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Amazon.Com, Inc.

Amazon.Com, Inc.

1200 12th Avenue, Suite 1200
Seattle, Washington 98114
U.S.A.
Telephone: (206) 266-1000
Fax: (206) 266-1821
Web site: http://www.amazon.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1997
Employees: 7,800
Sales: $3.9 billion (2002)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: AMZN
NAIC: 45411 Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses

Considered a pioneer in online retailing, Amazon.com, Inc. expanded during the late 1990s to offer the Earths Biggest Selection of books, CDs, videos, DVDs, electronics, toys, tools, home furnishings and housewares, apparel, and kitchen gadgets. Through third-party agreements, Amazon.com also sells products from well-known retailers including Toysrus.com Inc., Target Corporation, Circuit City Stores Inc., the Borders Group, Waterstones, Expedia Inc., Hotwire, National Leisure Group Inc., and Virgin Wines. Sometimes criticized for its focus on market share over profits, Amazon.com put investor fears to rest when it secured its first net profit during the fourth quarter of 2001.

The Early 1990s: Beginnings

Throughout the 1990s, the popularity of the Internet and World Wide Web swept across the world, and personal computers in most businesses and households got hooked up in some form or another to Internet providers and Web browser software. As use of the Internet became more prevalent in society, companies began looking to the Web as a new avenue for commerce. Selling products over the Internet offered a variety of choices and opportunities. One of the pioneers of e-commerce was Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.

In 1994, Bezos left his job as vice-president of the Wall Street firm D.E. Shaw, moved to Seattle, and began to work out a business plan for what would become Amazon.com. After reading a report that projected annual Web growth at 2,300 percent, Bezos drew up a list of 20 products that could be sold on the Internet. He narrowed the list to what he felt were the five most promising: compact discs, computer hardware, computer software, videos, and books. Bezos eventually decided that his venture would sell books over the Web, due to the large worldwide market for literature, the low price that could be offered for books, and the tremendous selection of titles that were available in print. He chose Seattle as the company headquarters due to its large high-tech work force and its proximity to a large book distribution center in Oregon. Bezos then worked to raise funds for the company while also working with software developers to build the companys web site. The web site debuted in July 1995 and quickly became the number one book-related site on the Web.

In just four months of operation, Amazon.com became a very popular site on the Web, making high marks on several Internet rankings. It generated recognition as the sixth best site on Point Communications top ten list, and was almost immediately placed on Yahoos whats cool list and Netscapes whats new list. The site opened with a searchable database of over one million titles. Customers could enter search information, prompting the system to sift through the company database and find the desired titles. The program then displayed information about the selection on a customers computer screen, and gave the customer the option to order the books with a credit card and have the books shipped in a just a few days.

Unlike its large competitors, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, Amazon.com carried only about 2,000 titles in stock in its Seattle warehouse. Most orders through Amazon.com were placed directly through wholesalers and publishers, so no warehouse was needed. Amazon.com would simply receive the books from the other sources, then ship them to the customer. At first, the company operated out of Bezos garage, until it was clear that it was going to be a success, necessitating a move to a Seattle office, which served as the customer support, shipping, and receiving area. It was interesting that, because of the Internet, such a small venture could realize such a broad scope so quickly; within a month of launching the web site, Bezos and Amazon.com had filled orders from all 50 states and 45 other countries.

As a pioneer in the world of Internet commerce, Amazon.com strived to set the standard for web businesses. With that goal in mind, Bezos went to work on making the web site as customer friendly as possible and relating the site to all types of customers. For those people who knew what book they were looking for and just wanted quick performance and low cost, Amazon.com offered powerful search capabilities of its expanded 1.5 million-title database. The company also began offering 10 to 30 percent discounts on most titles, making the prices extremely affordable. For other customers who were just looking for something to read in a general area of interest, Amazon.com offered topic areas to browse, as well as lists of bestsellers, award winners, and titles that were recently featured in the media. Finally, for people who could not decide, Amazon.com offered a recommendation center. There a customer could find books based on his or her mood, reading habits, or preferences. The recommendation center also offered titles based on records of books the customer had purchased in the past, if they were return customers to the site.

Other hits with customers were the little touches, such as optional gift wrapping of packages, and the eye notification service, which sent customers e-mails alerting them when a new book in their favorite subject or by their favorite author came into stock. The site also offered the ability for customers not only to write their comments about different books and have them published on the site, but to read other customers comments about books they were interested in buying.

Going Public in 1997

After less than two years of operation, Amazon.com became a public company in May 1997 with an initial public offering (IPO) of three million shares of common stock. With the proceeds from the IPO, Bezos went to work on improving the already productive web site and on bettering the companys distribution capabilities.

To help broaden the companys distribution capabilities, and to ease the strain on the existing distribution center that came from such a high volume of orders, in September 1997 Bezos announced that Amazon.com would be opening an East Coast distribution center in New Castle, Delaware. There was also a 70 percent expansion of the companys Seattle center. The improvements increased the companys stocking and shipping capabilities and reduced the time it took to fill customers orders. The Delaware site not only got Amazon.com closer to East Coast customers, but also to East Coast publishers, which decreased Amazon.coms receiving time. With the new centers in place, Bezos set a goal for the company of 95 percent same day shipping of in-stock orders, getting orders to the customers much faster than before.

Another growth area for Amazon.com was the success of its Associate program. Established in July 1996, the program allowed individuals with their own web sites to choose books of interest and place ads for them on their own sites, allowing visitors to purchase those books. The customer was linked to Amazon.com, which took care of all the orders. Associates were sent reports on their sales and made a 3 to 8 percent commission from books sold on their sites. The Associates program really began to take off in mid-1997, when Amazon.com formed partnerships with Yahoo, Inc. and America Online, Inc. Both companies agreed to give Amazon.com broad promotional capabilities on their sites, two of the most visited sites on the Web. As the success continued, Amazon also struck deals with many other popular sites, including Netscape, GeoCities, Excite, and AltaVista.

