In the course of a single generation, Amazon has grown from fledgling online bookseller to one of the most valuable and powerful corporations in modern history. The empire of CEO Jeff Bezos has grown so vast that critics, overseas regulators, and Washington politicians are all now wondering whether the company has become an unstoppable force, and what, if anything, is capable of reining in its reach. A recent spat with Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) resulted in a minimum wage hike for tens of thousands of employees, but Amazon still operates largely without any meaningful checks on its power even as it aggressively expands into physical retail, the smart home, and warehouse and aviation robotics.
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Amazon.com operates retail websites for Sears Canada, Bebe Stores, Marks & Spencer, Mothercare, and Lacoste. For a growing number of enterprise clients, including the UK merchants Marks & Spencer, Benefit Cosmetics' UK entity, edeals.com and Mothercare, Amazon provides a unified multichannel platform where a customer can interact with the retail website, standalone in-store terminals or phone-based customer service agents. Amazon Web Services also powers AOL's Shop@AOL.
Foregoing private stores or other online alternatives, a large number of individuals and businesses prefer to sell through Amazon.com. With more than 95 million unique visitors each month, Amazon can be an ideal place for vendors looking to increase sales or simply unload items they no longer want or need. And because Amazon enjoys a generally positive reputation with its customers, the site can be a great place for sellers to build brand recognition for their businesses.
According to an August 8, 2018 story in Bloomberg Businessweek, Amazon has about a 5 percent share of U.S. retail spending (excluding cars and car parts and visits to restaurants and bars), and a 43.5 share of American online spending in 2018. The forecast is for Amazon to own 49 percent of the total American online spending in 2018, with two-thirds of Amazon's revenue coming from the U.S.
The company has also invested in a number of growing firms, both in the United States and Internationally. In 2014, Amazon purchased top level domain .buy in auction for over $4 million. The company has invested in brands that offer a wide range of services and products, including Engine Yard, a Ruby-on-Rails platform as a service company, and Living Social, a local deal site.
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That same year, the company launched Dash buttons for instant reordering of products like laundry detergent, and it’s more recently been investing in new services that let package-carrying couriers unlock the truck of your car and even your front door. Most recently, Amazon has signaled an intention to disrupt health care by purchasing online pharmaceutical startup PillPack. All of this has helped Amazon grow its North American retail operation at an unbelievable pace; annual sales for the division more than doubled from $50.8 billion in 2014 to $106.1 billion last year.
Amazon is known today not just as the everything store, but as the creator of Alexa, one of the most pervasive digital voice assistants on the market today. As an extension of Alexa, Amazon has become more than just a seller of other people’s products. It’s now a hardware maker (Fire Phone aside), having embarked on its boldest product play since the original Kindle when it decided to develop its own line of smart speakers to house its artificial intelligence software. Once again, the division responsible for this piece of hardware was Lab126, Amazon’s hardware arm that gave it the tools to dominate the e-reader market nearly a decade prior.
Amazon’s transformation into the world’s more pervasive retail operation wouldn’t be complete unless the company began a seemingly counterintuitive push from online to offline. Starting with its brick-and-mortar bookstores in 2015 — first in Seattle and now in Chicago and New York City — Amazon established its intent to compete on all fronts with its retail competitors.
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.
Fitness guru Billy Blanks entered American homes across the country when he introduced his Tae Bo workout. The creator of the martial art known as Tae Bo, Blanks sought to teach people how they could get more physically fit, be more confident, and do so from the comfort of their own home. The Tae Bo workout has revolutionized the way people get their exercise and provided millions of people access to an easy and effective martial art that they can learn through instructional videos.