Amazon: from online bookseller to internet titan
Amazon has grown from a humble beginning as an online bookseller to a colossus of the internet. Now, with its acquisition of Whole Foods Market, it has become a major player in the grocery sector.
Here are some key facts about Amazon:
Incorporated in 1994 in Seattle, Washington, Amazon sold its first book in July 1995, with founder Jeff Bezos personally mailing packages to customers in the early days.
In 1999, Amazon went beyond books to become a diversified online retailer of consumer electronics, toys and games, software, home improvement and video games. A year later, it launched “Marketplace,” allowing third parties to sell over the Amazon platform. It has added new categories of merchandise and services over the years.
Amazon Web Services, launched in 2002 to be the online hosting platform for Amazon and its partners, has grown into one of the world’s biggest cloud computing operators, generating close to 10 percent of company revenues and a large share of its profit.
In 2005, the company launched Amazon Prime, a subscription service offering free delivery on many items and other benefits, which has become an important element in the Amazon business model. No official figures are available, but some analysts say Prime has some 80 million subscribers in the US alone.
Over the years, Amazon has expanded internationally, and operates as a retailer in Canada, Mexico, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Ireland, China and India, with plans to move into Australia.
In 2007, Amazon Music was launched as a platform for streaming songs, and later evolved into a cloud-based service.
Amazon made its first attempt at full grocery delivery in 2007 with Amazon Fresh but has been slow to roll out that service.
Making a major push into video streaming, Amazon rebranded its service in 2011 as Instant Video, competing with Netflix, and making thousands of movies and shows available to Prime Subscribers. The video unit has begun producing original programs and films, and won an Academy Award this year for “Manchester by the Sea.”
Hardware, drones, video
Amazon started making Kindle e-readers in 2007 and expanded its hardware to tablets with the Kindle Fire in 2011. A Fire smartphone launched in 2014 flopped, but Amazon continued in hardware with its voice-activated Echo speakers, sparking a new market of home assistants powered by artificial intelligence. Amazon also produces Fire TV devices which can be used as an interface for its video and other online applications.
The first Amazon physical retail store opened in Seattle in 2015, and several more have opened or are in the works. Amazon has also tested a concept for a grocery store without a checkout, where items in a shopping cart are automatically billed to the customer.
Amazon has been pushing for drone delivery for several years, but finally launched its first project in Britain in 2016, saying regulatory obstacles were too great in the United States. Amazon also has its own aircraft and local delivery operators that avoid third parties.
Globally, Amazon had some 341,000 employees as of February, having boosted its employment in warehouses even as it installed some 45,000 robots. It has research operations for artificial intelligence, robotics, ad technology and related fields.
Amazon gained a reputation delivering little or no profits in its early years as it invested for growth. But that has changed recently and it posted a profit of $2.3 billion for 2016 on revenues of $94.7 billion.
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