As the company continued to grow in 1997, Bezos announced in October that Amazon.com would be the first Internet retailer to reach the milestone of one million customers. With customers in all 50 states and now 160 countries worldwide, what had started in a Seattle garage was now a company with $147.8 million in yearly sales.

Further Expansion in 1998

As Amazon.com ventured into 1998, the company continued to grow. By February, the Associates program had reached 30,000 members, who now earned up to 15 percent for recommending and selling books from their web sites. Four months later, the number of Associates had doubled to 60,000.

The companys customer database continued to grow as well, with cumulative customer accounts reaching 2.26 million in March, an increase of 50 percent in just three months, and of 564 percent over the previous year. In other words, it took Amazon.com 27 months to serve its first million customers and only six months to serve the second million. This feat made Amazon.com the third largest bookseller in the United States.

Financed by a $75 million credit facility secured in late 1997, Amazon.com continued to reshape its services in 1998. To its catalog of over 2.5 million titles, the company added Amazon.com Advantage, a program to help the sales of independent authors and publishers, and Amazon.com Kids, a service providing over 100,000 titles for younger children and teenagers.

Company Perspectives:

We seek to offer the Earths Biggest Selection and to be the Earths most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they may want to buy online.

Amazon.com also expanded its business through a trio of acquisitions in early 1998. Two of the companies were acquired to further expand Amazon.coms business into Europe. Bookpages, one of the largest online booksellers in the United Kingdom, gave Amazon.com access to the U.K. market. Tele-book, the largest online bookseller in Germany, added its German titles to the mix. Both companies not only gave Amazon.com access to new customers in Europe, but it also gave existing Amazon.com customers access to more books from around the world. The Internet Movie Database (IMD), the third acquisition, was used to support plans for its move into online video sales. The tremendous resources and information of the IMD served as a valuable asset in the construction of a customer-friendly and informative web site for video sales.

Another big change in 1998 was the announcement of the companys decision to enter into the online music business. Bezos again wanted to make the site as useful as possible for his customers, so he appealed to them for help. Several months before officially opening its music site, Amazon.com asked its bookstore customers and members of the music profession to help design the new web site.

The music store opened in June 1998, with over 125,000 music titles available. The new site, which began operations at the same time that Amazon.com debuted a redesigned book site, offered many of the same helpful services available at the companys book site. The database was searchable by artist, song title, or label, and customers were able to listen to more than 225,000 sound clips before making their selection.

Amazon.com ended the second quarter of 1998 as strong as ever. Cumulative customer accounts broke the three million mark, and as sales figures for Amazon.com continued to rise, and more products and titles were added, the future looked bright for this pioneer in the Internet commerce marketplace. With music as a part of the company mix, and video sales on the horizon, Bezos seemed to have accomplished his goal of gathering a strong market share in the online sales arena. As Bezos told Fortune magazine in December 1996: By the year 2000, there could be two or three big online bookstores. We need to be one of them.

Growth Continues: 1999 and Beyond

As such, the companys focus on growth continued. In 1999, it launched an online auction service entitled Amazon Auctions. It also began offering toys and electronics and then divided its product offerings into individual stores on its site to make it easier for customers to shop for certain items. During the holiday season that year, the firm ordered 181 acres of holiday wrapping paper and 2,494 miles of red ribbon, a sign that Bezos expected holiday shoppers to flock to his site as they had in the two past years. Sure enough, sales climbed to $1.6 billion proving that the founders efforts to create an online powerhouse had indeed paid off. In 1999, Bezos reached the upper echelon of the corporate world when Time magazine honored him with its prestigious Person of the Year award.

While Amazon.coms growth story was remarkable, Bezos focus on market share over profits had made Wall Street uneasy and left analysts speculating whether the company would ever be able to turn a profit. Sales continued to grow as the company added new products to its siteincluding lawn and patio furniture and kitchen wares. The company however, continued to post net losses. To top it off, the dot-com boom of the late 1990s came to a crashing halt in the early years of the new millenium as many startups declared bankruptcy amid intense competition and weakening economies.

Bezos remained optimistic, even as Amazon.coms share price faltered. During 2001, the company focused on cutting costs. It laid off 1,300 employees and closed a distribution facility. The company also added price reduction to its business strategy, which had traditionally been centered on vast selection and convenience. Amazon.com inked lucrative third-party deals with such well-known retailers as Target Corporation and America Online, Inc. By now, products from Toysrus.com Inc., Circuit City Stores Inc., the Borders Group, and a host of other retailers were available on the Amazon.com site.

Amazon.coms strategy worked. In 2001, sales grew to $3.12 billion, an increase of 13 percent over the previous year. During the fourth quarter, Amazon.com reached a milestone that many had regarded as unlikely; it secured a net profit of $5 million. In 2002, the company launched its apparel store, which included clothing from retailers The Gap and Lands End. Overall, the company reported a net loss of $149 million for the year, an improvement from the $567 million loss reported in 2001. In the fourth quarter of 2002 however, the firm secured a quarterly net profit of $3 millionthe second net profit in its history.

While securing quarterly net profits was a major turning point for the young company, a July 2002 Business Week article warned, after seven years and more than $1 billion in losses, Amazon is still a work in process. Indeed, the companys foray into providing the Earths Biggest Selection had yet to prove it could provide profits on a long-term basis. Nevertheless, Bezos and his Amazon team remained confident that the firm was on the right track. With $3.9 billion in annual sales, Amazon.com had without a doubt come a long way from its start as an online book seller.

Principal Subsidiaries

Amazon Global Resources, Inc.; Amazon.com.dedc, LLC; FulfiUco.ksdc, Inc.; Amazon.com.kydc, Inc.; Amazon.com Commerce Services, Inc.; Amazon.com Holdings, Inc.; Amazon.com International Sales, Inc.; Amazon.com LLC; Amazon.com Payments, Inc.; NV Services, Inc.; Amazon Fulfillment Services, Inc.; Amazon.com@Target.com, Inc.

Principal Competitors

Barnes & Noble Inc.; CDNow Inc.; eBay Inc.

