How Jeff Bezos and Amazon took over the world in 25 years

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 1999
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, in 1999. Chris Carroll/Corbis via Getty Images

Amazon celebrates its 25th anniversary on Friday, a quarter century since Jeff Bezos used $10,000 of his own money to start an online bookstore in Seattle on July 5, 1994.

When he and his earliest Amazon staff began selling books from his garage, they started an enterprise that is now the largest retailer in the world. Today Amazon is the world’s most valuable public company, and Bezos is the wealthiest person on the planet — taking the top spot from another Seattle-area digital pioneer, Bill Gates.

At the time in ’94, the National Science Foundation (NSF) had oversight of the internet, originally established for communications by academics and the U.S. military. No commercial use was allowed during the Internet’s early years, but in early 1994 the NSF removed the restriction.

Before Bezos launched Amazon, many original net users, or netizens, disagreed with the NSF’s decision to open up the internet. On April 12, 1994, when husband-and-wife attorneys Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel launched the first advertising campaign on Usenet, they were criticized, shunned, and reportedly received death threats. Today we would term what Canter and Siegel sent out as spam, but they made history as the first (hated) commercial Internet users.

According to Brad Stone’s  <a href="">The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon</a>, Amazon had customers in 45 countries and all 50 states within a month of starting the business.

Growing quickly in just a few years, Amazon found itself in competition with Barnes & Noble when the then-dominant bookseller began online sales. To raise capital to continue to fund its growth, Amazon went public in May 1997, valued at $300 million. While the 1997 valuation is impressive, consider that when the stock market closed on July 3, 2019, Amazon’s market capitalization was $960.65 billion.

Amazon’s astounding growth has not come without challenges and travails. Workers in fulfillment centers in the U.S., the U.K., and other countries have complained about continuous pressure to pack boxes for shipping customer orders at prodigious rates. Workers can easily lose their jobs under a productivity rating system if they don’t meet demanding quotas, The Verge reported.

Privacy issues have also dogged Amazon, particularly in light of Amazon’s responses to inquiries about the retention of customer voice recordings by Alexa, its voice-enabled smart assistant. Recent Amazon claims that recordings preserved even after consumers took steps to delete them were used to train the voice assistant to help improve customer communication strain credibility. Amazon now says the incomplete erasures resulted from a software bug and the problem has been resolved.

Along with other technology mega-forces, Amazon has come under federal scrutiny for potential antitrust violations. “The internet is broken,” claimed Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David N. Cicilline (D-RI), announcing an investigation of Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google. The concerns center on the unarguable reality that a small number of companies dominate digital content, communications, and commerce. Lawmakers from both parties have issued concerns about Big Tech. Future ramifications of the investigations for technology companies and consumers may take years to unfold.

Amazon’s relentless growth stems in part from a business strategy that eschews quarter-to-quarter focus on profit.  From the beginning, Amazon re-invested in itself. Even though revenue grew dramatically starting in 2005, net income remained close to zero until 2015. In 2018, the last full year reported, Amazon reported $232.89 billion in revenue but only $10.07 billion in profit. Re-investing paid off as the company expanded its reach.

Amazon began by selling books but quickly expanded to other categories, including launching a third-party marketplace from which other purveyors could sell their goods. In 2003, the company launched Amazon Web Services (AWS). In the beginning, AWS licensed Amazon’s e-commerce platform to other companies. Now, AWS is a dominant cloud hosting service and a significant revenue source for Amazon.

In the relatively few years since Amazon’s cloud computing venture launched, Amazon has spread its interests in many directions, including music and video streaming.

In 2014, Amazon launched the Amazon Echo smart speaker, the first device in what has since become an entire voice-controlled smart home platform. Amazon has since purchased other smart home device brands, including Blink security cameras and Ring video doorbells, smart lights, and alarm systems.

When Amazon launched its Prime membership program in 2005, the promise of free two-day shipping for all orders seemed unrealistic, even with the then $79 annual fee. Prime now has 100 million members worldwide. Membership costs $110 per year and, depending on the shopper’s location, orders can be delivered in as little as two hours. Most Prime products include free one-day delivery.

