Amazon is 25 this week - here’s 11 things you didn’t know about the online giant
PUBLISHED: 11:00 18 July 2020
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From $10 million paintings for sale to 7,000 dog ‘employees’ at Amazon HQ - here’s a handful of surprising facts about the company.
Founded on July 5 1994 in Bellevue, Washington, Amazon opened its digital doors to the public and made its first sale a year later in 1995.
25 years on from that first sale, and Amazon has seen customers around the world make millions of purchases ever since.
From humble beginnings in a garage, to becoming a global retail force to be reckoned with, here’s 11 facts you might not have known about the e-commerce giant.
1 All in the name
Before founder Jeff Bezos settled on the name Amazon, the company was nearly called ‘Cadabra’ - short for the magical term ‘abracadabra’, according to The Everything Store by Brad Stone. However, Bezos’ lawyer advised him to change it as he thought was the reference was too obscure.
Other names and domains that didn’t make the cut include awake.com, browse.com, bookmall.com and relentless.com - of which are still registered to Amazon, with the exception of bookmall.com. Don’t believe it? Head to relentless.com and watch it get redirected to Amazon’s website, and not the energy drink of the same name.
It wasn’t until Bezos was flicking through the dictionary that he settled on Amazon. But why? Back then, website listings were in alphabetical order, and Amazon is also the name of the world’s largest river, so the perfect name for what was intended to become the largest book store on the planet.
2 First item ever sold
With Amazon selling near enough anything and everything you could ever want, it seems a lifetime ago that the online retailer only ever sold books. Back in 1995, one John Wainwright, of Sunnyvale, California, placed what was to be the first ever non-company order on the website. And that fateful book he bought? Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter, which cost him $27.95.
Wainwright still has the book and the packing slip that came with it – and said in a response to a question on Quora: “It’s still in my order history listing. I think I ordered the book over a T-1 connection at work. I was working at Kaleida Labs, the Apple/IBM joint venture, at the time.”
Amazon hasn’t forgotten about that first ever order either – as the Wainwright building on Amazon’s Seattle campus is named after the fateful clicker.
3 “How much?”
Only as recently as earlier this year was the most expensive ever item posted on Amazon. A painting entitled Blossom Dance by American artist Abiah Avila was listed for a whopping $10 million, and while the abstract floral piece is no longer available the website, it’s unsure if someone actually bought it or if the listing was removed. It does however have seven (fake) reviews under it, and has only been rated three out of five stars. One fake customer said: “When I purchased this, I had no other choice but to sell my kidney and a leg for it. When hung up in my Beverly Hills mega mansion, it looked very bleak compared to my da Vincis, and was honestly an embarrassment when Kim Kardashian would walk in and see it in the open. I decided to sell it back for a new leg. Overall, 4/10.”
One pricey purchase that is currently still up for grabs on the US version of the site is a The Beatles memorabilia case which includes signed photos, miniature guitars, a guitar pick, drumstick and apparently DNA – and it could all be yours for a cool $30,000. But be quick, there’s only one in stock, at the time of this feature being written.
4 No access
While Amazon is known for its quick and efficient service, with same-day delivery in some locations, there’s a handful of countries around the world that Amazon won’t deliver to – these are Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
Certain countries also have restrictions on what can be purchased due to their content – some of these include Algeria, Libya, China, India and Jordan to name a few.
5 Droning on
With Amazon’s same-day delivery promising to get you your goods by 10pm if you order that same morning, that might not be quick enough for some people. That’s where Amazon Prime Air comes in, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Amazon Prime Air will utilise drones to deliver packages in a matter of minutes – 30 minutes or less, to be exact.
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While currently still in the development phase, Amazon Prime Air says that to be eligible for drone delivery, the order must weigh under 2.25kg, be small enough to fit in the cargo box that the drone will carry and must be a delivery address within a 10-mile radius of a participating Amazon order fulfilment centre.
