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Since its founding, the company has attracted criticism and controversy from multiple sources over its actions. These include: supplying law enforcement with facial recognition surveillance tools; forming cloud computing partnerships with the CIA; luring customers away from the site's brick and mortar competitors; placing a low priority on warehouse conditions for workers; participating in anti-unionization efforts; remotely deleting content purchased by Amazon Kindle users; taking public subsidies; claiming that its 1-Click technology can be patented; engaging in anti-competitive actions and price discrimination; and reclassifying LGBT books as adult content. Criticism has also concerned various decisions over whether to censor or publish content such as the WikiLeaks website, works containing libel and material facilitating dogfight, cockfight, or pedophile activities. In December 2011, Amazon faced a backlash from small businesses for running a one-day deal to promote its new Price Check app. Shoppers who used the app to check prices in a brick-and-mortar store were offered a 5% discount to purchase the same item from Amazon. Companies like Groupon, eBay and Taap.it countered Amazon's promotion by offering $10 off from their products. The company has also faced accusations of putting undue pressure on suppliers to maintain and extend its profitability. One effort to squeeze the most vulnerable book publishers was known within the company as the Gazelle Project, after Bezos suggested, according to Brad Stone, "that Amazon should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle." In July 2014, the Federal Trade Commission launched a lawsuit against the company alleging it was promoting in-app purchases to children, which were being transacted without parental consent.
After reading a report about the future of the Internet that projected annual web commerce growth at 2,300%, Bezos created a list of 20 products that could be marketed online. He narrowed the list to what he felt were the five most promising products, which included: compact discs, computer hardware, computer software, videos, and books. Bezos finally decided that his new business would sell books online, due to the large worldwide demand for literature, the low price points for books, along with the huge number of titles available in print. Amazon was founded in the garage of Bezos' rented home in Bellevue, Washington. Bezos' parents invested almost $250,000 in the start-up.
While Amazon grew in the ‘90s largely thanks to its growing share of the print book market and its dominance of online book sales, it was its early investments in ebooks and e-readers that turned it into a digital publishing and book-selling powerhouse. Amazon began work on its first Kindle e-reader starting in 2004 under codename Fiona, with its internal Lab126 hardware division leading the product development process. The first device was released in November of 2007 and sold for $399. Amazon has since released numerous iterations of the Kindle, and it now dominates the e-reader market after edging out competing products from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others.
Throughout the summer of 2018, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders criticized Amazon's wages and working conditions in a series of YouTube videos and media appearances. He also pointed to the fact that Amazon had paid no federal income tax in the previous year. Sanders solicited stories from Amazon warehouse workers who felt exploited by the company. One such story, by James Bloodworth, described the environment as akin to "a low-security prison" and stated that the company's culture used an Orwellian newspeak. These reports cited a finding by New Food Economy that one third of fulfilment center workers in Arizona were on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Responses by Amazon included incentives for employees to tweet positive stories and a statement which called the salary figures used by Sanders "inaccurate and misleading". The statement also charged that it was inappropriate for him to refer to SNAP as "food stamps". On September 5, 2018, Sanders along with Ro Khanna introduced the Stop Bad Employers by Zeroing Out Subsidies (Stop BEZOS) Act aimed at Amazon and other alleged beneficiaries of corporate welfare such as Wal-mart, McDonald's and Uber. Among the bill's supporters were Tucker Carlson of Fox News and Matt Taibbi who criticized himself and other journalists for not covering Amazon's contribution to wealth inequality earlier.
Amazon derives many of its sales (around 40% in 2008) from third-party sellers who sell products on Amazon. Associates receive a commission for referring customers to Amazon by placing links to Amazon on their websites if the referral results in a sale. Worldwide, Amazon has "over 900,000 members" in its affiliate programs. In the middle of 2014, the Amazon Affiliate Program is used by 1.2% of all websites and it is the second most popular advertising network after Google Ads. It is frequently used by websites and non-profits to provide a way for supporters to earn them a commission. Amazon reported over 1.3 million sellers sold products through Amazon's websites in 2007. Unlike eBay, Amazon sellers do not have to maintain separate payment accounts; all payments are handled by Amazon.
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The Echo line and its Alexa assistant are Amazon’s avenues into our physical lives and our digital behaviors. With the data it collects, Amazon is able to better understand how we shop and how we want the devices of the future to listen, respond, and problem solve as if they were other human beings. Amazon has stiff competition in this space, primarily from Apple and Google, but its early investments in smart speakers and AI have helped Amazon overcome its absence in the key consumer markets like mobile, search, and social networks. As a result, Amazon has made early and tangible inroads in developing an ecosystem that customers will find increasingly hard to abandon down the line.
In one brief keynote, the company announced a car infotainment device, yet more updates to the standard Echo speaker and Dot line, a subwoofer, a set of stereo amplifiers, a Chromecast Audio competitor, a smart wall clock, a smart plug, and a super-powered Slingbox-style device for over-the-air programming. Oh and lest we forget, Amazon also made a microwave with Alexa built in, using it as a model to start competing with companies like KitchenAid, LG, and Samsung by making Alexa the go-to voice assistant and AI hub for household appliances. In addition to building its own devices, the company also invests in startups through its Alexa Fund to scout new and promising entrants and product categories, and it’s acquired quite a few of those companies — including security cam startup Blink and smart doorbell maker Ring — to ensure it has every corner of the smart home covered.
Twitch started in 2007 as a 24-hour live stream of co-founder Justin Kan’s life (he coined the term “lifecasting”) called Justin.tv, but it became very clear very quickly that live gaming content was more popular than pretty much anything else. In 2011, Twitch spun off gaming-centric channels as Twitch.tv, and it grew exponentially as online games and the technology to broadcast them live on the internet became more widespread and popular.
According to sources, Amazon did not expect to make a profit for four to five years. This comparatively slow growth caused stockholders to complain that the company was not reaching profitability fast enough to justify their investment or even survive in the long-term. The dot-com bubble burst at the start of the 21st century and destroyed many e-companies in the process, but Amazon survived and moved forward beyond the tech crash to become a huge player in online sales. The company finally turned its first profit in the fourth quarter of 2001: $5 million (i.e., 1¢ per share), on revenues of more than $1 billion. This profit margin, though extremely modest, proved to skeptics that Bezos' unconventional business model could succeed.