"Alexa, name all the different ways Amazon affects how people spend their time and money."
If Amazon's cloud-based voice service could offer an all-inclusive answer, it would probably try your patience and tax your attention span. Since its launch in 1995 as an online bookstore, Amazon has grown to sell electronic devices, clothing, cloud-computing services and — seemingly — just about anything else its clients and customers could want or need.
Here are a few ways the Seattle-based company already impacts industries' business plans and everyday consumers' bank accounts, as well as some new areas the e-commerce giant could be dominating in the not-so-distant future. Wherever Amazon expands next, one thing is certain: The retailer has lots of different tricks up its sleeve to get you to spend more.
1. Amazon Smart Home Experience at Kohl’s
Launched in 2017
Kohl's customers can find 1,000-square-foot Amazon Smart Home Experience sections at 10 Kohl's locations in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas. These store-within-a-store spaces are staffed by Amazon employees and showcase smart home products such as Amazon's Echo line of voice-activated speakers and other devices including Kindles, Fire tablets and Fire TV products. Amazon customers can return items purchased online at these locations, and soon will be able to make returns at more Kohl's stores nationwide. Amazon has also inked partnerships with brick-and-mortar retailers including Home Depot and Sears to sell their products on Amazon.com, while those retailers stock some Amazon-branded products on store shelves.
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2. Amazon Pop-Up Shops
Launched in 2014
Amazon has several real-world retail initiatives up and running. For instance, it currently operates more than 50 pop-up stores, including some seasonal spots, in shopping centers around the country. The pop-up shops feature Amazon accessories and technology products. The company that began its life exclusively online also has a dozen brick-and-mortar bookstores and plans to open at least three more Amazon Books locations soon.
3. Grocery Shopping and Delivery
Amazon closed its acquisition of Whole Foods in August 2017
Amazon launched its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service a decade ago in Seattle and has since expanded to other markets. The company became an even bigger player in the grocery game practically overnight with its acquisition of Whole Foods earlier this year.
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It's also experimenting with Amazon Go, a small store where smart computer technology takes the place of cashiers. The Amazon Go app works with high-tech sensors in the store to keep track of what shoppers take off the shelves and automatically bills their Amazon account for what they've picked up after they leave the store. The stores, which will encompass about 1,800 square feet, will carry ready-to-eat meals and snacks, Amazon Meal Kits that will allow customers to whip up a meal for two in about 30 minutes, grocery staples and a curated collection of other edibles that could include artisanal cheeses and chocolates. But don't download the app just yet. The company's first Amazon Go store in Seattle is only open to employees for now. Don't worry though: If visiting a Whole Foods or grab-and-go grocery store is still too much work, Amazon Prime members in some cities can order delivery from nearby eateries through Amazon Restaurants.
4. The Kindle
- Launched in 2007
Amazon introduced its first e-reader in 2007 and the device has evolved dramatically over the last decade. The company's most advanced e-reader, the Oasis, indeed looks like an almost entirely different animal than its Kindle ancestors and boasts advantages including waterproofing. But the perks come at a price. The company's current version of the basic Kindle starts at $79.99 on Amazon.com, compared with the Oasis's price tag that starts at $249.99. Wait for Black Friday and Cyber Monday to get especially stellar deals on Kindle products.
5. Fire TVs and Tablets
Amazon introduced the first Fire Stick in 2014
Amazon's growing lists of devices include Fire TV products. Amazon currently offers a Fire TV Stick, a Fire TV — which, like the Fire Stick, is a streaming device that plugs into buyers' existing televisions — and a Fire TV Edition Smart TV with the streaming capabilities built into the set itself.
The company also offers tablets under the Fire name. Amazon currently features five versions of the Fire tablet, with the Fire 7 starting at $49.99. The retailer recently offered even lower prices to Prime members, who could have scored a $15 discount on a Fire 7 and a $25 price cut on a Fire HD 8 in September. And even its high-end Fire HD 10 starts at $149.99, a bargain option when compared with competitors like the latest iPad, which starts at $329.
6. Fiery Failures
Amazon launched the Fire Phone in 2014
Not every Amazon product launch produces positive results. Many industry experts consider the company's Fire Phone to be one of its biggest flameouts, and Amazon took a $170 million charge against earnings due to the device debacle.