Key Dates:

1995:
Amazon.com debuts on the Web.
1997:
The company goes public; Amazon.com becomes the first Internet retailer to secure one million customers.
1998:
Amazon.com enters the online music and video business; companies are acquired in the United Kingdom and Germany.
1999:
The firm expands into selling toys, electronics, tools, and hardware; Bezos is named Time Magazines Person of the Year.
2001:
Amazon.com reports its first net profit during the fourth quarter.

Further Reading

Chewing the Sashimi with Jeff Bezos, Business Week, July 15, 2002.

Colker, David, Amazon Delivers Profit for the Second Time, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2003.

Green, Lee, Net Profits, Spirit Magazine, March 1998, pp. 5254, 12628.

Haines, Thomas, Amazon.com Sales Grow While Loss Widens, Seattle Times, January 23, 1998, p. C1.

Hansell, Saul, Amazons Risky Christmas, New York Times, November 28, 1999.

Hazleton, Lesley, Jeff Bezos: How He Built a Billion Dollar Net Worth Before His Company Even Turned A Profit, Success, July 1998, pp. 5860.

How Amazon Cleared the Profitability Hurdle, Business Week, February 4, 2002.

Jeffrey Bezos, Chain Store Age Executive, December 1997, p. 124.

Jeffrey, Don, Amazon.com Eyes Retailing Music Online, Billboard, January 31, 1998, pp. 89.

Martin, Michael, The Next Big Thing: A Bookstore, Fortune, December 9, 1996, pp. 16870.

Perez, Elizabeth, Store On Internet Is Open Book: Amazon.com Boasts More Than 1 Million Titles On The Web, Seattle Times, September 19, 1995, p. E1.

Rose, Cynthia, Site-Seeing, Seattle Times, March 10, 1996.

Soto, Monica, Amazon Layoffs: Whats It All Mean?, Seattle Times, February 5, 2001.

Zito, Kelly, Amazon CEO Tells of Life at the Top, San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1999, p. B1.

Robert Alan Passage

update: Christina M. Stansell

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Amazon.Com

AMAZON.COM

Although Amazon.com built its reputation as an online bookstore, the Seattle-based company has pursued a strategy of offering a wide assortment of products, which it promotes as "Earth's Biggest Selection." An early 2001 version of the company's home page offered links to several categories, among them books, electronics, toys, video, music, health and beauty, wireless phones, camera and photo, computer and video games, software, tools and hardware, lawn and patio, cars, auctions, and gifts.

Amazon.com went online in July 1995 and quickly set the standard for other e-tailers. The company changed the way people buy books by staying open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It also developed its own user-friendly ordering system and provided reviews and other information about the books it sold that no traditional bookstore could match. Amazon.com 's head start on other booksellers helped it to dominate the online book market. Barnes and Noble, the largest traditional book retailer, had a market value of $2 billion in 1998, compared to $5.8 billion for Amazon.com.

Amazon.com was founded by Jeff Bezos. Bezos determined that books, videos, computer software and hardware, and CDs would be the easiest products to sell online. They were items that a customer did not necessarily need to see or handle before ordering, and they were easy to pack and ship. Without the physical space limitations of a bricks-and-mortar store, Bezos realized that an online store could offer a wider selection of those items.

In the beginning, Amazon.com was aided by the established wholesale network for books that already existed. The company didn't need a big inventory to start with. One reason Amazon.com chose Seattle, Washington, as its base was that it would be near the world's largest book wholesaler, which was based in Oregon. Seattle also offered a well-educated employment pool. Amazon.com added a warehouse in Delaware in 1997, but the company began in Bezos's garage and then moved its shipping operation into a 20-by-20-foot space. After nearly two years in this small space, the company finally began using a large warehouse in Seattle. In 1998 Amazon.com began selling CDs and computer games in addition to its selection of 3 million books.

THE FIRST E-HOLIDAY SHOPPING SEASON, 1998

The fourth quarter of 1998 was the first holiday shopping season in the United States that had substantial retail sales over the Internet. The Boston Consulting Group estimated that American consumers spent about $4 billion buying goods and services online during the fourth quarter of 1998, and nearly $10 billion throughout the year. While that amounted to less than one percent of all U.S. retail sales, e-commerce sales more than tripled from 1997. The same report estimated that more than 8 million U.S. households made an online purchase during 1998.

In the fourth quarter of 1998 America Online (AOL) was the Internet's most popular shopping mall, but Amazon.com was the number one e-tailer. It sold a variety of books, CDs, videos, and gifts, including a selection of 185 toys. It also spent heavily on marketing and advertising$29 on average to acquire a new customer, which is one reason the company had yet to turn a profit.

EXPANSION INTO NEW MARKETS, 1999

In June 1999 Amazon.com formed an alliance with auction house Sotheby's Holdings Inc. to launch a joint auction site specializing in art, antiques, and collectibles. Amazon.com agreed to invest $45 million in Sotheby's. Amazon planned to host the site as part of its growing auction page, which offered 20 different categories of auctions. All of the property would be offered by Sotheby's and other dealers. In addition, the authenticity and condition of each item would be guaranteed. The site also planned to conduct online auctions in conjunction with live auctions from Sotheby's in New York. The site (www.sothebys.com Amazon.com) launched in November 1999.

By mid-1999, Amazon.com was valued at $22 billion, according to Newsweek. In two years its customer base had grown from 2 million to 11 million. Not only was Amazon the dominant bookseller, it had become the biggest music retailer on the Internet. The company also sold toys and consumer electronics. However, although Amazon was a flagship for e-commerce, it had yet to turn a profit. The company explained that revenue was being used to build the business, and that they eventually planned to offer anything and everything online.

For the 1999 holiday shopping season, Amazon.com added four new stores to its site: home improvement, software, video games, and gift ideas. It was part of the firm's strategy to offer a large selection of items across multiple product lines. Amazon.com had introduced online auctions in spring 1999, followed by its zShops marketplace, which let customers sell their own items for a set price or by auction.

