Remember When Amazon Just Sold Books?

When Amazon officially opened for business on July 16, 1995, the only thing they offered were books. Within just one month, Amazon had shipped books to all 50 US states and to 45 countries. Bezos’ aim and motto was to “get big fast,” and as we know the company is now an ecommerce mega-mall, selling so much more than books.

As we rely increasingly on the giant company for our personal shopping as well as business needs, it’s hard to remember a time just about twenty years ago when Amazon sold only one product: books. Because today, “There’s virtually nothing left that they haven’t touched,” said Kelly O’Keefe, professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.

In 1994, sensing the potential of the internet for ecommerce and thinking that books might sell well online, founder Jeff Bezos  moved from a finance job in NYC to Washington State and founded Amazon. Marketing and advertising were initially via word of mouth and Bezos himself assisted with packing orders and driving packages to the post office. In 1997, the company had a $54M IPO. The same year, Bezos personally delivered his company’s one-millionth order  to a customer in Japan – he ordered a Windows NT manual and a Princess Diana biography.  At the time, the company only had 1.5 million customers.

In 1998, Amazon extended beyond books and began selling CDs and DVDs. In 1999, they added toys and games. In 2000, health and beauty products were added to the marketplace, as well as a service allowing individual sellers and outside merchants to sell their products to Amazon customers. An animated timeline of Amazon’s early expansion makes for a fun review.

In 2007, Amazon debuted its Kindle e-reader and four years later, they were selling more e-books than print books. Among a variety of other ventures, Amazon launched a cloud computing service in 2006; a studio that develops movies and TV series in 2010; an online marketplace for fine art in 2013, which has featured originals by artists Claude Monet and Norman Rockwell.

Amazon has also acquired a number of companies over the course of its history, including online shoe shop Zappos, and earlier this summer announced plans to acquire Whole Foods. In 2015, Amazon passed Walmart as the world’s most valuable retailer.

In the 1990s, Amazon’s TV ads positioned the company as a one-stop holiday shopping destination. The message was that in just two minutes, it was possible to find just the right gift for your special someone.

Introducing the Kindle, allowing a user to add a book in 60 seconds and escape into the story:

As Amazon grew its customer base, it began using more and more television ads in its media mix, and began to advertise the Super Bowl. Here is a 2014 ad from the Super Bowl for Amazon’s FireTV product featuring Gary Busey

In the 2017 ad, Amazon ran this critically acclaimed ad featuring a priest and an imam, together finding common ground via a purchase on Amazon:

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