Jeff Bezos was researching the Internet in the early 1990s for hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He realized that book sales would be a perfect fit with e-commerce because book distributors already kept meticulous electronic lists. Bezos, who as a teen had dreamed of entrepreneurship in outer space, took the idea to Shaw. The company passed on the idea, but Bezos ran with it, trekking cross country to Seattle (close to a facility owned by major book distributor Ingram) and typing up a business plan along the way.
Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994. After months of preparation, he launched a website in July 1995 (Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies was its first sale); it had sales of $20,000 a week by September. Bezos and his team kept working with the site, pioneering features that now seem mundane, such as one-click shopping, customer reviews, and e-mail order verification.
Amazon went public in 1997. Moves to cement the Amazon.com brand included becoming the sole book retailer on AOL's website and Netscape's commercial channel.
In 1998 the company launched its online music and video stores, and it began to sell toys and electronics. Amazon also expanded its European reach with the purchases of online booksellers in the UK and Germany, and it acquired the Internet Movie Database. Bezos also expanded the company's base of online services, buying Junglee (comparison shopping) and PlanetAll (address book, calendar, reminders).
By midyear Amazon.com had attracted so much attention that its market capitalization equaled the combined values of profitable bricks-and-mortar rivals Barnes & Noble and Borders Group, even though their combined sales were far greater than the upstart's. Late that year Amazon formed a promotional link with Hoover's, publisher of this profile.
After raising $1.25 billion in a bond offering early in 1999, Amazon.com began a spending spree with deals to buy all or part of several dot-coms. However, some have since been sold (HomeGrocer.com) and others have gone out of business or bankrupt -- Pets.com, living.com (furniture). It also bought the catalog businesses of Back to Basics and Tool Crib of the North.
Amazon.com began conducting online auctions in early 1999 and partnered with venerable auction house Sotheby's. Also that year Amazon added distribution facilities, including one each in England and Germany.
In 2000 the company inked a 10-year deal with Toysrus.com to set up a co-branded toy and video game store. (The partnership came to a bitter end in 2006 after Toys "R" Us sued Amazon.com when it began selling toys from other companies.) Also that year Amazon.com added foreign-language sites for France and Japan.
In 2001 Amazon cut 15% of its workforce as part of a restructuring plan that also forced a $150 million charge. That year the company also made a deal with Borders to provide inventory, fulfillment, content, and customer service for borders.com. As part of a deal to expand their marketing partnership, AOL invested $100 million in Amazon.com in 2001. Later that year, Amazon purchased some assets from Egghead.com (which filed for Chapter 11 in August) and relaunched the site.
In 2002 the firm introduced clothing sales, featuring hundreds of retailers including names such as The Gap, Nordstrom, and Lands' End. Amazon.com received accreditation from ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) as an Internet domain name registrar, becoming one of about 160 entities permitted to register Internet addresses.
The company launched its Search Inside the Book feature in 2003. The tool allows customers to search the text inside books for more relevant search returns. At launch, the search feature covered more than 120,000 books from over 190 publishers. Amazon expanded into China in 2004 with the purchase of Joyo.com. (It renamed the unit Joyo Amazon in 2007.)
In 2005 Amazon launched Amazon Prime, a two-day shipping service for an annual fee of $79.
Amazon.com began testing the online dry grocery waters in 2006. It launched the Amazon Fresh delivery service for the Seattle area a year later to include perishables.
The company acquired shopping site Shopbop.com in 2006, boosting its apparel offerings. Also that year, IBM filed a pair of patent infringement lawsuits, alleging that Amazon.com has been violating at least five of its patents -- including technologies that govern how the online retailer handles product recommendations and displays advertising -- for about four years. In 2007 the two companies settled the litigation and signed a long-term patent cross-license agreement.
The Internet bookseller in November 2007 introduced the Kindle, an electronic portable book reader. The launch, Amazon's first foray into the tech hardware market, is aimed at kindling demand for electronic books.
Also in 2007 Amazon launched Endless.com, which sells shoes and accessories; Askville.com, where users can solicit answers from others on the site; and the Amazon MP3 site, which offers digital music free of copyright restrictions. In addition, Amazon acquired audiobook publisher Brilliance Audio.
Amazon stayed focused on entertainment in 2008. The company launched Amazon Video On Demand, a service that gives customers the option to stream or download ad-free digital movies and TV shows on Macs or PCs. It also purchased AbeBooks, an online retailer of more than 110 million primarily used, rare, and out-of-print books, as well as Shelfari, a social-networking site for booklovers. Additionally, Amazon.com sold its UK and German online DVD rental services to Internet movie-rental company LOVEFiLM International in exchange for stock. The deal gave Amazon about a 40% stake in LOVEFiLM.
Shopping was also at the top of Amazon's list in 2008. In May the company invested in The Talk Market, a user-generated TV Shopping Channel. In June Amazon launched an online office supplies store and sewed up the acquisition of the online fabrics retailer Fabrics.com.
In June 2009 Amazon agreed to pay Toys "R" Us$51 million to settle a dispute dating back to 2004. The settlement was related to a partnership that gave the toy seller exclusive rights to supply some of the toys on Amazon's site. In November Amazon completed its $888 million acquisition of shoe e-tailer Zappos.com -- the #1 online shoe and apparel retailer. (Besides footwear and clothing, Zappos also sells handbags, housewares, and beauty products.) The purchase allowed Amazon to boost its sales and expand its products portfolio by leveraging Zappos' widely recognized customer service expertise.
In mid-2010 Amazon acquired Woot, Inc., a pioneer in the deal-of-the-day genre of online retailing. While neither Amazon or Woot would disclose the selling price, reports valued the deal at about $110 million in cash.
In January 2011 Amazon completed its move to a new corporate headquarters in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood. Amazon also made several acquisitions that year. The company acquired the remaining shares it didn't already own in LOVEFiLM International. It purchased a pair of UK companies: online book seller The Book Depository and digital agency Pushbutton (later folding the operation into its Amazon Development Centre in London). The behemoth also picked up voice-to-text startup Yap, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, that year.
Kiva Systems, which Amazon bought in 2012, was purchased to provide the firm with a boost in automation capabilities. Amazon picked up some former talent, including Amazon ex Dave Schappell, when it bought online education marketplace Teachstreet and shuttered the site in 2012. Acquiring England's Evi and its namesake cloud-based Artificial Intelligence expertise in 2012 offered Amazon a leg up in answer engine technology.
To extend the reach of its Kindle range, Amazon in 2013 acquired Poland's IVONA Software. Months after being bought by Amazon in 2013, social cataloging company Goodreads announced it had amassed some 20 million members. In 2013, Amazon also purchased electrowetting display panel expert Liquavista from Samsung Electronics, which had held the company for fewer than three years.
Investments in 2014 include acquiring the .buy domain for nearly $4.6 million. Besides the domain purchase, Amazon has been focused on games. It acquired Silent Hill: Homecoming video game developer Double Helix Games, based in Irvine, California. Its newest release, Strider , is available on five platforms. Amazon also bought cloud-based digital comics platform ComiXology in 2014. In late 2014 Amazon purchased game-streaming site Twitch, which boasted 55 million monthly active users, after talks with Google turned to anti-trust concerns.