NEW PARTNERS HELP TO INCREASE REVENUE

During 2000 Amazon.com entered into new partnerships designed to increase the firm's revenue and make it profitable. Amazon.com had spent heavily to attract customers. Now it was entering into agreements with other dot-coms to give them access to its base of 16 million customers in exchange for a fee and an ownership interest. The agreements also were part of Amazon.com 's strategy to offer the widest possible assortment of products through its Web site. Each agreement would add to Amazon.com 's operating income, offsetting a projected loss of $41.7 million for 2001.

In January 2001 Amazon.com invested an additional $30 million in Drugstore.com, increasing its ownership interest in the dot-com to 28 percent. In return, Amazon.com would receive $105 million over three years to display Drugstore.com prominently on its Web site by giving the site its own category tab on Amazon.com 's home page. Amazon.com also invested an undisclosed amount for a five-percent interest in Greenlight.com, which sold cars online. Green-light.com agreed to pay Amazon.com $82.5 million over five years for promoting its site to Amazon.com customers.

Other partnerships involved such dot-coms as Ashford.com, a seller of luxury goods; NextCard, which was creating a co-branded MasterCard and Visa credit card; and Gear.com, which sold sporting goods at a discount. During the year additional links were added to Pets.com and Homegrocer.com As the year progressed, the Internet economy weakened and several dot-coms reorganized or went out of business. One casualty was Living.com, which had promised to pay Amazon.com $145 million over five years to be its home-furnishings partner. That revenue stream was lost when Living.com closed up in August 2000. Weakening support for dot-coms also caused Amazon.com to rearrange its terms with several other partners who were part of the Amazon Commerce Network, including Greenlight.com and Drug-store.com, again reducing the company's revenue.

Although management's strategy was aimed at achieving certain operating income levels rather than revenue growth, Amazon.com continued to lose money during 2000. For the second quarter ending June 30, Amazon.com reported a loss of $115.7 million on revenue of $578 million. Customer accounts rose by 2.5 million during the quarter to reach a total of 22.5 million customers. Repeat orders made up 78 percent of Amazon.com 's total, up from 70 percent a year earlier. The company also noted that its book and video sales had finally become profitable. Its electronics division posted the biggest gain during the quarter, while its U.S. book, music, and DVD sales totaled $385.28 million, with a profit of $10.06 million. The company also announced it expected to end the year with about $1 billion in cash. Investors expressed concern about Amazon.com 's rising debt load, which increased from $1.5 billion at the end of 1999 to $2.1 billion at the end of June. Servicing its debt cost Amazon.com an estimated $150 million annually.

Through its agreement with Greenlight.com, Amazon.com added cars to its product offerings in August 2000. The new link presented information on automobiles and trucks in the standard Amazon.com format. They were listed on Amazon.com 's new ventures section, which included all of Amazon.com 's non-media products. Amazon.com was able to offer new car and truck sales in 27 metro markets through affiliated dealers, including three of the top dealership networks.

After less than a year online, Amazon.com 's co-branded auction site with Sotheby's auction house was closed in October 2000. The listings from Sothebys.Amazon.com were consolidated on Sothebys.com, the auction house's primary Web site. The reason given for the consolidation was the need to achieve a larger scale and offer customers a much deeper selection in a single site. The consolidation also made it easier for Sothebys.com 's 5,000 associates to conduct business online.

Amazon.com also expanded internationally during 2000, opening sites in France and Japan in addition to its existing sites in Germany and the United Kingdom. The Japanese-language site was launched in November 2000 and focused on books. Japan already was Amazon.com 's largest export market, with nearly 200,000 Japanese customers ordering $34 million in products each year from the company's U.S.-based site. The Japanese site was supported by a corporate office in Tokyo, a distribution center in Ichikawa, and a customer service center in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Although Japanese publishing regulations prevented the e-tailer from offering large discounts on Japanese-language books, it could continue to discount its English-language titles up to 30 percent. For the rest of 2000 the Japanese site offered free shipping as an incentive.

A November 2000 report compiled by Forrester Research revealed a tight three-way race among online booksellers. For the first time, Borders.com passed Amazon.com as the top online bookseller, with Barnesandnoble.com a close third. Forrester's PowerRankings of major U.S. e-commerce sites, which were based on consumer surveys followed by its own online shopping tests, gave Borders.com a 66.83 rating, compared to 66.76 for Amazon.com and 65.46 for Barnesandnoble.com. The results demonstrated that while Amazon.com was focused on branching out into other product lines, Borders.com and Barnesandnoble.com were working hard to sell books over the Internet. In the Forrester survey, Borders was tops in the categories of transaction efficiency, cost, and delivery/returns, while Barnesandnoble.com led in ease of use and customer service. Subsequently, in April 2001 Borders announced its exit from online retailing and turned over the operation of Borders.com to Amazon.com, for which Amazon.com received a one-time payment and a percentage of revenue from sales.

A December 2000 report by Jupiter Media Metrix revealed the strength of Amazon.com 's international appeal. It was the most visited e-tailer in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, Amazon.com was among the top five online retailers in Brazil, Denmark, France, and Japan. In the United Kingdom the company actually ranked first and second, with its U.K. site attracting 1.75 million unique visitors in November, while its U.S. site attracted 993,000 visitors. The U.S. site reported 1.22 million visitors during November from Canada and 461,000 from Australia.

Amazon.com DOMINATED THE HOLIDAY SHOPPING SEASON, 2000

According to AdRelevance, Amazon.com was the most advertised company on the Internet for eight out of nine weeks during the 2000 holiday shopping season. Its $61.8 million ad budget for December led the pack in Internet advertising, with nearly 3 billion ad impressions. Barnesandnoble.com was a distant second with $23.8 million spent on Internet advertising in December. Amazon.com advertised on more than 100 Web sites, but it made an effort to dominate on the top sites. The top five sites it advertised on were MSN, AOL, Netscape, Juno, and Excite, where it was the number one advertiser on four of those sites and the number three advertiser on Excite.

