“Our vision is to be the world’s most consumer-centric company, where customers can come to find anything they want to buy online.”
Starting the Business
In 1994, Jeff Bezos at 30 was the youngest senior vice-president at D. E. Shaw and Co., the Wall Street Investment Firm, earning a six-figure salary. However, despite an assured future with expectations to rise further within the company, Bezos chose to walk away from it all and pursue what he envisioned to be a more promising venture. Upon first discovering the thundering growth of usage of the Internet (2,300% per month), he decided to start his own business on the, then, largely unmapped territory of the World Wide Web. The choice was a risky one to make since such companies were at that time largely untried, but Bezos recognized the possibilities that it offered.
He began by writing a list of products – from software to CDs to books – he could see selling well over the Internet. Books was settled on simply because of the vast number of titles available; booksellers are only able to sell a fraction of what could be purchased while an Internet based bookstore would not be limited by shelving space.
He stepped down from his position at D. E. Shaw and Co., and, with one million dollars raised from friends and family as capital, moved his family to Seattle. Seattle was the perfect choice because Bezos would have a wide range of choice in picking technologically savvy employees, and additionally, he would be close to Ingram Book Group’s warehouse in Oregon. Work began in the garage of his rented house.
Building an Empire
Bezos, along with five employees, spent almost a year designing Amazon’s easily navigable and user-friendly layout and working on the best ways to source books. With the idea that Amazon should not only be a place to buy books but could become a community of book-buyers, programs were developed to foster this atmosphere; one in particular allowed customers to write their own reviews of books and rate them. Another program was designed to suggest other books based what the customer has purchased previously.
Amazon.com, the self-proclaimed “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”, was launched in July 1995 and rocketed forward with incredible success. By September 1996, more than 100 employees worked for Amazon and over $15.7 million in merchandise had been sold. In 1999, there were more than 3000 employees working for the company generating more than $610 million in sales for over 13 million customers globally. In 1999, Amazon.com accounted for 85% of the Internet’s book sales. Despite this, Amazon did not make any profit over these first four years. Choosing to pour everything back into promotion and building Amazon’s reputation as a recognizable brand name, Bezos was covetous of the number one spot before turning to his own personal profits.
Barnes & Noble felt threatened by this new presence on the Internet and set up its own e-store. Through a fiery marketing campaign, Barnes & Noble claimed that it could provide twice as many titles as Amazon. However, Barnes & Noble was behind the times as Bezos had by then already branched out into selling CDs through Amazon. No longer just “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore”, Amazon now boasted “Books, Music, and more”. Just before the 1998 Christmas season, Bezos took Amazon yet another step further by expanding into toys and games. And he also instigated the “Shop the Web” program giving Amazon a commission when customers link to other (non-competing) retailer’s sites. In 1999, Amazon bought a share of Drugstore.com and now became a pharmacy as well. Following the success of eBay and uBID, Amazon joined with Sotheby’s Holdings Inc. and introduced sothebys.amazon.com, another online auction site.
As Amazon expands into the Web’s first superstore and continues to change in order to accommodate new products, Bezos’ ever innovating e-commerce insists on putting the customer before everything else. And it has paid off. Amazon.com has become the template for the way in which an e-commerce business should be operated.
Evan Carmichael is an entrepreneur and international speaker. Evan’s website, https://www.evancarmichael.com/ is the world’s #1 website for small business motivation and strategies. With over 180,000 monthly visitors, 900 contributing authors, and 13,000 pages of content no website shares more profiles of famous entrepreneurs and inspires more small business owners than EvanCarmichael.com. Evan has been interviewed by newspapers, radio stations, and television stations including The Globe and Mail, CHUM FM, CityTV, Global TV, OMNI TV, Enterprise, and the Toronto Sun.