a share and a market capitalization of roughly
stock closed Friday at $987.71, giving Amazon a total
market value of $475 billion.
success with books allowed the e-commerce behemoth to
expand far beyond its origins.
electronics helped the company grow rapidly and put
traditional electronics stores such as Circuit City out
of business. Itís also possible that consumers learned
new ways to price-shop; they "unintentionally were
able to leverage brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms
for their own products," OíKeefe said.
computers and home goods to toys and shoes, thereís
not much that Amazon doesnít offer shoppers these
the early 2000s, Amazon realized it had been sitting on
a technology gold mine. The computer systems that
powered its online shop were so robust that Amazon
figured it could expand its network and be the backbone
of many more online stores.
idea of a company trusting a third party to store its
proprietary data didnít take off overnight. But Amazon
can thank Appleís iPhone for unleashing a tsunami of
small companies trying to build apps for the device.
Many of those apps, including dating service Tinder and
the "Candy Crush" games, tapped Amazonís
systems because they were simple and affordable. As the
iPhone became ubiquitous by 2010, so had Amazon Web
Google, Microsoft and IBM have offered stiff
competition. But Amazon has established itself as a
leader in cloud computing, and this year it could
generate $15 billion in sales.
setting itself up to be a major foundation ó though
with unproven financial returns ó for the next
generation of technology by allowing software developers
to build on virtual assistant Alexa and machine
learning, or automated computing, tools.
computing infrastructure also has helped Amazon quickly
launch an advertising technology business that helps
businesses identify potential customers based on their
interests. With just over $1 billion in ad sales, Amazon
isnít making a big dent in the businesses of industry
leaders Google and Facebook. But advertising experts say
Amazon has the data and software expertise to catch up
company gave the world a glimpse of its enormous
ambition when it starting making its own tech devices.
launched the popular Kindle e-reader in 2007, a product
that has gone on to be a category leader. Morgan Stanley
estimates that the company sold $5 billion in Kindle
devices in 2014.
also got in on the tablet market with the Amazon Fire HD
in 2012, and the video and audio streaming market in
2014 with the Amazon Fire TV ó both with moderate
2014 Fire Phone ó meant to compete with the iPhone and
Android phones ó was a flop, though, and the company
took a $170 million hit. It discontinued the phone a
of being burned by its smartphone venture, the company
launched its digital home assistant device, the Amazon
Echo, in 2015. The company was the first to release such
a device, which doubled as a home speaker and came
packaged with Alexa, the voice-commanded artificial
intelligence that can answer questions, make orders on
Amazon and play music.
the Echo was initially slow to gain traction, the launch
of similar devices from Google and Apple introduced more
customers to the relatively new product category.
describe voice-enabled assistants as the next frontier,
and the Echo as the front-runner.
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Moorhead, a principal analyst at Moor Insights &
Strategy, once described the Echo as a "Trojan
bought it to do a few simple things and be a speaker,
then they get you comfortable and send you weekly
updates to let you know what you can do with it, and
ultimately once you go out and get those smart lights or
smart door locks, you will be comfortable telling it to
do things," Moorhead said.
Amazon Studios launched in 2010, few in Hollywood knew
what to make of the nascent production companyís
ambitions. The fledgling division solicited online
script submissions, receiving thousands of screenplays
for feature films and television pilots but developing
few of them.
by former Walt Disney Co. executive Roy Price, Amazonís
foray into original programming started modestly, with
series including the John Goodman political satire
"Alpha House" that premiered in 2013, and the
detective drama "Bosch" in 2015. Though its
quirky "Mozart in the Jungle" and
"Transparent" won industry plaudits, Amazon
was still seen as an also-ran to Netflixís booming
original content strategy.
in 2017, Amazon made history by becoming the first
streaming company to score an Oscar nomination for best
picture, with the Casey Affleck drama "Manchester
by the Sea." Amazon paid an eye-popping $10 million
for the domestic rights to the film at the 2016 Sundance
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imagine two or three years ago that Amazon would have a
film in Oscar contention wouldíve been almost
unthinkable," Paul Dergarabedian, senior media
analyst at comScore, said at the time.
nominated for seven Academy Awards, ultimately took home
three wins ó with "Manchester by the Sea"
being recognized for best original screenplay and best
actor and "The Salesman" getting the nod for
best foreign film.
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companyís media division has also grown through
acquisitions. Buying Twitch gave Amazon a video rival to
YouTube best known for live streams of video-game
matches. Amazon Prime subscribers get access to special
features on Twitch, which has seen an uptick in
productions from other genres. That includes cooking
shows, marathons of TV shows such as "Mister
Rogers" and live sewing demonstrations.
also purchased a video-game studio thatís begun
releasing a slate of games, including the team brawler
"Breakaway." And for a brief time through
Twitch, it owned an e-sports team.
recently, job postings show Amazon is looking for news
editors to produce digests of trending topics that
probably would be fed into Alexa, the virtual assistant
found on Echo speakers.
year, the company also launched a music-streaming
subscription, Amazon Music Unlimited, to compete with
Pandora and Spotify.
has long had aspirations as a grocer, starting in 1999
when it invested millions in HomeGrocer.com, a
first-of-its-kind online supermarket that was ultimately
doomed by the dot-com bust.
wasnít until 2007 that the company launched its first
grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh, rolling it out
slowly by invitation only to residents of the affluent
Seattle suburb of Mercer Island. Pickup locations were
later added in nearby Kirkland and Bellevue.
2013, AmazonFresh expanded to Los Angeles and San
Francisco. More cities have been added, including San
Diego, New York and Philadelphia as well as Tokyo and
service was initially met with skepticism given the
difficulty getting perishables to customers on time ó
particularly in cities known for traffic gridlock. And
for all the convenience AmazonFresh provides, it often
remains pricier than your neighborhood market.
Subscribers must be Amazon Prime members, which costs
$99 a year. AmazonFresh is an additional monthly
membership for $14.99.
$13.7 billion Whole Foods deal marks Amazonís biggest
foray into groceries.
final was always food," OíKeefe said. "Itís
a smart deal for continuing the sales of online
groceries, and it is likely that weíll see them grow
deal-making team, led by Senior Vice President for
Business Development Jeffrey Blackburn, doesnít appear
to be slowing down. Amazon has showed interest in
acquiring workplace chat app Slack in a deal that could
value the startup at $9 billion, Bloomberg reported
earlier this month.
possible next venture for Amazon is same-day delivery
services such as GrubHub or Postmates, some analysts
next logical move is Ö strategic partnerships that
allow Amazon to streamline the consumer experience from
delivery to in-store shopping experience," said Tom
Ball, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast
some, Amazonís acquisitions signal lower costs for all
the products consumers use on a daily basis. But Lloyd
Greif, chief executive of Greif & Co., warns that
once Amazon has complete control, it will be free to
raise prices dramatically as it sees fit.
is an octopus and it has its tentacles everywhere,"
Greif said. "Once itís completed its mission,
then youíre going to have the price inflexibility thatís
not in the consumersí interest."