Amazon.com employed brand recognition as well as direct marketing advertisements in its campaign. Before the holiday season, only 5.3 million of the company's 275.3 million ad impressions were direct marketing impressions. By the end of November, Amazon.com had begun to place more emphasis on direct marketing impressions. During the last week of November, Amazon.com ran 320 million branding impressions, compared to 212.8 direct marketing impressions, in an effort to achieve immediate results. Each direct marketing ad had 4 million impressions, while each branding ad had 750,000 impressions.

Perhaps Amazon.com 's most important partnership of 2000 was its online joint venture with Toys 'R' Us, which had been struggling to develop its own online strategy. For the 2000 holiday shopping season, Amazon.com and bricks-and-mortar retailer Toys 'R' Us joined forces to create Toysrus.com. The alliance was announced in August 2000, with the newly created Toysrus.com to select and purchase the toys using its parent company's clout, while Amazon.com would run the store on its Web site, ship the products, and handle customer service. The venture played to the strengths of both companies, and it paid off in a big way for the 2000 holiday shopping season. According to a report by Nielsen/NetRatings, the joint site was the number one online shopping site during the holiday season with 123 million visitors. Coming in second with 21.12 million shopping visits during the season was rival eToys, followed by Dell.com with 21 million visitors, Barnesandnoble.com with 20.25 million visits, CDNow.com with 20 million, and Walmart.com with 18 million.

FOCUSED ON PROFITABILITY, 2001

Amazon.com continued to outpace its online competition in January 2001, registering 2.3 million projected buyers according to a report from PC Datanearly double the number for January 2000. Although Amazon.com beat Wall Street's estimates for the fourth quarter of 2000, the company announced at the end of January that it would lay off 1,300 workers, or 15 percent of its workforce. Other cost-cutting measures included closing a distribution center in Georgia and a customer service center in Seattle. The company also lowered revenue estimates for 2001, mainly due to the slowdown of the overall economy toward the end of 2000. Amazon.com projected that sales would grow from 20 to 30 percent in 2001 to $3.3 to $3.6 billion. Still, the company maintained that it would reach operating profitability by the end of 2001, and that it would have about $900 million in cash and marketable securities at the end of the year.

FURTHER READING:

"All Boxed In." Time. September 4, 2000.

"Amazon in New E-tail Deals." Puget Sound Business Journal. January 28, 2000.

Dembeck, Chet. "Amazon and Sotheby's Launch Upscale Auction Site." E-Commerce Times. November 19, 1999. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

"Double Play." Business Week. October 23, 2000.

Enos, Lori. "Amazon Ranked as Net Ad Champ." E-Commerce Times. December 14, 2000. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

"Inside the First e-Christmas." Fortune. February 1, 1999.

Macaluso, Nora. "Amazon and Toys 'R' Us Take E-Holiday Prize." E-Commerce Times. January 2, 2001. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

Rabinovitz, Jonathan. "Santa Monica, Calif.-Based Internet Entrepreneur Sells Toys." Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News. October 25, 1998.

Reid, Calvin. "Amazon.com in Pact to Take Over Borders.com ." Publishers Weekly. April 16, 2001.

Saliba, Clare. "Report: Amazon Smashed E-tail Competition in January." E-Commerce Times. February 14, 2001. Available from www.ecommercetimes.com.

"We Have Lift-off." The Economist (US). February 3, 2001.

"Wired for the Bottom Line." Newsweek. September 20, 1999.

SEE ALSO: Barnesandnoble.com; Bezos, Jeff; Business-to-Consumer (B2C) E-Commerce

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Amazon.com

Amazon.com

1200 12th Avenue South, Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98144-2734
(206) 622-2335
Www.Amazon.Com

When Amazon.com opened its cyber doors in July 1995 as an Internet bookseller, it did not even merit a mention in Time magazine. During the next four years, however, the company became not only a driving force in American business, it emerged as a shining example of how to turn an Internet start-up into a corporate empire. Because of its amazing success, Time named company founder Jeff Bezos its "Person of the Year" for 1999.

Today, Amazon.com is a household name thanks to an enormous amount of publicity and a customer base of twenty-five million. It has weathered ups and downs to become the nation's largest bookstore and one of the top businesses in the country. In addition to millions of book titles, the company also offers a wide variety of other goods, from CDs and DVDs to kitchenware, electronics, toys and games, automobiles, and computers.

Forming a Plan

In 1994, Jeff Bezos left his $1 million a year job as an investment manager at the New York City firm of D. E. Shaw & Company with the intent of starting a business to take advantage of the 2,300 percent-a-year growth of the Internet. In a story he has told in numerous interviews, Bezos said he drew up a list of the best products to sell on-line and books topped the list, primarily because of the millions of titles in print.

Once the product was decided on, Bezos and his wife moved from Texas to the Seattle, Washington, area, home to dozens of computer software companies, including the Microsoft Corporation (see entry). Bezos figured that there he would have access to a large pool of high-tech professionals. With his wife, MacKenzie, driving their 1988 Chevy Blazer west from Texas, Bezos wrote a business plan on his laptop computer. The plan included naming the company Amazon, after the world's largest river. The symbolism proved to be amazingly prophetic.

Bezos soon rented a two-bedroom house in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue and set up operations in his garage with four employees. A computer programmer, Shel Kaplan, was the first person he hired; Kaplan was given the task of developing the company's Web site. A beta, or test version, of the Amazon.com Web site was put in place in June 1995.

Bezos financed the operation with his own money and a $300,000 loan from his parents. But realizing he needed much more, Bezos contacted former co-workers and family friends and convinced fifteen of them to invest in his start-up, bringing his total capital to $1 million. With his initial investment, and after a month of successfully beta testing the Web site, Bezos was ready for business.

Amazon.com at a Glance

The Company Is Launched

Amazon.com officially opened for business on July 6, 1995. For the first few days, orders came mostly from family and friends. Ten days later, the first "real" customer ordered an obscure science book, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought, by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

From then on, orders began pouring in despite little publicity. Within a month, Amazon.com had sales in all fifty states and forty-five countries. Most had heard about the company by word of mouth or stumbled across it while surfing the Internet.