The effects of Prime membership cannot be overstated. According to a survey by CouponFollow in late May 2109, 95% of U.S. adults had purchased from Amazon within the previous 12 months. Of those who had made purchases on, 71.3% have an Amazon Prime membership. Prime membership includes a long list of benefits, but surveyed shoppers list Prime shipping, Prime Video, and discounts at Whole Foods Stores (a 2017 Amazon acquisition that gave Amazon a physical presence in major market areas throughout the U.S.)

The first Amazon Prime Day, a summer sales event open only to Prime members, was in 2015. Prime Day sales have snowballed. According to Kelly Herrell, CEO of Hazelcast, during last year’s Prime Day, Amazon processed more than 1,150 transactions representing an average of $41,000 of purchases every second for the 36 hours. Amazon sold more than 100 million products with revenues of approximately $3.6 billion during Prime Day 2018.

This year Amazon Prime Day runs for 48 hours, from 12:01 A.M. PT on July 15 until midnight July 16. Other retailers have jumped on Prime Day as both a much-appreciated summer season sales event and in reaction to Amazon’s growing dominance in online selling. In all, Amazon has grown from a tiny bookseller to the single most powerful force in retail — not bad for its 25th birthday.


Amazon Prime Day deals are ending, but you can still get great bargains

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the Prime Day deals are over. With deals from Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon still going on, this massive shopping event is continuing on through the week.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video and what’s leaving in August 2019

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all of the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in July and August, from new original series to classic films.
Smart Home

Amazon stokes Prime Day fires with $30 off year of Audible plus $1 Echo Dot

Amazon reported Prime Day 2019 was bigger than ever, exceeding last year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined sales Amazon just threw more fuel on the retail fires with a hot deal on an annual Audible audiobook membership.
Smart Home

Amazon says Prime Day smashed records, topped Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales

To no one's surprise, Prime Day 2019 outdid previous years by wide margins. In a press release, Amazon said Prime Day sales on July 15 and 16 exceed the combined sales during 2018's Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales events.

The third generation of Google Glass may be nearly ready for release

Google Glass may not have been as popular among consumers as Google had hoped it would be, but the company is still developing the concept. In fact, according to recent reports, Google has finished testing the third generation of Glass.

Report: The iPhone 11 will feature an ultrapowerful A13 processor

The last iPhones launched not that long ago, but rumors about the next iPhone are already surfacing. Apple's 2019 flagship could include a variety of upgrades ranging from a new design to enhanced features.
Emerging Tech

Clever new haptic vest could allow rescue dogs to take commands from miles away

Researchers in Israel have developed a haptic vest especially for dogs. It allows owners to communicate instructions to their pooch through specific vibration patterns. Here's how it works.

Ryzen 3000 has already made huge impact, and it's only getting started

AMD's upcoming Ryzen 3000 generation of CPUs could be the most powerful processors we've ever seen, with higher core counts, greater clock speeds, and competitive pricing. Here's what we know so far.
Emerging Tech

Watch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch 5,000 pounds of equipment to the ISS

SpaceX will launch its 20th Dragon spacecraft mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday evening, July 24, and you can watch the whole thing on NASA’s free livestream.

Microsoft patent hints at new ways to interact with dual-screen Surface tablet

It is no secret that Microsoft has been working on a folding dual-screen Surface tablet, but now a recent patent suggests that the Surface Centarus could feature multifunction buttons.

NZXT’s H510 PC case brings style and sophistication to your custom gaming rig

Are you looking to upgrade your gaming desktop by building your own gaming PC? NZXT's H510 PC case, which comes in a compact tower form factor, will help bring modern styling to your gaming desktop PC for just $79.

Amazon will give you $5K in free smart home tech and more when you buy a house

You can now get up to $5,000 in Amazon credit if you buy a house through Amazon’s new TurnKey program. The $5,000 incentive includes smart home and home theater equipment along with services like unpacking and cleaning.

A year ahead of Libra’s launch, scammers are already setting up shop on Facebook

With about a year to go until Facebook's cryptocurrency becomes available to the public, scammers are already setting up shop on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook itself by pushing fake discount exchanges.
Emerging Tech

Bill Nye’s Lightsail 2 is ready to surf through space on solar winds

LightSail 2, a crowdfunded spacecraft launched by Bill Nye’s nonprofit Planetary Society, has unfurled its solar sail in space. Here's everything you need to know about this mission.