6 Amazon physical shops
Even though Amazon is best known for being an online retailer, the e-commerce giant has actually opened up a number of physical shops for customers who want a more real and face-to-face experience – something we’ve all taken for granted during lockdown.
Stateside, there are 26 Amazon Go locations – a chain of convenience stores that are partially automated and allow customers to purchase goods without the need of a cashier or self-service checkout machine. Located in Seattle, New York City, San Francisco and Chicago, simply head into the shop with the Amazon Go app on your phone, scan the QR code for entry and shop away. If a customer takes an item off a shelf, it’s added to the customer’s cart on their Amazon account, and then removed if placed back on the shelf.
While there’s no Amazon Go locations in the UK just yet, it’s rumoured to be on the way, as it has been reported that the UK Intellectual Property Office has approved Amazon’s application to trademark the slogan ‘No lines. No checkout. (No, Seriously.)’.
7 It’s a dog’s life
What’s got four legs, a wet nose and ‘works’ at Amazon? That’ll be one of the company’s 7,000 dogs based at Amazon HQ. While there’s 750,000 human employees at the Seattle headquarters, there’s thousands of dogs that ‘work’ there too. According to a post on the company’s blog site, every day is ‘bring your dog to work day’ - and has been a company policy since day one.
In the early days, a couple working at Amazon would bring their Welsh corgi Rufus to work with them - sometimes even using his paw to click the mouse and launch some of the first pages on Amazon’s website. Sadly now deceased, Rufus has been immortalised at Amazon HQ, with numerous photos of him dotted around, and even a building named after him. What a good boy.
For any pooches lucky enough to have owners who work at Amazon’s HQ, the 17th floor of their Doppler building has a doggie deck – kitted out with everything a hard-working pup needs, including dog-friendly water fountains and designated relief areas.
8 Relight my fire
Released in 2007, Amazon’s Kindle has forever changed the way that we read. Preceding Apple’s iPad by three years, the e-reader was revolutionary at the time as it gave people access to thousands of books at once through one a small, handheld tablet device.
During its development stage, the gadget went by the codename Fiona, before branding consultants Michael Cronan and Karin Hibma came up with Kindle. But why Kindle? They felt the word was an appropriate metaphor for reading and intellectual excitement, derived from the word’s definition meaning ‘to light a fire’.
While Amazon are hush-hush about the exact number of how many devices they’ve sold since its inception, they did announce two years ago that they’ve sold “tens of millions of Kindles” - which could be anywhere between 20 million and 90 million.
9 Niche buys
Amazon has long been revered for its wide and varied product selection – ranging from books and vinyl records to everyday essentials including clothes, household products, food and drink. But were you aware of some of the more obscure finds you can buy from the site?
Weirdly enough, you can actually purchase live ladybirds, which are listed as ‘nature’s own pest control’ as they munch their way through greenflies and aphids. At the time of writing, you can get 25 ladybirds for £15.99 - with free delivery. Across the pond, on the American version of Amazon, you can buy your very own home solar-powered tiny house – retailing for a mere $13,999 (plus $499 for postage).
Certain items are banned from being sold on Amazon however – these include guns and firearms, homes (that aren’t self-assembled tiny houses as previously mentioned), pets, cars and nicotine tobacco.
10 From A to Z
Ever looked closely at Amazon’s logo? You’ll no doubt have seen the golden arrow underneath the letter. But did you notice that it goes from the letter A and Z, connecting the two? That’s to represent the fact that Amazon sells an A to Z of everything – and the arrow is meant to be a smile, representing the experience people have whenever they make a purchase on the site.
11 Other ventures
We’ve no doubt all used Amazon at some point throughout our lives, but did you know that the company owns multiple additional ventures? Amazon’s vast portfolio includes Audible, Goodreads.com, Whole Foods, IMDB and streaming site Twitch. In 2013, Jeff Bezos purchased The Washington Post for a whopping $250 million, which is roughly £199.5 million.
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