Bezos, his wife, and a small group of employees did all of their work from the garage. To save money, Bezos built desks, bookcases, and other office furniture out of old doors and pieces of used lumber. To help supply electricity, he used power cables to bring electricity from the house to the garage. Once a customer placed an order, the staff would immediately request the title from one of their book suppliers. Employees had to crouch or kneel on the garage floor to pack books in shipping cartons. Everyone took turns packing books for shipment, sometimes staying up until two or three o'clock in the morning.

Timeline

1995:
Jeff Bezos opens Amazon.com on the Internet, offering one million titles.
1996:
Number of titles grows to 2.5 million; company has 151 employees.
1997:
Amazon.com offers its stock to the public for the first time.
1998:
Amazon.com expands to Germany and the United Kingdom.
1999:
Workforce grows to nine thousand; more than three million titles available.
2000:
Company lays off thirteen hundred workers and closes one of eleven warehouses.
2001:
Amazon.com posts its first profit, $5.1 million in the fourth quarter.
2002:
Warren Jensen resigns as chief financial officer.

One Million Titles

Part of Amazon's early success can be attributed to the company offering one million new and used titles. Of these, 300,000 were available for shipment within forty-eight hours while the remaining required four to six weeks for shipment. This far exceeded the traditional bookstore that typically stocks 30,000 to 175,000 titles. Also unlike traditional bookstores, Amazon.com was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Customers could complete their transactions without ever leaving their home or office.

Another key to the company's rise was its use of the "secure sockets layer," a format developed by Netscape Communications Corporation (see entry) that encrypts (scrambles) and protects data, such as credit card information. It is built into most Web browsers, such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, and most major Web servers. It allows credit card and other information to be securely sent from a customer's computer to Amazon.com.

Customer Is Top Priority

At about the same time Amazon.com was starting, the search engine Yahoo.com was establishing itself on the Internet as a major presence. Internet users entered key words or short phrases and were given a list of Web sites that matched their input or query. Yahoo contacted Bezos about listing Amazon.com in its "What's Cool" section. With this free publicity, Amazon.com book sales immediately skyrocketed.

As Amazon.com's sales increased, Bezos realized it was more important than ever to stick to his core philosophy of what makes a successful company: the customer is the single most important priority, regardless of the cost. This often resulted in the company spending more to ship a book to the customer than the price of the book itself. Amazon.com absorbed the added costs to ensure that the customer received the book in the time frame originally promised.

Jeff Bezos spent months coming up with the company name for Amazon. He discarded his original idea, "Cadabra," when, in a telephone conversation, his attorney thought he said "cadaver."

Amazon.com quickly became know for its excellent service and also for its "customer-friendly" Web site, where consumers could rate and post their own reviews of books, and authors could host question and answer pages. A particularly successful feature of the company's site is that it "remembers" past customers and automatically makes recommendations based on past purchases. For example, someone whose previous purchases included science fiction books would be shown a list of similar and recently published books in that genre during their next visit to the site.

Growth Spurs Move

While Amazon.com posted net sales of $511,000 during its nearly six months of operation in 1995, after paying operating expenses it actually had a net loss of $303,000. This would be the first in a series of unprofitable years for the company. Bezos, however, was not discouraged and remained confident that his fledgling business would be a success.

At the beginning of 1996, Amazon employed eleven people and moved to new headquarters, a small warehouse not far from Bezos's home. To help keep costs down, the company carried little inventory (products on-hand) and relied on speedy shipments from its suppliers. By the end of 1996, Amazon.com's growth was phenomenal. It offered 2.5 million titles although it still carried minimal inventory. To accommodate its 151 employees, it relocated to a larger building in downtown Seattle. Its 1996 revenues showed $15.7 million in net sales and a net loss of $5.7 million. During the same year, several on-line competitors surfaced, including Book Stacks, BookZone, and Internet Book Shop.

The company's growth continued in 1997. In May, Amazon.com began offering its stock for sale to the public with an initial offering of three million shares. Opening at $18 a share, Amazon.com stock rose to $30 before closing for the day at $23.25. In one day, the stock sale raised $54 million for the company.

Lawsuits Plague Company

Two other developments proved noteworthy in 1997, both involving the nation's largest traditional bookseller, Barnes & Noble. On May 12, Barnes & Noble unveiled its own Web site and filed a lawsuit challenging Amazon.com's claim to be the world's largest bookstore. "[It] isn't a bookstore at all," the suit stated. "It's a book broker."

An out-of-court settlement (where both parties agree to settle their dispute without the help of the court system) was reached in October. Details were not released, but Amazon.com continues to call itself the world's largest bookstore. According to its Web site, Amazon offers the Earth's Biggest Selection T M of products.

The Barnes & Noble lawsuit proved to be only the first of several legal challenges to Amazon.com. On October 16, 1998, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (see entry) filed suit against the company charging it with stealing distribution and merchandising trade secrets by hiring Wal-Mart executives. The two business giants reached an out-of-court settlement eighteen months later, which legal analysts saw as a victory for Amazon.com. Under the agreement, one Amazon.com employee was reassigned and all fifteen employees named in the suit were restricted in their duties relating to information systems.

Amazon Expands

In 1997 and 1998, Amazon.com's stocks shot up as sales dramatically increased. Still, the company continued posting quarterly losses. By the end of 1998, Amazon.com offered 3.1 million titles. It reported total sales of $610 million, up 312 percent over 1997. It also had a net loss of $124 million, a 301 percent increase from 1997.

Amazon.com's sales were boosted by expansion into the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as the addition of music, video, and gift "stores" to its Internet site. It also introduced its associates program, which allowed other Web sites to sell books through a link to Amazon.com. In addition, beginning in 1998, the company began to partially or totally take over a number of companies, including Junglee (a Web technology firm), Drugstore.com, Pets.com, HomeGrocer.com, Overstock.com, and Della.com (wedding gifts and registry.)

By the end of 2000, Amazon.com was an unquestionable force in American commerce. It partnered with Toys R Us, expanded it range of merchandise well beyond its core line of books, music, and videos, and added new technology that improved customer interaction. It also launched sites in France and Japan.

