When did Amazon start selling more than books? Regarding revenue, Amazon is the biggest internet-based company in the world. When it started selling books online in 1994, Jeff Bezos thought that growing big and fast was the best way to succeed online.
Today, the company sells everything from books to groceries to shipping container houses. It has become a one-stop shop and has many ambitions for its future.
Here we explore Amazon’s earliest days and highlight some of the company’s most important milestones. We will also attempt to investigate why the company became so popular.
When did Amazon start selling more than books?
In the spring of 1995, Bezos invited a small group of friends and former colleagues to check out a beta version of Amazon’s website, and the first-ever order was placed on April 3 of that year, for a science book titled Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies. When Amazon.com went live to the general public in July 1995, the company boldly billed itself as “Earth’s biggest bookstore,” although sales initially were drummed up solely by word of mouth and Bezos assisted with assembling orders and driving the packages to the post office.
By the end of 1996 Amazon had racked up $15.7 million in revenues, and in 1997 Bezos took the company public with an initial public offering that raised $54 million. That same year, Bezos personally delivered his company’s one-millionth order, to a customer in Japan who had purchased a Windows NT manual and a Princess Diana biography. In 1998, Amazon extended beyond books and started selling music CDs, and by the following year it had added more product categories, such as toys, electronics and tools.
By December 1999, Amazon had shipped 20 million items to 150 countries around the globe. That same month, Bezos was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. In 2000, the company introduced a service allowing individual sellers and other outside merchants to peddle their products alongside Amazon’s own items. Meanwhile, Amazon continued to spend heavily on expansion and didn’t post its first full-year profit until 2003.
In 2007, Amazon debuted its Kindle e-reader; four years later, the company announced it was selling more e-books than print books. Also in 2011, Amazon’s tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, was released. Among a variety of other ventures, Amazon launched a cloud computing and video on demand services in 2006; a studio that develops movies and TV series, in 2010; and an online marketplace for fine art, in 2013, which has featured original works by artists including Claude Monet and Norman Rockwell.
When did Amazon start becoming popular, and when did Amazon go public?
Many of Bezos’ peers and other critics at its founding voiced their skepticism about his proposed business model. Financial journalists were some of the most vitriolic and often disparaged the company by referring to it as Amazon. Many claimed that Amazon.com would ultimately lose out to more established bookstores. Especially those that were already following suit and starting their e-commerce sites.
The very fact that Amazon.com didn’t become profitable until the final quarter of 2001 didn’t help things. But Bezos stayed firm and dismissed his naysayers as people who didn’t understand the business’s potential. Bezos argued that to succeed as an online retailer; Amazon must “Get Big Fast.” And grow it did. By December 1996, the company’s customer base had grown to 180,000. By October of the year, this figure had leaped to around 1,000,000 registered accounts. Revenues had reached about $148 million in 1997, a significant jump from about $16 million in 1996.
Up until this point, Amazon had remained a private company. But Bezos soon realized he would need more than private investment to sustain the company’s growth.
And so, in 1997, Amazon.com went public and raised an eye-watering $54 million on the NASDAQ exchange. In addition to the cash, the company could use its stock sales to fund its aggressive growth and acquisition strategy.
By 1998, Amazon’s revenues had reached an impressive $600 million.
Amazon’s meteoric rise in such a short time frame catapulted Bezos into the public eye. He was also chosen to be Time magazine’s 1999 Person of the Year.
At around the same time, Amazon launched its now highly lucrative Affiliate program. By joining the program, other companies advertised Amazon’s merchandise on their platforms. Amazon would then fulfill the order and pay a commission — win, win. The program proved to be a savvy business decision. It grew from one Associate in 1996 to well over 350,000 by the close of 1999.
How does Amazon use technology to increase efficiency?
Apart from its near-universal appeal as a one-stop shop, Amazon has also taken advantage of the latest technological innovations to increase its efficiency and service to its customers. From using AI to handle and process orders or recruit to experimenting with drones and robots for order fulfillment and delivery, Amazon is certainly not afraid of testing out the latest innovation in tech.
This approach, however, has been both good and bad. For example, a machine-learning recruitment tool the company adopted was not used in the final decision process. It was later shown to have an apparent bias against certain groups of people for software developers and other technical positions. Once the issue was discovered, Amazon duly canceled the product.
Amazon has also adopted automated processes for firing as well as hiring. Such systems have been criticized for making decisions without being able to consider all factors — like issues in someone’s personal life, etc. Software solutions, like Amazon’s “Anytime Feedback Tool,” enable staff to praise or criticize their coworkers.
This same software also tracks an employee’s performance against set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) while handling orders from customers. While mistakes happen and are expected, Amazon has been criticized for the pressure it appears to be putting some of its warehouse staff under — even claims that staff can be automatically fired should their performance be deemed unacceptable. However, it is essential to note that Amazon wholeheartedly denies such a practice.
“It is not true that employees are terminated through an automatic system. We would never dismiss an employee without first ensuring that they had received our fullest support, including dedicated coaching to help them improve and additional training,” an Amazon representative told MIT Technology Review.
Amazon has also been adopting more and more automated solutions to increase efficiency in its fulfillment centers, like using robots to find and retrieve items. However, for now, at least, human workers are still a key part of Amazon’s delivery service — especially when it comes to packing items and dealing with customer service.
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