The retailer doesn't consider every botched experiment a flop, though. Amazon.com Auctions, a failed eBay competitor, and zShops, small shops for other retailers embedded in the Amazon.com site, aren't around anymore. But Amazon execs say lessons learned from those failures helped spawn the successful Amazon Marketplace platform.
7. Earning Through Amazon
Amazon introduced Selling on Amazon in 2000
Third-party sellers can offer personal computers, professional services and many other products through Amazon.com, and these transactions now account for more than 40 percent of the company's total unit sales. Amazon even has an Amazon Launchpad program, introduced in 2015, specifically designed for startups that want to introduce, market and distribute their products through Amazon.com. Aspiring entrepreneurs and authors can also sell self-published books and apps to Amazon account holders worldwide, to name just a few ways businesses and individuals can monetize the Amazonian market.
8. Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services offers corporate customers more than 40 cloud computing services including storage, database tools and more. AWS has free accounts that give users unlimited access to certain services and a 12-month trial of others. When the trial period expires, Amazon offers pay-as-you-go rates for its premium offerings. Amazon Web Services is its fastest-growing core business, expanding by 42 percent year-over-year and accounting for 11 percent of its total revenue, according to the company's most recent quarterly report.
The retailer is even building its own wind and solar farms to support its burgeoning cloud computing business. According to Amazon, it was the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in 2016 and has a long-term commitment to support its AWS operations completely through renewable power.
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9. Amazon-Branded Products
- Amazon introduced the first Echo in 2014
Amazon recently released a passel of products powered by its Alexa voice assistant. Now, consumers can buy an Echo Dot, Spot or Show as well as a number of other hands-free speaker products depending on just how big and bold they want their Echos to be. Many of Amazon's other products, including Fire TV, are Alexa-enabled, but the Alexa has plenty of competitors vying for "her" job right now, including Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana, to name a few.
And Amazon doesn't only offer high-tech products under its own name. Amazon.com customers can order everything from batteries to bedsheets from the AmazonBasics line, allowing prices to be especially low.
10. Amazon Prime
- Amazon launched Prime in 2005
Amazon Prime started as a subscription service that guaranteed free two-day delivery to its members. Since then, the service has expanded to include Prime perks such as the Prime Video streaming service, which today offers original Amazon programming as well as other movies and television shows, and the Prime Music streaming service. It's also expanded the fast, free shipping concept to include Free Same-Day Delivery in more than 1,000 markets and free two-hour delivery in 29 cities across the country for many items in the Prime Now program.
And Prime members can get several shopping list staples with Amazon Dash Buttons, small, WiFi-enabled devices that automatically order a certain product with the press of a button. If Amazon aficionados don't want to buy a physical Dash Button, they can set up virtual buttons on the company's mobile app and website. Free shipping, deals and Dash Buttons have helped Amazon amass around 65 million Prime members according to industry estimates. In all, the company earned $6.4 billion in sales from its complete cadre of retail subscription services, according to its latest annual report. Dash Buttons are just one of the ways Amazon makes it easier for you to spend money.
11. Other Amazon Subscription Services
- Amazon introduced Amazon Subscriptions in 2017
If Prime perks aren't enough, Amazon offers souped-up subscriptions to Amazon Music, Amazon Video and its Audible audiobook service, among others. Earlier this year, Amazon also introduced Subscribe with Amazon, a service that allows users to shop for and manage subscriptions from third-party companies including newspapers, magazines and monthly meat delivery services, to name a few.
12. Prescription Drugs
- Possibly coming in the future
Some industry analysts predict prescriptions will be one of Amazon's next big businesses, with the company maybe moving into the mail-order pharmacy arena. The company also has the capital to buy out an existing drugstore chain or pen partnerships somewhat similar to the deal it has with Kohl's. And, considering the e-commerce giant got its start selling traditional books — those things with dust jackets and dog-eared pages — moving from subscription services to prescription services and beyond doesn't seem entirely unfeasible. And, given Amazon's appetite for growth, it's a safe business bet that a number of other markets will eventually feel the Amazon effect.