Losses Force job Cuts

Yet the more Amazon grew, the more money it lost. Early in 2000, the company announced its first-ever job cuts: 150 employees would be laid off. Net sales for the year were $2.76 billion but the company posted a net loss of $1.4 billion. Wall Street analysts said that unless Amazon.com began to show a profit, its future was uncertain. Investors and stockholders started to become nervous.

Bezos heard Wall Street's warnings loud and clear. In late January 2001, Amazon.com announced it would lay off thirteen hundred of its nine thousand workers and close its McDonough, Georgia, warehouse, one of eleven across the country. It also announced that they would eliminate a customer service center in Seattle, and operate its Seattle distribution center only during the holiday season. Finally, it also closed a distribution center in the Netherlands. Amazon.com rebounded in 2001 posting a fourth quarter net profit of $5.1 million on net sales of $1.12 billion. For the year, it reported net sales of $3.12 billion and a net loss of $567 million.

Looking Ahead

As it started 2002, Amazon.com offered more than two dozen on-line "stores," which sold products ranging from cameras, cars, and computers, to tools, toys, and travel. It also operated its own auction shop and partnered with the Target Corporation (see entry) and Circuit City. Even traditional bookseller Borders signed an agreement for Amazon.com to sell books on its behalf on-line. It expected to start selling clothing, and movie, concert, and event tickets by the end of the year. In March, Warren Jenson resigned as chief financial officer (CFO). He joined the company in 1999 and is credited with helping Amazon.com achieve its first quarterly profit.

Wall Street analysts are split over whether Amazon.com can sustain its profitability. Bezos predicts the company will stay profitable by continuing to expand its merchandise line, keeping its commitment to customer service, and operating more efficiently. "What we want to become is something completely new," Bezos said in a January 2002 interview with CNET.com. "And our vision hasn't changed at all the last few years. We want to be a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy on-line."

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Amazon.com, Inc.

Amazon.com, Inc.

1516 Second Avenue, Fourth Floor
Seattle, Washington 98108-0387
U.S.A.
(206) 622-2335
Fax: (206) 622-2950
(800) 201-7575
Web site: http://www.amazon.com

Public Company
Incorporated:
1997
Employees: 256
Sales: $147.8 million (1997)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: AMZN
SICs: 5961 Catalog & Mail-Order Houses

Amazon.com, Inc. is the worlds biggest book and music store, offering more than 3 million book and music titles over the internet. The leading online shopping site by the end of the 1990s, Amazon.com possesses virtually unlimited online shelf space and offers its vast selection of retail items to customers through efficient search and browse features. A pioneer in the relatively new business of internet commerce, Amazon.com offers customers features such as 1-Click ordering, secure credit card payment, and direct shipping.

The Beginnings of Amazon.com

Throughout the 1990s, the popularity of the world wide web and the internet swept across the world, and personal computers in most businesses and households got hooked up in some form or another to internet providers and web browser software. As use of the internet became more prevalent in society, companies began looking to the web as a new avenue for commerce. Selling products over the internet offered a variety of choices and opportunities. One of the pioneers of business on the internet was Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.

In 1994, Bezos left his job as vice-president of the Wall Street firm D.E. Shaw, moved to Seattle, Washington, and began to work out a plan for the company that would become Amazon.com. After reading a report that projected annual web growth at 2,300 percent, Bezos drew up a list of twenty products that could be sold on the net. He narrowed the list to what he felt were the five most promising: compact discs, computer hardware, computer software, videos, and books. Bezos eventually decided that his venture would sell books over the web, due to the large worldwide market for literature, the low price that could be offered for books, and the tremendous selection of titles that were available in print. He chose Seattle as the company headquarters due to its large high-tech workforce and its proximity to a large book distribution center in Oregon. Bezos then worked to raise funds for the company while also working with software developers to build the companys web site. The web site debuted in July 1995 and quickly became the number one book-related site on the web.

In just four months of operation, Amazon.com became a very popular site on the web, making high marks on several internet rankings. It generated recognition as the sixth best site on Point Communications top ten list, and was almost immediately placed on Yahoos whats cool list and Netscapes whats new list. The site opened with a searchable database of over one million titles. Customers could enter search information, prompting the system to sift through the company database and find the desired titles. The program then displayed information about the selection on a customers computer screen, and gave the customer the option to order the books with a credit card and have the books shipped to them in a just a few days.

Unlike its large competitors, such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, Amazon.com carried only about 2,000 titles in stock in its Seattle warehouse. Most orders through Amazon.com were placed directly through wholesalers and publishers, so no warehouse was needed. Amazon.com would simply receive the books from the other sources, then ship them to the customer. At first, the company operated out of Bezos garage, until it was clear that it was going to be a success and the company decided to move to a Seattle office, which served as the customer support, shipping and receiving area. It was interesting that such a small venture realized such a broad scope so quickly; for example, within a month of launching the web site, Bezos and Amazon.com filled orders from all fifty states and 45 other countries. This feat was attributed to the large geographic range that the internet gave access to a retailer such as Bezos.

Making the Site Customer Friendly

As a pioneer in the world of Internet commerce, Amazon.com strived to set the standard for web businesses. With that goal in mind, Bezos went to work on making the web site as customer friendly as possible, and relating the site to all types of customers. For those people who knew what book they were looking for and just wanted quick performance and low cost, Amazon.com offered powerful search capabilities of its expanded 1.5 million-title database. The company also began offering ten to thirty percent discounts on most titles, making the prices extremely affordable. For other customers who were just looking for something to read in a general area of interest, Amazon.com offered topic areas to browse, as well as lists of Bestsellers, Award winners, and titles that were recently featured in the media. Finally, for people who were just in the mood to read anything, Amazon.com offered a recommendation center. There a customer could find books based on his or her mood, reading habits, or preferences. The recommendation center also offered titles based on records of books the customer had purchased in the past, if they were return customers to the site.

Other hits with customers were the little touches, such as optional gift wrapping of packages, and the eye notification service, which acted to send customers e-mails alerting them when a new book in their favorite subject or by their favorite author came into stock. The site also offered the ability for customers not only to write their comments about different books and have them published on the site, but to read other customers comments about books they were interested in buying.

Public Offering in 1997

After less than two years of operation, Amazon.com became a public company in May 1997 with an initial public offering of 3,000,000 shares of Common Stock. With the proceeds from the IPO, Bezos went to work on improving the already productive web site and on bettering the companys distribution capabilities.

To help broaden the companys distribution capabilities, and to ease the strain on the existing distribution center that came from such a high volume of orders, in September 1997 Bezos announced that Amazon.com would be opening an East Coast distribution center in New Castle, Delaware. There was also a seventy percent expansion of the companys Seattle center. The improvements increased the companys stocking and shipping capabilities and reduced the time it took to fill customers orders. The Delaware site not only got Amazon.com closer to East Coast customers, but also to East Coast publishers, which decreased Amazon.coms receiving time. With the new centers in place, Bezos set a goal for the company of 95 percent same-day shipping of in-stock orders, getting orders to the customers much faster than before.

Another growth area for Amazon.com was the success of its Associate program. Established in July 1996, the program allowed individuals with their own web sites to choose books of interest and place them on their own sites, then allowed visitors to purchase those books. The customer was then connected to Amazon.com, who took care of all the orders. Associates were sent reports on their sales and made a three to eight percent commission from books sold on their sites. The Associates program really began to take off in mid-1997 when Amazon.com formed partnerships with Yahoo, Inc. and America Online, Inc. Both companies agreed to give Amazon.com broad promotional capabilities on two of the most visited sites on the Web. As the success continued, Amazon also struck deals with many other popular sites, including Netscape, GeoCities, Excite, and AltaVista.

As the company continued to grow in 1997, Bezos announced in October that Amazon.com would be the first Internet retailer to reach the milestone of one million customers. With customers in all fifty states and now 160 countries worldwide, what had started in a Seattle garage was now a company with $147.8 million in yearly sales.

Further Expansion in 1998

As Amazon.com ventured into 1998, the company continued to grow. By February, the Associates program had reached 30,000 members, who now earned up to 15 percent for recommending and selling books from their web sites. Four months later, the number of associates had astonishingly doubled to 60,000.

The companys customer database continued to grow also, with cumulative customer accounts reaching 2,260,000 in March, an increase of 50 percent in just 3 months, and of 564 percent throughout the previous year. In other words, it took Amazon.com 27 months to serve its first million customers and only six months to serve the second million. This feat made Amazon.com the third largest bookseller in the United States.

Financed by a $75 million credit facility secured in late 1997, Amazon.com continued to reshape its services in 1998. To its catalog of over 2.5 million titles, the company added Amazon.com Advantage, a program to help the sales of independent authors and publishers, and Amazon.com Kids, a service providing over 100,000 titles for younger children and teenagers.

Company Perspectives:

We opened our virtual doors in July 1995 with a mission to use the Internet to offer products that educate, inform, and inspire. We decided to build an online store that would be customer-friendly and easy to navigate and would offer the broadest possible selection.

Amazon.com also expanded its business through a trio of acquisitions in early 1998. Two of the companies were acquired to expand Amazon.coms business into Europe. Bookpages, one of the largest online booksellers in the United Kingdom, gave Amazon.com access to the U.K.s market. Telebook, the largest online bookseller in Germany, added its German titles to the mix. Both companies not only gave Amazon.com access to new customers in Europe, but it also gave existing Amazon.com customers access to more books from around the world. The Internet Movie Database, the third acquisition, was used to support plans for an eventual move into online video sales. The tremendous resources and information of the IMD served as a valuable asset in the construction of a customer-friendly and informative web site for video sales.

Another big change in 1998 was the announcement of the companys decision to enter into the online music business. Bezos again wanted to make the site as useful as possible for his customers, so he appealed to them for help. Several months before officially opening its music site, Amazon.com asked its bookstore customers and members of the music profession to help design the new Web-site.

The music store opened in June 1998, with over 125,000 music titles available. The new site, which opened at the same time that Amazon.com had also redesigned it book site, offered many of the same helpful services available at the companys book site. The database was searchable by artist, song title, or label, and customers were able to listen to more than 225,000 sound clips before making their selection.

Amazon.com ended the second quarter of 1998 as strong as ever. Cumulative customer accounts broke the three million mark, and as sales figures for Amazon.com continued to rise, and more products and titles were added, the future looked bright for this pioneer in the internet commerce marketplace. With music as a part of the company mix, and video sales on the horizon, Bezos seemed to have accomplished his goal of gathering a strong market share in the online sales arena. As Bezos told Fortune magazine in December 1996, By the year 2000, there could be two or three big online bookstores. We need to be one of them. As it approached the end of the decade, Amazon.com already appeared to be one of the biggest online retail operations, if not the biggest of all.

Further Reading

Green, Lee, Net Profits, Spirit Magazine, March 1998, pp. 5254, 126128.

Haines, Thomas, Amazon.com Sales Grow While Loss Widens, The Seattle Times, January 23, 1998, p. C1.

Hazleton, Lesley, Jeff Bezos: How He Built a Billion Dollar Net Worth Before His Company Even Turned A Profit, Success, July 1998, pp. 5860

Jeffrey Bezos, Chain Store Age Executive, December 1997, p. 124.

Jeffrey, Don, Amazon.com Eyes Retailing Music Online, Billboard, January 31, 1998, pp. 89.

Martin, Michael, The Next Big Thing: A Bookstore, Fortune, December 9, 1996, pp. 168170.

Perez, Elizabeth, Store On Internet Is Open Book: Amazon.com Boasts More Than 1 Million Titles On The Web, The Seattle Times, September 19, 1995, p. E1.

Rose, Cynthia, Site-Seeing, The Seattle Times, March 10, 1996.

Robert Alan Passage

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Amazon.com

AMAZON.COM

AMAZON.COM. SeeElectronic Commerce .

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